Alexander Borodin

Alexander Borodin (1833-1887)

Nationality: Russian
Born: November 12, 1833, St. Petersburg Died: February 27, 1887, St. Petersburg (age 53)

String Quartet No. 1 in A major, "On a Theme of Beethoven"

(for 2 violins, viola and cello)
12:39 I. Moderato - Allegro
7:39 II. Andante con moto
5:28 III. Scherzo. Prestissimo - Trio. Moderato
9:46 IV. Andante - Allegro risoluto
Duration: 36 minutes (approximately)
Composed: 1875-1877 (age 41-44)
Published: 1878 (age 44-45)
Dedication: Mme. N. Rimsky-Korsakow
Note: From IMSLP: Elements of Movements 1, 2 and 4 are based on the Finale of Beethoven's Op. 130 String Quartet
7 recordings, 19 videos
expand
autoplay
12:11
St. Petersburg String Quartet
I. Moderato - Allegro
7:05
St. Petersburg String Quartet
II. Andante con moto
4:58
St. Petersburg String Quartet
III. Scherzo. Prestissimo - Trio. Moderato
9:50
St. Petersburg String Quartet
IV. Andante - Allegro risoluto
13:16
Budapest Haydn Quartet
I. Moderato - Allegro
7:51
Budapest Haydn Quartet
II. Andante con moto
6:01
Budapest Haydn Quartet
III. Scherzo. Prestissimo - Trio. Moderato
10:45
Budapest Haydn Quartet
IV. Andante - Allegro risoluto
13:41
Borodin String Quartet
I. Moderato - Allegro
8:21
Borodin String Quartet
II. Andante con moto
5:26
Borodin String Quartet
III. Scherzo. Prestissimo - Trio. Moderato
10:35
Borodin String Quartet
IV. Andante - Allegro risoluto
34:14
Musopen String Quartet
39:30
Moscow String Quartet
31:17
Joachim Quartet (complete)
11:29
Joachim Quartet
I. Moderato - Allegro
7:18
Joachim Quartet
II. Andante con moto
5:36
Joachim Quartet
III. Scherzo. Prestissimo - Trio. Moderato
6:59
Joachim Quartet
IV. Andante - Allegro risoluto
From Kai Christiansen

Alexander Borodin (1833-1887)

String Quartet No. 1 in A Major (on a theme of Beethoven), 1879

Alexander BorodinAlexander Borodin was a full-time professional Chemist, and in his spare time, a composer. Still, he managed to write a small but highly regarded oeuvre including two symphonies, two operas, and two string quartets among his mature works. All of them show tremendous craftsmanship, a gift for melody, a distinctive personality, and they secure Borodin's reputation as one of the great Russian composers emerging in the late 19th century. Borodin was one of "The Five", the so-called "Mighty Handful" of Russian composers that associated in St. Petersburg and sought to create a distinctly Russian national art music independent of dominant western European models.

Borodin's first quartet is overshadowed by his more popular second perhaps in part because it is more complex with its density of ideas and the extensive use of counterpoint. Though the quartet is intellectual, it is not dry. Just the opposite: it is a sensuous feast of melody and color, with lyricism matching the second quartet, and a palette of string writing novel for the late nineteenth century. Romantic, and definitely Russian, the psychological and emotional range of the quartet is vivid and vast, while, like the best of chamber music, its structure and detail offer plenty for the connoisseur. It is rich fare.

It bears the subtitle "On a theme of Beethoven". The original theme is from the finale of Beethoven's late quartet, Op. 130. Borodin uses a slight variation of the theme as his main theme in the first movement. The sonata begins with a substantial introduction on a three-note motive, a reflective preamble also reminiscent of Beethoven's late quartets. The main body of the movement features two important themes and a distinctive bridge passage that all combine, along with the climatic reappearance of the introductory theme, in a variety of contrapuntal combinations and fugato passages. The final movement is also a sonata, with a substantial slow introduction, a vigorous risoluto theme and compelling counterpoint as well.

The quartet's two inner movements are particularly distinctive. The second movement is the quartet's center of gravity. It begins with a lamenting theme in spare two-part counterpoint based on a Russian folk-song that suddenly bursts into a dramatic cry, subsiding again into wistful reflection. A brooding fugue follows. Upon returning, the somber theme inverts its counterpoint for an especially icy and urgent tone, fateful against the dirge-like pulsing of the lower strings. The ponderous andante relaxes into the refreshing third movement scherzo, a treasure in the chamber music literature. The quicksilver scherzo is full of energetic rhythmic play a la Mendelssohn and the trio presents an astonishing contrast: using a combination of mutes and harmonics, it sparkles like a precious music box, delicate and poised amidst the rush of the surrounding scherzo. Borodin demonstrates that, even in the medium of the string quartet, he is a master of color.

Borodin wrote the quartet over a period of two years and published it in 1879 with a dedication to Rimsky-Korsakov's wife. It was well received, prompting one critic to pronounce that Borodin had produced Russia's first great piece of chamber music.

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.

From Edition Silvertrust

Alexander Borodin While Alexander Borodin (1833-1887) is fairly well-known, it is his orchestral pieces and not his chamber music which has made his name. Nine out of ten people could not tell you that the famous Borodin melody in the popular Broadway musical Kismet is from his Second String Quartet. But Borodin wrote several lovely chamber music works, most of it virtually unknown today.

His First String Quartet dates from the mid 1870's and bears the subtitle “Suggested by a theme of Beethoven.” Though Borodin himself did not enlighten the reader as to which theme, it was from the final movement of Beethoven's Op.130 String Quartet in B flat Major. The first movement, Moderato—Allegro, starts with a slow introduction which builds tension and expectation especially as it begins to accelerate. It is the Allegro in which traces of the Beethoven theme may be heard. The second movement, Andante con moto, begins with a duet in the first violin and viola. It is introspective and pensive. The middle section is a relaxed fugue on a chromatic rising line. The extraordinary third movement, Scherzo: Prestissimo, has a triplet figure which is quickly handed off from voice to voice at a breakneck speed. The trio section, based on a theme very close to the opening Allegro, is mostly made up of harmonics in all of the voices and creates a marvelous fairyland of tone. There was certainly nothing like it up until that time. The finale, Andante—Allegro risoluto, begins with a brief and moderato introduction. Both the 1st violin and cello have short cadenzas. The main subject of the Allegro, is quite energetic while the second subject is clearly related to several of the other themes which have appeared earlier.

This is a fine work which deserves to be heard in concert and will certainly be appreciated by amateurs everywhere.

© Edition Silvertrust. Used by permission. All rights reserved.