Starting in his early childhood, Alexander Borodin stood out thanks to his remarkable abilities: he taught himself to play the flute, cello, and piano and tried to compose music for these instruments. As the son of a serf, he did not have the right to study at school or university, so he was home-schooled. After studying medicine, Borodin met the young Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky, another future famous composer, who guided him into the realm of music. This is how Borodin’s career began.
Borodin is considered to be one of the founders of the classical genres of symphony and the quartet in Russia. He worked thoroughly, taking his time: he wrote his first symphony over five years; his second, Bogatyrskaya, in seven years; and created his opera, Prince Igor, over eighteen years.
As often happens in life, all of life’s aspects simultaneously converge. Creative tension reaches its culmination. His wife’s illness, scientific, community, and teaching obligations all required his direct participation. With his last strength, Borodin hastened to complete Prince Igor, the first Russian heroic-epic opera. Moreover, Borodin did not just write the opera’s music; he also wrote its libretto and lyrics. His sudden death in 1887 halted work on the opera at its pinnacle.
His friends and fellow composers, Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov, finished writing the opera over three years. Of course, the opera was jotted down in drafts and Borodin even played it for his friends. With his phenomenal musical memory, Glazunov restored the missing scenes, while Rimsky-Korsakov orchestrated them, keeping Borodin’s style.
The first staging of the opera was at the Mariinsky Theater in 1890. It was a triumph of art, the composer, and the brotherhood of musicians.
In 1914, the opera was performed for the first time in full and with decorations based on sketches by Nikolas Roerich in London. In addition to Roerich, other famous painters, such as Konstatin Korovin and Ivan Bilibin, offered their sketches of costumes and decorations for the opera.
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