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The Five – Russia's Famous Composers

During the years 1856 to 1860, a group of composers got together to use their talents to produce Russian compositions that were free of European influence and would rely only on their training in Russian art music. Their goals were the same and they became known as The Five, The Mighty Coterie, The Mighty Handful, The Russian Five and The Mighty Five. The group consisted of Cesar Cui, Alexander Borodin, Mily Balakirev, Modest Mussorgsky and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Gathering in Saint Petersburg, The Five set about creating musical masterpieces unique to Russia and became the inspiration for many composers who followed years later.

It was the dream of The Five to bring Russian music to the world. Even though they worked independently, they strived to produce work that would be purely Russian and a part of their country’s heritage. Some of the works from the group included Russian Eastern Overture and Antar Symphony by Nicholas Rimsky-Korsakov; Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky; and Prince Igor Opera by Alexander Borodin.

The leader of The Five was Mily Balakirev, and it is said that he was known to be an autocrat and made many enemies during his time, with many critics not having a good word for him. And yet he composed symphonic poems, orchestral music, various songs and numerous piano pieces that are still played today. Modest Mussorgsky served in the military to satisfy his father’s wishes, but his passion always lay in music. His work is known to create imaginative depictions of life in Russia, and he composed piano pieces, operas and various songs. Cesar Cui was a great supporter of nationalist Russian music; however, he was not really a known contributor to the music industry. He did write piano pieces and songs, but was mostly known for being a military academy professor and music critic. Alexander Borodin was very successful as a composer and was halfway through composing the Prince Igor opera when he passed away in the year 1887. It is said that out of respect for Borodin, Nicholas Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov completed the opera on his behalf.

Nicolas Rimsky-Korsakov became the most famous of all, composing magnificent symphonies, operas and orchestral pieces. During the years 1874 to 1881, he became the director of the Saint Petersburg Free Music School, and left behind a wonderful legacy. Most of the members of The Five, with the exception of Cesar Cui, taught and influenced composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Alexander Glazunov, Dimitri Shosrakovich and Sergei Prokofiev. The Five most definitely had a positive impact on the Russian art music world, and set a standard and musical foundation that was used by numerous Russian composers in creating a rich musical culture for the country.


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