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Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov

Biography

‘Fantasy first, self-discipline later’ might have been the motto of Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov’s musical life, vividly described in his penetrating autobiography. The son of a noble family influenced by his much older brother to enter the St Petersburg Naval College in ...

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Biography

‘Fantasy first, self-discipline later’ might have been the motto of Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov’s musical life, vividly described in his penetrating autobiography. The son of a noble family influenced by his much older brother to enter the St Petersburg Naval College in 1856, he took his first steps in composition four years later under the guidance of that influential doyen of Russian musical nationalism, Mily Balakirev. After an inspirational meeting, the 17-year-old naval cadet set off to sail the world and to work on the symphony Balakirev had encouraged him to write (part of it was completed off the English coast at Gravesend).

Back in St Petersburg, he contributed several significant scores as one of the group of composers gathered around Balakirev and known collectively as ‘The Mighty Handful’ (moguchaya kuchka) – chiefly the symphonic suite Antar, a tone poem about the legendary Novgorod minstrel Sadko that was to form the basis for his much later opera of that name, and his first opera, The Maid of Pskov (1868–72), much influenced by his close friend Musorgsky’s Boris Godunov.

What he later lamented in his autobiography as lacking in Balakirev’s teaching – ‘the technique of harmony and counterpoint, and an idea of musical forms’ – he learnt for himself from 1871 onwards as a professor at the St Petersburg Conservatory who always kept one step ahead of his students. For a while, the effect on his compositions was stultifying; but he was soon back on track with the freshest of his fairy-tale operas, May Night (1878–9) and The Snow Maiden (1880–81). His magical orchestration came to the fore in three concert-hall scores composed in the single season of 1887–8: Capriccio espagnol, the Russian Easter Festival Overture and the symphonic suite Sheherazade.

Parallel with his own fitful output at this time were his collegial efforts with fellow-composers from the group that had once, and so briefly, been ‘The Mighty Handful’ – working with Balakirev on scores by the father of Russian music, Glinka, and helping Borodin and Musorgsky with their long-term operatic projects.

Standing alone by the mid-1890s, he produced a steady stream of operas that range from the extended magic of Christmas Eve (1894–5) to the terse speech-melodies of Mozart and Salieri (1897). Collaboration with a poet well-versed in Russian folk tales, Vladimir Belsky, reached its peak in the deeply emotional fable The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh (1903–5).

By the time of his death in 1908, Rimsky-Korsakov was something of a hero to the Russian left, a reputation bolstered by his resignation from the directorship of the Conservatory in solidarity with students sympathetic to the 1905 uprising and by tsarist censorship of his final opera, The Golden Cockerel (1906–7). In musical terms he remained essentially conservative, but his carefully restricted experiments in harmony and orchestration had a lasting impact on 20th-century music – from Stravinsky, his last and unofficial pupil, through to Messiaen and beyond.

Profile © David Nice



Tracks (45)

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Quartet for strings no. 2 in D major, 3rd movement; Nocturne (Andante)
Quartet for strings no. 2 in D major, 3rd movement; Nocturne (Andante)
Last played on
Sheherazade - symphonic suite (Op.35), The Sea and Sinbad's ship
Sheherazade - symphonic suite (Op.35), The Sea and Sinbad's ship
Orchestra
Last played on
Not the wind, blowing from the heights Op.43 No.2
Not the wind, blowing from the heights Op.43 No.2
Performer
Igor Gryshyn
Of what I dream in the quiet night Op.40 No.3
Of what I dream in the quiet night Op.40 No.3
Performer
Igor Gryshyn
Concerto for trombone and military band in B flat major, 1st mvt; Allegro vivace
Concerto for trombone and military band in B flat major, 1st mvt; Allegro vivace
Music Arranger
Orchestra
Kosei Wind Orchestra
Last played on
Sheherazade - symphonic suite (Op.35)
Sheherazade - symphonic suite (Op.35)
Orchestra
Romanian National Radio Orchestra
Conductor
3rd movt Rondo from Quintet in B flat major
3rd movt Rondo from Quintet in B flat major
Ensemble
Les Vents Francais
Last played on
The Tsar's Bride - Overture
The Tsar's Bride - Overture
Orchestra
Russian National Orchestra
Last played on
Concerto for trombone and military band in B flat major
Concerto for trombone and military band in B flat major
Performer
Tibor Winkler
Orchestra
Chamber Wind Orchestra
Conductor
Zdenek Machacek
Flight of the Bumblebee
Flight of the Bumblebee
Performer
Rachmaninov, Sergei
Music Arranger
Rachmaninov, Sergei
Christmas Eve Suite
Christmas Eve Suite
Orchestra
Suisse Romande Orchestra
Last played on
Sheherazade - symphonic suite (Op.35), The Young prince and princess
Sheherazade - symphonic suite (Op.35), The Young prince and princess
Orchestra
Philhamonia Orchestra
Last played on
The tale of Tsar Saltan - suite (Op.57), Tsar's departure and farewell
The tale of Tsar Saltan - suite (Op.57), Tsar's departure and farewell
Conductor
Last played on
Dubinushka [The little oak stick] for orchestra and chorus ad lib. (Op.62)
Dubinushka [The little oak stick] for orchestra and chorus ad lib. (Op.62)
Conductor
Last played on
Quintet in B flat major for flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn and piano; 3rd movement; Rondo (Allegro)
Quintet in B flat major for flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn and piano; 3rd movement; Rondo (Allegro)
Last played on
The Three Wonders from The tale of Tsar Saltan - suite (Op.57)
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