Sunday, March 26, 2006


Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908), an outstanding and leading figure in the music of Russia, an eminent master of orchestral expression, a fervent devotee of Beauty in music, and preponderantly true to the spirit and idiom of his nation. His whole active life was devoted to the promotion of the musical art of his native land. Though not the oldest nor the first Russian master, there is something patriarchal in Rimsky-Korsakov's position; he is cited as the father of Russian school of orchestration; and, as teacher of many later celebrities, his strong and beneficent influence was far reaching.

In addition to his superb orchestral Suite Sheherazade (from the Arabian Nights), Op. 35, I would recommend his the Oriental Suite Antar ("Poet and beloved Hero of the Desert"), Op. 9 (1881). Both of these consist of four Movements, though the latter are not strictly analogous to those of the Symphony. In their character they show that, despite his devotion to Russian folk-lore and folk-song, he had a decided taste for the Oriental in music, and caught its idiom most successfully.

Antar is generally listed as Rimsky-Korsakov's Second "Symphony," though the title Suite is more accurate. The story runs thus: Antar rescues the Fairy Gul-Nazar (as a gazelle) from the pursuit of a giant bird. As a reward, she promises him three great Delights of Life: Revenge, Power, and Love. These episodes form the basis of the four Movements, of which the Finale is the best---the exceeding skillful combination of the Fairy-theme and an Oriental Dance.

The Symphonies of this master (not to mention the Suites) are three in number: the First, in E major (1865); the Second,in C, and a Symphonietta in A minor---all admirable, but not on a plane with the Suites.


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