Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolai (1844–1908)

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was the most active and prominent, and the youngest, of so-called "The Mighty Handful" of largely amateur Russian composers of the 19th and early 20th centuries. He was born into a well-to-do naval and military family, and managed to combine a career as a naval officer with a productive sideline in composition. In 1871 he became professor of composition and instrumentation at the St Petersburg Conservatory.


Like his musical colleagues, he was deeply influenced by the nationalist work of Glinka, and he too fell under Balakirev's spell. Orchestration was Rimsky-Korsakov's great strength, and his talent for orchestral color, combined with exotic, oriental-sounding harmonies, produced many rich and glowing works including the Capriccio espagnol (Spanish Caprice), the symphonic suite Sheherazade, inspired by talcs from the Thousand and One Nights, and the Voskresenaya (Russian Easter Festival Overture). This heady blend of Russian folk material and orientalism also informed the scores of many of his 15 operas.


Rimsky-Korsakov devoted as much time to his friends' work as to his own. He was responsible for orchestrating and completing, among others, Borodin's Prince Igor, and several works by Mussorgsky, including Night on the Bare Mountain and the operas Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina. Naturally he applied his own ripe orchestral palette to these works, and the modern trend in performance is to return as far as possible to the originals.


Major works

Snegurochka (The Snow Miaden, 1881); Capriccio espagnol (1887); Sheherazade Suite (1888); Voskresenaya Overture (1888); Sadko (1898); Tsar Saltan (1900); Skazkanie o nevidimom gradie Kitezhe (The Tale of the Invisible City of Kitezhe, 1903–1904); Zolotoy Petushok (The Golden Cockerel, 1906–1907).