Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov (1844 – 1908) was a
Russian composer, and a member of the group of
composers known as The Five. He was a master of
orchestration. His best-known orchestral
compositions—Capriccio Espagnol, the Russian Easter
Festival Overture, and the symphonic suite
Scheherazade—are staples of the classical music
repertoire, along with suites and excerpts from some of
his 15 operas. Scheherazade is an example of his
frequent use of fairy tale and folk subjects.
Sadko, Rimsky-Korsakov's operatic masterpiece, opened
at the Solodonikov Theater in Moskow on December 26,
1897. It is an opera in seven tableaux or scenes. Based
on Russian bilini legends written about the life of a
bard and hero who lived in twelfth century Novgorod, it
combines the fantastical and imaginary world of Sea
Kings, nymphs, and golden fish, with the daily life of
Sadko and his fellow merchants of the sea.
Rimsky-Korsakov uses many Russian folk tunes throughout
the opera, and in several places he uses actual bilini
formulae from the ancient songs to construct the
melodies of his recitatives and arias. He wrote his own
libretto with the help of several other Russian
writers, including Stasov, Yastrebtsev, Shtrup,
Findeyzen, and Vladimir Nikolayevich Bel'sky.
The composer began writing music based on the story of
Sadko in 1867, with the composition of his tone poem
Episode from the legend of Sadko. It quickly became a
national favorite in Russia, and much of the music of
the symphonic poem was used in the score to the opera.
A central theme throughout the opera is the sea. Much
of the music depicts the various moods of the sea, and
gives the listener pictorial images of the open water.
Recurring motifs, themes, and atmospheric orchestral
writing bind the opera together and conjure up romantic
For much of his life, Rimsky-Korsakov combined his
composition and teaching with a career in the Russian
military—at first as an officer in the Imperial Russian
Navy, then as the civilian Inspector of Naval Bands. He
wrote that he developed a passion for the ocean in
childhood from reading books and hearing of his older
brother's exploits in the navy. This love of the sea
might have influenced him to write two of his
best-known orchestral works, the musical tableau Sadko
(not to be confused with his later opera of the same
name) and Scheherazade. Through his service as
Inspector of Naval Bands, Rimsky-Korsakov expanded his
knowledge of woodwind and brass playing, which enhanced
his abilities in orchestration. He passed this
knowledge to his students, and also posthumously
through a textbook on orchestration that was completed
by his son-in-law, Maximilian Steinberg.
Although originally written for Voice & Piano, I
created this interpretation for Oboe & Strings (2
Violins, Viola & Cello).