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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

It's Rimsky-Korsakov's birthday - quotes, bio, Flight of the Bumblebee and a lame joke

Even before this I had known and worshipped his operas; but as editor of the scores in print I had to go through Glinka's style and instrumentation to their last little note ... And this was a beneficent discipline for me, leading me as it did to the path of modern music, after my vicissitudes with counterpoint and strict style. 

~Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (My Musical Life)

Apparently [Rimsky-Korsakov] is now passing through this crisis, and how it will end will be difficult to predict. Either a great master will come out of him, or he will finally become bogged down in contrapuntal tricks.

~Peter I. Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) (letter to Nadezhda von Meck, ca. 1873) 

Rimsky-Korsakov - what a name! It suggests whiskers stained with vodka!

~Musical Courier, New York, 27 October 1897

Today, March 18, is the anniversary of the birth of Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (wiki) (1844-1908), the best known of the group of late-19th-century Russian nationalist composers known as "The Five" or "The Mighty Handful."

Born to an aristocratic family in Tikhvin, east of St. Petersburg, Rimsky-Korsakov showed significant musical talent while still a boy, but at 12, he entered the Russian Imperial Navy as a cadet and remained a naval officer - at first at sea and later as Inspector of Naval Bands - until 1884. While composing at sea in his spare time, Rimsky came under the influence of the older members of "The Five," imbibed their interest in Russian folk themes, and saw the first public performances of his work around 1865. 

In 1871 - still a naval officer - he became a professor of composition and orchestration at the St. Petersburg Conservatory and pursued an academic career until his liberal sympathies during the 1905 revolution caused him to be relieved of his positions. Nonetheless, he counted among his students Alexander Glazunov, Igor Stravinsky, Serge Prokofiev, and Ottorino Respighi. 

Rimsky composed prolifically in many forms: more than a dozen operas, three symphonies, and many orchestral works, including the popular Scheherazade and Capriccio Espagnole. A brilliant orchestrator and editor, he prepared performing versions of many of the works of his "Mighty Handful" colleagues, most notably Mussorgsky's opera Boris Godunov and his Night on Bald Mountain. A musical conservative to the end of his life, Rimsky-Korsakov exclaimed to Serge Diaghilev after hearing Claude Debussy's opera Pelléas et Mélisande,

"Don't make me listen to all these horrors or I shall end up liking them!"  

* N.B. The other four members of "The Five" were Alexander Borodin (1833-1887), C ésar Cui (1835-1918), Mily Balakirev (1837-1910), and Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881). Conspicuous by his absence was Tchaikovsky, who was influenced largely by Western European music. 

Here's Flight of the Bumblebee:

And a really lame Rimsky-Korsakov joke:
A neophyte radio announcer was confused when he was told to play the Ave Maria by Bach-Gounod. An older colleague explained that this merely meant that the music was originally by Bach but arranged by Gounod. The next day, the young announcer found Scheherazade on his play list. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. He confidently announced, "Next we will hear Scheherezade, written by Rimsky and arranged by Korsakov."

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