Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolai (Andreievich)

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Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolai (Andreievich)

Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolai (Andreievich) , great Russian composer and teacher, father of Andrei (Nikolaievich) Rimsky-Korsakov and grandfather of Georgi (Mikhailovich) Rimsky-Korsakov; b. Tikhvin, near Novgorod, March 18, 1844; d. Liubensk, near St. Petersburg, June 21, 1908. He took piano lessons as a child with provincial teachers, and later with a professional musician, Théodore Canillé, who introduced him to Balakirev; he also met Cui and Borodin, hi 1856 he entered the St. Petersburg Naval School, graduating in 1862. In 1862 he was sent on the clipper Almaz on a voyage that lasted 21/2 years; returning to Russia in the summer of 1865, he settled in St. Petersburg, where he remained most of his life. During his travels he maintained contact with Balakirev, and continued to report to him the progress of his musical composition. He completed his 1st Sym., and it was performed under Bala-kirev’s direction on Dec. 31, 1865, at a concert of the Free Music School in St. Petersburg. In 1871 Rimsky-Korsakov was engaged as a prof. of composition and orchestration at the St. Petersburg Cons., even though he was aware of the inadequacy of his own technique. He remained on the faculty until his death, with the exception of a few months in 1905, when he was relieved of his duties as prof. for his public support of the rebellious students during the revolution of that year. As a music educator, Rimsky-Korsakov was of the greatest importance to the development and maintenance of the traditions of the Russian national school; among his students were Glazunov, Liadov, Arensky, Ippolitov-Ivanov, Gretchaninov, Nikolai Tcherepnin, Maximilian Steinberg, Gnessin, and Miaskovsky. Igor Stravinsky studied privately with him from 1903.

In 1873 Rimsky-Korsakov abandoned his naval career, but was appointed to the post of inspector of the military orchs. of the Russian navy, until it was abolished in 1884. From 1883 to 1894 he was also asst. director of the Court Chapel and led the chorus and the orch. there. Although he was not a gifted conductor, he gave many performances of his own orch. works. He made his debut at a charity concert for the victims of the Volga famine, in St. Petersburg, March 2, 1874; the program included the first performance of his 3rd Sym. From 1886 until 1900 he conducted the annual Russian Sym. concerts organized by the publisher Belaieff; in June 1889 he conducted 2 concerts of Russian music at the World Exposition in Paris, and in 1890 he conducted a concert of Russian music in Brussels; led a similar concert there in 1900. His last appearance abroad was in the spring of 1907, when he conducted in Paris 2 Russian historic concerts arranged by Diaghilev; in the same year, he was elected corresponding member of the French Academy, to succeed Grieg. These activities, however, did not distract him from his central purpose as a national Russian composer. His name was grouped with those of Cui, Borodin, Balakirev, and Mussorgsky as the “Mighty 5,” and he maintained a close friendship with most of them; at Mussorgsky’s death he collected his MSS and prepared them for publication; he also revised Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov; it was in Rimsky-Korsakov’s version that the opera became famous. He had decisive influence in the affairs of the Belaieff publishing firm and helped publish a great number of works by Russian composers of the St. Petersburg group; only a small part of these sumptuously printed scores represents the best in Russian music, but culturally Rimsky-Korsakov’s solicitude was of great importance. Although he was far from being a revolutionary, he freely expressed his disgust at the bungling administration of Czarist Russia; he was particularly indignant about the attempts of the authorities to alter Pushkin’s lines in his own last opera, The Golden Cockerel, and refused to compromise; he died, of angina pectoris, with the situation still unresolved; the opera was produced posthumously, with the censor’s changes; the original text was not restored until the revolution of 1917.

Rimsky-Korsakov was one of the greatest masters of Russian music. His source of inspiration was Glinka’s operatic style; he made use of both the purely Russian idiom and coloristic oriental melodic patterns; such works as his symphonic suite Scheherazade and The Golden Cockerel represent Russian orientalism at its best; in the purely Russian style, the opera Snow Maiden and the Russian Easter Overture are outstanding examples. In the art of orchestration Rimsky-Korsakov had few equals; his treatment of instruments, in solo passages and in ensemble, was invariably idiomatic. In his treatise on orchestration, he selected only passages from his own works to demonstrate the principles of practical and effective application of registers and tone colors. Although an academician in his general aesthetics, he experimented boldly with melodic progressions and ingenious harmonies that pointed toward modern usages. He especially favored the major scale with the lowered submediant and the scale of alternating whole tones and semi-tones (which in Russian reference works came to be termed as “Rimsky-Korsakov’s scale”; in the score of his opera-ballet Mlada there is an ocarina part tuned in this scale); in The Golden Cockerel and Kashchei the Immortal he applied dissonant harmonies in unusual superpositions; but he set for himself a definite limit in innovation, and severely criticized Richard Strauss, Debussy, and d’Indy for their modernistic practices.


DRAMATIC: Pskovityanka (The Maid of Pskov), opera (1868–72; St. Petersburg, Jan. 13, 1873; 2nd version, 1876–77, further rev., Moscow, Oct. 23, 1901; 3rd version, 1891–92; St. Petersburg, April 18, 1895); Mlada, opera-ballet (1872; in collaboration with Borodin, Cui, Mussorgsky, and Minkus; unfinished; 2nd version entirely by Rimsky-Korsakov as a magical opera-ballet, 1889–90; St. Petersburg, Nov. 1, 1892); Mayskaya noch (May Night), comic opera after Gogal (1878–79; St. Petersburg, Jan. 21, 1880); Snegurochka (The Snow Maiden), opera after Ostrovsky (1880–81; St. Petersburg, Feb. 10, 1882; 2nd version, c. 1895); Noch pered rozhdestvotn (Christmas Eve), opera after Gogol (1880–81; St. Petersburg, Feb. 10, 1882; Saàko, opera (1895–96; Moscow, Jan. 7, 1898); Bagdadskiy borodobrey (The Barber of Baghdad), opera (1895; unfinished); Motsart i Salyeri (Mozart and Salieri), opera after Pushkin (1897; Moscow, Dec. 7, 1898); Boyarinya Vera Sheloga (The Noblewoman Vera Sheloga), prologue to the 2nd version of Pskovityanka (Moscow, Dec. 27, 1898); Tsarskaya nevesta (The Czar’s Bride), opera (1898–99; Moscow, Nov. 3, 1899); Skazka o Tsare Saltane, o sine ego slavnom i möglichem bogafire knyaze Gvidone Saltanoviche i o prekrasnoy Tsarevne Lebedi (The Tale of Czar Saltan, of his Son the Renowned and Mighty Bogatïr Prince Guidon Saltanovich, and of the Beautiful Swan Princess), opera after Pushkin (1899–1900; Moscow, Nov. 3, 1900); Servilia, opera (1900–01; St. Petersburg, Oct. 14, 1902); Kashchey bessmertni’y (Kashchei the Immortal), opera (1901–02; Moscow, Dec. 25, 1902; rev. 1906); Pan Voyevoda (The Commander), opera (1902–03; St. Petersburg, Oct. 16, 1904); Skazaniye o nevidimom grade Kitezhe i deve Fevronii (The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevronii), opera (1903–04; St. Petersburg, Feb. 20, 1907); Zolotoy petushok (The Golden Cockerel), opera after Pushkin (1906–07; Moscow, Oct. 7, 1909). ORCH.: Sym. No. 1, op.l (1st version in E-flat minor, 1861–65; St. Petersburg, Dec. 31, 1865; 2nd version in E minor; 1884); Overture on 3 Russian Themes, op.28 (1866; 2nd version, 1879–80); Fantasia on Serbian Themes, op.6 (1867; 2nd version, 1886–87); Sadko, op.5 (1867; 2nd version, 1869; 3rd version, 1892); Sym. No. 2, op.9, Antar (1868; 2nd version, 1875; 3rd version, 1897); Sym. No. 3, op.32 (1866–73; St. Petersburg, March 2, 1874; 2nd version, 1886); Concerto for Trombone and Military Band (1877); Variations for Oboe and Military Band (1878); Concertstück for Clarinet and Military Band (1878); Legend, op.29 (original title, Baba-Yaga; 1879–80); Sinfonietta on Russian Themes, op.31 (1880–84; based on the String Quartet of 1878–79); Piano Concerto in C-sharp minor, op.30 (1882–83); Fantasia on 2 Russian Themes for Violin and Orch., op.33 (1886–87); Capriccio espagnol, op.34 (1887); Scheherazade, symphonic suite, op.35 (St. Petersburg, Nov. 3, 1888); Souvenir de trois chants polonais for Violin and Orch. (1888); Russian Easter Overture, op.36 (1888); Serenade for Cello and Orch., op.37 (1903; arranged from the Serenade for Cello and Piano, 1893); The Tale of Tsar Saltan, suite from the opera, op.57 (1903); The Commander, suite from the opera, op.59 (1903); Mlada, suite from the opera (1903); Night before Christmas, suite from the opera (1903); At the Grave (1904; in memory of Belaieff); The Little Oak Stick, op.62 (1905; 2nd version with Chorus ad libitum, 1906); Greeting (1906); The Golden Cockerel, symphonic arrangement of the introduction and wedding march from the opera (1907). CHAMBER: String Quartet in F major, op.12 (1875); Sextet in A major for 2 Violins, 2 Violas, and 2 Cellos (1876); Quintet in B-flat major for Flute, Clarinet, Horn, Bassoon, and Piano (1876); String Quartet on Russian Themes (1878–79); 4 variations on a chorale in G minor for String Quartet (1885); String Quartet on B-to-/(Belaieff; 1886; other movements by Liadov, Borodin, and Glazunov); String Quartet Jour de fête (1887; finale only; other movements by Glazunov and Liadov, Borod in, major for 4 Horns (c. 1888); 2 duets in F major for 2 Horns (c. 1893–94); Canzonetta and Tarantella for 2 Clarinets (c. 1883–94); Serenade for Cello and Piano (1893; also for Cello and Orch., 1903); String Quartet in G major (1897); Theme and Variation No. 4 in G major for String Quartet (1898; in collaboration with others); Allegro in B-flat major for String Quartet (1899; in collaboration with others). Piano: Allegro in D minor (1859–60); Variations on a Russian Theme (1859–60); Nocturne in D minor (1860); Funeral March in D minor (1860); Scherzo in C minor for Piano, 4-Hands (1860); 6 fugues, op.17 (1875); 3 pieces, op.15 (1875–76); 4 pieces, op.ll (1876–77); 6 Variations on B-A-C-H, op.10 (1878); Variations on a Theme by Misha for Piano, 4-Hands (1878–79); Prelude-Impromptu: Mazurka, op.38 (1894); Allegretto in C major (1895); Prelude in G major (1896); Fugai Intermezzo for Piano, 4-Hands (1897); etc. VOCAL: Choral with Orch.: Poem about Alexis, the Man of God, op.20 (1878); Glory, op.21 (1879–80); Svitezyanka, cantata for Soprano, Tenor, Chorus, and Orch., op.44 (1897); Poem of Oleg the Wise for Tenor, Bass, Men’s Chorus, and Orch., op.58 (1899); From Homer, prelude-cantata for Soprano, Mezzo-soprano, Alto, Women’s Chorus, and Orch., op.60 (1901). A Cappe 11 a: 2 choruses, op.13 (1875); op.14 (1875); 6 choruses, op.16 (1875–76); 2 choruses, op.18 (1876); 4 choruses, op.23 (1876); 15 Russian folk songs, op.19 (1879); etc.; also 83 solo songs; 4 duets. Arrangements And Editions: He ed. a collection of 100 Russian folk songs, op.24 (1876); harmonized 40 folk songs. After Dargomyzhsky’s death, he orchestrated his posthumous opera Kamennyi gost (The Stone Guest); also orchestrated Borodin’s Prince Igor; his greatest task of musical reorganization was the preparation for publication and performance of Mussorgsky’s works; he reharmonized the cycle Songs and Dances of Death and the symphonic picture Night on Bald Mountain; orchestrated the opera Khovanshchina; rev. Boris Godunov (in melody and harmony, as well as in orchestration).


His most important pedagogical books were studies on harmony (St. Petersburg, 1884; Eng. tr., 1930) and on orchestration (2 vols., St. Petersburg, 1913). He also wrote a valuable autobiography (St. Petersburg, 1909; Eng. tr., 1924). A. Rimsky-Korsakov et al. edited a complete edition of his works (Moscow, 1946 et seq.).


N. van Gilse van der Pals, R.-K. (Leipzig, 1914); M. Montagu-Nathan, R.-K. (London, 1916); N. van Gilse van der Pals, R.- K.S Opernschaffen (Leipzig, 1929); A. Rimsky-Korsakov, R.-K. (5 fascicles, Moscow, 1933, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1946; last vol. ed. by V. Rimsky- Korsakov); I. Markevitch, R.-K. (Paris, 1935); A. Solovtzov, R.-K (Moscow, 1948; 2nd ed., 1957); G. Abraham, R.-K.; A Short Biography (London, 1949); I. Kunin, R.-K. (Moscow, 1964); ibid., N.A. R.-K. (Moscow, 1979); G. Seaman, N.A. R.-K.: A Guide to Research (N.Y., 1988).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire