An essential Romantic composer in mid-nineteenth century Russia, Rimsky-Korsakov taught music, harmony and orchestration, and was a member of The Five.
Rimsky-Korsakov was born into the nobility and, under pressure from his family, entered a career in the navy. He had a gift for music and studied piano and composition without his family's knowledge. In 1862, while he was an officer in the navy, he started writing his first symphony, which was first performed in public in 1865. Encouraged by the musicians that would later form The Five (Mily Balakirev, Aleksandr Borodin, Modest Mussorgsky and César Cui), he seriously considered taking up a career as a composer. He subsequently started teaching composition and orchestration at the Saint Petersburg conservatoire. Under Tchaikovsky's guidance, he took his musical studies to a more advanced level. He conducted the various Imperial Russian Navy orchestras and the Russian Symphony Concerts with Mitrofan Belyayev in 1886. This is when he composed his greatest works, such as Scheherezade. Following Tchaikovsky's death in 1893, he composed for the Imperial Theatres, producing 11 operas between 1893 and 1908. He wrote two treatises on orchestration, the second of which was finished after his death by his son-in-law.
Sometimes nicknamed "the magician of the orchestra" because of his talents in orchestration, he was the most prolific composer of Russian operas with a total of 15 operas to his name. He is admired for the inspiration he drew from Russian folklore, his fantastical themes, his virtuosity and his masterful orchestration.
Six landmark dates in the life of Rimsky-Korsakov:
• 1861: met the pianist Mily Balakirev
• 1865: composed his first symphony
• 1868: met Tchaikovsky
• 1872: married Nadezhda Purgold, who was a musical partner rather like Clara Schumann for her husband Robert.
• 1884: became Balakirev's deputy and director of the Imperial Court Chapel. This gave Rimsky-Korsakov the opportunity to study Russian Orthodox church music.
• 1907: conducted the 5 historical Russian concerts in Paris organised by Sergei Diaghilev.
Six key works by Rimsky-Korsakov:
• 1887: Capriccio Espagnol, orchestral work based on Spanish folk themes, composed for the Russian Symphony Concerts. • 1888: Scheherazade, symphonic suite composed for the Russian Symphony Concerts.
• 1888: The Great Russian Easter Overture, concert overture dedicated to the memories of two members of The Five, Borodin and Mussorgsky.
• 1900: The Flight of the Bumblebee, orchestral interlude for his opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan.
• 1905: The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya, opera in 4 acts. Popular for the balance between the singing and the orchestra, and for its Russian folk tunes.
• 1909: The Golden Cockerel, opera in 3 acts, censored during the composer's lifetime because it denounced the Russian government's actions.