Rimsky-Korsakov was a prolific composer whose works included operas, symphonies, marches, concerti, songs, chamber music, and folksong collections. In 1888, he composed Scheherazade, an orchestral work inspired by The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (better known as The Arabian Nights). It became extremely popular and, in 1910, despite his widow’s disapproval, the Ballet Russes staged Scheherazade with choreography by Michel Fokine, a libretto by Fokine and Léon Bakst, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s famous music.
At the time of our letter, Rimsky-Korsakov was working on his four-act opera The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya. He had first become interested in adapting two Russian legends in 1898 while working on The Tale of Tsar Saltan with his friend, poet and librettist Vladimir I. Belsky, with whom he also wrote The Golden Cockerel. Although Belsky had begun his work on City of Kitezh in 1901, Rimsky-Korsakov became exasperated with his slow progress, chiding him through letters and poems. In September 1902, Rimsky-Korsakov wrote to Belsky, “including in the letter a quatrain from a satirical poem by the fictitious wordsmith Kozma Prutkov… which he altered in jest to read: ‘The leaf withers / Summer passes / Wet snow falls / For want of a libretto / I could shoot myself.’ … Rimsky-Korsakov received the draft scenario of the Legend of Kitzeh [from Belsky] on 13 July 1903,” (Russian Opera and the Symbolist Movement, Morrison).
Our letter is possibly written to Russian pianist, conductor, composer, and teacher Vasily Ilyich Safonov (1852-1918), who directed the Moscow Conservatory and conducted the premiere of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony.
Penned on a folded sheet with some creasing, pencil erasures and wear. A small chip in the lower margin affects one letter. In fine condition. With an unrelated envelope addressed in Rimsky-Korsakov’s hand to Ivan Ivanovich Sidorov care of the Russian composer Boris Lvovich Levenzon.