Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov (Born on March 18, 1844 in Tikhvin, Russia — Died on June 21, 1908 in Lyubensk, Russia) was a Russian composer and teacher known for his role in creating uniquely Russian music. He was a member of “The Five” or “The Mighty Handful”, a group of five prominent Russian composers who created nationalistic music. He is especially known for his symphonic works, such as Scheherazade.
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was born in Tikhvin, Novgorod, in 1844. His younger brother Voin had been born 22 years before. His father was Andrey Rimsky-Korsakov, a governor of Volyn Province and amateur pianist. His mother Sofya Rimsky-Korsakov played the piano competently. Nikolai’s earliest musical inspiration and education came from his parents.
As a child, Rimsky-Korsakov displayed musical talent. He composed some songs in his childhood. Nevertheless, he wanted to become a naval officer. He entered the Sea Cadet Corps in St. Petersburg in 1865. He studied music with various teachers, notably including the pianist Fyodor Kanille from 1859-60.
Rimsky-Korsakov attended various operas and symphonic performances during this time. His teacher Kanille introduced him to the famous composer Miliy Balakirev, who in turn brought him into contact with Modest Mussorgsky, Cesar Cui, and Aleksandr Borodin. It was this group, including Rimsky-Korsakov, that later came to be known as the “The Five” or “The Mighty Handful”, a group of prominent Russian nationalist composers. Balakirev and his friends greatly influenced Rimsky-Korsakov and inspired him to move more in the direction of music.
Rimsky-Korsakov graduated in 1862 and spent two and a half years at sea. He traveled to England, France, Italy, the USA, and more. He continued to compose during his spare time and completed his first symphony, which was published in 1865. Rimsky-Korsakov’s first symphony was conducted by Balakirev. It was highly praised and considered the first great Russian symphony. In the following years he produced several great hits, notably Sadko and Symphony No. 2.
Due to his continual success and encouragement from his composer friends, Rimsky-Korsakov moved more in the direction of a musical career. In 1871, he became the professor of composition, orchestration, and harmony at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. The next year, he completed opera The Maid of Pskov, which was a huge success. In 1873, he became a Navy Orchestra Inspector. He held this post until 1884.
In 1872, Rimsky-Korsakov married a pianist named Nadezhda Purgold. They had a happy marriage, performed music together, and had seven children.
Rimsky-Korsakov suffered from creative writer’s block from 1881 to 1888. Then in 1892, he had a nervous breakdown relating to the death of his mother and one of his children, as well as the severe illness of another child, Masha, who passed away in 1893. He returned to the musical scene in 1894 and became the foremost musical figure in Russia, due to the others (Mussorgsky, Borodin, Tchaikovsky) passing away.
During the mass unrest in Russia from 1905-1906, Rimsky-Korsakov supported some students of the St. Petersburg who had been expelled for protesting. He was thereafter fired and his music was banned for several months. After a few months of public pressure, his music was allowed again and he was given his position again.
Rimsky-Korsakov passed away in 1908 from throat and lung disease.
Musical Style and Legacy
Rimsky-Korsakov is known as one of Russia’s greatest composers and a master of orchestral music. He took influence from Russian folk music and created a uniquely Russian brand of classical music along with other members of “The Five”, a group led by Miliy Balakirev.
Rimsky-Korsakov taught several of Russia’s most famous composers. Among his pupils were Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Anton Arensky, Alexander Glazunov, Nikolai Myaskovsky, Mykola Lysenko, Nikolai Sokolov.
Early in his career, Rimsky-Korsakov was opposed to Western compositional methods. In 1870s he changed his attitude and spent three years studying Western methods, which he then incorporated into his own music and teachings.
Article written by me for Lunyr