Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov


Born: Mar 18, 1844; Russia   Died: Jun 21, 1908; Russia   Period: Romantic
Mainly known for his symphonic works, especially the popular symphonic suite Sheherazade, as well as the Capriccio Espagnol and the Russian Easter Festival Overture, Rimsky-Korsakov left an oeuvre that also included operas, chamber works, and songs. Rimsky-Korsakov's music is accessible and engaging owing to his talent for tone-coloring and brilliant orchestration. Furthermore, his operas are masterful musical evocations of myths and Read more legends.
Born in 1844, Rimsky-Korsakov studied the piano as a child but chose a naval career, entering the College of Naval Cadets in St. Petersburg in 1856. However, he continued with piano lessons; in fact, in 1859, Rimsky-Korsakov started working with the French pianist Theodore Canille, through whom he met Balakirev, an important mentor and friend.
In 1862, after graduating form the naval school, Rimsky-Korsakov was at sea for two and a half years, devoting his free time to composition. Upon Rimsky-Korsakov's return to St. Petersburg, in 1865, Balakirev conducted his friend's First Symphony, which was hailed as the first important symphonic work by a Russian composer.
Rimsky-Korsakov was appointed professor of composition and orchestration at the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1871. The following year, he married Nadezhda Purgold, a pianist. In 1873, Rimsky-Korsakov left active duty, becoming inspector of navy orchestras, a job which he held until 1884.
During the 1870s, Rimsky-Korsakov composed, conducted, and collected Russian folk songs. In 1878, he started composing the opera May Night, after a story by Nikolai Gogol, his first stage work based on a story containing fantastic motifs. Following the production of May Night, in 1880, Rimsky-Korsakov began work on Snow Maiden, based on Nikolai Ostrovsky's poetic retelling of a Slavic myth, which was performed in 1882.
Saddened by Mussorgsky's death, in 1881, Rimsky-Korsakov devoted himself to editing his friend's unpublished manuscripts. A master orchestrator, Rimsky-Korsakov felt obliged to help colleagues whose manuscripts needed revision. Thus, in 1887, when Borodin died, Rimsky-Korsakov agreed to orchestrate and complete Borodin's opera Prince Igor.
Rimsky-Korsakov wrote the Spanish Capriccio in 1887, completing the Russian Easter Overture and Sheherazade the following year. Having composed these resplendent works, however, Rimsky-Korsakov went through a period of despondency; there were deaths in his family, and, in 1893, Tchaikovsky died.
In 1895, Rimsky-Korsakov's Christmas Eve, another opera after a Gogol story, was produced. The composer's subsequent works recreated the rich world of Russian myths and legends. Sadko, completed in 1896, conjured up a medieval Russian legend. In 1901, Rimsky-Korsakov blended the legend of Kitezh and the story of St. Fevroniya to create a complex Christian-pantheistic narrative. Completed in 1905, the year when the politically progressive composer was temporarily dismissed from this teaching post, The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden, was produced in 1907.
Rimsky-Korsakov's last opera, The Golden Cockerel, completed in 1907, was inspired by a politically subversive story by Alexander Pushkin. The production of this work was a struggle, because the subject matter aroused suspicions among government censors. The opera was finally produced, in 1909, the year following the composer's death, by a private opera company in Moscow. Read less
Rimsky-Korsakov: Orchestral Suites / Pletnev, Russian NO
Release Date: 02/23/2010   Label: Pentatone  
Catalog: 5186362   Number of Discs: 1
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Rimsky-Korsakov: Snow Maiden, Sadko, Mlada, Le Coq d'Or / Schwarz, Seattle Symphony
Release Date: 12/13/2011   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8572787   Number of Discs: 1
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Rimsky-korsakov: Sheherezade, Tsar Saltan / Enrique Bátiz
Release Date: 01/28/1994   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8550726   Number of Discs: 1
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Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade / Oundjian, Toronto Symphony
Release Date: 08/26/2014   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 5145   Number of Discs: 1
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Rimsky-Korsakov: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 3 / Schwarz, Berlin Radio Symphony
Release Date: 04/08/2016   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8573581   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Capriccio espagnol, Op. 34


About This Work
Russian nationalists were adept at using folk materials and harmonies from their own country; it is perhaps not surprising then that they could work equally successfully with folk music from different lands. Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov may have Read more entertained that thought when he sat down with a book of songs by the Spanish composer Jose Inzenga y Castellanos, with the object of reworking them into an orchestral showpiece. The resulting Capriccio espagnol retains the original melodies, rhythms, and harmonization of Inzenga y Castellanos' songs; however, it is ultimately distinguished by the Russian master's sensitive and brilliant orchestral colors. After its premiere at the Russian Musical Society in 1887, the Capriccio entered the standard repertoire in Russia almost overnight and quickly became just as popular around the world.

The first movement "Alborada" ("morning serenade") immediately explodes with festive strings, whooping winds and florid percussion. This emphatic full orchestral texture contrasts with several individual solos, including seductive, pseudo-Gypsy melodic elaboration from a solo violin which closes the movement. The next movement presents four variations on a lovely sighing theme presented on the horns; the first variations is handled by the strings, the second by the French and English horns, and the last two by the full orchestra. The orchestration here is particularly skillful, especially in the witty French horn/English horn duet, accompanied by murmuring strings that fade in and out of the texture with extreme delicacy.

Next, the Alborada makes a reappearance, in a different key and with different orchestration that highlights the cheerful virtuoso escapades of the solo violin. After a brass fanfare, the violin takes a lead role in the fourth movement ("Scene and Gypsy Song") with a fiendishly difficult cadenza. The flute and clarinet each take their turn, providing extravagant flourishes, after which the harp plays shimmering, gossamer scales. Finally, the Gypsy Song itself enters, and the movement concludes with the song clothed in orchestral garb reminiscent of the opening Alborada.

A sensual, fiery Fandago follows, its rhythm emphasized by cutting strings and emphatic cymbals and castanets. The fandango moves through various sections of the orchestra until it has nowhere else to go, at which time the Alborada returns to close the work in superlatively high spirits. The Capriccio espagnol is one of the most famous orchestral showpieces ever and deservedly so.

-- Andrew Lindemann Malone Read less

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