Tchaikovsky A-Z: Letter R
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) is one of the group of 19th century Russian composers known as 'The Mighty Handful'. Born in Tikhvin to a music-loving family, he was destined for a career in the Russian Navy, Rimsky-Korsakov's move to St Petersburg at the age of 12, to enter Naval College, introduced him to a world of concert music and opera; he heard Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable, Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor and - crucially - was bowled over by Glinka's Life for the Tsar and the oriental music in Ruslan and Ludmila. Embarking on private musical tuition, he came under the influence of the leader of the 'Mighty Handful'. Balakirev, who challenged him to write a symphony. An extended naval tour of duty truncated Rimsky's musical activities, but foreign travel allowed him to attend concerts and operas in London and New York. Throughout his twenties, Rimsky's experience of, an involvement in music grew: he completed his Symphony, and was entrusted with the completion of Dhargomyzhsky's opera, The Stone Guest; Rimsky was to go to serve as orchestrator (or re-orchestrator) of many contemporary works, most notably Khovanshchina and Boris Godunov which lay in various states of incompleteness due to the chaotic and dissolute life-style of Rimsky's composer friend, Mussorgsky. Though remaining widely admired for the skill, clarity and sheer colour of his orchestrations, Rimsky's talent was nonetheless largely self taught.
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