Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Serbian Fantasy


Composed and premiered in 1867, Nikolai Rimsly-Korsakov’s Serbian Fantasy was pursued after the idea came from peer, Mily Balakirev. Balakirev had requested a concert piece of pan-Slavonic music for a themed concert he had planned in 1867. Rimsky-Korsakov was asked to write this work late in the game and Balakirev was very impressed with what Rimsky-Korsakov presented to him in such a short space of time. The composer was inspired by the range of different themes that came from the pan-Slavonic genre, and he was quite clear that these were the driving force behind the work, not his nationalism. 


The Music

Opening with a slow-moving melody, the overall atmosphere is mystical and mysterious. As the melody begins to grow, the orchestra texture becomes richer as more sections enter the mix. The orchestral swell c. 2.5 minutes in is where the brass also enter with their bold theme. This stark change creates an aggressive and militaristic atmosphere, before solo woodwind brings the dynamic back down. 

Big orchestral flourish ends in a bold cymbal crash. The next section, now a fast-paced folk dance, is full of virtuosic writing and intricate voice layering from Rimsky-Korsakov.  Bombastic percussion and bold brass accompany as the whirling woodwind fit in between the fast-paced string motif. Quick drops of dynamic create drama in the music, as a solo flute leads the music suddenly into the next section. 

Now a more lyrical exploration of the theme, the oboe takes the lead here. As the structure is built back up to another brass proclamation, the dynamic begins to creep up once more. The composer’s bold writing creates the drama and intensity that emphasises this music. After a reprise of some previous themes, Serbian Fantasy concludes with a bombastic cacophony of sound before ending boldly. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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