Alexander Borodin and Homo Universalis


What is Homo Universalis?

“Homo Universalis” (Universal Man) is a concept that explains the idealization of an individual's abilities, his talents and professional orientations being more than one field, and that there is no limit to what [the individual] can do as long as he wishes. It is also possible to see the terms "Polimat", "Renaissance Man", or "Hezarfen" instead of Homo Universalis. Polymatic, (Greek: πολυμαθής, polymathēs) In 1603, the German philologist Johann von Wowern “De Polymathia Tractatio: Integri Operis de Studiis Veterum” It was used for the first time in his book.

Homo Universalis was adopted by the intellectuals of the period in parallel with the Humanist thoughts of the Renaissance period. Popular summary of the Italian Humanist thinker Leon Battista Alberti; “A person can do anything if he wishes.” It would not be wrong to say that it is an important turning point in terms of the spread of the concept. Leonardo da Vinci is an archetypal Renaissance Man. Leonardo da Vinci, who has succeeded in mastering almost all fields such as science, technology, engineering, mathematics and art, and has made a name for himself hundreds of years after his death, can really be seen as an ideal for someone who aims for polymatism when his incredible creativity is included. Today, the term is also used for people who have more than one interest or occupation. It may also be that the guise of contributing to these fields professionally has not been adopted. Polymathism is a common occurrence in the classical music world, especially in the Russian romantic school. One of the best examples of the musician's life, which is divided into more than one area, but also into more than one piece, is undoubtedly the life of Aleksander Borodin.

Borodin as a Chemist and Musician

Aleksander Porfiryevich Borodin was born out of wedlock in 1833. His father was Prince Gedeanov, but in Tsarist Russia he was registered in the population of Porphyry Borodin, slave of Alexander Prince Gedeanov, as a method for the illegitimate children of the nobility. Aleksander's mother, Eudoxia Reinecke, was a middle-class 24-year-old cultured lady. When his father died in 1840, Aleksander began to receive a good education thanks to his mother, he was brought up by special educators without ever entering school. He composed a polka at the age of 9, but we cannot say that his musical education developed professionally at that time. He took lessons from a flutist in the military band. He also took oboe, cello and piano lessons. At the age of 14, Meyerbeer composed a kohncherto for flute and piano. “Robert le Diable” He also composed a trio for two violins and a cello on a theme he took from his opera. Alexander had a special interest in chemistry. When he was little, he even set up a small laboratory in his room and started experimenting on fireworks.

In 1850 he entered the Petersburg Medical and Surgical Academy. In 1856, he became assistant to the professor of pathology and therapy at the same school, and received his doctorate in medicine two years later at the same school. In 1859, he was sent abroad to study organic chemistry. He spent the winter in Heidelberg. Among the young people studying at Heidelberg University was Mendeleev, a close friend of Alexander and famous for his periodic system. Here Alexander met his future wife, Ekaterina Sergeyevna Protopopova. He admired Ekaterina Chopin and Schumann and played the piano well. The couple got married as soon as they returned to Russia two years later.

Borodin became a professor of organic chemistry at the St. Petersburg Medical Academy in 1864. He and his wife settled in an apartment in the Academy building. They started to live a happy home life full of chaos here. Borodin referred to himself as the "Sunday Composer" because he had the opportunity to compose only in his spare time. In an interview he said:

            “I can only compose in the winter when I am too sick to teach my students. So my friends, reversing the customary rule, told me, 'I hope you're in good health.' instead of saying "I hope you're sick." they say.

Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov says in his autobiography:

            “On my visits I would often find him working in his laboratory adjacent to his flat. "Are you turning emptiness into nothingness?" I would ask. As soon as he was done, he would return to his room with me. There, just as he was immersed in the conversation about music, he would suddenly jump up and rush to his laboratory to see if something was on fire or if some boiling liquid was overflowing. Meanwhile, he would fill the aisle with incredible marches of intervals of sevens and nines.”

Aleksander Borodin is a very special composer who has managed to direct his life to two different fields. He enjoys his chemistry career as much as his music career and is successful. He has done nearly forty researches on organic chemistry and has written eight books. He also fought important battles for women's participation in higher education. She was also one of the founders of the Medical School for Women in St. Petersburg. Borodin always continued to compose even during his student years. Moreover, he managed to do this without any professional training. He was also working as a cellist in an amateur string quartet. It was only in 1862 that Borodin began to receive his first professional training, from Mily Balakirev, to whom he was introduced by Mussorgsky. With the education he received, he began to compose his first symphony. The School of Five was established under the leadership of Balakirev that year.

There are other important composers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov, who have ideas about both parts of Borodin's divided life. This duality is undoubtedly a situation that has attracted the attention of many composers. One of these composers is Dimitri Shostakovich. Shostakovich says the following sentences about Borodin, according to Solomon Volkov's book “The Record of Testimony”:

            "Yeah; Everyone knows that besides his music, Borodin was also a chemist, making a name for himself for his discoveries on catalysts and precipitates. I have encountered chemists who insist that these are truly valuable discoveries. In response, a chemist said that this was all nonsense and that all of Borodin's scientific findings could be exchanged for a second series of Polovtsian Dances. So I thought, I'm glad Borodin didn't try to write a second dance series by dealing with chemistry.”

Shostakovich believed that this duality killed Borodin's composer. Because in the last period of his life, the kind-hearted Borodin was also an activist, especially devoted to women's rights. As if that wasn't enough, his medical education was pushing him to take care of patients both at home and in hospitals during the recent cholera epidemic.

Throughout his life, Borodin had been a hardworking man who helped everyone. In addition to his contributions to the field of chemistry and medicine, he is one of the rare Russian composers whose compositions attracted great attention outside of Russia. He established a pleasant friendship with Franz Liszt in particular, and impressed Liszt with his second symphony. Helping everyone in the last years of his life made Borodin very tired. Moreover, his wife had to move to Moscow due to her illness, and Borodin alone was responsible for their crowded house. The only thing that made him feel good during these times was the popularity of his compositions and the musical interest in him. His works resonated in many countries in Europe, and his fame spread even to America.

Borodin published his last chemistry paper on Nitrogen in 1886 and began work on his third symphony. Finally, Prince Igor composed some missing parts of his work.

On February 26, 1887, after spending the last night of fun at a ball he went to, he died of cardiac arrest. At this ball, she wore a traditional Russian costume with a red dress and long black boots. Alexander Borodin is buried in the Alexander Nevsky Cemetery. They sleep side by side with their dear friends Modest Mussorgsky and Nikolay Rimski-Korsakov.

Author's note: Aleksander Borodin, who is a true “Homo Universalis” and has a special value for me, is an idol that I think every musician should take as an example. I believe that a good musician should not only see the thumbnail, but should be prone and interested in many fields. Music is not just about music. Great composers and musicians tend to be proficient in other areas of their lives as well. I strongly oppose the belief that music should fully embody the life of a good musician. Therefore, unfortunately, I have a disagreement with master Shostakovich. Being able to take part in life in other ways and touch life in other ways makes a good musician only better.

Source: Leonard, Richard Anthony, A History Of Russian Music, Macmillan Company, 1957.


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