If you attended the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s Lumenocity concert in 2014, you may remember the “Polovtsian Dances” by Alexander Borodin (1833–1887) that accompanied the Charley Harper tribute. This famous work comes from Borodin’s only opera, Prince Igor, a work he dabbled with for eighteen years and then left unfinished at the time of his death. While the “Polovtsian Dances” is quite popular and often played by orchestras around the globe, the opera itself is rarely performed outside of Russia.
Borodin was a member of what we call the Mighty Handful, a group of late 19th-century Russian composers who rejected Western styles in favor of more traditional Russian approaches. Also in the group were Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, and Mily Balakirev. Because Borodin’s main career was as a chemist and he only composed on the side, it took him quite a while to get through many of his works. That explains why his opera based on the medieval epic The Tale of Igor’s Campaign, took years of work, and remained incomplete at the end of his life.
But what ever happened to Prince Igor and how is it that we have a complete product today? Find out when you join me next time in Clef Notes.