Alexander Borodin, Piano Quintet in c minor

Alexander Borodin "Considering that Borodin was neither acquainted with Schumann's music (including his piano quintet) nor that of his Russian contemporaries (i.e. Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, Balakirev etc.), his Piano Quintet must be considered an extraordinarily significant work. It shows imagination and boldness. In it, we can hear the seeds Prince Igor, along with the influence of Mendelssohn and Glinka with whom he was familiar."
—So wrote the respected Russian music critic Yevgeni Braudo.

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. These fall into two distinct periods. The first is from his time in Germany during the late 1850's when he was doing post graduate work in chemistry. His main occupation was that of a Professor Chemistry at the university in St. Petersburg. Music was only a hobby he engaged in for relaxation. The second period dates from his time in St. Petersburg when he came under the influence of and received considerable help from Rimsky-Korsakov. Tchaikovsky was to quip, "Oh Borodin, a good chemist, but he cannot write a proper measure without Rimsky helping him."

The Piano Quintet was composed in 1862 while Borodin was vacationing in Italy after completing his his studies in Germany. It was one of the few works from this period that has survived in its entirety. In three movements, the Piano Quintet clearly shows Borodin’s musical imagination as well as his compositional skill. As such, it demolishes the argument that Tchaikovsky and other critics often bandied about, that Borodin either had no compositional skill, or what skill he had, he gained from Rimsky Korsakov and Mussorgsky.

The main theme of the first movement, Andante, based on a turn is clearly Russian sounding. Each voice has a chance to bring it forth. The second movement, Scherzo, begins with a fresh and lively subject first introduced by the viola. It sounds as if a fugue is about to begin, but Borodin surprises by almost immediately introducing the beautiful second theme. The Quintet closes with a very Russian sounding Allegro moderato.

The beautiful melodies Borodin brings forth coupled with the fine part writing make this a work which every Piano Quintet Party will want to try.

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