The Five, also known as The Mighty Handful or The Mighty Coterie (Russian: Могучая кучка, Moguchaya kuchka), refers to a circle of composers who met in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in the years 1856–1870: Mily Balakirev (the leader), César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Borodin. The group had the aim of producing a specifically Russian kind of art music, rather than one that imitated older European music or relied on European-style conservatory training. In a sense, they were a branch of the Romantic Nationalist movement in Russia, sharing similar artistic goals with the Abramtsevo Colony and Russian Revival.
In May 1867 the critic Vladimir Stasov wrote an article, Mr. Balakirev’s Slavic Concert, on a concert given for visiting Slav delegations to the “All-Russian Ethnographical Exhibition” in Moscow. The four Russian composers whose works were played at the concert were Mikhail Glinka, Alexander Dargomyzhsky, Mily Balakirev, and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The article ended with the following statement:
“God grant that our Slav guests may never forget today’s concert; God grant that they may forever preserve the memory of how much poetry, feeling, talent, and intelligence are possessed by the small but already mighty handful of Russian musicians.” —Vladimir Stasov, Sankt-Peterburgskie Vedomosti, 1867
The expression “mighty handful” (Russian: Могучая кучка, Moguchaya kuchka, “Mighty Bunch” or “Group”), was mocked by enemies of Balakirev and Stasov: Aleksandr Serov, academic circles of the conservatory, the Russian Musical Society, and their press supporters. The group responded by defiantly adopting the name. This loose collection of composers gathered around Balakirev now included Cui, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Borodin — the five who have come to be associated with the name “Mighty Handful”, or sometimes “The Five”.