Borodin, Alexander (1833 – 1887)

Borodin discusses the up and coming composers in the New Russian School

A superb and important eight-page autograph letter signed by Alexander Borodin (“A. Borodin”), St. Petersburg, 29th June 1884, on two separate folded sheets of paper.

The composer writes in French, sending his correspondent a detailed report about the upcoming talent in the New Russian School, paying special attention to Alexander Glazunov. Borodin opens with a flourish, apologising for the delay in responding to four letters that have built up during his absence. He thanks his correspondent for sending their photograph, whose image “doesn’t fail to convey a nobel foreign artist, who takes such interest in our Russian music.”

He then moves on to the matter at hand, providing information about up and coming Russian composers. He starts with Glazunov: “. The first name I’d mention to you is Alexander Glazunov. He has an altogether exceptional talent. Having been a student since the age of 15, he already had then all the conservatoire skills; He was a master of harmony, counterpointal forms, instrumentation, musical literature. One abiding memory I have is that he knew by heart all the remarkable works of the great masters and modern composers and made the most detailed analyses. Messrs Balakirev and Rimsky-Korsakov – when he was a student – saw that there was nothing left for them to teach him – simply offered their best wishes as if they were his colleagues.”

He then goes on to discuss specific pieces by Glazunov, noting that, “of those that are in print, I’d  recommend his Suite by the name of Sacha (diminutive of the name Alexander in Russian). It’s a series of numbers on a theme formed by sounds: Mi minor (Es), la (A), ut (C), si (H), and la (A) corresponding to initials: S.A.C.H. A. (for the piano), Quartet for 2 Vlns, Vla and Vcello; ‘Partition parties’ arranged as piano duet.”

The composer goes on to discuss other composers in similar detail. He lists several of Anatoly Liadov’s works, drawing his correspondent’s attention to the work Paraphrases. He notes that Liadov wrote this work together with “Mr. Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov and your humble servant. You probably know this bizarre little work? Liszt like it a lot and wrote a number for the second edition.” The other composers discussed by Borodin are Nicolas Stcherbatcheff and Nicolas Ladigenski.

Borodin then turns his attention to his own music, and his correspondent’s desire to premiere his second symphony: “Regarding the concerts of Russian music that you propose at Liege, we would be most obliged to you and, naturally, we’d send you the score and orchestra parts. As for my 2nd Symphony (in B minor) I’d like to make a small observation. The score and the parts are still unedited and I’d only be able to send you a manuscript score and parts.”

“Now I’ll take the liberty of making another small observation. Wouldn’t you find it more prudent to begin with my 1st Symphony in E flat major, which has a more European feel? It’s easier to understand, and already has a certain reputation in Germany…. Langhans (author of the history of music, following on from the one by Ambrois) and many others have said very flattering things about my Symphony in E. It’s had a lot of public success. F. Liszt has spoken about it a lot, and positively. The score and orchestral parts are already in print. It seems to me that you risk less by staging a premiere of my Symphony in E flat major in Liege, where the public only know me from The Steppenskizze.”

The composer closes, “I’ll finish by asking you to forgive me for having sent you, in the guise of a letter, such a dirty, thoughtless draft. Please accept my most affectionate wishes, your A. Borodin”. Letters by Borodin are very rare. Slight age-toning, and small tears to folds, otherwise in very fine condition.

An interesting letter that reveals the expanding influence of Russian music throughout the rest of Europe.