Balakirev, Mily Alexejevitch


Modern Russian composer and pianist. He was born at Nijni Novgorod and learned the first principles of music from his mother. He received his education at the University of Kazan, afterward returning to his native town, where he enjoyed the friendship of Alexander Oulibicheff, a retired diplomat, whose wide musical knowledge and fine musical library had much influence on Balakirev. He learned considerable about instrumentation from his practice with Oulibicheff's band and, better than this, became thoroughly filled with the spirit of the Russian folk-music. He settled in St. Petersburg, when about eighteen, pursuing his music study with great zeal and making his debut as a pianist there. Balakirev was at this time, completely enthused with the idea of the national spirit in music, which idea was greatly encouraged and strengthened by his friendship with Glinka, whose national melodies were just becoming known and who hailed Balakirev as his disciple and successor. Balakirev's fervor and intelligence soon drew about him a group of congenial spirits, of whom he was the leader and inspirer. This group, consisting of Cui, Moussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin, with Balakirev, founded practically the new Russian school of national music, of which the Russian national spirit and Russian characteristics was the main idea. To this group of talented men, Balakirev was teacher and inspirer and he led them through a thorough course of musical study, taking up first the older masters and following with the more modern and, finally, the contemporary composers. In 1862, Balakirev, with the noted conductor Lomakin, founded the Free School of Music, in St. Petersburg, which did much for the advancement of musical education in Russia. At the concerts of this organization, the works of his four associates, as well as those of other contemporary Russian composers, were given their first performance. In 1866 and 1867, Balakirev conducted Glinka's operas at Prague and in 1869 was appointed director of the Imperial Chapel and conductor of the Imperial Musical Society.

In 1872 he retired entirely from public life and has become in his later years a religious fanatic, being absorbed in some sort of mysticism. Balakirev's compositions are small in number, but are very beautiful. They include a symphony; overtures on Russian, Czechish and Spanish themes; the symphonic poems, Russia and Tamara; music to King Lear; the Oriental fantasia, Islamey; beside about sixty exquisite and highly original songs. He also published four collections of songs, a series of twenty songs published between 1858 and 1860, a book of ten songs printed a few years later, a collection of Russian folk-songs in 1866 and thirty national songs. Balakirev's characteristics as a musician are summed up by his friend Cui, in these words: "A musician of the first rank, an inexorable critic of his own works, thoroughly familiar with all music, ancient as well as modern, Balakirev is above all a symphonist. In vocal music he has written only twenty romances, but they are distinguished by broad and limpid melody, elegance of accompaniment, often also by passion and abandon. Lyric beauty is everywhere in evidence. They are impulses of the heart, expressed by delicious music."