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Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev (1837-1910) was a Russian composer, pianist, conductor and manager of the “Mighty Group”.

His mother taught him music. She noticed his outstanding talent and left Nizhny Novgorod for Moscow to take 10 lessons from composer A. Dubuk. A. Ulybyshev helped Balakirev a lot.  Ulybyshev was an educated amateur, art patron, the author of the first monography dedicated to Mozart. Ulybyshev would invite a bright company of local thinkers, writers and musicians who gave concerts at his place. This company became a good artistic school for Balakirev.

Upon graduation from the Nizhny-Novgorod Noble Institute in 1853, Balakirev for two years attended a course of math at Kazan University. Works from this period include a piano fantasy based on themes from Glinka's opera A Life for the Tsar, his first romance “Ty Plenitelnoy Negoi Polna”  (1855) and concert Allegro.

In 1855, Balakirev with A. Ulybyshev went to Petersburg where he met M. Glinka who convinced the young composer to dedicate himself to composing national music. Balakirev became famous in Petersburg as a player and continued to compose music.  

"Portrait of Miliy Balakirev"

Author Rinat Kuramshin

In Petersburg, Balakirev arranged and managed a group of musicians called the “Moguchaya Kuchka” (the "Mighty Handful") (called so by V. Stasov) and “Balakirev’s Circle”.  The Mighty Handful included  Ts. Kyui, M. Musorgsky, N. Rimsky-Korsakov and A. Borodin. Their musical themes were dedicated to folk life, Russian history, folk epos, ancient pagan beliefs and rites. By the 1870’s the Mighty Handful was dismissed but its ideas and trends were developed. The “Mighty Handful” was an epoch in the development of the Russian and worldwide music.  

Balakirev with conductor G. Lomakin established a Free Music School where everyone had a chance to learn music.  

Balakirev was invited to Prague in 1866 to stage M. Glinka’s operas “A Life for the Tsar” and  “Ruslan and Ludmila”. The operas had a success.

In 1870, Balakirev was rudely banned from directing concerts at the Russian Imperial Musical Society. Along with professional problems, he had personal ones. The composer suffered from depressions and he quit music. In 1872, he began to work as a clerk at the Warsaw Railway Office. Balakirev returned to music only in 1876.

Postage stamp of 1957.

120 years old

M.A. Balakireva

M. Balakirev and A. Glazunov

A collection of Russian folk songs compiled by

M. Balakirev

A.V. Mikhailov The Mighty Bunch

In 1883, Balakirev was appointed director of the Imperial Chapel, where in cooperation with N. Rimsky-Korsakov he changed a musical education having raised in to a professional level. Balakirev was the center of the Weimar Circle that gathered at academician A. Pylok’s in 1876-1904 where he conducted concerts.

Balakirev corresponded with French composer L.  Bourgault-Ducoudray, critic M. Calvocoressi and  Czech musical worker B. Kalensky.

Balakirev composed several orchestra, piano and vocal pieces. The most famous are: orchestra music to the King Lear (1860); Overtures on Czech, Russian and Spanish Themes; The Tamara symphonic poem (based on M. Lermontov’s text). Two mazurkas  for piano (As-dur and h-moll), Scherzo,the Islamey Phantasy on oriental themes (1869). The Islamey is a virtuosic and one of the hardest piano music pieces. Balakirev’s most popular vocal pieces are romances and songs (the Goldfish, the Come to me, the Night, the Moon, the Your Voice, the Jewish Melody and the Georgian Song etc.). Balakirev published the Assemblage of Russian Folk Songs in 1866 which was a valuable contribution to the Russian musical ethnography.

Balakirev lived a long life which included great triumphs and tragedies, and in general, it was a life of a true innovator.