Music at King Edward's School, Birmingham: composition project

This is a famous Russian Legend about a medieval minstrel who travels to the bottom of the sea.


Sadko is handsome young hero from the city of Novgorod in Russia. He loves to sing and play music with a little harp-like instrument, (called a Gusli). He has become wealthy from his music, and now owns a fine ship on which he wishes to sail the world.

When journeying across the sea, his ship is becalmed.  There is no wind, the sea is still. The other sailors think Sadko is jinxed, and throw him into the sea. He slowly sinks down, deeper and deeper, to the realm of the Sea King, who demands Sadko play some music for him. Sadko obliges, and the Sea King is so delighted, he offers him his daughter’s hand in marriage. She is the beautiful mermaid Volkova.

Sadko plays a wedding dance, and all the creatures at the Sea Kings court dance — fish, octopus, whale… they all move with ever increasing abandon, creating a terrible storm up on the surface. Sadko realises his ship is in danger of sinking. So he smashes his little harp, and the sea becomes calm once more, as he returns to the surface.

The story ends with Volkova, who is so sad to see Sadko leave, that she turns herself into a river that flows all the way from Novgorod, to the sea, so she can always be near Sadko.


Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was once a sailor himself, and often wrote music inspired by the sea. He wrote a “musical picture” called Sadko, which clearly describes the calm sea, Sadko floating down to the Sea King’s domain, and the musical storm. Fishy finny sounds and rolling waves are wonderfully depicted in this thrilling work:


Rimsky-Korsakov loved this story so much, he wrote a whole opera about it. The story is expanded to explain how Sadko started penniless but became a famous merchant when Volkova pays him golden fish for his songs. He buys three merchant ships, from a Viking, an Indian and Venetian. Later, when he sets sail, it is Mermaid Volkova who calms the sea because she wants Sadko to sing for her again. There are some extracts here:

And here is Voklova’s song, which she sings as she turns into a river….