RIMSKY-KORSAKOV, Nikolai Andreyevich (b. 1844, Tikhvin; d. 1908, Lubensk Estate, near Luga, Pskov District)—A member of the "Mighty Five," a group of Russian nationalist composers headed by Miliy Balakirev, Rimsky-Korsakov was already a well-known composer and professor of composition and orchestration at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, when, in 1883, he was appointed together with Balakirev to head the Imperial Court Chapel in St. Petersburg. Prior to that, in his work with the Free Musical School (1874-81), he had been involved in composing secular choral works and transcribing and arranging Russian folk songs. In his new position with the Imperial Chapel, Rimsky-Korsakov turned his attention to sacred choral composition and to new ways of arranging liturgical chants. Altogether he wrote forty choral works for the Russian Orthodox Church: fourteen titles were published in two series in 1884 and 1886, respectively; a setting of Tebe Boga hvalim [Te Deum laudamus] appeared in 1893; and a collection of 25 more works was published posthumously in 1913 by Evstafy Azeyev. In addition, he played a leading role (together with Kopylov, Azeyev, Liapunov, and others) in the harmonization of the Chants of the All-Night Vigil according to ancient melodies arranged for four-part chorus, published in 1888.
In his sacred choral works Rimsky-Korsakov made extensive use of authentic chant melodies as well as melodies he himself composed in the style of chant. The polyphonic treatment of the melodies is quite varied and innovative. Some melodies serve as motives for imitative counterpoint, while others are harmonized homorhythmically, using a thick choral texture replete with doublings. The harmony is often modal, preserving the archaic flavor of the chant. The choral sonorities range from a few solo voices to rich double choral writing.
Although seemingly a relatively minor part of Rimsky-Korsakov's legacy of primarily symphonic and operatic works, his choral music has been recognized as an important transitional influence that gave direction to the "new Russian choral school" of the early 20th century. It is not a coincidence that among his students one finds a number of important composers of sacred music: Anatoly Liadov, Alexander Gretchaninoff, Nicolai Tcherepnin, Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, and Alexander Chesnokov (brother of Pavel). There are also clear links between his style and that of Alexander Kastalsky, the leading composer of the "Moscow School."