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Mili Alekseyevich Balakirev Edit Profile

Composer , conductor , pianist

Mili Alexeivich Balakirev was a Russian musical composer.


He was born at Nijni-Novgorod, Russia on January 2, 1837 (O. S. 21 December 1836). Balakirev was born at Nizhny Novgorod, into a poor clerk's family with Tatar roots


He had the advantage as a boy of living with Oulibichev, author of a Life of Mozart, who had a private band, and from whom Balakirev obtained a valuable education in music.

At eighteen, after a university course in mathematics, he went to St Petersburg, full of national ardour, and there made the acquaintance of Glinka.


Balakirev became important in the history of Russian music through both his works and his leadership. More so than Glinka, he helped set the course for Russian orchestral music and Russian lyrical song during the second half of the 19th century. While he learned from Glinka certain methods of treating Russian folk song instrumentally, a bright, transparent orchestral technique (something he also learned from the works of Hector Berlioz) and many elements of his basic style, he developed and expanded upon what he had learned, fusing it satisfactorily with then-advanced Romantic compositional techniques.

Unfortunately, the protracted composition of several works robbed Balakirev of the credit for their inventiveness. Pieces which could have won success had they been completed in the 1860s and 70s made a much smaller impact when they were introduced much later in the composer's life. This was because they had been overtaken stylistically by the accomplishments of younger composers, and because some of their compositional devices were appropriated by other members of The Five—the most notable example of the latter is Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, which was influenced by Balakirev's symphonic poem Tamara. Another consequence was a tendency to overwork details, which robbed these pieces of freshness of inspiration and made then seem "overdone".

Despite the protracted composition period, there was no discernible difference, especially in the two symphonies, between the sections completed in the 1860s and those written much later. Zetlin asserts that while there was no diminution of Balakirev's creative talent, the reason for this lack of disparity was because Balakirev "had ceased to evolve" as an artist; he remained creatively at the point he had reached in the 1860s, "and his newest works seemed thus merely an echo of the past. "

Perhaps because Balakirev's initial musical experience was as a pianist, composers for his own instrument influenced the repertory and style of his compositions. He wrote in all the genres cultivated by Frédéric Chopin except the Ballade, cultivating a comparable charm. The other keyboard composer who influenced Balakirev was Franz Liszt, apparent in Islamey as well as in his transcriptions of works by other composers and the symphonic poem Tamara.

Balakirev's affinity with Glinka's music becomes most apparent in his handling of folk material. However, Balakirev advances on Glinka's techniue of using "variations with changing backgrounds, " reconciling the compositional practices of classical music with the idiomatic treatment of folk song, employing motivic fragmentation, counterpoint and a structure exploiting key relationships. Between his two Overtures on Russian Themes, Balakirev became involved with folk song collecting and arranging. This work alerted him to the frequency of the Dorian mode, the tendency for many melodies to swing between the major key and its relative minor on its flat seventh key, and the tendency to accentuate notes not consistent with dominant harmony. These characteristics were reflected in Balakirev's handling of Russian folk song. Since the musical views of The Five tended to be anti-German, it is easy to forget that Balakirev was actually well-grounded in German symphonic style—all the more impressive when it is remembered that Balakirev was essentially self-taught as a composer. His King Lear overture, written when he was 22, is not a symphonic poem in the vein of Liszt but actually more along the lines of Beethoven's concert overtures, relying more on the dramatic qualities of sonata form than on extramusical content.

Balakirev died on 29 May 1910 and was interred in Tikhvin Cemetery at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in Saint Petersburg.


  • He was a Russian pianist, conductor and composer known today primarily for his work promoting musical nationalism and his encouragement of more famous Russian composers, notably Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.



For a while in the late 1860s he frequented a soothsayer to learn his fate with the Russian Musical Society. Rimsky-Korsakov wrote of these sessions, "Balakirev, who did not believe in God, became a believer in the Devil.

The Devil brought it about that subsequently he came to believe in God too . .. The soothsaying . .. cast a terror upon him".

Rimsky-Korsakov mentions that some of Balakirev's character traits were present before his conversion but became intensified afterward. This was true of his general intolerance of viewpoints other than his own, but especially so with his anti-Semitism. His attacks on Anton Rubinstein in the 1860s became petty and anti-Semitic, and Jews were not admitted to the Free School during his earlier directorship. However, it was after his conversion that he suspected everyone he disliked to be of Jewish origin, and that he hated the Jews in general because they had crucified Christ. He became belligerent in his religious conversations with friends, insistent that they cross themselves and attend church with him. "All this medley of Christian meekness, backbiting, fondness for beasts, misanthropy, artistic interests, and a triviality worthy of an old maid from a hospice, all these struck everyone who saw him in those days", Rimsky-Korsakov wrote, adding that these traits intensified further in subsequent years.


In his earlier days he was politically liberal, a freethinker and an atheist; for a while, he considered writing an opera based on Chernishevsky's nihilistic novel What is to Be Done?.

He also became a political reactionary and "xenophobic Slavophile who wrote hymns in honor of the dowager empress and other members of the royal family. "


Rimsky-Korsakov relates some of Balakirev's extremes in behavior at this point—how he had "given up eating meat, and ate fish, but . .. only those which had died, never the killed variety"; how he would remove his hat and quickly cross himself whenever he passed by a church; and how his compassion for animals reached the point that whenever an insect was found in a room, he would carefully catch it and release it from a window, saying, "Go thee, deary, in the Lord, go!" Balakirev lived as a recluse in a house filled with dogs, cats and religious icons. The exception to this reclusiveness was the musical Tuesday evenings he held after his return to music in the 1870s and 80s.


Balakirev apparently never married nor had any children since none are mentioned in biographical sources.