MILY ALEXEYEVICH BALAKIREV (1837 - 1910)
Balakirev was the self-appointed leader of The Five or The Mighty Handful, a group of Russian nationalist composers in the second half of the 19th century that comprised César Cui, Mussorgsky, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov and Balakirev himself. His own success as a composer was intermittent, largely owing to eccentricities of character and a tendency to make enemies through his own overwhelming enthusiasm and intolerance of other ideas. He was particularly opposed to the establishment of music conservatories in Russia by the Rubinstein brothers and was accused in his turn of amateurism.
Balakirev’s orchestral music includes concert overtures, two of them revised as the symphonic poems Russia and In Bohemia. His symphonic poem Tamara is based on a poem by Lermontov, and he completed two symphonies. His Piano Concerto in E flat major was left incomplete (it was subsequently finished by Lyapunov, who also orchestrated Balakirev’s oriental fantasy Islamey). He wrote two orchestral suites, one based on pieces by Chopin, and provided an overture and incidental music for Shakespeare’s King Lear.
Balakirev’s best-known work today is his oriental fantasy Islamey. As a pianist himself, he wrote a varied quantity of pieces for the instrument, including three scherzos, seven mazurkas, nocturnes and waltzes. His significant Sonata in B flat minor, eventually completed in 1905, after half a century, was dedicated to Lyapunov.