At the Bard Festival, a reappraisal of Rimsky-Korsakov

Posted on: August 16, 2018

“If your reaction to hearing the name Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov is a shrug, even a smirk, you’re not alone,” writes Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim in Wednesday’s (8/15) New York Times. “In the West, this 19th-century Russian composer is principally known for orchestral showpieces like ‘Scheherazade’ … or … ‘Capriccio Espagnol.’ … The Bard Music Festival, which began last weekend … makes the case for a reappraisal…. I left Bard with a newfound appreciation for a quality I had never before considered as a factor in music: shame … an inferiority complex vis-à-vis Western culture…. In 1871 [Rimsky-Korsakov] found himself having to teach fundamentals of music theory he barely understood…. He set about teaching himself counterpoint…. Rimsky-Korsakov emerged from this period a vastly more polished composer…. At first, Rimsky-Korsakov applied his new technical facility to deepening, rather than abandoning, the principles of Russian music [embraced by the ‘Mighty Five’ composer group of composers, of which he was a member]…. His own melodies still drew on folk material…. Russian fairy tales … inspired most of his operas. In their nostalgia for a premodern society, they reveal his ambivalence—perhaps tinged … with shame—toward czarist might and the progress of Russian history.”

Posted August 16, 2018