On Monday, March 18th, it will be Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s 180th birthday. Tune in at 1:00pm as we celebrate his life and music.

Monday, March 18:Symphony no.1 in E minor, Op. 1-- 1861–1865 (1st version), 1884 (2nd version)

Rimsky-Korsakov came from a long line of family members who were officers in the Russian Navy. In 1858 at the age of 14 he entered the Naval Cadet College in St. Petersburg, with the idea being that he himself would become an officer.

The city of St. Petersburg offered wonderful musical opportunities for Rimsky Korsakov. He took piano lessons, and attended orchestral and opera performances. In 1861 he would meet his mentor Mily Balakirev; a person who would have a profound effect on him throughout his life.

The Symphony no 1. in E minor was begun while he was a student at the Cadet College. Bolstered by the support of Mussorgsky, and Cui whom he had met in St. Petersburg, Rimsky Korsakov continued composition on symphony with great zeal completing the slow movement while he was on board ship fulfilling his naval duties. The theme of the slow second movement is the Russian Folk Song On the Tatar Captivity. This was a tune taught to him by Mily Balakirev. The scherzo and finale were added in 1865.

This use of Russian folk melodies by Rimsky-Korsakov also added credence to Mily Balakirev’s goal of finding a true Russian musical language. The result was a circle of composers who become known as the Mighty Five; Cesar Cui, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Alexander Borodin, Modest Mussorgsky, and Mily Balakirev who would be the group’s unofficial leader.

Tuesday March 19: Suite from Mlada-- 1872 (Suite 1890)

With the Opera Mlada, Rimsky-Korsakov draws on an ancient pagan Russian legend. Ancient Russian legends often made for great source material for the composers who made up the Mighty Five.

The libretto was extended by Rimsky-Korsakov from an earlier collaborative project that he had done with Borodin, Mussorgsky, Cui and Minkus in 1872.

For a synopsis of the opera click here:

Wednesday March 20: Symphony no. 2 (Antar) --1868 (1st version), 1875 (2nd version), 1897 (3rd version),

Another musical characteristic of the Mighty Five was a fascination with the east, and orientalism. The Second symphony is a fine example of this.

He later titled this music Antar: a Symphonic Suite. The music being inspired by the story of written by the Russian journalist, orientalist, and painter Osip Senkocsky called Antar.

For a synopsis of the Antar story click here:

The first and fourth movements were written in the winter of 1867-68 and the rest of the work was completed during the summer. 

Thursday, March 21: Scheherazade, Symphonic Suite—1888

Again drawing on tales from the far east, Rimsky Korsakov uses the 1001 Arabian night as his inspiration for the suite. Using a kaleidoscope of musical themes to depict each of the characters and scenes; the Prince, the story teller, the sea and Schehrazade herself. Rimsky-Korsakov creates an orchestral tour-de-force that has long been an audience favorite.

Friday, March 22: Symphony No. 3 in C, Op. 32-- 1866–1873 (1st version), 1886 (2nd version)

The third symphony came to Rimsky-Korsakov with some strife. He later remarked that he had great difficulty with the work, despite the fact that the second movement scherzo and trio actually made use of previously composed music; the scherzo which he composed in 1863 and the trio which he composed on his honeymoon in 1872.

The symphony was premiered in St. Petersburg without much interest and he completely revised the symphony in 1886 due to the lukewarm response by his contemporaries, notably Tchaikovsky and Nikolai Rubenstein.

Despite the like warm response to the third symphony, there is no denying the deftness of orchestration and tunefulness. This is something that he was a master at. No matter what he was composing, Rimsky Korsakov had an uncanny ability to understand how the orchestra worked, and could be used to create truly singular and memorable colors and flavours.

Tune in this week at 1:00pm to hear these magnificent works!