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Nikolai Korndorf

Nikolai Korndorf

Russian-Canadian composer
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro Russian-Canadian composer
Countries Canada
Occupations Conductor Composer
Gender male
Birth 23 January 1947 (Moscow)
Death 30 May 2001 (Vancouver)
Education Moscow Conservatory
The details

Nikolai Sergeevich Korndorf (Russian: Николáй Сергéевич Корндóрф, January 23, 1947 Moscow, Russia – May 30, 2001 Vancouver, Canada) was a Russian and Canadian (from 1991) composer and conductor. He was prolific both in Moscow, Russia and in Vancouver, Canada.


He studied composition with Sergei Balasanyan at the Moscow Conservatory (1965–1970). During these years wrote a one-act opera A tale on… (Russian: Сказание про... – Skazanie pro…) after Semyon Kirsanov. Korndorf completed post-graduate studies in 1973 with his opera Feast in the Time of Plague after Alexander Pushkin. He studied conducting with Leo Ginsburg from 1967 to 1979 and taught composition and orchestration at the Conservatory from 1972 to 1991. He became a member of the Union of Composers in 1973 and later a member of the Moscow Presidium of the Soviet Composers' Union. He was a co-founder and Deputy President of the New Association for Contemporary Music (ACM).

His early works were written in a traditional academic manner until he adopted an atonal post-expressionist style. Later he turned to a kind of minimalist repetitive aesthetic already notable in his Confessiones (1979) for double bass and twelve wind instruments, and Jarilo (1981) an extensive piece for piano and tape. This line was developed in his large-scale works such as three Hymns (1987–1990), his 3rd and 4th Symphonies and an opera MR (Marina and Rainer) based on correspondence between Marina Tsvetaeva and Rainer Maria Rilke.

In 1991, Korndorf left Russia for Vancouver, Canada, where he began experimenting with electro-acoustic media. In Canada he was an Associate Composer of the Canadian Music Centre and an Associate of the Canadian League of Composers. He taught composition at the University of British Columbia towards the end of his life.

A champion of Korndorf's music, Russian conductor Alexander Lazarev, has performed and recorded most of Korndorf’s work.

Principal works

  • Concertino for viola and string orchestra (1970)
  • Sonata for viola solo (1970)
  • Feast in the Time of Plague one-act opera after Alexander Pushkin (1972)
  • Symphony No 1 for full symphony orchestra (1975)
  • Confessiones for 14 players and tape (1979)
  • Symphony No 2 for full symphony orchestra (1980)
  • Movements for percussion ensemble (1981)
  • Primitive music for twelve saxophones (1981)
  • Yarilo for piano and tape (1981)
  • Yes!!, ritual for three singers, chamber ensemble and tape (1982)
  • Singing for mezzo-soprano and tape (1982)
  • Tristful Songs for chamber choir and percussion (1 player) (1983)
  • Con Sordino for 16 string instruments and harpsichord (1984)
  • Lullaby for two pianos (1984)
  • Brass-quintet for two trumpets, horn, trombone and tuba (1985)
  • Concerto capriccioso for violoncello solo, string orchestra and percussion (1986)
  • Amoroso for 11 players (1986)
  • The Dance in Metal in Honour of John Cage for one percussion player (1986)
  • In Honour of Alfred Schnittke (AGSCH), string trio for violin, viola and violoncello (1986)
  • Hymn I Sempre Tutti for full symphony orchestra (1987)
  • Hymn II for full symphony orchestra (1987)
  • MR (Marina and Rainer), chamber opera in one act after J. Lourié (1989)
  • Symphony No 3 for full symphony orchestra, boy's choir, men's choir, piano solo and narrator (1989)
  • Hymn III In Honour of Gustav Mahler for full symphony orchestra and soprano (1990)
  • Mozart-Variations for string sextet (1990)
  • Continuum for organ and tape (bells, gongs and tam-tams) (1991)
  • The Magic Gift of Segnoro Luigi for percussion ensemble (1991)
  • Prologue for full symphony orchestra (1992)
  • Let the Earth Bring Forth for chamber ensemble (1992)
  • String Quartet for two violins, viola and violoncello (1992)
  • ...Si Muove!, play for instrumental ensemble, actors and dancers (1993)
  • Epilogue for full symphony orchestra (1993)
  • Victor (The Victor) for full symphony orchestra (1995)
  • Welcome! for female choir and instruments played by singers themselves (1995)
  • Get out!!! for any four or more instruments (1995)
  • Welcome!, version for six female voices and instruments played by singers themselves (1995)
  • Are You Ready, Brother?, trio for piano, violin, and violoncello (1996)
  • Symphony No. 4 Underground music for full symphony orchestra (1996)
  • Music for Owen Underhill and His Magnificent Eight for chamber ensemble (1997)
  • Passacaglia for solo cello (1997)
  • The smile of Maud Lewis for small symphony orchestra (1998)
  • Canzone triste for harp (1998)
  • Musica Nominis Expers for full symphony orchestra (1998)
  • In D for full symphony orchestra (1998)
  • Lament, Response and Glorification for cello and piano (1998–1999)
  • A Letter to V. Martynov and G. Pelecis for piano (1999)
  • Echo for mixed choir and ensemble (1999)
  • Merry Music for Very Nice People for violin, cello, clarinet, piano and percussion (2000)


  • CD Art and Electronics CD AED 68017
  • CD Megadisc MDC 7817: Patricia Kopatchinskaya (violin), Daniel Raskin (viola), Alexander Ivashkin (cello), Ivan Sokolov (piano)
  • CD Sony SK 66824: BBC SO, Alexander Lazarev (conductor), Catherine Bott (soprano) (1994)


"My music usually relates to serious topics: philosophical, religious, moral, the problems of a personal spiritual life, of the relationship with the surrounding world, the problem of beauty and its relationship with a reality, as well as the problem of loftiness and meaning in human beings and in art, relationship of the spiritual and the anti-spiritual. All this means that most of my works were written not for fun and in no way can be classified as entertainment. As much as possible I strive to ensure that every one of my works contains a message to each listener and that my music leaves no one indifferent, but aroused with an emotional response. I even accept that at time my music arouses negative emotions - as long as it is not indifference." (Nikolai Korndorf)

"This gleaming piece [Hymn II] is recognizably minimalist in its radically reduced material, but the composer said that he had modeled it on the solemn doxologies of the Russian Orthodox Church. And its liturgical character derives not only from actual liturgical sources but also, and at least as much, from the familiar Russian glory-music of the concert and opera stages. (Imagine Górecki arranged by Rimsky-Korsakov, or a diatonic Poem of Ecstasy.) One can believe that such a synthesis would have occurred only to a Russian composer without buying into the biology-is-destiny mystique of nationalism." (Richard Taruskin, New York Times)

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