Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Rimsky-Korsakov and His World$

Marina Frolova-Walker

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780691182711

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691182711.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM PRINCETON SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.princeton.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Princeton University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in PRSO for personal use. Subscriber: null; date: 23 June 2021

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and His Orient

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and His Orient

(p.145) Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and His Orient
Rimsky-Korsakov and His World

Adalyat Issiyeva

Princeton University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses Rimsky-Korsakov's last opera, The Golden Cockerel, in the context of his Orientalism, looking at its musical sources and more generally at the complexity of influences at work on an artist working in the capital of a Russian Empire that directed much of its energy and ingenuity to the task of keeping its Asian territories under control. Despite being raised on nineteenth-century Orientalist musical conventions, Rimsky-Korsakov's view of the East underwent a profound transformation and departed from Orientalism; it developed from simple imitation and reliance on the Orientalist truisms to the critique of these very truisms. His last opera's two most fantastic and undeniably eastern characters help to reveal not only the absurdity of Russia's political system but Rimsky-Korsakov's own skepticism vis-à-vis Eurocentric legitimations of colonial conquest.

Keywords:   Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, The Golden Cockerel, Orientalism, Russian Empire, Asian territories, Orientalist truisms, colonial conquest

Rimsky-Korsakov’s contributions to both Russian and general European music with oriental subjects are widely acknowledged by researchers and have been emulated by many Russian as well as Western European composers (Glazunov, Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel).1 His evaluation of his own music evoking the Orient, however, was far more critical and less enthusiastic. Just a few months before his death, in a conversation with his Armenian student Alexander Spendiarov, witnessed by V. V. Yastrebtsev, Rimsky-Korsakov declared that in comparison with Spendiarov’s Orient his own Orient was “somewhat far-fetched and speculative” since the Orient “was not in his blood” and, therefore, he could not produce something “authentic” or “truly valuable” in this area.2 Why, after composing his world-acclaimed symphonic pieces Antar and Sheherazade, did Rimsky-Korsakov still doubt his ability to compose oriental music? In the second half of the nineteenth century, the Russian public (and the Kuchka) had high expectations of how music should reflect reality.3 After Félicien David’s Le désert, which was inspired by his travel to the French Orient; Mily Balakirev’s Tamara, inspired by music of peoples living in the Caucasus; and Camille Saint-Sa¨ens’s oriental works, the opera Samson et Dalila and the “Egyptian” Piano Concerto, motivated by the composer’s travels to Algiers and Egypt, it seemed almost indispensable for a respected composer to be immersed in oriental culture before creating a proper (read “authentic”) oriental piece of music. Other conditions could also include cultural or genetic inheritance, which, in the case of Russia, was not unusual because of Russia’s unique geographical advantage of sharing land with the East and steady assimilation over a few centuries of eastern and southern peoples living on the outskirts of the empire. In the Russian imagination, being born in a city or a village with a high Asian population or having an Eastern lineage (no matter how many centuries it dated back), enhanced a composer’s credentials to write in (p.146) an oriental idiom, never mind being raised in what was thought as a perfectly Western society (like Borodin, Rubinstein, or Spendiarov).

Rimsky-Korsakov met none of these conditions. His Russian lineage could be traced back fourteen generations,4 and his limited encounters with Middle Eastern, Asian, or other non-Western musicians, which left marks on his works, can be counted on the fingers of one hand. In the early 1860s, during his trip around the world on the clipper Almaz as an officer in the tsar’s navy, he heard some Native American musicians playing at a New York museum; then, during his travel to Russia’s East in 1874, he enjoyed the performance of Gypsy musicians; and late in his life, in the summer of 1889 at the Paris World Exposition, he was impressed by Hungarian and Algerian musicians.5 However, all of these experiences, along with other scattered overhearings of Russia’s Asian or Caucasian musicians in Russian metropoles, were not sufficient to give him confidence to claim that he understood the spirit of eastern music. To be fair, especially in his earlier pieces, Rimsky-Korsakov made multiple attempts to present “authentic” oriental material by employing original Caucasian tunes from Balakirev’s sketchbook (discussed below), or introducing a couple of his own transcriptions from friends who had traveled to the East, or incorporating a few Arabic songs from two collections published in the 1860s in French.6 (Russian musical ethnographies on Eastern peoples started appearing only in the last two decades of the nineteenth century).7 He also seemed to follow Balakirev’s advice to pay particular attention to rhythmical aspects of non-Western music—the feature that Rimsky-Korsakov later claimed to be one of the most important in music in general.8 Indeed, each time he encountered musicians, he paid attention not to their entire performance but rather to some elements of it: striking rhythmical figures, scales, or ornamentation.9 Yet because of a vague notion of “artistic truth,” which assumed only a partial correspondence to reality, Rimsky-Korsakov was able to produce “all-purpose oriental idioms”10 and managed to avoid any critique by his contemporaries for not being sufficiently authentic in representing the Orient.11

Despite being raised on nineteenth-century Orientalist musical conventions, his view of the East underwent a profound transformation and departed from Orientalism; it developed from simple imitation and reliance on the Orientalist truisms to the critique of these very truisms.12 Rimsky-Korsakov’s last opera, The Golden Cockerel, demonstrates that his attitude toward Russia’s eastern neighbors drastically changed. After the disastrous confrontation with Japan that brought Russia to the 1905 Revolution, Rimsky-Korsakov, like many other Russian intellectuals, (p.147) questioned the legitimacy of the war and expressed his disagreement over the autocracy’s Eastern diplomacy.13 His Golden Cockerel problematizes Russian officials’ vision of Asia as the “Yellow Peril” and prophetically warns that an oversimplification of an unknown and sophisticated East, personified by the Queen of Shemakha and the Astrologer, could bring about the downfall of the empire. The opera’s two most fantastic and undeniably eastern characters help to reveal not only the absurdity of Russia’s political system but Rimsky-Korsakov’s own skepticism vis-à-vis Eurocentric legitimations of colonial conquest.

Before going on to discuss how and why Rimsky-Korsakov came to revise his contemporaries’ perception of the Orient as well as his own, let us first consider his early works with oriental subjects and trace the main stages in the development of his musical Orient.

Early Influences

Rimsky-Korsakov’s early impressions of the East were mediated by Mily Balakirev, who, in Rimsky-Korsakov’s own words, was his “alpha and omega” at that time.14 After his second trip to the Caucasus in 1863, Balakirev brought a number of transcriptions of traditional tunes, many elements of which traveled directly from his sketchbook to Rimsky-Korsakov’s music.15 The young naval officer’s heavy dependence on Balakirev’s Eastern vocabulary is fairly obvious in his early oriental art songs “Yel' i pal'ma” (The Pine and the Palm), “Plenivshis' rozoy solovey” (Enslaved by the Rose, the Nightingale),” and “Kak nebesa tvoy vzor prekrasen” (Thy Glance Is Radiant as the Heavens). Rhythmical figures in the accompaniment (subdividing the second beat with shorter notes), melodic ornamentations, and harmonic progressions (especially sustained bass with changing harmony on the top)—all recall the Balakirev pieces inspired by his Caucasian trip.16 Even twenty years later, Balakirev’s transcriptions of Caucasian tunes reverberated in Rimsky-Korsakov’s imagination. In Sheherazade, for instance, Rimsky-Korsakov closely followed a melody to which Balakirev was particularly attached, the traditional Georgian song “Akh, Dilav!” (no. 19 in Balakirev’s sketchbook).17 The second phrase of “Akh, Dilav”—with its characteristic rhythm and a descending stepwise motion from the fifth to the third scale degree touching a lower neighbor note—bears a striking resemblance to the main theme (Kalender Prince) of the second movement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic piece (compare Examples 1a and 1b). (p.148)

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and His Orient

Example 1a. “Akh, Dilav” from Balakirev’s sketchbook, mm. 4–6.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and His Orient

Example 1b. Rimsky-Korsakov, Sheherazade, movement 2, mm. 348–51.

Another example of the remarkable similarity between Balakirev’s transcriptions and Rimsky-Korsakov’s music is found in the violin solo from the first movement of Sheherazade. The triplet arabesque replicates almost exactly a tune from Balakirev’s sketchbook that is possibly of Chechen origin (no. 10 in Balakirev’s sketchbook). Like Balakirev’s transcription, the melody in Sheherazade moves down in triplets touching the upper neighbor note; in both examples it is played against a suspended note and then is repeated one step down (compare Examples 2a and 2c). Most probably Rimsky-Korsakov borrowed this whirling motive of triplets from Balakirev’s symphonic poem Tamara, since, as we can see from Examples 2b and 2c, he almost exactly repeated the contour of his teacher’s tune.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and His Orient

Example 2a. tune no. 10 from Balakirev’s sketchbook, mm. 1–8.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and His Orient

Example 2b. Balakirev, Tamara, mm. 35–37.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and His Orient

Example 2c. Rimsky-Korsakov, Sheherazade, mov. I, mm. 94–101.

(p.149) Besides Balakirev’s musical language, Rimsky-Korsakov was strongly influenced by Dargomyzhsky’s oriental idioms. The convergence between the two composers took place exactly as Rimsky-Korsakov started feeling “some signs of coolness” between himself and Balakirev, because of the latter’s “cutting paternal despotism.”18 Throughout the winter of 1867 and 1868, Rimsky-Korsakov participated in weekly gatherings at Dargomyzhsky’s house, and it was during this time that Musorgsky and Cui suggested to Rimsky-Korsakov that he write music based on Osip Senkovsky’s famous “Arabian tale.”19 The Orientalist aspects of Senkovsky’s Antar are hard to deny; the East is characterized through three main (p.150)

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and His Orient

Example 3. Dargomyzhsky’s arrangement of “Algerian Tune.”

Orientalist clichés: revenge, power, and love, which a male protagonist, Antar, wants to experience.20 In the desert of Palmyra he meets and saves a gazelle, who turns out to be the peri, or fairy, called Gul Nazar, the Queen of Palmyra. As a reward for his courage, she promises him to fulfill three wishes. None of the wishes, however, brings Antar eternal bliss, so to fulfill his last wish Peri Gul Nazar takes Antar’s life with a final embrace. Since Rimsky-Korsakov presented Antar with Western musical vocabulary and Gul Nazar with that of the East, Francis Maes argues that the story’s ending suggests that oriental female sensuality does “exert a paralyzing, indeed destructive influence” over a Western man.21

Leaving aside the Orientalist message of the story, one must ask, does the music truly portray Peri Gul Nazar as a sensual force who exercises power over the male protagonist? Let’s consider the last movement, in which Gul Nazar is characterized by a traditional Algerian tune, which was first published in a book by Alexander Christianowitsch, Esquisse historique de la musique arabe aux temps anciens, then arranged by Dargomyzhsky and given to Rimsky-Korsakov as a source for inspiration.22 According to Rimsky-Korsakov, he kept Dargomyzhsky’s harmonization at the beginning (p.151)

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and His Orient

Example 4. Rimsky-Korsakov, Antar, mov. IV, mm. 13–28.

of the Andante amoroso.23 Indeed, both melodies are harmonized similarly and have almost identical voice leading (even the parallel thirds in the accompaniment at the end of the tune). Dargomyzhsky’s arrangement does not provide a clear tonal center; the accompaniment oscillates between C-major, E-minor, A-minor, and F-major chords, creating—with its diatonic coloring and preponderance of minor chords—a rather somber mood (see Example 3).24 Rimsky-Korsakov’s harmonization, however, gives a slightly better sense of a tonal center. He moves the melody up a semitone to D-flat major—Balakirev’s favorite tonality for the expression of love—and, subtly shifting the harmony toward a major color, he escapes from Dargomyzhsky’s somberness (see Example 4). By slightly changing the melody’s rhythmical pattern, making it more capricious and less even, Rimsky-Korsakov refines the melody’s sensitivity and enhances its tenderness and delicacy. It is hard to claim, however, that there is any trait of overt sexuality or explicit sensuality in the music. Rather, while using the Orientalist story, Rimsky-Korsakov takes a path of more complex representation that does not reduce the oriental female to exclusively seductive characteristics. Peri Gul Nazar, in Rimsky-Korsakov’s view, has a charming and complex nature (p.152) and can reveal various sides of her personality, including melancholy and contemplativeness.

By sticking closely to Dargomyzhsky’s harmonization of the “Algerian Tune,” Rimsky-Korsakov followed his example in arranging Algerian music as simple, non-Orientalizing, and free of conventional romantic exoticism. The other two elements inspired by Dargomyzhsky and found in Example 4—augmented harmony (measure 15) and a particular rhythmic-melodic figuration (measure 24)—confirm once again Rimsky-Korsakov’s allegiance to Dargomyzhsky’s oriental vocabulary. In a conversation with Yastrebtsev, Rimsky-Korsakov once noted that augmented harmony was prominent in Dargomyzhsky’s music, and appeared for the first time in his Finnish Fantasy (1867).25 Actually, Dargomyzhsky had used an augmented triad for the first time in his “Oriental Song” fifteen years earlier, in 1852, and Rimsky-Korsakov was well familiar with that art song.26 The augmented harmony in Dargomyzhsky’s “Oriental Song” appears quite unconventionally: the opening chords of the piano interlude, instead of giving a clear sense of the key, slowly unfold the augmented triad in a low register, emphasizing the exotic character of the song’s protagonist through tonal ambiguity. The same chord is heard at the very beginning of Dargomyzhsky’s “Oriental Choir of Hermits” from his unfinished opera Rogdana and is also found in his art song evoking Spain, “Ya zdes' Inezil'ya” (I am Here, Inezil'ya), as well as in the above-mentioned Finnish Fantasy, and in his opera The Stone Guest (in the scene with Don Juan and the statue), suggesting that for Dargomyzhsky an augmented triad signified otherness in general.27

Another rhythmic-melodic gesture originating from Dargomyzhsky’s art songs is a melodic figure that was often used by members of the Kuchka to represent the Orient. It is a relatively long note (a quarter or a half note) tied to a group of four thirty-second notes, the second of which touches the upper neighbor note, and then the melody moves three steps down before repeating the last note twice (see Example 4, measure 24). Examples of this figure appear in Dargomyzhsky’s Eastern aria “O deva-roza, ya v okovakh” (Oh Rose-Maiden, I Am in Shackles, 1858), Balakirev’s “Gruzinskaya pesnya” (Georgian Song, 1863), Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Plenivshis' rozoy, solovey” (Enslaved by the Rose, the Nightingale, 1866), Musorgsky’s “Pesnya Baleartsa” (Song of the Balearic Islander) from his unfinished opera Salammbô, César Cui’s “Le Turc” (late 1880s), Glazunov’s oriental art song “V krovi gorit ogon' zhelan'ya” (The Fire of Desire Burns in My Blood, 1888) and his “Arabskaya melodiya” (Arabian Melody, 1885), and many others. In The Golden Cockerel, Rimsky-Korsakov uses this figure to characterize the Queen of Shemakha in her most sensual or emotionally charged moments; she sings it when (p.153)

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and His Orient

Example 5. Rimsky-Korsakov, The Golden Cockerel, Act 2.

she describes her sensual dream and when she recalls her home, which brings her to a weeping emotional outburst (see Example 5).

Although Rimsky-Korsakov and the Kuchka generally downplayed or deliberately ignored the influence of Anton Rubinstein on their music, as Marina Frolova-Walker has observed, a number of elements from Rubinstein’s music were appropriated by the kuchkists, including Rimsky-Korsakov. Though characterizing Rubinstein’s compositions as “hopelessly monotonous,” Rimsky-Korsakov excluded some of his works—mainly the ones with oriental subjects—from his list of “colorless” and “unoriginal” music, and drew a wealth of exotic elements from them.28 For our purposes, Rubinstein’s cycle of Persian Songs is of interest, first because it is one of the few Rubinstein pieces accepted by the Kuchka as being “significant” or “original”; and second because it provides clear evidence that Rimsky-Korsakov studied Rubinstein’s music closely and borrowed a few particular gestures from it. Take for instance song no. 6 “Nas po odnoy doroge sud'ba s toboy vedyot” (Destiny Drives Us on the Same Path) from Persian Songs. The second half of the song is based entirely on a long melisma in the vocal line accompanied by sustained chords in the right hand and the imitation of a plucking instrument playing perfect fifths in the left (see Example 6a). In his clarinet solo from Sheherazade, Rimsky-Korsakov not only replicates the melodic contour of the vocal melisma, but also uses almost the same harmonic progression to support (p.154)

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and His Orient

Example 6a. Rubinstein, “Nas po odnoy doroge” from the cycle Persian Songs, mm. 11–14.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and His Orient

Example 6b. Rimsky-Korsakov, Sheherazade, mov. II, mm. 161–62.

(p.155) it: the dominant seventh chord in Rubinstein’s art song is changed by a minor-minor chord on the same scale degree, while Rimsky-Korsakov, instead of using a minor-minor chord, cuts its lowest note, turning the chord to a simple C-major triad (see Example 6b).

The Last Opera

Throughout his life, Rimsky-Korsakov continued to evoke the East, relying on musical conventions and “artistic truth” established in Russian music literature. Some contemporary critics, however, found Rimsky-Korsakov’s oriental pieces shallow, albeit not on the grounds of inauthenticity. It is hard to believe, but the premiere of Sheherazade, the most famous of Rimsky-Korsakov’s oriental pieces, was almost cancelled because the Imperial Russian Musical Society objected that it “might corrupt the taste of our musical youth.”29 Even after the symphonic suite was accepted, thanks to the intervention of July Ivanovich Johansen, the director of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, Rimsky-Korsakov was paid only fifty rubles, or half the stipulated composer’s fee for the performance of a symphonic work, since Sheherazade appeared to be “too light and playful to qualify for that fee.”30

The composer took this lesson seriously, and for nine years after 1888, he wrote almost exclusively opera, creating at the incredible pace of one per year. Rimsky-Korsakov’s last opera, The Golden Cockerel, cannot be accused of any superficiality or “lightness.” The musical language—with its highly sophisticated harmony and intellectually produced symmetry, refined melodic contours, utterly satirical and simultaneously exquisite symbolic vocabulary—reached the pinnacle of musical and aesthetic perfection.

The opera was meant to offend the authorities and the tsar himself, whose absurd actions eventually cost him his life. One year after the disastrous loss in the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), which had led Russia to its first large-scale revolution in 1905, and after Rimsky-Korsakov’s defamatory dismissal from the St. Petersburg Conservatory, the composer was motivated to highlight all the abominations of autocratic rule as “la bestialité dans toute sa candeur” (as Rimsky-Korsakov put it) with “caustic humor” and even biting sarcasm.31 Besides being deeply unsatisfied with the ugly political situation and foolish complacency of the authorities, Rimsky-Korsakov, like many other members of liberal society, was frustrated with Russian policies in the East. In a number of letters and exchanges with close (p.156) friends such as Belsky, Yastrebtsev, and Glazunov, he expressed his deep concern (indeed, distress and grief) over Russia’s Eastern affairs.32

On 5 August 1904, Rimsky-Korsakov wrote a letter to his former student, friend, and colleague Glazunov:

And what horrors are now going on in the East. Port Arthur is clearly living out its last days. We will have many more victims in this damned war! … “Monkeys, just monkeys!33 We will smother them with our caps, we will drag them by their ears!”— that’s what was said here. “After the first battle on dry land, it will be all over for the Japs!” and so forth— and look what actually happened. I have to admit, I can’t get the war out of my head.34

In light of these remarks, Gerald Abraham’s claim that the summer of 1904 passed peacefully for Rimsky-Korsakov, although “the disasters of Japanese War wounded his patriotic pride,” and “thousands of Russians were dying round Port Arthur,” does not accurately reflect the composer’s state of mind.35 Not only was he concerned about the war and the people dying on both sides, but like many members of Russia’s intelligentsia, disagreed with the blatantly racist descriptions of the Japanese.36 A little over two years after this letter, Rimsky-Korsakov and his librettist Belsky used the monkey image to describe Tsar Dodon, distancing themselves from the official discourse about the East and from Russia’s own embarrassing cultural, racist, and colonialist mimicry (often referred to as “aping”) of the West.37 It should not then be a surprise that when Ivan Bilibin (1876–1942) later drew illustrations for The Golden Cockerel’s score and designed the stage decoration for its premiere production at Zimin’s Private Opera in Moscow in 1909, he portrayed Tsar Dodon with unambiguously Asian features.38 The propaganda of stereotypes had little or no impact on the Russian intelligentsia. Even during the most difficult wartime moments, Russian artists and literati (Valery Bryusov, Vyacheslav Ivanov, Zinaida Gippius, and others) tended to see the Japanese foe philosophically, often as something inevitable, like a cleansing storm, as Yuliya Mikhailova has stressed.39 Japanese art and culture was admired by many artists, including Bilibin, who considered it modern.40 At the height of the Russo-Japanese War, despite mounting fear of a Yellow Peril, Bilibin painted a series of watercolor illustrations for Pushkin’s “Tale of Tsar Saltan” that suggested the preponderant influence of Katsushika Hokusai’s Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji (1831).

(p.157) As Japan’s gaze turned to the West in the Meiji period (1868–1912), “seeking knowledge throughout the world so as to strengthen the foundation of imperial rule,”41 Western artists and intellectuals became increasingly fascinated with the nation’s premodern culture and art. The craving for Japanese culture among Russian artists and the general public exploded after the exposition of Sergei Kitaev’s collection of Japanese woodblock prints in 1896–97 in St. Petersburg and Moscow.42 The exposition fueled a boom of Japanese exhibitions, events, and publications—a japonisme that introduced Russians to the small country located just beyond the empire’s Pacific frontier.43 In 1897 Niva, one of the most popular weeklies, published an essay by Kitaev on his collection and also featured Igor Grabar’s manifesto on modern art, in which the young art critic proclaimed Japanese methods of painting a model for the expression of subjectivity, and thus the model for modern works of art in general.44 Other events related to Japanese culture included the 1901 performance of a Japanese drama troupe in St. Petersburg, the 1901–1902 exhibition of Japanese engravings from the collection of Prince Sergei A. Shcherbatov and Vladimir V. von Meck (a grandson of Tchaikovsky’s patron Nadezhda von Meck), the 1903 St. Petersburg “modern art” exhibition of Japanese woodcut prints curated by Shcherbatov and Igor Grabar, coupled with the publication of Grabar’s Japanese Color Woodblock Prints,45 the 1905 exhibition of Hasegawa’s woodblock prints, and the 1906 exposition of Chinese and Japanese works of art and religious artifacts from the collection of N. P. Kalabushkin. The latter two exhibitions took place during and after the Russo-Japanese War. Indeed, as Rosamund Bartlett points out, “No other country in the world had ever found itself in the position of being simultaneously at war with, and culturally in thrall to, Japan: this was a unique situation.”46

Rimsky-Korsakov and Belsky reworked Pushkin’s “Golden Cockerel” to ensure that their contemporaries would not miss the opera’s connection to Japan, adding a number of features revealing the Queen of Shemakha’s Japanese origin. (In Pushkin’s tale, the Queen has but one line of indirect speech). In the opera she introduces herself with an aria addressed to the Sun—the symbol of Japan; when Dodon asks where her home is, she answers that she comes from an “island floating between the earth and sky,” and to reach it, one needs to move toward the East.47 Despite the fact that some Russian writers, including composer and teacher Mikhail Gnesin, interpret the Queen’s description of her country as evidence of her “fairy-tale dream-like origin,”48 this image is not far from Rimsky-Korsakov’s own impressions of Japan. The composer’s perception of this (p.158) country was shaped in his childhood by the letters of his elder brother, Captain-Lieutenant Voin Rimsky-Korsakov, who traveled to Japan as a commander of the schooner Vostok in 1852, and by the famous writer Ivan Goncharov, who participated in the same journey as secretary of Admiral Putyatin and described this trip in his extremely popular book Frigate “Pallada.49 Although in his letters written home Voin complained that he had no chance to land on Japanese soil and had almost no personal contact with the Japanese people, he saw some Japanese women on boats passing by the Russian ships and described them in flattering terms, at one point even musing about being captivated by one of them.50

Undoubtedly familiar with Goncharov’s literary travelogue, which contains many pages devoted to Japan, the composer of The Golden Cockerel could have been infatuated with the writer’s idealized and highly refined vision of Japan, presented rather as an unreal “thrice-tenth tsardom,” or a far-off place in Russian fairy tales: “What is this? A stage décor or reality? What a [marvelous] place … everything is so harmonious, so little resembling real life, that you begin to have doubts: is this scene an artist’s picture, or taken entirely from a fairy-tale ballet?”51 Rimsky-Korsakov and Belsky may also have borrowed from Goncharov’s “Dream of Oblomov” the idea for Tsar Dodon’s dream, that described the protagonist’s reverie about this most “blessed corner of earth” (an element that was not present in Pushkin’s tale). It seems that Rimsky-Korsakov also shared Goncharov’s distaste for European imperialism in Asia. After reflecting on how Japan is different linguistically, culturally, and historically from Europe, Goncharov defended the country’s choice to stay closed to the West, since the Japanese “did not see any good from the Europeans, but much evil.”52

Rimsky-Korsakov’s understanding of Japan as a highly aestheticized, refined, mysterious, and attractive land seems to be metaphorically connected to the Queen of Shemakha, the oriental beauty; her utterly exotic and bellicose nature resonated with the perception of Japan promoted in the Russian press.53 One of the earliest critiques of the first performance of The Golden Cockerel is worth citing in full, since it perfectly captures Shemakha’s sophisticated musical character:

This character [of the Queen of Shemakha] is something new, something unseen before in our musical literature. It contains the venom of sarcasm, the primordial seductive graces of the fairy-tale Orient, a poignant and almost realistic tragedy of a lonely female soul looking for a worthy conqueror, along with a sort of predatory demonism with claws that are sometimes hidden, sometimes revealed. All (p.159) these diverse and seemingly contradictory qualities are melded together by the charms of music into something integral, living, vivid, and mysteriously beautiful. Melodies endlessly flow from the lips of the Queen of Shemakha— almost all breathing an Eastern chromaticism, each one more beautiful than the next, and there is no limit to this sea of song that reflect a thousand shades of passion, dreams, playfulness, and mockery.54

It must be stressed that Rimsky-Korsakov resisted the one-sided, negative characterization of the Queen that Belsky had initially envisioned. In a letter to the composer, Belsky urged Rimsky-Korsakov not to “ennoble the immodest pranks of the Queen by casting out from the instrumentation all its sultry sensuousness.”55 “The Queen,” he continued, “is the devilish seductiveness of sensual beauty, and turning her into an ideal of pure beauty would first of all eliminate the moral meaning of the plot as well as the contrast between the evil that reigns without limit on the stage vs. the spectators’ feeling that, somewhere, good triumphs over all.”56 Rimsky-Korsakov, however, created an extremely complex Shemakha. Unlike many simplistic representations used by contemporary Western composers for oriental female characters, Rimsky’s utilized generic and stylistic diversity as well as intricate harmonic language to endow his oriental queen with a complex personality, one that experienced and expressed a wide spectrum of emotions and expressions, from sarcasm to the poetic sublime. Two diametrically opposing musical characteristics of the Queen are presented in her entrance aria “Otvet' mne zorkoye svetilo” (Respond to Me, Vigilant Luminary): one is lyrical, diatonic, and tonally stable; and the other one is instrumental, technically sophisticated, chromatic, tonally unstable, and ornamental—both encapsulate her multifaceted character, which is gradually unveiled throughout the opera (see Example 7a).57

Significantly, the composer did not attempt to Japanize Shemakha’s musical vocabulary; rather, he used gestures associated in Russian music with a generalized idea of the Orient. The aria’s purely diatonic opening phrase resembles Rubinstein’s song no. 12 (the text of which also refers to the Sun) from his cycle of Persian Songs, and its second half is based on highly chromatic sliding-down figures followed by vocalizations with augmented seconds à la Prince Igor or Sheherazade—none of which are associated with Far Eastern music (see Example 7a). It seems that Rimsky consciously resisted musical stereotypes connecting pentatonic scales with the Far Eastern world: in his transcription of the “Eastern melody” (p.160)

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and His OrientNikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and His Orient

Example 7a. Rimsky-Korsakov, aria of the Queen of Shemakha, “Otvet' mne zorkoye svetilo.”


(p.162) (possibly of folk origin) that inspired the opening phrase of Shemakha’s aria, the composer changed a clearly pentatonic theme into an undeniably diatonic one (compare Examples 7a and 7b).58

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and His Orient

Example 7b. “Eastern melody” from Rimsky-Korsakov’s sketchbook.

As the Russian musicologist Boris Asafyev has noted, the “elements of the Queen of Shemakha are found in the music of nearly all of her predecessors.”59 Yet for Asafyev it remained a riddle of “how and why they would be imparted with such a sharp bias, why they are gathered together in the final work of the composer as in a conjurer’s trick.”60 The reading of Shemakha as a metaphor for Japan clarifies why Rimsky-Korsakov insisted on such a complex and contradictory representation of her character. Like Japanese art, Shemakha is sophisticated, refined, and symbolic, and can conquer the hearts and minds with her beauty; like the Japanese army, the Queen can be dangerously powerful—any attempt to subjugate her may end badly for the assailant; and, like the war with Japan that revealed Russia’s military incompetence, the Queen reveals the incompetence of Dodon’s rule, bringing down his kingdom.

If the function and symbolic meaning of Shemakha and Tsar Dodon in Belsky and Rimsky-Korsakov’s rendition of Pushkin’s fairy tale are now more or less clear to the reader, the character of the Astrologer continues to raise many questions. Some researchers have suggested that Rimsky-Korsakov meant to represent himself in the Astrologer (and that he even joked about it), and in the first production Bilibin presented the magician as visually similar to Rimsky-Korsakov.61 Others compared him to a fragile and chaste child, the murder of whom must be followed with retribution; or as a “stranger from the infinite heavenly domain” who can hear the “music of the spheres” and can “bring to this sinful earth … the highest wisdom or the highest justice.”62 Yet others saw in the Astrologer a “sinister figure” characterized with the most “artificial” musical language.63 At first glance, the Astrologer does not seem to engage in any power struggle with Dodon or the Queen (except for a short squabble with the Tsar for the oriental beauty that ends pitifully for the Astrologer). According to Belsky’s Preface to the opera, however, the Astrologer appears to be the mastermind behind the curtain who manipulates both Tsar and Queen, and arranges their fatal encounter. To better understand the message that Rimsky-Korsakov and Belsky meant to send through the Astrologer, one (p.163) must understand the war Russia was fighting with Japan, and Nicholas II’s advisors who stood behind the scenes.

Russia’s imperial ambitions in the Russo-Japanese War are unquestionable; equally undeniable, these ambitions were stimulated by competition with Western powers, specifically the Russo-British confrontation over dominion in Central Asia and the Far East, known as “The Great Game.” While Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany encouraged Nicholas II to establish Russian power in Korea and China, believing Russia’s preoccupation with the East would distract Germany’s ostensible political ally from Western affairs (the Balkans), Great Britain was strengthening its economic and political presence in Asia. Both factors bolstered the Russian government’s belief that only expansionist policies in the East could prevent a British commercial and military presence in those Central Asian territories “dangerously close” to Russia. But the political state of affairs was not the only reason driving Russian officials to stretch so sweepingly into the Far East. Some contemporary observers and later historians suggested that ideological and religious factors played just as important a role in Russia’s Eastern policies. Many members of the upper class, including Prince Ukhtomsky, Minister of Finance Sergei Witte, and Tsar Nicholas II himself, believed in Russia’s strong connection to Asia and Buddhism through the Aryan peoples who practiced it.64 Inspired by the enthusiasm of Russian Asians Pyotr Badmaev, a doctor, and Lama Agvan Lobsang Dorzhiev, the political and spiritual advisor of Dalai Lama XIII, who claimed that the Russian presence in the East was predicted in ancient Buddhist scripts, Ukhtomsky and Witte convinced Tsar Alexander III (and later, to a greater extent, Nicholas II) that Russia, as a direct inheritor of the Mongol Empire, was destined to become the leading power in Asia.

Leaving aside all the period’s political intricacies, let us concentrate on Pyotr Badmaev, since it will not only shed light on the most mysterious character of the opera but suggest an intriguing political twist to the operatic story. The son of a wealthy Buryat Mongol cattle farmer,65 Zhamsaran Badmaev, who claimed to be an offspring of Genghis-Khan, came to St. Petersburg from a remote Irkutsk region southeast of Lake Baikal.66 Baptized as Pyotr Alexandrovich Badmaev (taking his first name after his role model Peter the Great and his patronymic honoring his godfather, the Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich, the future Alexander III), he rose to the highest reaches of Russian society thanks to his talents, both as practitioner of Tibetan medicine and as a diplomat (Figure 1). After studying at the Faculty of Oriental Languages at St. Petersburg University (from which he did not graduate), he entered Imperial service in the Asiatic (p.164)

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and His Orient

Figure 1. Pyotr Badmaev.

Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1893 Badmaev wrote a memorandum to his godfather, in which he proposed the overthrow of the decaying Qing (or Manchu) dynasty and the annexation of China, Mongolia, and Tibet with the help of 400,000 cavalry of the Buddhist army, which was supposedly awaiting the advent of the “White Tsar.”67

Unlike his own Russian subjects, who often rebelled against the tsar, these Asian peoples would be more loyal to the monarch, since they believed in his divine provenance and the notion of the “White Tsar.”68 For them the Russian autocrat was a reincarnation of White Tara (or Dara-ekhe), a female bodhisattva, who in Mongol tradition protects the Buddhists and (p.165)

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and His Orient

Figure 2. Ivan Bilibin, “Tsar Pea,” cover of magazine Zhupel, 1906.

reincarnates in the North to soften the character of the northern peoples, or he was an emanation of the king of the Tibetan Buddhist mystical kingdom Shambhala, protecting the world from spiritual decay.69 Despite the tsar’s doubts about achieving this “unusual and fantastic plan,”70 the enthusiastic endorsement of this proposal by Witte persuaded him to approve a subsidy of two million rubles71 to set up commercial enterprise in the region—money that would in fact cover the gathering of intelligence about Tibet and Manchuria, their political structure, and relationships with their neighbors. The operation allowed Badmaev to travel across Mongolia to Beijing, open a hotel in Chita and a number of trade houses, (p.166) start publishing newspapers in Russian and Buryat, and establish a school for young Buryats in order to create a cadre of educated Russian Asians who could eventually strengthen cultural ties with and understanding of Mongolia and Tibet.72 Badmaev’s enterprise did not prove successful, however, and the next time he approached Nicholas II for another subsidy he was turned down. Even so, Badmaev retained his influence over the Russian nobility and political elite. In 1900, he opened a Tibetan medical clinic in a prestigious St. Petersburg suburb, where many prominent officials sought alternative health care. Just two years later, he was awarded the high position of State Councilor, and in late 1910, he helped Lama Dorzhiev and fellow Buddhists to build a temple in the capital. Despite considerable opposition from the Orthodox Church, this temple was consecrated in 1913, the 300th anniversary of the Romanovs’ rule.73

The spectacular rise of Badmaev can be explained by the Russians’ deep fascination with Asian culture, and particularly with their view of Tibet as a mystical place imbued with an ancient wisdom lost or corrupted by modern civilization. The spiritualist movement that swept across European and Russian fin-de-siècle society affected the Russian royal family as well. As Sergei Witte noted in his diary, the young tsarevich was simply obsessed with Asia,74 and before acceding to the throne, undertook a year-long journey to “the Orient,” setting out from Greece and Egypt to visit India, China, and Japan, and returning from Vladivostok via the Kazakh, Bashkir, and Kalmyk steppes—the “interior Orient.” Prince Esper Ukhtomsky, who accompanied him on this journey and who later shaped Russia’s Eastern policies, also shared Nicholas’s passion for oriental mysticism, and was personally acquainted with the Russian and American theosophists Helena Blavatsky and Henry Olcott at the headquarters of the Theosophical Society in Madras.75

For Badmaev and Ukhtomsky, spiritual matters were closely (and inevitably) interwoven with politics.76 Badmaev believed Tibet to be the “key to all Asia,” the possession of which equaled “domination in [the] entire Buddhist world.”77 In a letter to the tsar written on the eve of the Russo-Japanese War, he advised Nicholas II to pay closer attention to Tibet rather than Japan, and urged him to send special agents to Tibet before the British could take definite control over it.78 The tsar, who was usually inattentive to his subjects’ recommendations, this time heeded Badmaev, and in just two days sent a special mission to Tibet.79 However, the war with Japan, which erupted three weeks after the mission began, put an end to Russia’s diplomatic or political efforts to control Tibet.

The shadowy figure of Badmaev, forgotten for most of the Soviet period, was well-known to many at the turn of the nineteenth century.80 Badmaev’s (p.167) exotic appearance, a mysterious entourage at his clinic, and the bizarre names of his Tibetan remedies earned him the reputation of a wizard and thaumaturge (kudesnik, chudotvorets). Others called him a “wise and cunning Asiatic,” who possessed a “large proportion of charlatanism” and later accused him of a secret alliance with Rasputin.81 To many contemporaries Badmaev was a symbol of the autocracy’s decline and disorder during its final years under Nicholas II. War Minister Aleksei Kuropatkin, for instance, complained about Badmaev’s detrimental influence on the tsar:

I think that one of the most dangerous features of the sovereign is his love of mysterious countries and individuals such as the Buryat Badmaev and Prince Ukhtomsky. They inspire in him fantasies of the greatness of the Russian tsar as master of Asia. The Emperor covets Tibet and similar places. All this is very disquieting and I shiver at the thought of the damage this would cause to Russia.82

Given the West’s increasing fears of a supposed Yellow Peril, which was rooted in “scientific” racism and colonialist anxiety about a Sino-Japanese alliance, it is little wonder that the negative image of Russia’s Eastern subjects got the upper hand regarding the image of the wise and mystical Orient. One of the most unflattering representations of Badmaev—and his dangerous proximity to the tsar—was captured by Ivan Bilibin in his lubok (cartoon), which appeared in early 1905 on the cover of the satirical journal Zhupel, and was said to be the source of inspiration for Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel. Dominant in this lubok, among the tsar’s advisors who approve (or maybe even incite) the monarch to put forward his silly plan to annex the Moon is the figure of a Mongol-featured nobleman wearing Russian attire, who leans close to the tsar and over his young son, the tsarevich (Figure 2). Although the caption contains no mention of Badmaev, the only Asian-looking person close to the tsar who influenced Russia’s Eastern policies was the doctor Badmaev. It seems that Bilibin was quite familiar with Badmaev’s case and meant the cartoon to reflect the situation at the court and popular depictions of Badmaev as the “cunning Asiatic.”

Probably well aware of his reputation, Badmaev tried to defend himself by explaining his actions in the press and publishing two editions of his book Russia and China (in 1900 and 1905). The work included a slightly shorter version of his 1893 memorandum and his multiple letters to the tsar. The preface to the second edition is particularly interesting for two reasons. First, it assesses the tsar’s failure to heed the wise advice of people (p.168) better-informed about the situation in the Far East (that is, Badmaev himself), and the resulting less than coherent Eastern policies. Second, Badmaev’s striking description of China as backward in civic consciousness and absolutely corrupted by its dynastic heirs echoes liberally inclined Russian society’s views of autocracy with its inefficient and repressive system of administration. Consciously or unconsciously, Badmaev’s description of China contributed to the Russian liberals’ critique of the tsarist autocracy, corrupted and ossified in its decaying traditions.83

Bearing this context in mind, the basic elements of the operatic story of The Golden Cockerel fall into place and Belsky’s Preface to the opera can be interpreted as follows: “A wizard [Badmaev], still alive today sought by his magic cunning to overcome the daughter of the Aerial Powers [Tibet]. Failing in his project, he tried to win her through the person of Tsar Dodon [Nicholas II].” However, “he is unsuccessful,” for two reasons: because of the Russo-Japanese War and because, despite being fascinated by Tibet, Nicholas II was reluctant to advance to this absolutely unknown territory and the case did not go further than some formal diplomatic exchanges with Dalai Lama XIII.84 Badmaev’s plans were never realized, so “to console himself, he presents to the audience, in his magic lantern” (or in his self-defensive books) “the story of heartless royal ingratitude.”85 In the Epilogue, the Astrologer (after having been killed) returns to the stage and claims that the only real people in the opera were the Queen of Shemakha and himself. Rimsky-Korsakov’s suggestion—or rather, that of his librettist Vladimir Belsky since this ending was his idea—is that just as the kingdom of Tsar Dodon is unreal, so too is the authority of Russia or of the Russian tsar. Being a puppet manipulated by two oriental powers— the external eastern beauty and the internal “other”—Tsar Dodon is unable to act independently or adequately. Seen this way, his downfall is a logical end of his existence. The Orient, by contrast, while being mystical and alluring, can exercise real power, unmasking the ostentatious but absolutely fictitious world of tsardom. What appears to be real is unreal and what seems to be imagined demonstrates absolutely realistic force.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Orient is imbued with a wide range of images and attitudes, some inspired by the music and art of his time, others originating in his own reflections on the contemporary cultural and political state of affairs. Unfortunately, the overwhelming popularity of Sheherazade and Diaghilev’s Orientalized ballet version of it (of which Rimsky-Korsakov would never have approved), have overshadowed the composer’s efforts to represent the whole complexity of the East. His Antar, which musically de-Orientalized the Algerian song from Salvador Daniel’s collection, is (p.169) often mentioned in just a single sentence along with Sheherazade, which presents a synthesis of Russian musical vocabulary depicting the Orient. Thus Rimsky-Korsakov’s attempt to move beyond Orientalism, his efforts to demystify the oriental world, as well as his disagreement with Russian policies in the East and his liberal social consciousness, show that he resisted the contemporary Orientalist discourse. Although his music might not have reflected the most “authentic” vocabulary, his appreciation of and concern for the Orient was genuine. In the context of a growing and multiethnic empire that brought Russian composers into closer contact with Russia’s Asians, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Orient emerges as something far more complex and profound than we have yet understood.

I would like to express my gratitude to Anna Berman, Marina Frolova-Walker, Lars Lih, Alyssa Michaud, David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, Anthony Sheppard, Richard Taruskin, Kym White, and the editors of this volume for their helpful suggestions and thoughtful advice.


(1.) On Rimsky-Korsakov’s oriental style, see Yuly Engel, “‘Zolotoy Petushok’ (Bolshoy Teatr, 06 Noyabrya),” in Izbrannïye stat 'yi o russkoy muzïke, 1898–1918 (Moscow: Sovetskiy kompozitor, 1971), 265–74; Boris Asafyev, “Kingdom of Skomorokhi,” in Symphonic Etudes: Portraits of Russian Operas and Ballets, ed. and trans. David Haas (Lanham, MD, Toronto, Plymouth, UK: Scarecrow Press, 2008), 139–44; Gerald Abraham, Studies in Russian Music: Critical Essays (1936; New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1968), 299–310; Evgeniya Gordeyeva, “Fol'klornye istochniki ‘Antara’ i ‘Ispanskogo kaprichchio,’” Sovetskaya muzïka 6 (1958): 33–41; V. Berkov and V. Protopopov, “Zolotoy Petushok,” in Operï Rimskogo-Korsakova: Putevoditel', ed. I. Uvarova (Moscow: Muzïka, 1976), 449–53; A. I. Kandinskiy, Istoriya russkoy muzïki, vol. 2 (Moscow: Muzïka, 1979), 85–86, 169–88, 231–34, 245–48; A. A. Solovtsov, Nikolay Andreyevich Rimskiy-Korsakov: Ocherk zhizni i tvorchestva (Moscow: Muzïka, 1984), 40–48, 136–58, 332–50; Steven Griffiths, A Critical Study of the Music of Rimsky-Korsakov, 1844–1890 (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1989), 13–14, 24–34, 93–100, 280–85; Richard Taruskin, “‘Entoiling the Falconet’: Russian Musical Orientalism in Context,” Cambridge Opera Journal 4/3 (1992): 253–80; Taruskin, Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions: A Biography of the Works Through “Mavra” (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 468–71, 740–48; Taruskin, “Yevreyi i Zhidy: A Memoir, a Survey, and a Plea,” in On Russian Music (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 197; Simon Morrison, “The Semiotics of Symmetry, or Rimsky-Korsakov’s Operatic History Lesson,” Cambridge Opera Journal 13/3 (2001): 261–93; Francis Maes, A History of Russian Music: From “Kamarinskaya” to “Babi Yar”, trans. Arnold and Erica Pomerans (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2002), 80–82; Marina Frolova-Walker, Russian Music and Nationalism from Glinka to Stalin (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007), 149–55, 219–20; Nasser Al-Taee, “Under the Spell of Magic: The Oriental Tale in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade,” in Representations of the Orient in Western Music: Violence and Sensuality (Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate, 2010), 225–52; Inna Naroditskaya, Bewitching Russian Opera (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 221–23, 250–54; Margarita Chizhmak, “Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Opera ‘The Golden Cockerel,’” Current Exhibitions 34 (2012): 54–65.

(2.) See V. V. Yastrebtsev, N. A. Rimskiy-Korsakov: Vospominaniya Yastrebtseva, vol. 2 (Leningrad: Muzgiz, 1960), 468. In earlier exchanges with Belsky and Yastrebtsev, Rimsky-Korsakov had declined to write operas or symphonic pieces with oriental subjects, claiming that the only path he was able to take was the path of Russo-Slavic music. See N. A. Rimskiy-Korsakov, Perepiska s V. V. Yastrebtsevïm i V. I. Belskim (St. Petersburg: Russkaya kul'tura, 2004), 244; and Yastrebtsev, Rimskiy-Korsakov: Vospominaniya, 2:428.

(3.) Some Kuchka members seemed to be deeply preoccupied with accuracy in representation. This explains why Musorgsky dropped his project of composing the opera Salammbô. As Nikolai Kompaneysky recalled, he thought it “would have been futile” to represent the Orient musically, “without having seen it or knowing its melodies.” See Iuriy Keldïsh and Vasiliy Yakovlev, eds., M. P. Musorgskiy, k pyatidesyatiletiyu so dnya smerti, 1881– 1931: Stat'yi i materialï (Moscow: Gosudarstvennoye muzïkal’noye izdatel’stvo, 1932), 110.

(4.) See A. N. Rimskiy-Korsakov, Nikolay Andreyevich Rimskiy-Korsakov: Zhizn' i tvorchestvo, vol. 1 (Moscow: Muzgiz, 1933), 5–7; Tat’yana Rimskaya-Korsakova, “Rodoslovnaya,” Muzïkal’naya akademiya 2 (1994): 9–23.

(p.171) (5.) See Rimskiy-Korsakov, Polnoye sobraniye sochineniy: Literaturnïye proizvedeniya i perepiska, vol. 5 (Moscow: Muzïka, 1965), 75; and Rimsky-Korsakov, My Musical Life (New York: Tudor Publishing, 1935), 60, 128, 256–57.

(6.) In his opera Mlada, Rimsky-Korsakov used his own transcription of an “Indian” tune from the famous Russian artist and traveler Vasili Vereshchagin. See V. A. Obram, “Rimskiy-Korsakov i narodnaya pesnya,” in Rimskiy-Korsakov. Issledovaniya, materialï, pis'ma v dvukh tomakh, ed. Mark Yankovskiy et al., vol. 1 (Moscow: AN SSSR, 1953–54), 274–75. The two French sources were used to create an oriental flavor in Rimsky’s symphonic suite Antar. From Salvador Daniel’s Album de douze chansons arabes, mauresques et kabyles he used “Ma Gazelle” as a leitmotif for Peri Gul-Nazar, “Yamina” (in the first movement), and “Chebbu-Chebban” as the second subject of the third movement; and from Alexandre Christianowitsch’s Esquisse historique de la musique arabe (1863) he incorporated a melody from Nouba Raml.

(7.) See chapter 2, “Building Images of the ‘Other’: Russian Musical Ethnographies of Intra-Imperial Orientals” in my dissertation “Russian Orientalism: From Ethnography to Art Song in Nineteenth Century Music” (PhD diss., McGill University, 2013), 75–147.

(8.) See Balakirev to Rimsky-Korsakov, 14 December 1863, in Rimskiy-Korsakov, Polnoye sobraniye sochineniy: Literaturnïye proizvedeniya i perepiska, 5:75. In a conversation with Yastrebtsev, Rimsky-Korsakov once stated categorically: “I repeat, the main thing in music is not melody nor even harmony, but rhythm and only rhythm.” See V. V. Yastrebtsev, Reminiscences of Rimsky-Korsakov, ed. and trans. Florence Jonas (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), 80. Rimsky-Korsakov’s other statements on rhythm are found in his correspondence with Glazunov and Belsky. See Rimskiy-Korsakov, Literaturnïye proizvedeniya i perepiska, 6:83; Rimskiy-Korsakov, Perepiska s V. V. Yastrebtsevïm i V. I. Belskim, 265.

(11.) On “artistic truth” in Russian music, see Taruskin, “‘Entoiling the Falconet,’” 258– 59; Taruskin, On Russian Music, 360; Olga Haldey, Mamontov’s Private Opera: The Search for Modernism in Russian Theater (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010), 57–59; Adalyat Issiyeva, “Dialogue of Cultures: French Musical Orientalism in Russia, ‘Artistic Truth,’ and Russian Musical Identity,” La Revue musicale OICRM 3/1 (2016): 71–92.

(12.) See Edward Said’s study of the colonization and representation of the Orient in Western European literature and art, in which he defines “Orientalism” as a Western construction, a system of knowledge used by colonial powers to “dominate, restructure, and have authority over the Orient.” Said, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon, 1978), 3.

(13.) Some historians argue that Japanese intelligence played a significant role in inflaming the internal political situation to create a war on two fronts. See Dmitrii Pavlov, “Japanese Money and the Russian Revolution, 1904–05,” in Acta Slavica Iaponica 11 (1993): 79–87.

(15.) In chapter 4 of my dissertation I discuss how some ethnographic material that Balakirev brought from his trips to the Caucasus traveled to the music scores of his circle’s members. See A. Issiyeva, “Russian Orientalism,” 229–43, 294–307. Balakirev’s transcriptions of Caucasian tunes are published in B. M. Dobrovol'skiy, “M. A. Balakirev: Zapisi kavkazskoy narodnoy muzïki,” in Miliy Alekseyevich Balakirev: Vospominaniya i pis’ma, ed. Yu. A. Kremlev, A. S. Lyapunova and E. L. Frid (Leningrad: Gosudarstvennoye muzïkal'noye izdatel'stvo, 1962), 432–53.

(16.) Rimsky-Korsakov himself acknowledged this fact on several occasions. See Rimsky-Korsakov, My Musical Life, 58–60; Yastrebtsev, Reminiscences of Rimsky-Korsakov, 48, 182–85.

(17.) Balakirev sent this tune (along with other Caucasian transcriptions) to his French colleague, ethnographer Louis-Albert Bourgault-Ducoudray, who in the 1880s was (p.172) writing his opera Tamara. See Dobrovol'skiy, “M. A. Balakirev: Zapisi kavkazskoy narodnoy muzïki,” 434, 452.

(19.) Ibid., 78.

(21.) Ibid., 82.

(22.) See A. Christianowitsch, Esquisse historique de la musique arabe aux temps anciens avec dessins d’instruments et quarante mélodies notées et harmonisées (Cologne, 1863). Pekelis points out that Dargomyzhsky knew Christianowitsch, probably before the publication of his Esquisse historique, and met with him on several occasions in St. Petersburg as well as in Leipzig in 1864. See M. Pekelis, Aleksandr Sergeyevich Dargomïzhskiy i yego okruzheniye, Tom 3 (1858–1869) (Moscow: Muzïka, 1983), 31.

(23.) Ibid., 81.

(24.) According to the key signature, it is C major, as in Christianowitsch’s arrangement, but in Dargomyzhsky’s harmonization the C-major chord appears only twice in the first inversion and in a context that weakens its function. See Christianowitsch, “Nouba Raml: Derdj harmonisé,” in Esquisse historique de la musique arabe, xiii.

(27.) Rimsky-Korsakov similarly used the augmented triad to represent the Otherness in his early art songs “Enslaved” and “Hebrew Song,” and in the melodies sung by the Astrologer and the Queen of Shemakha in The Golden Cockerel. As Marina Frolova-Walker points out in Russian Music and Nationalism, in Russian tradition augmented triads are linked to the whole-tone scale that is associated with the musical character of Chernomor, the evil magician from Glinka’s opera Ruslan and Lyudmila (184–86).

(28.) As Yastrebtsev recalled, this list included “the choruses from The Tower of Babel, the dances from The Demon and Feramors, some of The Maccabees, Azra, the Persian Songs, etc.” Yastrebtsev, Reminiscences of Rimsky-Korsakov, 100. On Rubinstein’s identity in the eyes of Russian composers, see Frolova-Walker, “The Disowning of Anton Rubinstein,” in “Samuel” Goldenberg and “Schmuyle,” Studia Slavica Musicologica 27 (Berlin: Verlag Ernst Kuhn, 2003), 19–60.

(31.) Ibid., 399.

(32.) On 31 March 1904, the day of the destruction of the battleship Petropavlovsk, Yastrebtsev confesses that their “conversation was limited almost entirely” to this “terrible” event and the “deaths of Admiral Makarov, the artist Vereshchagin, and the Rimsky-Korsakov relative Mikhail Pavlovich Molas, Chief of Staff of the Pacific Squadron.” See Yastrebtsev, Reminiscences of Rimsky-Korsakov, 340. Later that year, in June 1904, Belsky sent Rimsky-Korsakov a picture of Alfred Kubin, Das Grausen (The Horror), which he hoped would inspire Rimsky-Korsakov to compose a symphonic poem. According to Belsky, the painting was an ominous prediction of a Russian ship blown up by a mine. See N. Rimskiy-Korsakov, Perepiska s V. V. Yastrebtsevïm i V. I. Belskim, 331.

(33.) This language was used by Nicholas II who perceived and called Japan’s army no more than a band of “little brown monkeys (macaques).” See Schimmelpenninck, “Russian Military Intelligence on the Manchurian Front,” Intelligence and National Security 11 (1996): 29.

(34.) Rimskiy-Korsakov, Polnoye sobraniye sochineniy: Literaturnïye proizvedeniya i perepiska, 6:146.

(35.) Gerald Abraham, Rimsky-Korsakov: A Short Biography (New York: AMS Press, 1975), 115.

(36.) In the popular press and in Russia’s distinctive folk art prints, the lubki (plural of lubok), the Japanese on the eve of the war were described and portrayed in belittling (p.173) terms—as animals (apes, dogs, insects), or as women, little children, and semi-humans. Susanna Soojung Lim, China and Japan in the Russian Imagination, 1685–1922 (London and New York: Routledge, 2013), 135–45.

(37.) In the second act of The Golden Cockerel, the slaves of the Queen describe Dodon as “Dull of brain, to think unable; Faults in every gesture bearing, Monkey, human garments wearing.”

(38.) Bilibin’s attitude toward the East requires more detailed research. It could be argued that, by portraying Dodon as an Asian, the Russian artist either distanced himself from the racist perspective on the Japanese or, since Dodon presented the most foolish character of the opera, was suggesting that Asiatic stupidity was adopted by the Russian ruler.

(39.) Yuliya Mikhailova, “Images of Enemy and Self: Russian ‘Popular Prints’ of the Russo-Japanese War,” Acta Slavica Iaponica 16 (1988): 31, 45.

(40.) See E. E. Kuzina, “Patriotizm, voploshchenïy v krasote: Zhizn’ i tvorchestvo I.Ya. Bilibina,” Kul’tura i vremya 43/1 (2012): 78–80; Lim, China and Japan in the Russian Imagination, 135–37.

(41.) Cited in Sources of Japanese Tradition, vol. 2: 1600 to 2000, ed. Willian De Bary et al. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 672.

(42.) On japonisme in Russian culture, see Yelena D'yakonova, “Yaponizm v graficheskom iskusstve serebryanogo veka,” Yaponiya: Put' kisti i mecha 2 (2002): 6–11; Diakonova, “Japonisme in Russia in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries,” in Japan and Russia: Three Centuries of Mutual Images, ed. Yulia Mikhailova and M. William Steele (Folkestone, UK : Global Oriental, 2008), 32–46; Bartlett, “Japonisme and Japanophobia: The Russo-Japanese War in Russian Cultural Consciousness,” Russian Review 67 (January 2008): 8–33; Susanna Lim, China and Japan in the Russian Imagination, 133–46.

(43.) The term japonisme originally referred to the Japanese influence on avant-garde painters in the late nineteenth century, but it is now understood in broader terms as the embrace of a wide range of Japanese art forms and styles, not only by the artistic elite but also by consumers in general. See Bartlett, “Japonisme and Japanophobia.”

(44.) I. Grabar, “Upadok i vozrozhdeniye,” in Niva, literaturnoye prilozheniye (1897): 55.

(45.) I. Grabar, Yaponskaya tsvetnaya gravyura na dereve (Japanese Colour Woodblock Prints) ([St. Petersburg]: Izd. Kn. S. A. Shcherbatova i V. V. f[on] Mekk, 1903).

(47.) “Da, doyedesh' do vostoka, tut i est' moya strana, / Pestrïm marevom vidna. / Mezhdu morem i nebom visit ostrovok. / Chto ni chas ochertan’ya menyaya” (Yes, ride to the orient; my country is there. It spreads out like a glittering mirage. Between the sea and the sky there floats an island. It constantly changes shape). For the full translation of the libretto, see Le coq d’or. The Golden Cock: An Opera in Three Acts; Music by N. Rimsky-Korsakov (New York: Fred. Rullman Inc., [1918]); Libretti of Russian Operas: With International Phonetic Alphabet Transcriptions and Word-For-Word Translations, Including a Guide to the IPA and Russian Lyric Diction, vol. 1 (Geneseo, N.Y.: Leyerle, 2004), 419–86.

(48.) Mikhail Gnesin, Mïsli i vospominaniya o N. A. Rimskom-Korsakove (Moscow: Gosudarstvennoye muzïka'noye izdatel'stvo, 1956), 178.

(49.) On Voin Rimsky-Korsakov’s letters from Japan to his family, see William. W. McOmie, “Bakumatsu Japan Through Russian Eyes: the Letters of Kapitan-Leitenant Voin Andreevich Rimsky-Korsakov,” NAOSITE (March 1994): 35–51; I. A. Goncharov, “Fregat ‘Pallada’: Ocherki puteshestviya v dvukh tomakh,” in Sobraniye sochineniy, vol. 3 (Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel'stvo khudozhestvennoi literaturï, 1959).

(50.) Voin noted that Japanese women dressed simply, in gray or blue, and that they had fashionable hairstyles, and that “even fashionable European ladies, especially brunettes, would not be averse to having their hair done à la Japonaise.” See McOmie, “Bakumatsu Japan Through Russian Eyes,” 48.

(p.174) (51.) Goncharov, Sobraniye sochineniy, 3:13.

(52.) Ibid., 47.

(53.) Rotem Kowner, “Nicholas II and the Japanese Body: Images and Decision-Making on the Eve of the Russo-Japanese War,” Psychohistory Review 26/3 (1998): 225–27; David Wells, “Introduction,” in Russian Views of Japan 1792–1913: An Anthology of Russian Travel Writing, ed. and trans. D. Wells (London and New York: Routledge, 2004), 25; Stephen Norris, A War of Images: Russian Popular Prints, Wartime Culture, and National Identity, 1812–1945 (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2006); Lim, China and Japan in the Russian Imagination, 135–46.

(54.) Yuly Engel, “‘Zolotoy Petushok’ (Bolshoy Teatr, 06 Noyabrya),” in Iosif Filippovich Kunin, ed., Izbrannïye stat 'yi o russkoy muzïke, 1898–1918 (Moscow: Sovetskiy kompozitor, 1971), 271.

(57.) “Respond to me, vigilant luminary! / You come to us from the east; / Have you visited my native land, / The country of fairy dreams? /Are the roses still glowing there / And the bushes of burning lilies? / Do the turquoise dragon-flies / Still kiss the gorgeous leaves?” The first part of the aria Rimsky-Korsakov recycled from his unfinished opera The Barber of Baghdad based on One Thousand and One Nights; the diatonic theme was meant to characterize the opera’s female character, a daughter of a qadi, a Muslim judge. See A. Gozenpud, “Neosushchestvlennïy opernïy zamïsel,” in Rimskiy-Korsakov. Issledovaniya, materialï, pis'ma, 2:253–60.

(58.) Rimsky-Korsakov’s sketch of the “Eastern melody” is cited in Kandinskiy, Istoriya russkoy muzïki, 2:180.

(61.) According to the Russian music critic Yuly Engel, Rimsky-Korsakov once said, “Actually, the Astrologer should be made up to look like me.” Engel, “‘Zolotoy Petushok’ (Bolshoy Teatr, 06 Noyabrya),” 278.

(62.) Kandinskiy, Istoriya russkoy muzïki, 2:182–83.

(64.) In the late nineteenth century, theories connecting Russian people to the Aryan race were much prized by higher-class society and the intelligentsia. They believed that Russians were closely related to Aryans through Scythian tribes that in ancient times moved from Asia to Eastern Europe and mixed with the local population.

(65.) The Buryats are the largest indigenous group living in Buryat Republic (south and east of the Lake Baikal, Siberia). They are the northernmost of the Mongol peoples and share language and many customs with other Mongols.

(66.) On the life of Badmaev, see V. P. Semennikov, “Tibetskiy vrach i russkaya monarkhiya,” in Za kulisami tsarizma: Arkhiv tibetskogo vracha Badmayeva, ed. Semennikov (Leningrad: Gosudarstvennoye izdatel'stvo, 1925), iii–xxxiv; David McDonald, “Petr Badmaev,” in Russia’s People of Empire: Life Stories from Eurasia, 1500 to the Present, ed. Stephen M. Norris and Willard Sunderland (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012), 199–209; Boris Gusev, “Moy ded Zhamsaran Badmayev: Iz semeynoy khroniki,” Novïy mir 11 (1989): 199–226; Gusev, Pyotr Badmyayev: Krestnik imperatora, tselitel', diplomat (Moscow: Olma-Press, 2000); I. V. Lukoyanov, “Vostochnaya politika Rossii i P. A. Badmayev,” Voprosï istorii 4 (2001): 111–26.

(67.) Badmayev, “Zapiska Badmayeva Aleksandru III o zadachakh russkoy politiki na aziatskom vostoke,” in Semennikov, Za kulisami tsarizma, 72.

(68.) On the idea of the “White Tsar,” see V. V. Trepalov, “Belïy tsar”: Obraz monarkha i predstavleniya o poddanstve u narodov Rossii (Moscow: Institut russkoy istorii, 2007).

(p.175) (69.) Badmayev, “Legenda o belom tsare,” in Semennikov, Za kulisami tsarizma, 57–59; Alexander Andreev, “Agwan Dorjiev and the Buddhist Temple in Petrograd,” in Cho Yang: The Voice of Tibetan Religion and Culture (Dharamsala: Gangchen Kyishong, 1991), 216.

(70.) Alexander III wrote these words on the document responding to Badmaev’s memo. See Semennikov, Za kulisami tsarizma, 81.

(71.) To compare, in 1867 Alaska was sold to the United Stated for the price of less than eleven and a half million rubles.

(73.) Prominent Russian Orientologists or specialists in Oriental Studies, such as Vasily Radlov and Sergei Oldenburg, and artists, such as Nicholas Roerich and Maximilian Voloshin, participated in this event.

(74.) See S. Iu. Witte, The Memoirs of Count Witte (New York: Sharpe, 1990), 127.

(75.) K. Paul Johnson, Initiates of Theosophical Masters (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995), 126–33. Before the “Grand Tour” Ukhtomsky also traveled to Siberia and China, where he developed connections with Russia’s Buddhist minorities. The objects of Asian art he acquired, from all regions, became the largest such collection in Russia.

(76.) See Marlène Laruelle, “‘The White Tsar’: Romantic Imperialism in Russia’s Legitimizing of Conquering the Far East,” Acta Slavica Iaponica 25 (2008): 113–34.

(77.) Badmayev, “Pamyatnaya zapiska Badmayeva o protivodeystvii anglichanam v Tibete,” in Semennikov, Za kulisami tsarizma, 110.

(79.) Dnevnik Imperatora Nikolaya II, 1890–1906 g. (Moscow: Polistar, 1991), 135; N. A. Yermakov, “Pod'yesaul Ulanov i lama Ul'yanov,” in Ocherki istorii Rossiyskoy vneshney razvedki v 6 tomakh, vol. 1 (Moscow: Mezhdunarodnïye otnosheniya, 1996), 183–91.

(80.) In one of the letters to Nicholas II, Badmaev claimed that in his clinic he treated 17,000 to 20,000 people per year.

(81.) For these references, see David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, “Tournament of Shadows: Russia’s Great Game in Tibet,” in The History of Tibet, vol. 3: The Modern Period: 1895–1959, The Encounter with Modernity, ed. Alex MacKay (London: Routledge, 1993), 49; S. Yu. Vitte and B. V. Anan’yich, Iz arkhiva S. Yu. Vitte: Vospominaniya, Tom 1: Rasskazï v stenograficheskoy zapisi (St. Petersburg: Dmitriy Bulanin, 2003), 433; V. V. Shul’gin, Godï. Dni. 1920 god (Moscow: Novosti, 1990), 311, 312; Semennikov, Za kulisami tsarizma, xx; and Victor Alexandrov, The End of the Romanovs (Boston: Little, Brown, 1966), 118.

(82.) A. N. Kuropatkin, Dnevnik, 22 September 1899, quoted in K. Meyer, S. B. Brisac, Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Central Asia (Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 1999), 281.

(83.) In Russian literature the word kitayshchina, meaning Sinoism, had a negative connotation, referring to the Asiatic features of tsarism—its oriental despotism, backwardness, and political stagnation.

(84.) See Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, “Russia’s Great Game in Tibet,” Toronto Studies in Central and Inner Asia 5 (2002): 35–52.

(85.) See W. Bjelskij, “Preface,” in N. Rimski-Korssakow, Der goldene Hahn: Oper in drei Akten (Frankfurt, London, New York: C. F. Peters, n.d.), 3. (p.176)