Rimsky-Korsakov was one of the most brilliant and colorful orchestrators in the history of classical music. Though steeped in Russian tradition – both folk and liturgical music – his style is lighter and brighter than that of his fellow “Fivers.” He’s best-known for his operas, a large number of orchestral suites drawn from them, and his symphonic poems.
Change of heart: While Rimsky started out as a dedicated member of the Mighty Handful group, his style changed when he mastered textbook harmony and he turned away from their radical experiments. Eventually, in 1894, he had a sad break with his old mentor Balakirev. Some of his later works incorporate styles and forms that the Five generally disparaged, like Wagnerian music drama. Even his interest in Russian folksong ended up different from theirs, because Rimsky was interested in the music's connection to folk culture, especially pantheistic rites.
Rimsky was criticized for his editions of his colleagues’ music, especially the polishing and prettying up of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, but his aim was to make practical performing scores to help publicize them, and it was in his version that Boris became part of the international repertoire.