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Mily Balakirev: Mily Balakirev (b. Nizhny-Novgopod, 2 Jan 1837; d. St Petersburg, 29 May 1910).
Mily Balakirev was largely self-taught in music and early conceived a fondness for Chopin and a passion for Glinka which remained with him throughout his life. He started composing at the age of fifteen but entered the University of Kazan as a mathematics student. In 1855 he went to St Petersburg where he met Glinka whose spiritual heir he became and the guidance of whose circle he undertook after his death in 1857 - by which time Mily Balakirev was quite well known as a pianist and composer. His first important composition, the Overture on Three Russian Themes, was written in 1858, but his King Lear music, though begun the same year, was not completed until 1861. Mily Balakirev always found difficulty in working systematically and in producing satisfactory definitive versions of his works, and over the next ten years only three substantial pieces were completed - the symphonic poem Russia, the Overture on Czech Themes (In Bohemia) and the piano fantasy Islamey. Meanwhile in 1862 he instigated the founding of the Russian Free School of Music and distinguished himself as teacher, adviser and father figure above all to the young nationalist-oriented group of composers who gathered around him and were later nicknamed The Mighty Handful': Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin were all set to composing professionally as a result of Mily Balakirev's encouragement, although several later rebelled against his 'benevolent despotism' (even Tchaikovsky was kept for a time under surveillance). In 1866 Mily Balakirev went to Prague to supervise productions of Glinka's operas, and the following year succeeded Anton Rubinstein as principal conductor of the Russian Music Society. He gained even more control in musical circles when he assumed the directorship of the Free School, but his outspokenness and refusal to compromise led to his dismissal in 1869. In 1881 he again took charge of it after a prolonged mental and psychological crisis which effectively removed him from the musical scene for several years. In 1 883 he was appointed Director of Music at the Imperial Chapel, and started editing the complete works of Glinka for publication. He resigned from the Imperial post in 1894 and devoted the last fifteen years of his life increasingly to composition: he completed the C major symphony begun thirty years before, the Second Symphony and much piano music.
As heir to the Glinka tradition Mily Balakirev made an incalculable contribution to the nationalist cause in Russian music. He inherited all Glinka's love of folksong (he published three sets of arrangements) of instrumental colour and the tendency to compose in short bursts. The influence of Liszt and the fusion of folkmusic traits with exotic arabesque nurtured a highly-wrought, richly ornamental style in which genuine development, dramatic argument and thematic proliferation is often eschewed in favour of a play of harmonic and instrumental colour - e.g., Islamey and Mily Balakirev's masterpiece Tamara (1882) which in terms of opulence of sound stands unrivalled in the music of its time. This work had important repercussions:
Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherezade was directly indebted and so also, far more significantly, was Debussy's Prelude a TApres-midid'un Faune. Otherwise Mily Balakirev is best represented by his First Symphony, his fine Russia and early Overture on Three Russian Themes, and a number of sterling songs.
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