2 Jan 1837 - 29 May 1910 (age 73)

Mily Balakirev, 19th century Russian conductor, composer, educator. He was the leader of the group known as the 'Mighty Five' made up of Borodin, Mussorgsky, Cui and Rimsky Korsakov.





Portrait of Balakirev

Portrait by Paul Helm


Born: Mili Alekseyevich Balakirev, 2 Jan 1837, Nizhny Novgorod, Russia
Father: Alexei Konstantinovich, civil servant
Mother: Elizavetta Ivanova Yasherova
Siblings: none
Partners: none
Children: none
Died: 29 May 1910, St Petersburg
Grave: Tikhvin Cemetery at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in Saint Petersburg. see findagrave

Balakirev the man

A difficult man. By all accounts he was despotic, rude, tactless and obstinate. Nevertheless through his enormous talent and strong personality he managed to inspire his followers and instill an enthusiasm for his passion for Russian music.
When he was 21 he had an attack of 'brain fever' and for the rest of his life suffered from severe headaches and acute depression. He also became a bigoted Orthodox Christian.


Period/Style: Romantic. Russian nationalist
Output: considerable
Influenced by Glinka, Berlioz, Chopin, Liszt, Russian folk music
Influenced: Borodin, Cui, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky
- 2 symphonies
- 2 piano concertos
- Tamara, symphonic poem
- 2 overtures on Russian themes
- King Lear, incidental music
- anthems, hymns, cantatas
- over 40 songs
- many solos and duets
including Islamey (oriental fantasy)


- Age 4: First piano lessons from his mother and local musicians.
- Age 10: His mother took him to Moscow for a course of 10 piano lessons with Alexander Duburque.
After the death of his mother he boarded at the Alexandrovsky Institute. Here his talents came to the attention of Alexander Ulybyshev, a local landlord, music lover and patron who entrusted the young Malakirev's musical education to the pianist Karl Eisrich.
- Age 16: Studied mathematics at Kazan University (his father opposed a musical career)
Won a reputation as a pianist and earned money by giving piano lessons.
- Age 18: Ulybyshev took him to St Peterburg to meet Glinka who was impressed with his talent and encouraged him to take up a career in music. Glinka also inspired in him a passion for Russian nationalism.
- Age 19: played his first Piano Concerto at a university concert.
- Age 20: Glinka died. The following year Ulybyshev also died leaving him without support and patronage.
He published some songs and made a living by giving piano lessons and evening recitals for the local aristocracy.
- Age 21: 'Brain fever' attack followed by a long period of severe depression.
- Age 25: Established the Free School of Music together with Gabriel Lomakin and the help of Tzar Nicolas.
Among the students were Cesar Cui, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin who under the leadership of Balakirev became known as 'The Five' or 'The Mighty Handful'.
- Age 35 - 39: following various personal and artistic problems he gave up music and worked as a railway clerk.
- Age 40: Gradually returned to music and resumed his work at the Free School of Music.
- Age 46 - 57: Director of the Imperial Chapel.
- Age 63 onwards: spent his last 10 years in retirement.
- Age 73: died on May 29, 1910 and was interred in Tikhvin Cemetery at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in St. Petersburg.

Some Videos:


Fantasy on 'A Life for the Tzar'  

King Lear overture


Symphony No2

Links - where to go for more information

- Russian composers: more profiles here at 52composers

- Answers.com : collection of reference sites including Wikipedia

- Encyclopedia Britannica:

- Balakirev and Russian Folksong: interesting article at Toccata Classics

- The Piano Society: Short biography

- Top of page

- Russian Composers page

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