Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) was one of the group of Russian nationalist composers known as the Krepki Pyatom (the Mighty Five). The influence of this group of musicians cannot be underestimated, as they, in essence, created the Russian national “style” in composition, working upon a foundation laid by Mikhail Glinka in the previous generation.
Rimsky-Korsakov lacked formal training as a musician, as did most of the “Five” (except for Balakirev). His early schooling was as a naval cadet, and he served in the Russian squadron that visited New York in 1862. He served in the navy until 1873, although he became a professor at the Conservatoire in St Petersburg in 1871 as well. This was despite the fact that lacked higher musical education of any sort. He served as a professor until his death in 1908, although he lost his situation for a short while in 1905 due to his political opinions. During the period 1883 to 1894, he also served at the Imperial Chapel in St Petersburg. On top of all this, he maintained an active schedule as a conductor as well as being a composer.
Rimsky-Korsakov is known mainly for his symphonies and operas, which are on Russian national themes in the main. He is probably the greatest orchestrator who ever lived, and his works are known for their bright colour and verve in their instrumentation. It is worthwhile to mention that there are stories that he was a closet atheist. They are false, being spread by communists and leftist Orthodox (unfortunately, there are such). Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky are the two giants of symphonic music in Russia in this period, and whilst the former was a thoroughgoing nationalist, the latter was thought more of a Western-tinged romanticist. Although undoubtedly true to a point, Tchaikovsky made as much use of Russian themes and leitmotifs as Rimsky-Korsakov, and what distinguishes him from the “Five” is the fact that did receive a formal musical education.