I love his name: Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov. I love his face. I love his music.
One of the greatest Russian nationalist composers of his time, Nikolai Andreievich Rimsky-Korsakoff (March 18, 1844 – June 21, 1908) was the second son of musical parents who noticed early on that their son was gifted with perfect pitch and excellent time. At age six he started music lessons. In 1856 he began Naval College in St. Petersburg, but he also made time to attend operas and began making his own piano arrangements of excerpts from a range of favorite operas.
In 1861 the 17-year-old was was introduced by his tutor to Balakirev, Mussorgsky and Alexander Borodin. His composer friends saw Rimsky-Korsakoff as a talented but unfocused musical amateur. His navy colleagues, however, considered him a brilliant musical talent. He himself was only too aware of his own shortcomings.
He composed a couple of symphonies and other musical things I have yet to listen to.
In 1871, in an extraordinary development, the “amateur” Rimsky-Korsakoff was offered the position of Professor of Composition and Instrumentation as well as leader of the St. Petersburg Conservatoire orchestra. Later, he reminiscenced: “Had I ever studied at all, had I possessed a fraction more knowledge than I actually did, it would have been obvious to me that I could not and should not accept…that it was foolish and dishonest of me to become a professor. But I, the author of Sadko…was a dilettante and knew nothing”.
At 27, he married Nadezhda Purgold. Mussorgsky was best man. In the same year he wrote his Third Symphony.
That infamous old anti-Semitic German composer, Wagner, influenced Rimsky-Korsakoff (musically, not politically) when the young Russian became involved in the production of Der Ring des Nibelungen in St. Petersburg. The Ring made little impact on the audiences at the time (perhaps, like Mark Twain, they felt “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds”). Rimsky-Korsakoff, however, was impressed by the size and shape of the Wagnerian orchestra. (I’ve found no mention of his opinion of the Viking-women sopranos. I do like Wagner’s music–in small doses. The entire first hour of one opera consists of two men arguing about a sword.)
But this is about Rimsky, not Wagner.
In later years, with Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Borodin all dead, Rimsky-Korsakoff was unchallenged as the leading living Russian composer. He used his position to promote his own operas but also to forward the career of composers whose talents he believed in. Imagine being promoted and mentored by Russia’s greatest living composer!
Rimsky remained at the hub of St. Petersburg and Moscow musical affairs until his death from a progressive throat and lung disease.
Hat tip to Classical Net, The Internet’s Premier Classical Music Source, for all this information.
This famous portrait apparently is not his wife, but his aunt. Her husband, Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov (same name as the composer), was from rich aristocratic family. He was said to be a VERY handsome man. They married in Moscow when she was 16 or 17 and he was 20. This couple was mentioned in “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy. This portrait, De Rimsky Korsakov Franz Xaver Winterhalter 1805 1873 Germany Picture, may or not be her. No matter: I love it. I’m not sure the man on the right is him, either, but it sounds like a good possibility: Portrait of Vice-admiral Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1793-1848) (oil on canvas), Botmann, G. (19th century) / Central Naval Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia / The Bridgeman Art Library
Meanwhile, if you don’t have the younger Rimsky’s music on CDs (albums, MP3, iCloud, whatver), call up the best of Rimsky-Korsakoff via you-tube. My favorites:
The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship
The Story of the Kalander Prince
The Young Prince and the Young Princess
Festival at Baghdad – The Sea – Shipwreck
Alborada – Vivo e strepitoso
Variazioni: Andante con moto
Alborada. Vivo e strepitoso (II)
Scena e Canto Gitano: Allegretto
The Flight of the Bumble Bee
Russian Easter Festival Overture, Op.36
Our son Miles Kean, as a high school freshman, played Scheherazade and Capriccio Espagnol on upright bass at All State. I’ve been hooked on Rimsky ever since.