The Borodin Reaction

The Borodin Reaction

As part of Omega’s core music-making philosophy, works that have been lost to time or rarely performed are part of their staple concert repertoire. While Borodin might seem to be a familiar name for concert-going audiences, it is largely through his orchestral works and through his work as a chemist that he is known. Get to know Borodin through these five interesting facts, and find out why he was posthumously awarded with a Tony in 1954, 121 years after his death.


1. Alexander Borodin was the illegitimate son of Prince Luka Simonis dze Gedevanishvili. As Borodin was born the illegitimate child of the Prince he was given the surname of one of the prince's servants as was common practice at the time.



2. Borodin was an acclaimed chemist whose work in that field is well-known to scientists and chemists. A reaction, known to the West as the Hunsdiecker reaction published in 1939 by the Hunsdieckers, was promoted by the Soviet Union as the "Borodin reaction." In 1862 he took up a chair in chemistry at the Medical–Surgical Academy, where he worked on self-condensation of small aldehydes. He published papers in 1864 and 1869, and in this field he found himself competing with German organic chemist August Kekulé.


The Chemical formula for the Borodin Reaction


3. He was one of the prominent 19th century composers known as The Mighty Handful, (known as "The Five") a group dedicated to producing a uniquely Russian kind of classical music, rather than imitating earlier Western European models. In 1875 Borodin started his First String Quartet, much to the displeasure of Mussorgsky and Vladimir Stasov. That Borodin did so in the company of The Five, who were hostile to chamber music, speaks to his independence. His String Quartet No.1 is an impassioned work, filled with glorious melodies. Borodin used unusual harmonies and sudden shifts of mood in his music. He also wrote a large output of chamber music. His use of harmonies would later influence Debussy and Ravel. No other member of the Balakirev circle identified himself so openly with absolute music as did Borodin in his two string quartets, and in his many earlier chamber compositions. Himself a cellist, he was an enthusiastic chamber music player, an interest that deepened during his chemical studies in Heidelberg between 1859 and 1861.

THE MIGHTY HANDFUL "tHE FIVE" :  Mily Balakirev  (the leader),  César Cui ,  Modest Mussorgsky ,  Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov  and  Alexander Borodin  

THE MIGHTY HANDFUL "tHE FIVE" : Mily Balakirev (the leader), César CuiModest MussorgskyNikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Borodin 


4. Borodin was an activist (of sorts) for Women's Rights and equal opportunity. His wife, Ekaterina, was a keen fighter for women's rights and converted Alexander to the cause. He was of the opinion that there should be equality of education and was convinced that women would make good doctors.  In the last 12 years of his life he founded and ran the St.Petersburg Medical School for Women: the project of which Borodin was most proud. On his burial casket there is a silver plate from his female students which reads: "To the Founder, Protector and Defender of the School of Medicine for Women."


5. Melodies from Borodin’s opera Prince Igor and from his String Quartet No.2 were used in the 1953 musical film Kismet. Famous tunes (to which lyrics were added) include Stranger in Paradise and Bangles, Baubles, and Beads. He received a posthumous Tony Award in 1954 for this music, and these songs have become immortalized by the likes of great American Songbook singers, such as Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra. 

Borodin's music is full of romantic charm and enticing melody, and much of it also rings with the pageantry and landscape of old Russia; of onion-domed churches, richly decorated icons, and the vastness of the land

Get to known Borodin up-close and personally in Omega’s next concert, A Brahms Affair on 7 September at City Recital Hall as they present his first String Quartet alongside Brahms' lyrical and graceful Clarinet Quintet and Schumann’s energetic and witty Fantasy Pieces for Clarinet and Piano. It’s a concert of high-energy, filled with music created from the most creative imaginations.