- Mini Bio
- Name: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
- Born: 18th March 1844, Tikhvin, Leningrad Oblast, Russian Empire
- Died: 21st June 1908, Lubensk Estate, near Luga, Pskov District, Russian Empire
- Resting place: Tikhvin Cemetery, Alexander Nevsky Monastery, Saint Petersburg, Russia
- Alma Mater: School for Mathematical and Navigational Sciences (St Petersburg)
- Occupation: Composer and educator
- Period: Romantic
- Genre: Russian Nationalist classical music
- Institution: Appointed as professor of composition at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory in 1871
- Famous pupils: Alexander Glazunov, Alexander Ossovsky, Alexander Spendiaryan, Anatoly Lyadov, Artur Kapp, Igor Stravinsky, Konstanty Gorski, Lazare Saminsky, Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, Mykola Lysenko, Ottorino Respighi, Sergei Prokofiev and Witold Maliszewski
- Nicknames: The Mighty Handful - this was in reference to the group known as The Five or the Mighty Five which included Cesar Cui, Milay Balikirev, Modest Mussorgsky, Alexander Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov himself
- Revisionist: He spent the decade beginning 1880 revising his earlier works and then moved onto finishing the incomplete works of Mussorgsky and finally moving onto complete Borodin's unfinished Prince Igor
- Notable works: The Snow Maiden 1881, Capriccio Espagnol 1887, Scheherazade 1888 and the Russian Easter Festival Overture 1888
- Publications: Practical Manual of Harmony 1885, My Musical Life 1909 and Principles of Orchestration (started in 1873 and completed posthumously in 1912 by Maximilian Steinberg)
- Marriage resume: Nadezhda Rimskaya-Korsakova 1872 - 1908 (his death)
- Career twist: Rimsky-Korsakov attended the Russian naval academy and looked destined for a career as a naval officer on the icy Baltic seas until the musician in him was reawakened by his introduction to Mily Balakirev, César Cui and Modest Mussorgsky
- Trivia: His handwriting produced a consistent slant evenly to the right which yielded the unexpected result of him being labelled the only composer to write music entirely in italics
"What terrible harm Wagner did by interspersing his pages of genius with harmonic and modulatory outrages to which both young and old are gradually becoming accustomed and which have procreated d’Indy and Richard Strauss"Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
"Thoughts of becoming a musician and composer gradually left me altogether… distant lands began to allure me, somehow, although, properly speaking, naval service never pleased me much and hardly suited my character at all"Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
"Thus having been undeservedly accepted at the Conservatory as a professor, I soon became one of its best and possibly its very best pupil, judging by the quantity and value of the information it gave me!"Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
"But this is very easy to remedy, if the conductor will pay attention to it and moderate the indications of the shades of force in the brass instruments by replacing the fortissimo by a simple forte"Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
"The opinion formed by both critics and the public, that the Capriccio is a magnificently orchestrated piece - is wrong. The Capriccio is a brilliant composition for the orchestra"Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
"Generally speaking, ‘there is no truth on earth’ – although that is itself untrue, for truth does exist on earth, but only in science and art"Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
"With what delight I listened to real business discussions of instrumentation, part writing, etc! And besides, how much talking there was about current musical matters!"Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
"All at once I had been plunged into a new world, unknown to me, formerly only heard of in the society of my dilettante friends. That was truly a strong impression"Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
"Mussorgsky composed and orchestrated the Polish act of Boris Godunov and the folk scene Near Kromy. I orchestrated and finished my Maid of Pskov"Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
"Distant lands began to allure me, somehow, although, properly speaking, naval service never pleased me much and hardly suited my character at all"Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
"I doubt if you would find anyone in the entire world more skeptical of everything supernatural, fantastic, phantasmal, or otherworldly than I"Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
"I can always picture how each of my heroes will feel...but when it comes to investing them with flesh and blood, I myself feel nothing"Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
"I will speak, and you will listen. Then I will speak less, and you will start to work. And finally I will not speak at all, and you will work"Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
"A pupil like myself had to submit to Balakirev a proposed composition in its embryo, say, even the first four or eight bars!"Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
"The Spanish themes, of dance character, furnished me with rich material for putting in use multiform orchestral effects"Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
"And yet, as an artist, it is just these things that I love most. And ritual? What could be more intolerable than a ritual?"Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
"That autumn and winter the two of us accomplished a good deal, with a constant exchange of ideas and plans"Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
"All in all, the Capriccio is undoubtedly a purely external piece, but vividly brilliant for all that"Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
"I was chosen a member of the committee for adjusting differences with agitated pupils"Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
"By force of matters purely musical I turned out to be the head of the Belyayev circle"Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
"I parted with delight with both my military status and my officer’s uniform"Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
"Henceforth I was a musician officially and incontestably"Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
"Don't make me listen to all these horrors or I shall end up liking them"Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
"My works are skilful, but they have little spontaneity, little feeling"Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
"Work on Glinka’s scores was an unexpected schooling for me"Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
"Balakirev had no difficulty in getting along with me"Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
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Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Legacy:
As a major part of the nationalist Russian classical music scene of the late nineteenth century he will be remembered for his many critically acclaimed compositions and the revisionist work he performed on the many unfinished opus by his peers and contemporary composers.
His influence was felt well into the twentieth century as his celebrity pupils carried the torch of alumni from the Saint Petersburg Conservatory where he laboured for decades as an eminent musical educator of the highest order.
A musical education under the critical ear of Rimsky-Korsakov had many benefits for his alumni. He had a neurological condition called synesthesia which gave him the ability to experience two or more senses at the same time. There was speculation that this gave him a cutting edge over his contemporaries and was the reason he was so highly skilled in orchestration. Being a synesthete, he had the ability to associate colours to sounds, meaning he could designate a different colour to each musical key.
Quotes About Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
The famous conductor Vasily Petrenko made this comparison:
"Through his life, Rimsky deserved the right to be radical and not be hammered by the critics. Stravinsky – and Prokofiev a few years later – set out to be radical from the very beginning"
The conductor Vladimir Jurowski sensed the influence Rimsky-Korsakov had on his star pupil Igor Stravinsky:
"You hear Rimsky-Korsakov undeniably in all the early works, including The Rite of Spring. In particular I would mention the Symphony in E flat, Funeral Song and, of course, The Firebird"
Stravinsky later mused that music is:
"never like Rimsky-Korsakov, which must have troubled that master"
The conductor and former pupil Nikolai Malko talked of his student days:
"Rimsky-Korsakov explained everything so clearly and simply that all we had to do was to do our work well"
The Russian music expert Gerald Abraham, shared this thought about the wife of Rimsky-Korsakov, Nadezhda Purgold:
"She was responsible for piano arrangements not only for her husband, but for many of his friends in Rimsky-Korsakov, and the influence she exerted on the composer's work is no less than that of Clara Schumann on Robert Schumann"
Musicologist Lyle Neff concurred that the input of Nadezhda was important to Rimsky-Korsakov stating that she:
"had a considerable influence on the creation of (Rimsky-Korsakov’s) first three operas. She travelled with her husband, attended rehearsals and arranged compositions by him and others"
Peter I. Tchaikovsky shared this comment in a correspondence with Nadezhda von Meck:
"Apparently [Rimsky-Korsakov] is now passing through this crisis, and how it will end will be difficult to predict. Either a great master will come out of him, or he will finally become bogged down in contrapuntal tricks"
The founder of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory Anton Rubinstein was clearly impressed as he thought Rimsky-Korsakov:
"might amount to something"
The music critic Harold C. Schonberg wrote a positive review explaining that the Rimsky-Korsakov opera's:
"open up a delightful new world, the world of the Russian East, the world of supernaturalism and the exotic, the world of Slavic pantheism and vanished races. Genuine poetry suffuses them, and they are scored with brilliance and resource"
The musicologist Richard Taruskin shared this assessment:
"The older he became, the greater was the irony with which Rimsky-Korsakov looked back on his kuchkist days"