Mily Balakirev

Tchaikovsky Research
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Mily Balakirev (1836-1910)

Russian composer, pianist, conductor and civil servant (b. 21 December 1836/2 January 1837 in Nizhny Novgorod; d. 16/29 May 1910 in Saint Petersburg), born Mily Alekseyevich Balakirev (Милий Алексеевич Балакирев).


Balakirev briefly received music lessons from Aleksandr Dubuque, before going on to study mathematics at university. After making the acquaintance of the composer Mikhail Glinka in Moscow, he was inspired to take up music as a career. A staunch believer that Russia should have its own distinct school of music, free of western influences, he helped to found the Free Musical School in Petersburg in 1862, and gathered around himself a group of like-minded nationalist composers (César Cui, Modest Musorgsky, Aleksandr Borodin, and Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov; collectively these became known as "The Mighty Handful" (Могучая Кучка) or "The Five".

Tchaikovsky and Balakirev

Balakirev's hopes that Tchaikovsky would become part of this nationalist circle were never realised, but it was at Balakirev's instigation that Tchaikovsky wrote the overture-fantasia Romeo and Juliet (1869), which Balakirev immediately persuaded the composer to revise, as well as arranging the publication of the new version through his contacts at Bote & Bock in Berlin. As a result of his increasing workload, Balakirev suffered a mental breakdown, and in 1872 he temporarily retired from the music world, taking up various clerical posts instead. Over the next few years he gradually returned to composition, and in 1881 he accepted an invitation to resume his directorship of the Free Music School. Two years later, he was appointed director of the Imperial Chapel Choir, where he worked alongside Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov until 1895. During this later period Balakirev sought out Tchaikovsky once more, and persuaded him to write the symphony Manfred, Op. 58 (1885).


Tchaikovsky dedicated three of his compositions to Mily Balakirev:

Correspondence with Tchaikovsky

47 letters from Tchaikovsky to Mily Balakirev have survived, dating from 1868 to 1891, all of which have been translated into English on this website:

40 letters from Balakirev to Tchaikovsky have survived, dating from 1868 to 1891, of which 35 are preserved in the Tchaikovsky State Memorial Musical Museum-Reserve at Klin (a4, Nos. 145–179), 2 are in the Library of the Saint Petersburg State Conservatory, 2 are in Russian State Archive of Literature and Art in Moscow, and one is in the Russian National Museum of Music in Moscow (ф. 37-III-118).


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