This year, we’re taking you “Behind the Top 100”, spotlighting select pieces on KUSC’s Top 100 Countdown with fun and informative blogs about the music you love.
Coming at #91 this year are the Polovtsian Dances from Alexander Borodin’s unfinished opera Prince Igor. These dances (along with Borodin’s Serenade, his Second String Quartet, and a couple of other works) have a special place in music history. Classical tunes had been adapted into pop songs before, but this was the first time any had made it to Broadway–and won awards for it.
Robert Wright and George Forrest had adapted classical music for shows and pop songs before (Grieg for Song of Norway and Rimsky-Korsakov for the film Balalaika), but Borodin was actually their third choice for Kismet. And, fortunately for them, by the time they finished writing, Borodin’s music had come into the public domain so they wouldn’t have to pay royalties. As it turned out, they filed their copyright on Kismet the very day that the copyright on Borodin’s music expired.
The musical opened in December 1953 and went on to run for almost 600 performances on Broadway, and even more in London’s West End. It won the Tony Award in 1954 for Best Musical, as well as for Best Leading Actor in a Musical (Alfred Drake) and Best Conductor/Music Director (Louis Adrian). Borodin was awarded a posthumous Tony, 68 years after his death.