Aleksandr Porfirevich Borodin

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Borodin, Aleksandr Porfir’evich


Born Oct. 31 (Nov. 12), 1833, in St. Petersburg; died there on Feb. 15 (27), 1887. Russian composer and chemist.

Borodin was the illegitimate son of Prince L. S. Gedianov. At birth he was registered as the son of the prince’s peasant servant Porfirii Borodin. In 1856 he graduated from the Medical Surgical Academy. He became a doctor of medicine in 1858. During the 1860’s, Borodin engaged in scientific, pedagogical, and public activity in St. Petersburg. In 1862 he became adjunct professor, in 1864 staff professor, and in 1874 director of the chemical laboratory at the Medical Surgical Academy. In 1877 he became an academician. He was one of the organizers and teachers (from 1872) of an advanced educational institution for women—the Women’s Medical Courses.

In the 1850’s, Borodin began to write songs, piano pieces, and chamber instrumental ensembles. In 1862 he made the acquaintance of M. A. Balakirev and joined the Balakirev circle (the Mighty Bunch). Under the influence of Balakirev, V. V. Stasov, and other members of the circle, Borodin’s musical and aesthetic views were definitively formed. He developed an independent mature style as a composer under the influence of M. I. Glinka, an adherent of the Russian national school of music. Borodin’s creative legacy is comparatively small, but it represents an extremely valuable contribution to the treasury of Russian musical classics. Borodin was a member of the progressive intelligentsia of the 1860’s, and his compositions clearly express the themes of the greatness of the Russian people, love for the native land, and love of freedom. His music is distinguished by its epic breadth, its boldness, and, at the same time, its deep lyricism.

Borodin’s most important work is the opera Prince Igor, which is a model of the national heroic epic in music. Because of his deep involvement in scientific and pedagogical work, Borodin wrote slowly. Borodin worked on the opera over a period of 18 years but did not finish it. (After Borodin’s death N. A. Rimskii-Korsakov and A. K. Gla-zunov completed the writing and orchestration of the opera using the author’s notes; it was performed in 1890 in the Mariinskii Theater in St. Petersburg.) The opera is distinguished by its monumental unity of images, the power and range of the folk choral scenes, and the vividness of its national local color. Prince Igor developed the traditions of Glinka’s epic opera Ruslan and Liudmila. Borodin was one of the creators of the Russian classical symphony and quartet. His First Symphony (1867), which appeared at the same time as the first models of this genre by Rimskii-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky, laid the foundation for the heroic epic tendency in Russian symphonies. Borodin’s Second (Bogatyrs’) Symphony (1876) is the pinnacle of Russian and world epic symphonies. Borodin’s quartets (the first, 1879, and the second, 1881) are among the greatest creations in the chamber instrumental genre. The composer was also a fine artist in chamber vocal music. The model of his vocal lyrics is the elegy “For the Shores of Your Distant Homeland,” set to Pushkin’s words. Borodin was the first to introduce images from the Russian heroic epic as well as the liberating ideas of the 1860’s into the romance (“The Sleeping Princess,” “Song of the Dark Forest,” and others). Borodin also wrote satirical humorous songs, including “Arrogance.” His compositions are characterized by a deep insight into the structure of the Russian folk song and the music of the peoples of the east (Prince Igor, the symphonies, the symphonic picture In Central Asia).

Borodin’s vivid original music influenced Russian and foreign composers. The Soviet composers S. S. Prokofiev, Iu. A. Shaporin, G. V. Sviridov, A. I. Khachaturian, and others have continued the traditions of Borodin, which have great importance for the development of the national musical cultures of the peoples of Transcaucasia and Middle Asia.

Borodin was the author of more than 40 works on chemistry. He was a student of N. N. Zinin, and his doctoral dissertation was On the Analogy Between Phosphoric and Arsenic Acid in Chemical and Toxicological Terms. He worked out an original method for producing bromine-substituted fatty acids by means of the action of bromine on the silver salts of acids. He obtained the first organic fluoride compound—benzoyl fluoride (1862). Borodin studied acetal-dehyde and described the aldol and the aldol condensation reaction.


Pis’ma, issues 1–4. Edited by S. A. Dianin. Moscow-Leningrad, 1927–50.


Aleksandr Porfir’evich Borodin: Ego zhizn’, perepiska, i muzykal’nye stat’i. St. Petersburg, 1889. (With a foreword and bibliographical essay by V. V. Stasov.)
Khubov, G. A. P. Borodin. Moscow, 1933.
Il’in, M., and E. Segal. Aleksandr Porfir’evich Borodin. Moscow, 1953.
Dianin, S. Borodin: Zhizneopisanie, materialy i dokumenty, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1960. (Bibliography.)
Sokhor, A. Aleksandr Porfir’evich Borodin. Moscow-Leningrad, 1965. (Bibliography.)
Figurovskii, A. N., and Iu. I. Solov’ev. Aleksandr Porfir’evich Borodin. Moscow-Leningrad, 1950. (Contains a bibliography and list of Borodin’s works on chemistry.)
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.