"Portrait of Nikolai 


Author Rinat Kuramshin

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) was a great Russian composer, teacher, conductor, public figure, music critic and member of the Great Five. His works include 15 operas, 3 symphonies, symphonic music, instrumental concerts, cantatas, chamber instrumental, vocal and spiritual music. Most part of his life Rimsky-Korsakov combined composing music and teaching with a career in the Russian army.

At the age of 11, he began composing his first music. In 1856 he entered the naval cadet corps. In 1862 Rimsky-Korsakov met composer M. Balakirev and became a member of his circle.

In 1862 N. Rimsky-Korsakov graduated with honors from the marine corps and was recruited by the naval service. From 1862 to 1865 he served on the clipper «Diamond», which participated in the expedition to North America, so he visited many countries - England, Norway, Poland, France, Italy, Spain, USA and Brazil. Impressions from his marine life later resulted in the «seascapes». During his global voyage he finished No. 1 E-Minor Symphony, Opus 1 that he had started in St. Petersburg. Having returned from the trip, Rimsky-Korsakov re-entered Balakirev’s club, and met A. Borodin, A. Dargomyzhsky, L.Shestakova, and P. Tchaikovsky.


Turning to Slavic folk melodies under the influence of Balakirev, Rimsky-Korsakov adhered to the national color in his music, which wuold continue to characterize most of his work. The Sadko (1867) musical picture became his landmark piece which was later partially used in the Sadko opera. Here he performed as a successor of the European symphoism expressed first of all by G. Berlioz and F. Liszt. In Sadko Rimsky-Korsakov, later called a «storyteller», for the first time touched the world of fairy tales. Here he for the first time uses a symmetrical pitch, the so-called «Rimsky-Korsakov’s octatonic scale», which he later used to characterize the fantastic world in his music. Also for the first time the composer tried to depict the sea element using orchestral paints (later on, he did it repeatedly in such compositions as the Suite «Scheherazade», the prelude-cantata «A Page from Homer», operas «Sadko» and «the Tale of Tsar Saltan»).

Photo. F.Chaliapin in the role of the Varangian guest.

Opera "Sadko"

Photo. M.Fokin

in the ballet "Scheherazade"

Gramophone record.




E. Tsvetkova as Militris. Opera "The Tale of Tsar Saltan"



Opera "The Snow Maiden"

In the mid-1870s, Rimsky-Korsakov worked on improving his compositional technique and created his third Symphony (in C-dur, Opus 32). In the 1880s, the composer created such symphonic compositions as the orchestral Suite Scheherazade, Spanish Capriccio, and the Overture Light Feast. Since 1882, Rimsky-Korsakov was at the head of Belyaev’s circle, and in 1883-1894 he worked in the Court Chapel as a deputy. In 1906 he was elected member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.

In the early 1890s, he studied philosophy, wrote articles, revised and edited some of his previous works. The composer created: the «Christmas Eve», «Sadko», «Mozart and Salieri», the prologue to the Opera «Pskovityanka» and «the Tsar’s Bride» (based on drama by Lev Mei, 1898).

During the revolution of 1905-1907, Rimsky-Korsakov actively supported the striking students and openly condemned the actions of the St. Petersburg Conservatory Directorate. He resigned and returned to the Conservatory only after the Conservatory had been granted partial autonomy rights and after the management had been changed.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s creativity is a unique phenomenon in the history of the Russian musical culture. Rimsky-Korsakov was the founder of the school of composition. Over 37 years of teaching at the Conservatory, he taught more than two hundred composers, conductors, musicologists, among whom were S. Prokofiev, I. Stravinsky, S. Taneyev, and many others.