Among the officers of the Almaz was a midshipman named Nicholas Rimsky-Korsakoff; and in spite of the serious nature of his
mission, and the state of war that existed in America, he
seems to have had a very good time.
fellow officers had come up from New York to Albany by boat, and then by train to Niagara, where they stopped at the Niagara Hotel as guests of some American friends.
spent two days there, in the course of which he
hired a rowboat and went as close tothe falls as he
could get, then made a roundabout journey back to New York by way of Elmira.
spent about seven months, altogether, in America, during five of which he
was in and around New York, where he
went to the theatre, sampled what the restaurants and wine shops had to offer, and saw two rather bad perfomamances of Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable and Gounod's Faust.
With all these libertarian ideas in the air, you can readily imagine that Rimsky-Korsakoff
and his contemporaries, who included Cesar Cui and Mussorgsky, had a grand time studying.
started to teach Rimsky-Korsakoff
to play the piano, but deciding that his
pupil would never make a really fine pianist, persuaded him to drop the whole matter.
In composition, Balakireff's pupils were not encouraged to bother with harmony, or counterpoint, or other theoretical studies.
They just went ahead and composed.
Rimsky-Korsakoff, in fact, virtually began his career as a composer, at the age of seventeen, by writing a symphony, under Balakireff's direction.
return from America he
settled down to his
combined naval and musical career in earnest, and for the ensuing seven years spent from two to three hours a day filling out reports and writing form letters for the navy, and the rest of the time in talking, playing, and writing music in the company of Balakireff
, Cui, Borodine, and Mussorgsky.
The five had a wonderful time, criticizing each other's music, hearing it played, and meeting the other musicians, Russian and foreign, of their day.
Wagner had conducted some concerts of his
music in Russia, and while he
exerted amazingly little influence as a composer, he
did make a decided impression as a conductor.
Among other things, he
introduced a new technique of conducting whereby, instead of facing the audience, the conductor turned his
back to the audience and faced the orchestra.
Apparently this was a great novelty, at least in Russia, and Russian conductors immediately took up the new method, with great success.
There is no particular point in my burdening you here with a detailed biography of Rimsky-Korsakoff
To do so would only be to do, badly, what he
himself has done superlatively in his
autobiography,* one of the most honest and entertaining personal documents ever written.
There is one incident in his
life, however, that will bear some discussion.
Moreover, I think Rimsky-Korsakoff is a more severe critic of his own shortcomings than he would be of a stranger's.