Composer Profile: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, A Legendary Russian Composer Who Salvaged Many Masterpieces

By David Salazar

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov is one of the most influential Russian composers of the 19th century.

Born on March 18, 1844, he started composition at age 10 but preferred literature over music. During his school years he started to take piano lessons and slowly cultivated his music talents throughout those formative years.

When he arrived in St. Petersburg in 1865, he met with Balakirev, who mentored him and eventually the younger composer became a member of The Five, a group of Russian composers that shared similar philosophical ideas regarding composition. Among them were Mussorgsky, Cui, Borodin, and Balakirev.

At 27, he became a Professor of Practical Composition and Instrumentation at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, though he was eventually relieved of his duties due to educative differences with his fellow nationalists.

He would become increasingly conservative in his musical ideas and tastes as he matured. He died in 1908 after succumbing to angina. He left behind a legacy as one of Russia’s legendary composers and orchestrators.

Major Works

Rimsky-Korsakov composed a plethora of operas including historical dramas, folk operas, and fairy tales. Of his works, perhaps “The Golden Cockerel” remains the most renowned and most commonly performed.

Ironically, his work on operas by other Russian composers are arguably more popular that the ones he conceived on his own. “Boris Godunov” is a work that Rimsky-Korsakov helped complete and orchestrate and his version of the work is often more popular than Mussorgsky’s. He also completed Mussorgsky’s “Khovanschina,” which is more recognized than any of his operas. Ditto for “Prince Igor,” which he collaborated with Alexander Glazunov in bringing to its completion.

Read More on Rimsky-Korsakov

A Deeper Look At “The Golden Cockerel”

How the Composer was Influenced by Pushkin

Conductor Gerard Schwarz Talks About Encountering Rimsky-Korsakov

Watch & Listen

Here is a recording of “The Golden Cockerel.”

And here is a live performance.


Opera Wiki