Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dances” from “Prince Igor”: A Spirited Performance by Russian Youth

Alexander Borodin’s four-act opera, Prince Igor, is based on the medieval Russian nationalistic epic, The Tale of Igor’s Campaign. It tells the story of a 12th century military campaign, launched by the Prince of Novgorod-Seversk against the Polovtsians, an invading nomadic Tartar tribe. Quickly, the campaign takes a disastrous turn, and Igor and his son, Vladimir, are taken prisoner.

In the opera’s second act, the Polovtsian leader, Khan Konchak, entertains his captives with a series of lavish dances, performed by his slaves. The famous Polovtsian Dances form the act’s climactic conclusion. First comes the melodically sensuous Gliding Dance of the Maidens, with its rising and falling lines, punctuated with folk ornaments from the East. In the Wild Dance of the Men, the tempo quickens, and we are swept along by exhilarating folk rhythms. Shifting to triple meter, the General Dance ascends to a raw, primal scream. Erupting in a wild presto, the set concludes with the Dance of the Boys.

A member of the group of composers known as the “Russian Five,” Borodin divided his time between writing music and working as a highly respected research chemist. He worked on Prince Igor for 18 years, beginning in 1869, but the work remained unfinished when he died suddenly in 1887. The score was completed by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov and a 23-year-old Alexander  Glazunov. The premiere took place at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in November, 1890.

In May of 1909, Sergei Diaghilev presented the Polovtsian Scenes and Dances (the opera’s second act) as part of the Saison Russe at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. Later, in 1953, Borodin’s captivating melodies found their way to the Broadway stage, where they were adapted for the musical, Kismet. (With new lyrics, the Gliding Dance of the Maidens became Stranger in Paradise).

This concert took place in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, where portraits of composers, including Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov, gaze down on the proceedings. Led by Zoya Groshenkova, the spirited antiphonal performance features young Russian musicians from the Consolidated Choir of the Children’s Music School and the College Symphony Orchestra.

Featured Image: a 1930 set design for the second act of “Prince Igor,” Ivan Bilibin

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

1 thought on “Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dances” from “Prince Igor”: A Spirited Performance by Russian Youth”

  1. I love this work, and it’s been popular beyond the “classically” trained audience. The Youth did a magnificent performance here.


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