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The Scherzo in A-flat Major is the third movement in my suite, Borodiniana. This remarkable Scherzo was composed by Borodin for piano solo in 1885, just two years before his untimely death at the age of 53. Borodin was a doctor of chemistry, and his profession was that of chemist. Music was, for him, an avocation. He once stated: "I only compose when I am ill." A statue of him in Russia notes at the base: Alexander Borodin, chemist. Despite his nonchalant attitude toward musical composition, Borodin was anything but an amateur composer. The extraordinary personality, Russian character and technical brilliance of his music not only earned him a honored place in the "Mighty Five," it captured the imagination of music lovers around the world soon after Sergei Diaghilev brought Borodin's opera, Prince Igor, to Paris.
The Scherzo is rarely performed by pianists today, not because of any lack of musical interest, but rather primarily because of its fiendish technical difficulty – especially at a very fast tempo. Rachmanninov used to play it as an encore on his recitals; and I have heard Vladimir Ashkenazy play it (very well.) In my opinion, the technical difficulties of this piece on the piano derive mostly from internal evidence that the music was not conceived for piano, but rather for orchestra. Borodin might well have orchestrated it, had he lived longer. Alexander Glazounov arranged the Scherzo for full symphony orchestra – but I have always found this arrangement unconvincing. A full orchestra sounds to me way too heavy for this delicate, elfin music. In Glazounov's hands, the piece sounds to me over-inflated. For that reason, I have made this orchestration for string orchestra with percussion. In this form, it is a virtuoso display piece for string orchestra on a par with Borodin's original for piano solo. The element of virtuosity is the key to this music.
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