Alexander [Aleksandr, Alexandre]  Borodin [Borodine]

Alexander Borodin (1833-1887)

Nationality: Russian
Born: November 12, 1833, St. Petersburg
Died: February 27, 1887, St. Petersburg (age 53)
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String Quartet No. 2 in D major

(for 2 violins, viola and cello)
8:14
I. Allegro moderato
4:45
II. Scherzo. Allegro
7:58
III. Notturno. Andante
6:45
IV. Andante - Vivace
Duration: 28 minutes (approximately) - hide movement times
Composed: 1881 (age 47-48)
Published: 1881 (age 47-48)
Dedication: Ekaterina Borodina
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8 recordings, 29 videos
7:52
Shostakovich Quartet
I. Allegro moderato
4:35
Shostakovich Quartet
II. Scherzo. Allegro
8:17
Shostakovich Quartet
III. Notturno. Andante
7:05
Shostakovich Quartet
IV. Andante - Vivace
8:46
Borodin Quartet
I. Allegro moderato
5:11
Borodin Quartet
II. Scherzo. Allegro
8:38
Borodin Quartet
III. Notturno. Andante
7:14
Borodin Quartet
IV. Andante - Vivace
27:44
Borodin Quartet (complete)
8:14
Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
I. Allegro moderato
4:43
Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
II. Scherzo. Allegro
7:20
Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
III. Notturno. Andante
6:17
Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
IV. Andante - Vivace
8:17
Emerson String Quartet
I. Allegro moderato
4:43
Emerson String Quartet
II. Scherzo. Allegro
8:37
Emerson String Quartet
III. Notturno. Andante
6:18
Emerson String Quartet
IV. Andante - Vivace
8:23
Escher String Quartet
I. Allegro moderato
4:47
Escher String Quartet
II. Scherzo. Allegro
7:31
Escher String Quartet
III. Notturno. Andante
6:43
Escher String Quartet
IV. Andante - Vivace
8:15
St. Petersburg String Quartet
I. Allegro moderato
5:03
St. Petersburg String Quartet
II. Scherzo. Allegro
7:45
St. Petersburg String Quartet
III. Notturno. Andante
6:22
St. Petersburg String Quartet
IV. Andante - Vivace
7:53
Tákacs Quartet
I. Allegro moderato
4:28
Tákacs Quartet
II. Scherzo. Allegro
7:02
Tákacs Quartet
III. Notturno. Andante
6:53
Tákacs Quartet
IV. Andante - Vivace

From Kai Christiansen:

Alexander Borodin, 1833-1887

String Quartet No. 2 in D Major, 1881

Alexander BorodinAlexander Borodin was, like many of his now famous Russian composer friends, a composer by avocation; he had a day job. Borodin pursued a distinguished career as a physician and chemist first while composing only when he could in his truly precious spare time. Generally, it would require years for Borodin to finish a work yet he succeeded in writing some astonishing music of great originality and influence including two symphonies, tone poems such as In the Steppes of Central Asia, the opera Prince Igor featuring the now famous Polovetsian Dances, and a handful of chamber works including the equally beloved String Quartet No. 2 in D Major. This last work was, unlike the others, written in a rapid flush of activity lasting only a few months during a summer vacation. The quartet was well-received during Borodin's life but managed to "cross-over" into the mega-popular realm when at least two of its themes were used as part of the 1953 musical Kismet. Robert Wright and George Forrest used several of Borodin's compositions whose lyrical and exotic musical "orientalisms" accompanied a story set in Persia during the period from the Arabian Nights. Two songs in particular, Baubles, Bangles and Beads and This is My Beloved are based directly on themes from the second and third movements respectively of Borodin's quartet. His fresh nationalistic use of Asian folk music, rhythm, color and chromaticism brought his music to the attention of many composers especially the young Debussy who, as a Frenchman, had an equal interest in abandoning Teutonic conventions and vocabulary for a "new", polyglot European culture. With his contemporary Tchaikovsky, Borodin laid a significant cornerstone in nascent tradition of Russian chamber music specifically for the time-honored string quartet.

The quartet opens with a lyrical, delicate sensibility that immediately suggests its influence on French composers. The sonata naturally introduces a second theme for contrast, the new character stout but vigorous as a counterweight to the lithe, gentle sway of the beginning. A wonderful sense of affection permeates much of the entire quartet: Borodin dedicated the work to his wife on their twenty-fifth anniversary. Borodin writes a sparkling scherzo for the second movement. Part Mendelsohn, part Ravel, it glitters with a tensile agility that gives way not to a formal and fully independent trio, but to an interpolated second theme that relaxes into a touch of salon waltz, a finely spun cloth of languid chromatic sequences that became "Baubles, Bangles and Beads", a perfect title to match the musical alliteration of its short rhyming motifs. The slow movement Notturno is an entire musical narrative of its own as the cello and violin explore a tale of lovers complete with opening soliloquy, loving entreaty, an elegant dance, a tragic conflict and a sublime duet aria for the denouement. While the lovely theme appears wholesale in Kismet, only the string quartet contains the ravishing middle section rising to a peak of dazzling contrapuntal writing second only to Mozart in luminous grandeur. Only the string quartet offers this exquisite instrumental texture.

Borodin's finale is novel, arresting, brooding as well as humorous. It is like a Slavic version of a Haydnesque romp. One might sense both the Russian angst and the skittering hysteria of Tchaikovsky here. But the much larger fingerprint is, oddly, Beethoven. The introductory two-part musical utterance is a cryptic provocation with emphatic answer in the manner of Beethoven's "Must it Be?", "It Must Be!", the musical "difficult decision" from the finale of his very last string quartet. Borodin's tribute seems unquestionably to nod to Beethoven and the august tradition of Teutonic chamber music. While the Russian nationalist composers of Borodin's close circle known as the "The Mighty Five" might eschew the "empty formalism" of the musical fare from the Viennese drawing rooms in favor of Asian color, rhythm and folklore, Borodin was an eclectic dilettante, an analytical chemist, a scholar and a teacher. He knew and cherished the tradition. Further evidence for Borodin's cultivation from the Western classics appears in his first string quartet, an equally successful work that bore the subtitle "On a Theme of Beethoven". In that case, the direct and audible inspiration is the finale of Op. 130, another of Beethoven's late quartets. Borodin was surely in the vanguard with his studied awareness of Beethoven's late quartets: for most listeners in 1881, this music was still held somewhat at arm's length, a mysterious, puzzling netherworld that had yet to be conquered by the larger world. Both of Borodin's quartets show outstanding craftsmanship from a gifted composer placed in a unique historical position to add an elegant, new perfume to European chamber music while advancing the continuity and self-awareness of a, now, international tradition.

© Kai Christiansen. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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