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[1833 - 1887]

link to biography of Borodin

Scherzo in A-flat Major, (1885)

arranged by Mark Starr
for string orchestra (with optional percussion)

link to biography of Borodin

A demo recording of this arrangement -- realized with digital musical sounds -- will begin to play automatically upon opening this page.  If you do not wish listen to it, please click on the STOP button (or the PAUSE button) on the media player, below. You may wish to adjust the volume on your computer to a more comfortable level.


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 opinion of Mark Starr (the arranger of this version for string orchestra, with optional percussion), 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 this arrangement sounds to some ponderous and unconvincing.  A full orchestra sounds too heavy for this delicate, elfin music.  In Glazounov's hands, the piece sounds over-inflated.  For that reason, Mark Starr have made this orchestration for string orchestra with percussion. In this version, the Scherzo becomes a display piece for string orchestra, on a par with Borodin's virtuoso original for piano solo. Virtuosity is a key element in this music.

The full score of this arrangement is available for perusal, audition, purchase, downloading and printing on the website of www.sibeliusmusic.com.  Here is a link to the score online:


Parts for stringed instruments and percussion are available only on rental from Noteworthy Musical Editions for public performances and/or recordings.