Personalities | Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov | Late Romantic | Classical

(Ni’-ku-li Rim’-ske Kôr’-sa-kôf) 1844–1908
Russian composer

Born to a land-owning family, Rimsky-Korsakov served in the Russian navy and composed the first ‘Russian’ symphony while on duty off Gravesend. He joined Balakirev’s circle, ‘The Five’, in 1861 and following the success of Sadko (1867), a tone-poem about the sea, was appointed professor at the new St Petersburg Conservatory. In addition to his use of nationalist elements – including folk themes, speech-inflected vocal writing, exotic harmonies and modes – he was a master of orchestration. His orchestral brilliance conjures up magical and fantastic tableaux, particularly in descriptive works including three symphonies, the Capriccio Espagnol op. 34 (1887), Russian Easter Festival Overture (1888) and the suite Scheherazade (1888). His 15 operas on Russian subjects, including The Snow Maiden (1881), Ivan the Terrible (also called The Maid of Pskov, 1872–92), Sadko (1896), The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh (1906) and The Golden Cockerel (1909) contain much attractive music and are frequently performed. Rimsky-Korsakov revised and orchestrated many of his contemporaries’ operas, including Dargomïzhsky’s The Stone Guest, Borodin’s Prince Igor and Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina. The revisions were often questionable ‘corrections’ to the more radical originals, yet they served to ensure their wider reception.

Recommended Recording:
Scheherazade, Royal Concertbegouw Orchestra (cond) Kyrill Kondrashin (Philips/Decca)

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