NIKCOLAI ANDREEVICH RIMSKY-KORSAKOV
Born: March 18, 1844. Tikhvin,
Died: June 21, 1908. St. Petersburg, Russia.
Nikolai Andreevich Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908), was a celebrated Russian composer and music teacher. His symphonic suite Scheherazade (1888) ranks as one of the most popular orchestral works ever written.
Rimsky-Korsakov became famous for his imaginative blend of orchestral sounds. Examples include Capriccio Espagnol (1887) and the Russian Easter Overture (1888). Rimsky-Korsakov based many of his 15 operas on Russian history and folklore. Only one of them, Le Coq d'Or (The Golden Cockerel, completed in 1907), won international fame. But his operas The Snow Maiden (1882), Sadko (1898), and Tsar Saltan (1900) are popular in the Soviet Union. Two of his most famous pieces come from his operas "Song of India" from Sadko and "The Flight of the Bumblebee" from Tsar Saltan.
Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov was born in Tikhvin, near Novgorod. From 1856 to 1862,he attended the Naval Academy in St. Petersburg. In 1861, Rimsky-Korsakov met the composer Mily Balakirev and joined a group of young composers who later became known as The Five. This group, led by Balakirev, urged Russian composers to stress their national heritage in their music.
In 1862, Rimsky-Korsakov sailed on a three-year naval cruise, during which he visited the United States. He completed his first symphony aboard ship. After returning to St. Petersburg in 1865, he revised the symphony under Balakirev's supervision. It had its first performance that same year.
In 1871, Rimsky-Korsakov left the navy and joined the faculty of the St. Petersburg Conservatory. He realized that he knew almost no music theory, and so he taught himself counterpoint, harmony, and music form. He became one of the world's greatest music theorists. He taught several students who achieved fame as composers, including Sergei Prokofiev and Igor Stravinsky.
Rimsky-Korsakov also edited and revised compositions that his friends Alexander Borodin and Modest Mussorgsky had left unfinished when they died. Orchestras and opera companies usually perform Rimsky- Korsakov's version of Mussorgsky's opera Boris Godunov. Borodin's opera Prince Igor is usually performed in the version completed by Rimsky-Korsakov and the Russian composer Alexander Glazunov.
Rimsky-Korsakov devised a system of music-color synesthesia. (Synesthesia is an effect in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.) Rimsky-Korsakov promoted synesthesia of visual and auditory sensations. The Russian composer Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin (1872 - 1915) and the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) pursued an interest in visual-auditory synesthesia after Rimsky-Korsakov. Not by accident both Scriabin and Kandinsky embraced a mystical, Asian-oriented, religio-philosophical system called Theosophy ("god-wisdom"). They were looking for the synesthesia of experiences that would lead them closer to the spiritual "Absolute," and they believed in an essential "Radical Unity" in which all beings (human, animal, vegetable or mineral) are involved in a single life that is connected to itself in ways that go beyond ordinary explanations/
The question is: can a person experience a particular color when listening to a particular musical sound? Scriabin made a chart matching pitches with colors. Scriabin wrote about this, holding that each mode corresponds to a particular color, and each modulation to a nuance of this shade. Changes from the major into the minor could therefore be underlined by strong contrasts, on a visual as well as a musical level. This was one of the most important aspects of Scriabin's research into new areas of expression. His imagination had been stimulated by theosophical reading, and he dreamed of lighting up the whole of the concert hall to fit the music which was being played at the time. But in practice the performances of Prometheus which took place at the Carnegie Hall, New York, and the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow, did not live up to his ambitions. The projection depended entirely on a small screen which was placed behind the orchestra,, and it made very little impression on the audience. /See Frank Popper, Origins and Development of Kinetic Art, 1968, pages 157-58./
Here is a chart showing the differences between Rimsky-Korsakov and
Scriabin in their assignments of colors to specific musical pitches /Oxford
Companion to Music, 1938/:
|D#||Bluish Gray||Steel gray|
|E||Sapphire Blue||Bluish white|
|F#||Grayish Green||Bright Blue|
|A#||-- No response --||Steel Gray|
|B||Dark Blue||Bluish white|
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|This page was last updated December 10, 2007.|