Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, From military school to composition
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov defied competition for making popular music shine forth within a full orchestra. Brought up in an aristocratic family, the young boy took his first lessons in composition at the age of nine. At first, he was to carry a sword and embark on a military career rather than play the piano. Rimsky-Korsakov attended the St. Petersburg Marine School while studying with the excellent pianist Theodore Canille who introduced him to the works of Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn.
Rimsky-Korsakov and The Five
In 1861, his encounter with Balakirev was decisive. He abandoned his military career and embraced a musical future with other young composers. In the company of Mily Balakirev, César Cui, Modest Moussorgsky and Alexander Borodin, the young Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov founded The Five group which formed an elite avant-garde in Russian music. His first works were immediately successful and he was appointed professor of composition at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. A reputed teacher, Alexander Glazunov, Igor Stravinsky and Ottorino Respighi were to request his tuition.
Rimski-Korsakov, master of orchestration
An ingenious orchestrator, possessing an exceptional range of colour, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was quick to help his colleagues and worked on scores by Mikhail Glinka, Modest Moussorgsky and Alexander Borodin. His own, often “programme” music, draws from national folklore and offers beautiful narratives of tales and legends from ancient, pagan Russia. Composer of around fifteen operas, his harmonic ideas were to announce Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.
“He possesses a crystalline style based on the instrumental colours of each basic instrument within a clearly defined framework. His writing and orchestration draws from Glinka, Balakirev, Berlioz and Liszt. He was able to pass on these ideas to two generations of Russian composers, from Liadov and Glazunov to Miaskovsky, Stravinsky and Prokofiev who were also his pupils. His influence is also evident, although less pronounced, on the orchestral music of Ravel, Debussy, Dukas and Respighi”.
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov : Main works
Capriccio Espagnol for orchestra, Op. 34 (1887)
Sadko, opera in seven scenes (1896)
Sheherazade, symphonic suite, Op. 35 (1888)
Russian Easter Festival Overture for orchestra, Op. 36 (1888)
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov : Associated personalities