Sorry, a technical problem has occurred which may impair service. Apologies for any inconvenience, our engineers have been alerted.

Try refreshing the page in a moment.

In the Steppes of Central Asia : Work information

Alexander Porfir'yevich Borodin ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Ole Schmidt (Conductor)

This work

Work name
In the Steppes of Central Asia
Work number
1880-00-00 02:00:00

This recording

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Recording date

Track listing


Borodin's 'orchestral picture' In the Steppes of Central Asia was written in 1880 to celebrate Alexander II's silver jubilee. Along with the compositions of 11 other composers, it was designed to accompany a series of tableaux vivants illustrating events in the Tsar's reign. Although the project was abandoned, Borodin's delightful contribution has survived and regularly appears in concert programmes.

Borodin prefaced the score with the following text, describing the scene:

'In the silence of the monotonous steppes of Central Asia is heard the unfamiliar sound of a peaceful Russian song. From the distance we hear the approach of horses and camels and the bizarre, melancholy notes of an oriental melody. A caravan approaches, escorted by Russian soldiers, and continues safely on is long way through the immense desert. It disappears slowly. The notes of the Russian and Asiatic melodies join in a common harmony, which dies away as the caravan disappears in the distance.'

The two themes of the work are folk-like, but appear to have been fashioned with their eventual combination specifically in mind.

In the Steppes of Central Asia was dedicated to Franz Liszt, the composer who did more than anyone to introduce Borodin's music to western Europe.

The Composers

Alexander Porfir'yevich Borodin

Alexander Borodin would not have been so named today.  An illegitimate child of a Georgian prince, when his mother married a doctor common practice dictated that her son should be legally registered as the son of one of her new husband's serfs.  Nonetheless he was still raised and educated by his mother, who arranged him to have lessons with a local piano teacher.  This fostered an already innate love of music, an interest so consuming that Borodin taught himself to play the cello and composed many minor works.  He also began his first steps in chemistry, intrigued at first by the possiblity of making things explode.

1850 saw Borodin enter the Medico-Surgical Academy where he studied numerous disciplines.  Although music frequently distracted him from his studies, he graduated cum laude and was posted to a military hospital to gain experience.  Going on to distinguish himself in the fields of medicine and chemistry, it was not until 1862 that he returned seriously to composition.  This was partly due to a romance with a brilliant pianist whom he later married, and partly due to a new friendship with Mily Balakirev , with whose help he began his first symphony.  Due to his responsibilities as reader in chemistry at the academy, the symphony took until 1867 to complete and was premiered in 1869.  By this time Borodin had also had an opera, The Bogatirs, performed at the Bolshoi, although it was not well received.

After beginning a second symphony, Borodin began his greatest work, the opera Prince Igor.  Again, work had to take precedence and although he returned to it throughout the rest of his life it was not until after his death that it was completed by his compatriots Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov.  The ongoing interest in one work led to a consistent mode of approach to other pieces Borodin wrote at the time, such as the second string quartet and In the Steppes of Central Asia .  He died in 1887, suffering a stroke at a party.

Related composers: Mikhail Glinka, Modest Mussorgsky