In the middle of the 19th century Russian music, apart from folk music,
was of little substance. The music emulated it's European contemporary,
with the Moscow Conservatoire acting as the 'umpire' in deciding what was
musically acceptable. Glinka, perhaps Russia's best known composer at the
time, felt the need for a school of nationalist music and Dargomizhsky,
another composer, was sympathetic to this idea. It was not, however, until
five young composers, known as the 'Mighty Handful' - a phrase coined by
the music critic Vladimir Stasov - got together and played, listened to and
debated each other's music, that these ambitions were finally realized.
During this period and in spite of busy and varied careers,
'The Five' managed to redirect the entire course of Russian music.
In the past it has been suggested that the academic, military, and
government careers of this 'Handful' kept them in contact with European
trends in music while they were developing a distinct 'Russian' style;
embodying folk-tune elements and colourful instrumental effects.
The reputed leader of the five was Balakirev (1837-1910). A strict
and uncompromising tutor, he laid the theoretical ground rules for
the group. Cesar Cui (1835-1918), though not a first-rate composer,
considered himself joint leader and group critic. Moussorgsky (1839-1881)
was the black sheep of the group, but also its spiritual soul, and his music
rates high amongst them. Borodin (1833-1887) was both a composer and
a chemist with an international reputation, and although his musical
output was small it contained several masterpieces.
Finally, it was the youngest of the group, Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)
who explored colourful orchestration to the full. Although he was both
a composer and naval officer he produced an amazing amount of compositions
and orchestrations. Not only a very good musician, he was also a loyal
friend. After the death of Mussorgsky and Borodin it was Rimsky who both
completed and publicized their works. It is therefore appropriate that
Borodin's Symphony No. 2 has been selected for this recording, as the score
was edited by Rimsky after Borodin's death.