Borodin’s “In the Steppes of Central Asia” was conceived as one of several tableaux, or scenes, honoring the 25th anniversary of Alexander II of Russia’s reign.
Alexander had been crucial in extending the Russian empire eastward, but the celebration never happened because of Alexander’s assassination later that year.
In Russia, Tsars weren’t the only extraordinary forces expanding the culture. At the end of the 19th-century a group of composers known as the “Mighty Five” or “Mighty Handful” were doing new and inventive things in classical music with a distinctly Russian flavor.
The group consisted of Borodin, Mussorgksy, Rimsky-Korsakov, Cui, and one of Borodin’s teacher’s, Mily Balakirev.