Rimsky-Korsakov Nikolai

As a child, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was fond of geography and dreamed of becoming a sailor. And during his round-the-world voyage he was striving to return to land as soon as possible and devote himself to music. Rimsky-Korsakov was inspired by folk legends and melodies while composing Symphony No. 1, “Sadko” and “The Snow Maiden”, even the descriptions of scenery and stage details he borrowed from Russian epic poems and plots. The composer not only wrote music, but also helped his colleagues to edit and finish their works – this is how the operas “The Stone Guest” by Alexander Dargomyzhsky, “Khovanshchina” by Modest Mussorgsky, “Prince Igor” by Alexander Borodin and other works came to be.


Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was born on March 18, 1844 in the town of Tikhvin, Novgorod province (now Leningrad region). His father Andrei Rimsky-Korsakov served as vice-governor of Novgorod, later as civil governor in Volhynia province. In 1835, he retired and settled in the family estate. The composer's mother Sofia Skaryatina was the daughter of Vasily Skaryatin, an Oryol landowner, and a serf peasant woman.

From childhood, Rimsky-Korsakov studied with home teachers that taught him foreign languages, literature and mathematics. Rimsky-Korsakov, like his parents, was fond of music. At the age of six Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov learnt to play the piano, and already at 11, he wrote his first works - a duet for voices with piano accompaniment to words from a children's book and an overture. However, Rimsky-Korsakov did not dream of being a musician. In 1856, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov entered the Naval Cadet Corps in St Petersburg. In his leisure time at the Sea Cadet Corps, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov attended performances of the Mariinsky Opera, and saved his pocket money to buy sheet music.

From the autumn of 1858, Rimsky-Korsakov began to take lessons from the pianist Fyodor Canille. The latter introduced the aspiring composer to the works of Gioachino Rossini, Giacomo Meyerbeer and Ludwig van Beethoven. Under his teacher's guidance, the young man wrote several small pieces.

In November 1861, Canille introduced Rimsky-Korsakov to the circle of the musician Mily Balakirev – “The Five”. It was comprised of Modest Mussorgsky, Alexander Borodin and Caesar Cui. A year later the novice composer embarked on his first major work, Symphony No.1.

In 1862, Rimsky-Korsakov graduated with honours from the Naval Cadet Corps. He was the sixth in the graduating class, so he was accepted as a midshipman on the military sailing ship “Almaz”. From 1862 to 1865, Rimsky-Korsakov was on a round-the-world voyage: he took part in an expedition to the shores of North America, visited Great Britain, Spain and Norway. However, the composer wanted to return to Russia as soon as possible and continue his music studies.

In 1865, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was transferred to the coastal service in St Petersburg. He again began to attend meetings of the Balakirev circle and to write music. By the end of the same year the composer had completed Symphony No.1.
Rimsky-Korsakov depicted folk motifs and national identity in his next works – “Overture on Three Russian Themes” and “Fantasia on Serbian Themes”.

From the 1860s Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov began to help other composers with the editing of their works. Together with Caesar Cui, he completed the opera William Ratcliff. At the bequest of Alexander Dargomyzhsky, the musician completed the score of his opera “The Stone Guest”. Rimsky-Korsakov also edited the works of his close friend Modest Mussorgsky.

In the 1870s, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov began writing his first opera “Pskovityanka” (The Maid of Pskov), based on the play of the same name by Russian playwright Lev Mei. He was inspired by old folk and church songs. The author dedicated "Pskovityanka" to Balakirev's circle. “Pskovityanka” premiered in 1873 at the Mariinsky Theatre.
In the late 1860s, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov met the pianist Nadezhda Purgold at one of the composer Alexander Dargomyzhsky's musical evenings. She studied music theory, wrote small pieces and overtures, was friends with members of “The Five” and played their works. In 1882, they married, and soon afterwards the composer dedicated his romance “Night” to her. Rimsky-Korsakov also dedicated his second opera, “May Night”, to his wife. Its premiere took place in 1880 at the Mariinsky Theatre.
Rimsky-Korsakov and Purgold lived together for over 30 years; seven children were born during their marriage.

In 1871, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov became professor of practical composition and orchestration at the St Petersburg Conservatoire. In the same years he began teaching at the Free Music School, and in 1874, he became its director. At the request of folklore researcher Terty Filippov, during the same years Rimsky-Korsakov created a collection of Russian folk songs with his own musical accompaniment.

“Snegurochka” (The Snow Maiden) was based on the fairy tale of the same name by Alexander Ostrovsky. The musician worked on “Snegurochka” for about a year – he studied folklore and consulted Ostrovsky. The premiere of the opera took place in January 1882, at the Mariinsky Theatre. “Snegurochka” brought Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov fame, the opera was liked by critics.

In the 1880s, Rimsky-Korsakov composed several small musical works, including the symphonic piece “Fairy Tale”, as well as the suites “Spanish Capriccio” and “Scheherazade”.

Rimsky-Korsakov's next opera was based on novella “The Night Before Christmas” by Nikolai Gogol. The composer added several new scenes in which he showed the struggle with the evil spirit. The premiere of the opera took place in November 1895. The public did not understand the opera, nor did it please the critics, who considered it to be politically unreliable.

Failures did not force Rimsky-Korsakov to abandon his work. In 1895-1896, the composer worked on the opera “Sadko”, based on Russian heroic epic ballades. The composer deliberately made the composition of Sadko uneven: in some acts he slowed down the development of the plot so that listeners could visualise the atmosphere of the Sea Kingdom. By 1897, the opera was ready. By the end of the 1890s, Rimsky-Korsakov had composed several more operas, among them "Mozart and Salieri", “The Noblewoman Vera Sheloga" and "The Tsar's Bride”.

Rimsky-Korsakov began work on the opera “The Tale of Tsar Saltan”, based on the cognominal work by Alexander Pushkin. However, “The Tale of Tsar Saltan” was not completed until 1900. The premiere of the opera took place in November of the same year in Moscow. The scenery and costumes were created by Mikhail Vrubel, and his wife Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel performed the role of The Swan Princess. In the 1900s, Rimsky-Korsakov composed several more operas – “Kaschey the Immortal”, “Servilia” and “The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya”. The last work of Rimsky-Korsakov was the opera “The Golden Cockerel”, based on the fairy tale by Alexander Pushkin. The Golden Cockerel premiered in 1908.

In the last years of his life Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was in poor health. In 1908, together with the company of Sergei Diaghilev, he planned to go to the first Russian Seasons in Paris, but did not join him due to his illness and stayed in Russia.
Rimsky-Korsakov died on June 21, 1908 at his country estate in Lyubensk, Pskov province. He was buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Saint Petersburg. In the 1930s, the composer's grave was moved to the Necropolis of Masters of Arts at the Alexander Nevsky Lavra.

Ref.: https://www.culture.ru/persons/8302/nikolai-rimskii-korsakov