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Atheist, Christian, Pantheist

As we approach Christmas, Donald Macleod explores Rimsky-Korsakov’s religious beliefs and the links between folk music and religion in the life and work of the professed atheist.

Donald Macleod delves into the life and work of one of the most important Russian composers of his age – Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Rimsky-Korsakov’s music is filled with lush orchestration and hints of orientalism and folk music. These elements and his role as a leading member of “The Mighty Handful” of composers who sought to forge a truly nationalistic music has led him to be regarded as the main architect of the Russian style of composition we know today. Rimsky-Korsakov professed to be an atheist, but wrote some sacred music for the Imperial Court Chapel. In Thursday’s programme, Donald explores this claim, and the intriguing links between folk music and religion in the life and music of the man who Stravinsky famously said was "closed to any religious or metaphysical idea".

Octave (5 Songs “To the Poet”, Op 45)
Yuriy Yurchuk, baritone
Sergey Rybin, piano

May Night – Overture
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Neeme Järvi, conductor

Snow Maiden: Act IV Finale
Anna Netrebko, soprano (Snow Maiden)
Vladimir Moroz, baritone (Mizgir)
Dmitry Voropaev, tenor (Tsar Berendey)
Nikolai Kornev, chorus master
Mariinsky Orchestra
Valéry Gergiev, conductor

Russian Easter Festival Overture
USSR Academic Symphony Orchestra
Yevgeny Svetlanov, conductor

Chants for Holy Week: Alleluia; Thy Bridal Chamber; Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silent
Cappella Romana
Alexander Lingas, conductor

The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya Suite: I. Hymn to Nature
Russian National Orchestra
Mikhail Pletnev, conductor

Produced by Sam Phillips for BBC Wales

59 minutes

Music Played

  • Nicolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov

    Octave (5 Songs 'To the Poet', Op 45 No 3)

    Performer: Sergey Rybin. Singer: Yuriy Yurchuk.
    • STONE RECORDS 5060192780772.
    • 5.
  • Nicolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov

    May Night: Overture

    Orchestra: Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Conductor: Neeme Järvi.
    • CHANDOS CHAN10369X.
    • CHANDOS.
    • 1.
  • Nicolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov

    Snow Maiden: Act IV Finale

    Singer: Anna Netrebko. Singer: Vladimir Moroz. Singer: Dmitry Voropaev. Director: Nikolai Korniev. Orchestra: Mariinsky Orchestra. Conductor: Valery Gergiev.
    • 6.
  • Nicolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov

    Russian Easter Festival Overture, Op 36

    Performer: USSR State Academic Symphony Orchestra. Conductor: Evgeny Fyodorovich Svetlanov.
    • OLYMPIA OCD211.
    • OLYMPIA.
    • 1.
  • Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

    Chants for Holy Week

    Choir: Cappella Romana. Conductor: Alexander Lingas.
  • Nicolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov

    Hymn to Nature (The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh - Suite)

    Performer: Mikhail Pletnev. Orchestra: Russian National Orchestra.
    • PENTATONE PTC5186362.
    • 1.


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