The Five Russian Composers: Who Were They?

The Mighty Handful

The Five, also known as the Mighty Handful, or The Mighty Five were five prominent 19th-century Russian composers who created a distinct national style of classical music.

Russian Five Composers

1. Mily Balakirev (1837 – 1910)

Balakirev is one of the most influential people in terms of Russian musical development.  

His main idea was to integrate the folk tradition and the classical approach at once, a tendency that begins with Mikhail Glinka (1804 – 1857) 

Besides as a leader and mentor of the Russian Five, Balakirev is also important for the influence he had on Tschaikovsky with Romeo and Juliet and later with the Manfred Symphony. 

Related post: Top Russian composers

2. César Cui (1835 – 1918)

Cui was a top-notch intellectual, impressed by the idea of producing a purely Russian genre of classical music. Besides being a pianist, he was a music critic and later became a full General of the Imperial Russian Army. He was a member both of the Belyayev circle and The Five

3. Modest Mussorgsky (1839 – 1881) 

Although his first idea was to join the Imperial Russian Army, he probably realized that music was more suitable for his lively spirit. 

He wasn’t considered as one of the greatest Russian composers while he was alive, and he often had to play the piano to make a living. 

His authorship is based upon history and national themes. As a result, some of his most popular works include the opera Boris Godunov, the orchestra piece Night on Bald Mountain, and the piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition.

4. Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov (1844 – 1908)

Probably the third most important Russian on this list, just behind Glinka and Balakirev. 

He held firmly to the point where he believed that no musician needs academic training. During this phase, he met Stravinsky and made him his protégé. Later, when he became a teacher at the St. Petersburg conservatory himself, he also had a pupil named Sergei Prokofiev. 

Besides being a great mentor, he was a great author too. He wrote 15 operas that were inspired by Russian history, its folklore, and fairytales of which he was very fond of. 

5. Alexander Borodin (1833 – 1887)

Like all the previously mentioned members of the Russian Five, he considered himself an heir to Mikhail Glinka, a proud nationalist and intellectual giant. 

In terms of music, he is best known for one of the most famous Russian operas Prince Igor. 

He was a doctor by training, a friend to Mendeleyev, and a well-recognized chemist and scientist.

Want to learn more about these famous composers? Watch the video below:

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