A founding member of "The Mighty Five" lends a hand...to Chopin.
Celebrating Chopin became a preoccupation for Mily Balakirev in his twilight years. Balakirev had made his reputation a half-century earlier as inspirational leader of the Russian nationalists known as “The Mighty Five.” Of these composers, who also included Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Modest Mussorgsky, Balakirev had the most musical training.
Thanks to one of Balakirev's first teachers, Chopin’s music took hold at an early age and didn’t let go. Chopin’s nationalism and his innovation complemented Balakirev’s own impulses. In his piano music, he adopted almost every form that Chopin had used.
In the 1880s Balakirev’s influence on Russian music waned, and in 1895 he retired from his last administrative post. But he kept composing until the end of his life, which came just a couple of months after Chopin’s 100th birthday. For the centennial Balakirev re-wrote Chopin’s Piano Concerto…on the heels of several other Chopin-inspired pieces, including a suite for orchestra and an Impromptu on Themes from Two Preludes.
The most tangible of Balakirev’s memorials to Chopin is an obelisk near Chopin’s birthplace, inscribed with his likeness and date of birth. Balakirev led the effort to place the monument there in 1894. Afterward, on the anniversary of Chopin’s death, Balakirev played Chopin’s unpublished miniature, Lento con grand espressione, which he himself had copied from a manuscript. - Joe Brant & Don Lee