Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov composed choral, chamber and piano music, songs as well as symphonies and many other orchestral works. He also prepared performance versions of the operas [Prince Igor] (Borodin), [Boris Godunov] and [Khovanshchina] (Mussorgsky), and in this way saved unfinished masterpieces from decades of, perhaps even total, oblivion. He himself composed no fewer than fifteen stage works, making what is probably the most extensive contribution to the operatic genre by a Russian composer.
Originally, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov – like his older brother – was to become a naval officer. At the age of twelve, he began his military training at the St Petersburg cadet school, which he endured with little enthusiasm. His real love was music, so he perfected his piano playing during his military training and regularly attended the opera. From 1860, Rimsky-Korsakov was taught by the pianist Fyodor Andreyevich Kanille, who introduced him to Beethoven’s sonatas. He then became a pupil of Mili Balakirev. Through him, Rimsky-Korsakov met César Cui and Modest Mussorgsky, two of the five “innovators” who wanted to create a national Russian music style. The successful completion of the theoretical aspect of his cadet training was followed by a two-year, mandatory circumnavigation of the world – which Rimsky-Korsakov, however, completed without interest. From 1865 he resumed his studies under Balakirev. The premiere of his First Symphony was acclaimed by the circle of St Petersburg composers as the birth of truly Russian symphonic music. After the success of the symphonic poem [Sadko], Rimsky-Korsakov accepted a professorship at the conservatory in St Petersburg, where his students included Glazunov, Respighi, Prokofiev and Stravinsky. After a visit to Wagner’s [Ring of the Nibelung] at the Mariinsky Theatre in 1889, the composer returned to operatic work and wrote masterpieces such as [The Tsar’s Bride], [The Tale of Tsar Saltan], [The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh] and [The Golden Cockerel]. In the concert hall today, Rimsky-Korsakov’s tone poem [Sheherazade], based on the [Tales of the Thousand and One Nights], is particularly popular.