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Thursday, March 16, 2017

THE POPULAR MUSIC OF ALEXANDER BORODIN

As I many times do, I was watching Classic Arts Showcase this morning, and on came Ferrante and Teicher playing highlights from Borodin:  Stranger in Paradise, And This Is My Beloved and Baubles, Bangles and Beads.  How could an incomplete 1868 (soon after our Civil War) opera, Prince Igor (recent 2-hour 44-minute version) by a former medical doctor from Russia, Alexander Borodin, produce three major hit songs?  More so, Igor, a real Russian prince, lived 800 years ago.  Remember, America's greatest composer, Stephen Foster, also goes back to those Civil War days.

Borodin was born in 1833 to a 25-year old mother, the illegitimate son of a 62-year old nobleman.  Borodin's name came from one of serfs working for this rich man, Luka Gedevanishvili. Alexander and his mother lived well and he eventually became an eminent doctor and researcher, noted for experiments with aldehydes and amides.

He was not musically trained, until taking composition lessons at the age of 29.  He completed his first symphony 15 years later.  During this period he also dabbled with Prince Igor, but it took Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov to complete the effort.  

Popularity came when Robert Wright and George Forrest in 1953 produced on Broadway the Tony Award best musical Kismet, adapted from the music of Alexander Borodin.  The cast was headed by Alfred Drake as poet Hajj, Loretta Morrow as daughter Marsinah, Dorothy Diener as Lalume and Richard Kiley as the young Caliph of Baghdad.  Soon followed the 1955 film directed by Vincente Minnelli, starring Howard Keel, Ann Blythe, Dolores Gray and Vic Damone in those roles.  Similarly, a TV version in 1967 featured Jose Ferrer, Anna Marie Alberghetti, Barbara Eden and George Chakiris.

Stranger in Paradise (this is a 1953 clip from the original show, with Richard Kiley and Dorothy Morrow) was made popular by Tony Bennett, but The Four Aces and Tony Martin also had hits.

The origin is Borodin's Gliding Dance of the Maidens from his Polovtsian Dances.

Baubles, Bangle and Beads, also from String Quartet in D, became a best-selling song for Peggy Lee in 1954.  Frank Sinatra's version is also familiar.  

A curious rendition came from Ernesto Acher in 1987.

And This Is My Beloved, based on Borodin's String Quartet in D, was made popular by Mario Lanza in 1956.

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