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Overture on Russian Themes

by Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev

Mily Alekseyevich Balakirev was born in 1836 in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia and died in 1910 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

The ‘Gregorian calendar’ or ‘Soviet calendar’ was officially implemented by Soviet Russia in 1918 and fourteen days which existed in the previous ‘Julian’ calendar were removed. Under this new system, Balakirev’s birthdate became January 1837.

Balakirev began composing at age 15 and he continued to compose while he studied mathematics at the University of Kazan for two years. By all accounts, Balakirev was a difficult person and very set in his ways. He openly shared harsh and quite extreme opinions about works written in the style of Western European composers. He dedicated his life to promoting a Nationalistic style of Russian composition, free of Western influences, which incorporated Russian folk music into classical works.

He greatly encouraged a group of talented Russian composers, who, along with Balakirev, were known as “The Mighty Handful” or “The Five”. Borodin, Cui, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov all went on to become better known than their mentor, and their works are still frequently performed today.

Overture on Russian Themes was written in 1858 and features three Russian folksongs. Their titles translated into English are The Silver Birch, In the Fields Stands a Birch Tree and There was at the Feast. These same songs were later featured in works by Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky.

Worksheet for Primary classrooms

Step 1. Watch the video to learn about Violin Harmonics

Step 2. Listen to the TSO recording of Overture On Russian Themes

Step 3. Answer 10 questions

Step 4. Download a Word Search

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