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Biography

(2 January 1837 [o.s. 21 December 1836] – 29 May [o.s. 16 May] 1910).

Russian pianist, composer, and conductor.  He is known today primarily for his work promoting musical nationalism in Russia. 


He initially studied with his mother and other teachers in the region from Germany, and soon tried his hand at composition.  In 1855 he traveled to St. Petersburg where he met Glinka and was encouraged by him to pursue music.

By the 1960's Balakirev had become the 'spiritual father' to a group of Russian composers who the critic Stasov called the "mighty little company" (moguchaya kuchka), now known as "The Five".  Along with Balakirev the group included Borodin, Cui, Mussorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov.


Balakirev served as a pivotal figure, extending and developing the fusion begun by Glinka of traditional Russian and boldly experimental music. In doing so, he established musical patterns that could express overtly nationalistic feeling.  He not only demonstrated in his own works how this could be done, he imparted his own musical beliefs and passed them on to underlie the thinking of his pupils.

Balakirev was active as a conductor at the Free School of Music in St. Petersburg and at the Russian Musical Society concerts. These activities took him to Prague in 1867 where he conducted Glinka's operas.


In the middle decades of his life, Balakirev held a series of musical and non-musical positions which seem to have prevented him from pursuing composition, or exerting the same influence as he had earlier.  In his last decades, he became more reclusive, devoting time to completing long unfinished compositions. Consequently, Balakirev found himself in the unusual position late in life of attending premieres of works he had begun long ago.  He began his First Symphony in 1864 but finished it in 1897.  Often, the musical ideas normally associated with Rimsky-Korsakov or Borodin actually originated in Balakirev's compositions.

And so, it was his early orchestral and vocal works which had the greatest influence and impact on the coming generation of composers.  In this regard, his impact as a teacher and mentor was more profound than that of Glinka.

Among his most important works are the exotic piano fantasy "Islamey", the technical difficulty of which rivals the Trascendental Etudes of Liszt - and the early orchestral tone poem "Tamara".


This biography was most recently edited by...
steven - 14 Jun 2011
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