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On the Steppes of Central Asia (Russian: В средней Азии, V srednyeĭ Azii, literally In Central Asia) is the common English title for a “musical tableau” (or symphonic poem) byAlexander Borodin, composed in 1880.
The work was originally intended to be presented as one of several tableaux vivants to celebrate the silver anniversary of the reign of Alexander II of Russia, who had done much to expand the Russian Empire eastward. The intended production never occurred, but the work itself became, and has remained, a concert favorite ever since its first concert performance, on 8 April 1880 (Old style) in St. Petersburg by the orchestra of the Russian Opera under the conductorship of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The work is dedicated toFranz Liszt.
This orchestral work idyllically depicts an interaction of Russians and Asians in the steppelands of the Caucasus. A caravan of Central Asians is crossing the desert under the protection of Russian troops. The opening theme, representing the Russians, is heard first (see chart of themes below); then we hear the haunting strains of an ornamented eastern melody on English horn, representing the Asians. These two melodies eventually are combined contrapuntally. Amidst these two ethnic melodies is heard a “traveling” theme inpizzicato that represents the plodding hoofs of the horses and camels. At the end only the Russian theme is heard.