Symphonic Selections: Polovtsian Dances

Symphonic Selections

Ever since my 4CC trip, I’ve had this one particular song stuck in my head — Nathan Chen’s free skate song would not leave me alone. I found myself constantly humming this piece and listening to it on YouTube. There, I figured it made sense to feature this piece for this month’s Symphonic Selections. I’ve known this piece for years due to my band room days. “Polovtsian Dances” is the name and it was composed by Alexander Borodin. This piece is part of an opera, Prince Igor, but Borodin passed away before he could finish, so his contemporaries completed it. I highly recommend this moving piece. Do give it a listen!

This is the full arrangement with the chorus. The piece opens up with the “Dance of the Polovtsian Maidens”. Then it transitions into the introduction, a beautiful segment that enhances the exoticness of the song. It’s followed by the “Gliding Dance of the Maidens”, the most well-known portion of the song. The oboe and English horn solos are gorgeous, here! The next segments are the “Wild Dance of the Men”, “General Dance”, and “Dance of the Boys”. Of the three, I like the “General Dance” and the “Dance of the Boys”. Both are quite powerful in their own ways. After those three segments, the “Gliding Dance of the Maidens” repeats and combines with the “Dance of the Boys”. Then the boys and the men make an appearance again, and the piece finally culminates with the “General Dance” one last time.

This performance omits the “Dance of the Polovtsian Maidens” and the first “Wild Dance of the Men”, and it also omits the chorus, but I find that the missing sections don’t hurt the performance at all. If anything, I really love the way Maestro Ozawa conducts this piece. The slower pace at the beginning adds a more ethereal quality to the piece. I feel like this version takes me to a whole new world. The “General Dance” and the “Dance of the Boys” has a more raw sound. These two sections send shivers down my spine! The rest of the piece follows the same as the above, but with more brilliance and power!

Are you familiar with this piece? What do you think of the song? Which version do you prefer? Let me know in the comments!


  1. I am not familiar with this piece, but find it really interesting reading these segments and discovering a lot of great compositions. I thought it was really interesting that he was unable to complete it and that others did. :D

  2. That’s really interesting that his contemporaries finished the piece for him! I wonder how they did it? This is sort of off topic but The Wheel of Time’s author Robert Jordan passed away before he could complete his series and so his wife had a pile of extensive notes for the series and had another finish the work for him.

    I think in cases like that, it has to be a big burden, knowing you are touching someone’s work deliberately.

    I liked listening to the piece! I’ve been appreciating orchestral pieces a lot more lately, knowing how much of a group effort that it turns out to be. I think instrumental songs in general are great because they transcend language :D

  3. I’m not familiar with this piece, but that’s wonderful that his contemporaries finished the piece for him. For the song, I imagine the Nutcracker scene with all of the mice running around. I can just imagine this song to be a great ballet piece and story in itself.

  4. I haven’t heard of this piece! I like how lively the song becomes. The vocals are lovely in the first video, but I think I might prefer the second video :) That’s good that Borodin’s contemporaries were able to finish the piece!

  5. I haven’t heard of this but it’s truly beautiful. :)

  6. It’s interesting that the piece was finished off by his contemporaries – I wonder if they believed that was what he would have liked, or…?

    I have only seen a few operas and I don’t think I have heard of Prince Igor and I’m not even familiar with the plot or what it’s about. I did enjoy the first version though, but I think I prefer the second one? Something about it gave it a gentler quality. I also agree that omitting a few parts didn’t really take away from the performance. I was under the impression, from the first seven or so minutes, that it wouldn’t deliver the same epic feeling that the first did, but well, I was totally wrong. I like it a lot. :)

  7. I really like Polovtsian Dances! I definitely feel like it makes for a good tune to listen to if I were revising or doing some sort of activity. It’s energetic, but not too much where it distracts you.

    I’m not familiar with the piece, but I rather enjoyed it. I really like that you do ‘Symphonic Selections’ because it introduces me to songs that I would never look to listen to otherwise. I prefer the first version!

  8. I actually had to look up what Polovtsian is XD. Pretty interesting to see how music is interpreted in Russia (Or at least I would assume since Alexander is Russian?). I can definitely feel the *dancing* mood coming out of this music with some kind of 1800’s/early 1900’s twist. I am not familiar with this piece and I do enjoy the little lesson in symphonies ;). I think I prefer the first version. It feels more lively as the second sounds majestic.

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