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Unencumbered by formal education in composition, Borodin was invited to join the Mighty Hand, a set of five composers who set about to throw off the shackles of Western European tradition, thereby founding a uniquely Russian school of composition. This march contains many stylized elements of that new school: Orientalism, tonal mutability, running parallel thirds, the Russian submedient, and modular rotation in sequences of thirds (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Five). Also noteworthy in the orchestration is the use of offbeats and harmony notes in the lowest octaves; the major 2nds in the opening bars connote the approaching menace of Prince Igor’s army toward the Polovtsian region, and the ascending parallel thirds in the climax to the first strain may be the earliest example of barbarism in music. Borodin’s own harmony is superb, and is particularly well displayed in the brass band, both in delicate nuance, and in raw power. This arrangement humbly mirrors the brilliant orchestration completed posthumously by Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov, which incidentally, is augmented with a brass band. The original metronome marking of 120 may be inauthentic, if not breathtaking, though many fine recordings (Reiner) approach it handily. A mark of 100 has an nice inexorable quality (Fennell) and would absolutely lend itself to a fine performance. The mark of 110 is offered as compromise.
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