Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

(6 March/18 March -New style 1844, Tikhvin - 8 June/21 June 1908, Lubensk)


Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov was a Russian composer, teacher, editor and also a member of the group of composers known as ”The Five”. He was born in an educated environment, his father was a government official of liberal views and his mother was well educated and could also play the piano. He began taking piano lessons from local teachers  at the age of 6 and by 10 he was also composing music. At the age of 12, influenced by his older brother's love for the sea (Voin), he joined the Imperial Russian Navy. He studied at the School for Mathematical and Navigational Sciences in Saint Petersburg and, at 18, took his final examination in April 1862.
While he was in school, Rimsky-Korsakov took piano lessons from a man named Ulikh and also learned the rudiments of composition. His love for music was also emphasized by his visits to the opera and, later, orchestral concerts. In 1861 he met the composer Mily Balakirev, a man of great musical culture, and under the older man’s guidance he began to compose a symphony. After a long voyage that crossed through the ports of New York, Baltimore, Maryland, Brazil, Spain, Italy, France, England and Norway, he completed the symphony he had begun prior to his voyage, and it was performed with gratifying success in St. Petersburg on December 31, 1865.
His next important work was Fantasy on Serbian Themes for orchestra, first performed at a concert of Slavonic music conducted by Balakirev in St. Petersburg, on May 24, 1867. The occasion was of historic significance, this was the time in which the group named as ”The Five” was shaped after the critic Vladimir Stasov proudly proclaimed that Russia, too, had its own ”mighty little heap” of native composers. This group was composed of Rimsky-Korsakov, Balakirev, Aleksandr Borodin, César Cui, and Modest Mussorgsky and their purpose was seen to be to assert the musical independence of Russia from the West.
In 1871 Rimsky-Korsakov was appointed professor of composition and orchestration at the St. Petersburg Conservatory as well as leader of the Orchestra Class. Professorship brought him financial security, which encouraged him to settle down and start a family. Next year he married Nadezhda Purgold, a pianist. Although he had achieved a reputation as master of orchestration, based on Sadko and Antar, his knowledge of musical theory was elemental. Advised by Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, he began to study harmony and counterpoint and soon became a fervent believer in academic training. He revised everything he had composed prior to 1874, even acclaimed works such as Sadko and Antar, in a search for perfection that would remain with him throughout the rest of his life. Having been assigned to rehearse the Orchestra Class, where he had to deal with orchestral textures as a conductor, he mastered the art of conducting. This led to an increased interest in the art of orchestration, an area into which he would further indulge his studies as Inspector of Navy Bands. He ended his studies in 1875 by sending 10 fugues to Tchaikovsky, who declared them impeccable.
In 1874 he was appointed director of the Free Music School in St. Petersburg, a post that he held until 1881. Following the production of May Night, in 1880, Rimsky-Korsakov began work on Snow Maiden, based on Nikolai Ostrovsky's poetic retelling of a Slavic myth, which was performed in 1882. Saddened by Mussorgsky's death, in 1881, Rimsky-Korsakov devoted himself to editing his friend's unpublished manuscripts, making radical changes in what he considered Mussorgsky's awkward melodic and harmonic progressions, and he practically rewrote Mussorgsky's opera Khovanshchina.
He served as conductor of concerts at the court chapel from 1883 to 1894 under Balakirev and was chief conductor of the Russian symphony concerts between 1886 and 1900. Rimsky-Korsakov wrote the Spanish Capriccio in 1887, completing the Russian Easter Overture and Sheherazade the following year. Having composed these resplendent works, however, Rimsky-Korsakov went through a period of despondency; there were deaths in his family, and, in 1893, Tchaikovsky died.
In 1889 he led concerts of Russian music at the Paris World Exposition, and in the spring of 1907 he conducted in Paris two Russian historic concerts in connection with Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. That same year, Rimsky-Korsakov completed his last opera, The Golden Cockerel, its inspiration being a politically subversive story by Alexander Pushkin. The production of this work was a struggle, because the subject matter aroused suspicions among government censors. The opera was finally produced, in 1909, the year following the composer's death, by a private opera company in Moscow.
Rimsky-Korsakov's style followed the musical ideals espoused by The Five, his operas are taken from Russian or other Slavic fairy tales, literature, and history. These include Snow Maiden (1882), Sadko, The Tsar’s Bride (1899), The Tale of Tsar Saltan, The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevronia, and Le Coq d’or (1909). His best known orchestral works include: Capriccio espagnol (1887), the symphonic suite Scheherazade, and Russian Easter Festival (1888) overture. Igor Stravinsky studied privately with him for several years. Rimsky-Korsakov's Practical Manual of Harmony (1884) and Fundamentals of Orchestration (posthumous, 1913) are still used as basic musical textbooks in Russia.
Rimsky-Korsakov believed, as did fellow composer Mily Balakirev and critic Vladimir Stasov, in developing a nationalistic style of classical music. This style employed Russian folk song and lore along with exotic harmonic, melodic and rhythmic elements in a practice known as musical orientalism.
Here  you can find a list of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's compositions.