William Sterling

Alexander Borodin

The Mighty Handful

The lives and music of Balakirev, Cui, Borodin, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov examining how they came together and how their careers overlapped. In 1867 the critic Stasov wrote a review of the Pan-Slav concert organised by Mily Balakirev: “God grant that our Slavonic guests may never forget today’s concert; God grant that they may ever preserve the memory of how much poetry, feeling, talent and skill we have in our small but already might handful of Russian musicians” and thus the term was coined.

I ran this course at Crayford Manor (Bexley College) October-December 1998.

Borodin – “No musician has ever claimed immortality with so slender an offering”

These words were written by the English musicologist Sir Henry Hadow in 1906 and remain true today. Borodin is famous for a handful of works which constitute the bulk of his output. The composer of the Polovtsian Dances wrote so little but produced more than his fair share of masterpieces.

This talk was for the DfE Music Society in May 2002.


The illegitimate son of a Georgian Prince, Borodin had a privileged upbringing and good education. His first love was science and he became one of the leading chemists in Russia.  However, he also left a small body of wonderful music including his unfinished masterpiece, Prince Igor.  One of the most popular of all composers and arguably the greatest amateur composer ever.  His position as part of the Mighty Handful (including Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov) was pivotal to the development of a new Russian style in music.  The course covered his life story as part of the Mighty Handful but also his scientific achievements.  His music was examined in terms of how it started in a very conventional way but was moulded by Balakirev and influenced by his friends to become more Russian using folksongs and reflecting speech inflections.  Works covered included his symphonies, string quartets, Prince Igor and In the Steppes of Central Asia.

This course was for the City Lit in March 2010.

Borodin Chronology

Below are the spreadsheets I created for the courses.

The Five Lives and Works

Borodin life and works