Our music for this week is the Borodin String Quartet No. 2 in D Minor.
(this is a link to just the first movement).
You are probably familiar with Borodin for his famous orchestral composition “In the Steppes of Central Asia.” Unfortunately, this seems to be his only well-known work despite his production of numerous other beautiful pieces of music.
Borodin wrote the following string quartet as a love letter to his wife Ekaterina on the 20th anniversary of their marriage. He represents himself in the cello line (he was, unlike many of the other composers we have listened to, not a child prodigy and would often make jokes about how terrible of a cello player he was). His wife is represented in the first violin line, which carries the majority of the melodic material. The first movement is blissful, charming, and representative of a deepening love over the decades. You will hear the cello and the first violin carrying on a sort of dialogue throughout the first movement in particular. Borodin shirks the tradition of having a slow second movement and follows the opening movement with a lively Scherzo, in which he pairs two dances – a Gavotte and a Waltz – in a relaxed romp through sonata form. Listen for these two different dances and the two themes that they represent – Borodin intended for them to reflect the personalities of himself and his wife. The third movement, the Nocturne, is the most famous portion of the quartet. It is the essence of the love letter and features a tender conversation between Borodin and Ekaterina over a glowing layer of accompaniment by the second violin and viola. It is a melody that is hard to forget. In fact, the Nocturne was used as the foundational melody for the song “And This is My Beloved” from the 1953 Broadway musical Kismet. The ending movement, a Vivace, simply provides a light-hearted ending to the quartet despite the fact that most listeners would probably have been very happy to have the Nocturne continue for as long as possible.