Symphony No. 2 : Work information

Alexander Porfir'yevich Borodin ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma (RAI), José Serebrier (Conductor)

This work

Work name
Symphony No. 2
Work number
B minor
1876-00-00 02:00:00

This recording

Paolo Ghirlinzoni
Nicola Caponero
Recording date
1989-09-01 01:00:00

Track listing

  • Allegro 7:42 min
  • Scherzo: Prestissimo 5:54 min
  • Andante 7:50 min
  • Finale: Allegro 6:28 min


The success of the First Symphony encouraged Borodin to write another, and in the first months of 1869 he began what was to become his greatest work, the Second Symphony. The first movement was completed in autumn 1871 and the finale sketched that Novemeber. However, Borodin's professional duties as a chemist, and work on the opera Prince Igor interrupted proceedings somewhat.

The interest shown by the Russian Music Society in performing the work in 1876 led Borodin on a frantic hunt to find the manuscript; the two middle movements were found, but the outer movements had to be reorchestrated by the composer!

The first performance took place on 10 March 1877 but was not a great success. A more successful revised version was given by Rimsky-Korsakov on 4 March 1879. The score was revised again in October 1886 and was in early proof stage, in preparation for publication, when Borodin died.

One of the most colourful symphonies of the nineteenth century, Borodin's Second displays all the qualities of a composer writing at the peak of his powers. The bold strengh of the first movement, the quicksilver Scherzo, the poetic Andante, and the joyous, exuberant Finale combine to produce a highly contrasted, yet totally cohesive, work.

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