Rimsky-Korsakow, Nicolai


Rimsky-Korsakow, Nicolai

Sextet for 2 violins, 2 violas and 2 celli (Score and parts)


Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov

Sextet in A-major for two violins, two violas and two cellos (1876)

(b. Tikhvin nr. Novgorod, 18 March 1844 – d. St. Petersburg, 21 June 1908)

Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov worked on compositions for chamber ensembles mainly from 1870-1880s. During these years he created String Quartet op. 12, highly demanded among performers, a quintet, Variations for String Quartet and chamber miniatures.

1871 was to become a turning point in Rimsky-Korsakov’s life. Mikhail Azanchevsky, a director of the newly formed St. Petersburg Conservatory, invited him to take on a teaching position for composition, conducting and orchestration. What should be added here is that the acceptance of this offer was not as straightforward as it might appear. The composer found himself in a situation of conflict, caught between the lure of academic discipline on the one hand, and Russian originality as represented by “The Five” (“Mighty handful”) on the other. By siding with the former he was able to work on the shortcomings of his own training, often staying behind after the lessons to practice counterpoint. As a result it was between 1873–1875 that Rimsky-Korsakov systematically learned harmony and polyphony.

Most of the works of those years are associated with his active teaching period. During this time, Rimsky-Korsakov wrote countless counterpoints and sixty-four fugues, ten of which he sent to Tchaikovsky who appraised them: “the Fugue appeared to be unexceptionable”. Tchaikovsky can be considered his musical “patron” at the time, encouraging his creative and technical achievements in their correspondence. At first glance, this exchange could be seen as merely technical, but it was very important to Rimsky-Korsakov and provided new sources of inspiration that would have great impact on the development of his style. Looking at all the compositions created during this period and paying closer attention to their underlying structure, it becomes apparent that the chamber and piano works frequently use counterpoint and polyphonic forms (cycle of fugues for piano, the Quartet and the Quintet). However, Rimsky-Korsakov did not limit his work to counterpoint, but also extensively studied the work of old masters. “I practiced a lot and studied Bach’s oeuvre in particular, appreciating his genius, whereas before when I didn’t know his works well, I was inclined to follow the opinion of Balakirev, who called him a “composition machine” < … > at the same time I became fascinated by Palestrina and the Dutch.”

He began to focus his work on small instrumental compositions. “Let us take the string quartet as an example. Beethoven started his music career with chamber music and continued to work with it throughout his life. Schumann, on the other hand, composed quartets in the middle of his creative life, while Chopin, Liszt and Wagner did not write any at all. <…> Every composer develops and practices differently, as individual talents are not rooted in standardised knowledge.” However, later on in the 1900s, he openly admitted to some friends his inability to compose music free of context, whether stage or program. “Whenever I take on the field of absolute music, it turns out to be imperfect and out of time, which depresses me.”

Nevertheless, the years between 1876 – 1877 turned out to be the most productive for him. At the beginning of 1876 his symphony Antar was successfully performed in St Petersburg. In April 1876 the board of the Imperial Russian Music Society announced two competitions for chamber works. Firstly, “works for stringed instruments”, and the secondly, “works for piano with one or more additional instrument, either string, wind or both”. Deadline for submission was 15 September, 1876.

In September 1876 the Imperial Russian Music Society approached Rimsky-Korsakov about joining the committee for judging the chamber works competition. Rimsky-Korsakov declined due to lack of time, though of course the actual reason was rooted in the fact that he had handed in works for both competitions himself, presenting his Sextet in A-major for two violins, two violas and two cellos for the first contest, and the Quintet in B-major for piano, flute, clarinet, horn and bassoon for the second. Rimsky-Korsakov handed in the Sextet entitled Harmony. He later recalled: “I wanted to write something for the contest, and started working on a string sextet in A-major …». He began writing it in St. Petersburg, and completed it at the village Kabolovka during the summer, where he would spend time with Vladimir Purgold and his nieces (sisters of Rimsky-Korsakov’s wife Nadezhda).

The jury consisted of Leopold Auer, Ieronim Wakeman, Karl Davydov, Nikolay Zaremba, Ivan Seifert, Yuli Johansen, Gustav Cross, Ivan Pickel and Feofil Tolstoy. The Sextet in A-major received an ‘honourable mention’. The results were announced on 1 November. Alongside Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sextet the commission also mentioned a Quartet in c-sharp minor by Afanasiev. But the winner of the contest was a trio by Napravník entitled God loves trinity.

Rimsky-Korsakov was upset about this decision and blamed the play of the musicians, indicating that Napravník’s work was performed at a very high level, while the Sextet was poorly interpreted and hardly finished it. Moreover, Rimsky-Korsakov received a favourable excuse from the Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolyaevich of Russia. He sympathised with the composer and concluded with regret that they had not known the authors of the pieces. All in all the work remained unknown and hardly satisfied the composer himself, so much so that he mentioned it in his ‘Chronicle’ with a tinge of irony.


Read full preface / Komplettes Vorwort > HERE

Partitur Nr.



Repertoire Explorer








Set Score & Parts


160 x 240 mm / 225 x 320 mm

Go to Top