As a composer he had the habit of beginning a composition but not finishing it until years later. He began his first symphony in 1864 but did not complete it until 1897. His influence on Russian composers is not as obvious because of this. One piece that he did start and complete in 1869 was Islamey ,an oriental fantasy for solo piano that was highly advanced technically.
Balakirev was exposed to much music in his youth, but had no formal training in composition, harmony, or counterpoint. His musical talents were recognized early on and he had opportunity to study piano and attend many concerts. his natural musicality and keen mind allowed him to begin composing early on.
Balakirev urged the composers he knew to learn the art of composition by composing without wasting a lot of time on formal study of music theory. Rimsky-Koraskov, one of The Five, came to thses conclusions about his former mentor:
"Balakirev, who had never had any systematic course in harmony and counterpoint and had not even superficially applied himself to them, evidently thought such studies quite unnecessary.... An excellent pianist, a superior sight reader of music, a splendid improvisor, endowed by nature with a sense of correct harmony and part-writing, he possessed a technique partly native and partly acquired through a vast musical erudition, with the help of an extraordinary memory, keen and retentive, which means so much in steering a critical course in musical literature. Then, too, he was a marvelous critic, especially a technical critic. He instantly felt every technical imperfection or error, he grasped a defect in form at once."
Balakirev suffered what has been called a nervous breakdown in 1871. After a few years of practically no music activity, he began to recover and slowly return to musical life in Russia. But he was never quite the same, and he demanded that his close associates be in complete artistic agreement with him or he would sever the relationship. He reverted to a strict following of Russian Orthodoxy and became a rabid antisemite.
Balakirev's 1st Piano concerto was written when he was a teenager in 1856. It is in only one movement and it is a composition Balakirev never returned to. He preformed the one movement with orchestra in 1856. The 2nd Piano concerto was begun in 1861 and is in the key of E flat. His influences for this concerto were Liszt's First Concerto in the same key, Rubinstein's Second Concerto and Litolff's Fourth Concerto. By the end of 1862 he had completed the first movement and played through the second movement for his colleagues. After that, Balakirev didn't resume work on the concerto until 1906 and by the time of his death in 1910 he still hadn't finished it. His close associate Sergei Liapunov knew as well as anyone how Balakirev wanted the concerto to be finished so he completed the work.
The Concerto is full of spirit, dynamism and artistry and deserves to be heard more often than it is
Balakirev Piano Concertos