Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov, also Nikolai, Nicolai, and Rimsky-Korsakoff, (March 18, 1844 – June 21, 1908) was a Russian composer and teacher of classical music particularly noted for his fine orchestration, which may have been influenced by his synaesthesia.
Born at Tikhvin, near Novgorod, into an aristocratic family, Rimsky-Korsakov showed musical ability from an early age, but studied at the Russian Imperial Naval College in Saint Petersburg and subsequently joined the navy. It was only when he met Mily Balakirev that he began to concentrate more seriously on music. Balakirev encouraged him to compose and taught him when he was not at sea. He also met the other composers of the group that were to become known as “The Five”, or “The Mighty Handful”, through Balakirev. While in the navy, Rimsky-Korsakov completed a symphony, the first such piece to be composed by a Russian. He also completed his well known orchestral piece Sadko (1867) and the opera The Maid of Pskov (1872), before resigning his commission in 1873.
In 1871, despite being largly self-taught, he became professor of composition and orchestration at the Saint Petersburg Conservatoire. There he taught many composers who would later find fame, including Alexander Glazunov, Sergei Prokofiev and Igor Stravinsky. He continued to be a prolific composer, producing many orchestral works, including the well known Sheherazade and Capriccio espagnol. He also wrote fifteen operas, including The Tale of Tsar Saltan which includes his most famous piece, The Flight of the Bumblebee, since arranged for all kinds of different instrumental groups. He also reworked several of Modest Mussorgsky’s pieces after his death in 1881, and the version of Mussorgsky’s Night on the Bare Mountain which is generally performed nowadays is arranged by Rimsky-Korsakov.
In 1905 Rimsky-Korsakov was fired from his professorship in Saint Petersburg owing to his expressing some political views the authorities disapproved of. This sparked a series of resignations by his fellow faculty members, and he was eventually reinstated. The political controversy continued with his opera Le Coq d’Or (1907) which was an attack on Imperial Russia, and which was banned from performance following its premiere.
Towards the end of his life, Rimsky-Korsakov suffered from angina, and he died in Lyubensk on June 21, 1908 and was interred in Tikhvin Cemetery at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, St. Petersburg, Russia.