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String Quartet No.2 in D major

Alexander Borodin (b. 1823 - d. 1887)

Borodin Quartet

Borodin Quartet

Composer
Alexander Borodin (b. 1823 - d. 1887)
Composition Year
1881
Work Movements
1. Allegro moderato
2. Scherzo
3. Notturno Andante
4. Finale: Andante - Vivace
Artists
Borodin String Quartet (Ruben Aharonian, Sergey Lamovsky [violins], Igor Naidin [viola], Vladimir Balshin [cello]) [quartet]

Programme Note Writer:
© David Winter

Alexander Borodin was a remarkable man. Always interested in and talented at music, he spent most of his career as an academic chemist. He became a Professor in St Petersburg in 1864 and conducted important research in organic chemistry. Tall and good looking he spoke four European languages and was an ardent advocate of women’s rights and education. In 1872 he helped found the first University course in Russia for female doctors.  He had a passionate marriage to an eminent pianist, Ekatarina Protopopova. They had no children themselves but adopted children in need.  He also composed some of the most glorious music of the second half of the nineteenth century. 

 

Borodin was one for the Mighty Handful of Russian composers who laid the foundations for the later achievements of Russian music. Most of them composed little chamber music but for Borodin it was a lifelong interest. He started to compose and play chamber music at home while a teenager. He played the cello while his best friend played the violin. They both played the piano.

 

The Second Quartet, composed in the summer of 1881, was dedicated to his wife to celebrate twenty years of marriage.  All four movements are in sonata form. The first movement opens with the mellifluous main theme on the cello. The first violin takes over and the two instruments pass the theme back and forth until the violin introduces the more robust second subject. This is then played by violin and cello together. All the instruments interplay a four note motif as the opening comes to an animated conclusion.  The development begins again on the cello which is answered by the violin.  The viola also takes part in the thematic development and finally the second violin as well. The music slows for the start of the recapitulation.  The movement ends quietly with the viola repeating the four note motif.

The Scherzo is built around a busy first subject where the first note of each bar is strongly emphasised. The second theme is a glorious waltz-like tune played by both first and second violins. The harmonies here (and in other parts of the quartet) mix lushness with astringency. At times it almost sounds like Mahler.

The famous (and much copied) third movement is a wonderful Nocturne.  The sumptuous opening tune is introduced by the cello with a throbbing second violin and viola before being taken up by the violin. The second theme begins with an upward scale followed by a descending sequence of trills. This is played by the violins in turn. In the development the upward scale is used as an introduction to the main theme which is now played by all four instruments After the viola has had its turn, Borodin constructs a canon with the cello leading and the first violin following a beat behind.  He repeats this idea with the first violin leading and the second violin again a beat behind. The viola and cello provide a tremolo and pizzicato accompaniment respectively. The effect is wonderfully passionate and romantic. It is hard not to think of lovers lying entwined on a warm summer night (of which more below).

The Finale begins with a brief slow introduction made up two different phrases. The first is played by the violins; the second, a more serious motif, by the viola and cello. The movement proper begins introduced by pizzicato cello and taken up by all the instruments in turn almost like a train gathering speed.  The slow introduction returns at the beginning of the development, the viola and cello playing the first vivace and the two violins playing the second andante. Finally the slow introduction returns for a final time played by all four instruments in unison at the start of the recapitulation.

Russian critics have constructed a programme for the whole quartet. They argue that the cello stands for Borodin and the first violin for Protopopova. The first movement describes their meeting, the second with its waltz like theme their courtship. Their passion is consummated in the third movement and in the finale what? Normal life resumes perhaps.

It is true that in the first and third movements the cello often introduces themes which are then taken up by the first violin.  But this does not invariably happen and it does not happen at the climax of the third movement   If you are writing a quartet for your wife on the occasion of your wedding anniversary, the inclusion of a passionate and romantic slow movement seems quite natural. The marvel here is quite how romantic and passionate the third movement actually is. The rest of the quartet is abstract music. The whole quartet is beautifully constructed and is one of the great pieces of chamber music of its time.

This quartet was the last major work Borodin completed. After all he had plenty of other things to do. He died six years later of a sudden heart attack at a ball in St Petersburg. He had the good manners to complete an energetic waltz before dying almost immediately. Protopopova died six months later.  Although Borodin’s scientific work is not entirely forgotten, his music and, especially this Second Quartet, will continue to delight audiences for a very long time.

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String Quartet No.2 in D major

Composer: Alexander Borodin (b. 1823 - d. 1887)
Performance date: Tuesday 30th June 2015
Venue: Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,

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Composer Alexander Borodin (b. 1823 - d. 1887)
Work Title String Quartet No.2 in D major
Composition Year 1881
Work Movements 1. Allegro moderato
2. Scherzo
3. Notturno Andante
4. Finale: Andante - Vivace
Artist(s) Borodin String Quartet (Ruben Aharonian, Sergey Lamovsky [violins], Igor Naidin [viola], Vladimir Balshin [cello]) [quartet]
Performance Date Tuesday 30th June 2015
Performance Venue Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,
Event Main Evening Concert
Duration 00:29:30
Recording Engineer Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category String Quartet
Instrumentation 2vn, va, vc
Programme Note Writer © David Winter

Alexander Borodin was a remarkable man. Always interested in and talented at music, he spent most of his career as an academic chemist. He became a Professor in St Petersburg in 1864 and conducted important research in organic chemistry. Tall and good looking he spoke four European languages and was an ardent advocate of women’s rights and education. In 1872 he helped found the first University course in Russia for female doctors.  He had a passionate marriage to an eminent pianist, Ekatarina Protopopova. They had no children themselves but adopted children in need.  He also composed some of the most glorious music of the second half of the nineteenth century. 

 

Borodin was one for the Mighty Handful of Russian composers who laid the foundations for the later achievements of Russian music. Most of them composed little chamber music but for Borodin it was a lifelong interest. He started to compose and play chamber music at home while a teenager. He played the cello while his best friend played the violin. They both played the piano.

 

The Second Quartet, composed in the summer of 1881, was dedicated to his wife to celebrate twenty years of marriage.  All four movements are in sonata form. The first movement opens with the mellifluous main theme on the cello. The first violin takes over and the two instruments pass the theme back and forth until the violin introduces the more robust second subject. This is then played by violin and cello together. All the instruments interplay a four note motif as the opening comes to an animated conclusion.  The development begins again on the cello which is answered by the violin.  The viola also takes part in the thematic development and finally the second violin as well. The music slows for the start of the recapitulation.  The movement ends quietly with the viola repeating the four note motif.

The Scherzo is built around a busy first subject where the first note of each bar is strongly emphasised. The second theme is a glorious waltz-like tune played by both first and second violins. The harmonies here (and in other parts of the quartet) mix lushness with astringency. At times it almost sounds like Mahler.

The famous (and much copied) third movement is a wonderful Nocturne.  The sumptuous opening tune is introduced by the cello with a throbbing second violin and viola before being taken up by the violin. The second theme begins with an upward scale followed by a descending sequence of trills. This is played by the violins in turn. In the development the upward scale is used as an introduction to the main theme which is now played by all four instruments After the viola has had its turn, Borodin constructs a canon with the cello leading and the first violin following a beat behind.  He repeats this idea with the first violin leading and the second violin again a beat behind. The viola and cello provide a tremolo and pizzicato accompaniment respectively. The effect is wonderfully passionate and romantic. It is hard not to think of lovers lying entwined on a warm summer night (of which more below).

The Finale begins with a brief slow introduction made up two different phrases. The first is played by the violins; the second, a more serious motif, by the viola and cello. The movement proper begins introduced by pizzicato cello and taken up by all the instruments in turn almost like a train gathering speed.  The slow introduction returns at the beginning of the development, the viola and cello playing the first vivace and the two violins playing the second andante. Finally the slow introduction returns for a final time played by all four instruments in unison at the start of the recapitulation.

Russian critics have constructed a programme for the whole quartet. They argue that the cello stands for Borodin and the first violin for Protopopova. The first movement describes their meeting, the second with its waltz like theme their courtship. Their passion is consummated in the third movement and in the finale what? Normal life resumes perhaps.

It is true that in the first and third movements the cello often introduces themes which are then taken up by the first violin.  But this does not invariably happen and it does not happen at the climax of the third movement   If you are writing a quartet for your wife on the occasion of your wedding anniversary, the inclusion of a passionate and romantic slow movement seems quite natural. The marvel here is quite how romantic and passionate the third movement actually is. The rest of the quartet is abstract music. The whole quartet is beautifully constructed and is one of the great pieces of chamber music of its time.

This quartet was the last major work Borodin completed. After all he had plenty of other things to do. He died six years later of a sudden heart attack at a ball in St Petersburg. He had the good manners to complete an energetic waltz before dying almost immediately. Protopopova died six months later.  Although Borodin’s scientific work is not entirely forgotten, his music and, especially this Second Quartet, will continue to delight audiences for a very long time.