Conducted by Nicolás Pasquet, the Orchestra of the University of Music FRANZ LISZT Weimar performs Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, Op. 35, a symphonic suite composed in 1888. Recorded on June 18, 2014 at the Weimarhalle, Weimar.
Based in the hometown of German Classicism and rich in tradition, the University of Music FRANZ LISZT Weimar is an institution of higher education for young musicians, academics, and ambassadors of music from across the globe. It is indebted to the legacy of Franz Liszt, who successfully combined his person as a composer, virtuoso, ensemble musician, pedagogue, and pensive philosopher. The institution aims to compete with the world’s most renowned music academies.
Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” is a vivid and colorful orchestral work that stands as one of the most famous pieces in the classical music repertoire. Composed in 1888, this symphonic suite is inspired by “One Thousand and One Nights,” also known as “The Arabian Nights.” The story behind the music revolves around the character of Scheherazade, a wise and cunning woman who tells fascinating stories to the Sultan to prevent him from executing her, a fate that befell many before her. Each night, she would weave a new tale, always leaving it unfinished, so the Sultan would spare her life for another day to hear the end of the story.
Rimsky-Korsakov, a master of orchestration and a prominent member of the group of Russian composers known as “The Mighty Handful” or “The Five,” infused “Scheherazade” with rich, imaginative textures and themes. He brilliantly uses the orchestra to paint an auditory tapestry of the tales Scheherazade tells. The suite is known for its lush, exotic harmonies and motifs that evoke the mystical and fantastical elements of the stories from “The Arabian Nights.”
The composer employs various instruments to represent characters and themes. Most notably, the violin solo represents the voice of Scheherazade herself, spinning her tales with both seduction and wisdom. This solo is one of the most celebrated parts of the piece, showcasing the violinist’s skill and expressiveness. The rest of the orchestra responds and interacts with these themes, creating a dynamic and engaging narrative through music.
“Scheherazade” is not just a musical composition; it’s a journey into a world of imagination and storytelling. It captures the essence of the narrative without using words, relying solely on the power of music to evoke emotions and images. It remains a testament to Rimsky-Korsakov’s genius as a composer and an orchestrator, and it continues to be a favorite among both classical music aficionados and the general audience for its captivating melodies and its vivid portrayal of an enchanting world.
The piece is often praised for its innovative use of the orchestra, and it has been influential in showing the possibilities of orchestral color and narrative in music. “Scheherazade” also reflects Rimsky-Korsakov’s interest in orientalism, a common theme in Russian music of the time, which sought to evoke the perceived mystery and allure of Eastern cultures.
In performance, “Scheherazade” is a showcase for the orchestra, requiring a high level of skill and coordination to bring out the intricate details and the lush, evocative soundscapes that Rimsky-Korsakov composed. It continues to be a staple in the repertoire of orchestras around the world and is frequently recorded and performed, a testament to its enduring popularity and appeal.
- The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship (Largo e maestoso – Lento – Allegro non troppo – Tranquillo)
- The Kalendar Prince (Lento – Andantino – Allegro molto – Vivace scherzando – Moderato assai – Allegro molto ed animato)
- The Young Prince and The Young Princess (Andantino quasi allegretto – Pochissimo più mosso – Come prima – Pochissimo più animato)
- Festival at Baghdad. The Sea. The Ship Breaks against a Cliff Surmounted by a Bronze Horseman. (Allegro molto – Lento – Vivo – Allegro non troppo e maestoso – Tempo come I)
1. The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship (Largo e maestoso – Lento – Allegro non troppo – Tranquillo)
The first movement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” titled “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship,” serves as a grand and evocative opening to the suite. This movement sets the stage for the storytelling theme of the entire work and introduces the listener to the magical and adventurous world of “The Arabian Nights.”
In this movement, Rimsky-Korsakov masterfully uses the orchestra to depict the rolling and majestic sea, as well as the grandeur and mystery of Sinbad’s ship. The music begins with a powerful theme that represents the Sultan, characterized by its forceful and imposing nature. This is followed by the gentle, lyrical theme of Scheherazade, portrayed by a solo violin with harp accompaniment. The contrast between these two themes -the stern Sultan and the delicate, yet cunning Scheherazade- sets the tone for the entire suite.
As the movement progresses, the music vividly portrays the sea in all its moods. The listener can almost feel the swell of the waves and the movement of the ship through the orchestration. The themes ebb and flow, much like the sea itself, with dynamic changes in tempo and volume that create a sense of movement and drama. The orchestration is rich and colorful, utilizing the full range of the orchestra to paint this vivid seascape.
The “Sea” theme recurs throughout the movement, sometimes serene and at other times tumultuous, depicting the ever-changing nature of the sea. This theme is interwoven with more exotic melodies and harmonies that evoke the sense of a distant, adventurous voyage. The use of various orchestral textures and techniques, such as the shimmering strings and the use of woodwind and brass instruments, adds to the sense of grandeur and majesty.
This first movement is not just a musical depiction of the sea and Sinbad’s ship; it also sets up the narrative framework for the rest of the suite. The recurring violin theme of Scheherazade serves as a connecting thread, reminding the listener of the storyteller weaving her tales. This theme, with its ornate and expressive nature, provides a sense of continuity and cohesiveness to the suite.
2. The Kalendar Prince (Lento – Andantino – Allegro molto – Vivace scherzando – Moderato assai – Allegro molto ed animation)
The second movement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” is titled “The Story of the Kalendar Prince.” This movement continues the rich, evocative musical storytelling that characterizes the entire suite, delving into one of the many tales that Scheherazade tells the Sultan.
In this movement, Rimsky-Korsakov uses the orchestra to paint a vivid musical picture of the story of the Kalendar Prince, a character from “The Arabian Nights.” The Kalendar Prince, a member of a religious order known for their storytelling and itinerant lifestyle, recounts his own adventures and misfortunes, making this part of the suite a narrative within a narrative.
Musically, this movement is notable for its dramatic contrasts and the variety of themes it presents. It begins with a lively, rhythmic melody that sets a brisk and adventurous tone. This is followed by a series of themes that are both exotic and expressive, featuring solo passages for various instruments, including the violin, oboe, and clarinet. These solo passages represent the voice of the Kalendar Prince, narrating his tale.
The orchestration in this movement is rich and colorful, showcasing Rimsky-Korsakov’s mastery of creating vivid soundscapes. The music shifts between different moods and textures, from the mysterious and contemplative to the spirited and lively. This mirrors the twists and turns of the Kalendar Prince’s story, with the orchestra effectively conveying the drama and emotion of the tale.
One of the highlights of the movement is the interplay between the solo violin and the rest of the orchestra. The solo violin, representing Scheherazade, interjects periodically, weaving the narrative thread and adding a layer of lyrical beauty to the music. This interplay is a key element of the movement, as it keeps the listener anchored to the overarching story of Scheherazade herself.
3. The Young Prince and The Young Princess (Andantino quasi allegretto – Pochissimo più mosso – Come prima – Pochissimo più animato)
The third movement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” titled “The Young Prince and The Young Princess,” is a distinct shift in mood from the previous movements. This part of the suite is more lyrical and romantic, focusing on the tender and intimate tale of a young prince and princess.
In this movement, Rimsky-Korsakov abandons the adventurous and dramatic themes of the sea and the Kalendar Prince for a more delicate and expressive musical palette. The movement is characterized by its melodic beauty and the use of lush, romantic harmonies. It opens with a gentle, flowing theme that is both sweet and melancholic, evoking the innocence and the deep affection of the young lovers.
The orchestration in this movement is notably softer and more refined, with an emphasis on the strings and woodwinds to carry the main themes. The violin, continuing to represent Scheherazade, introduces the main theme, which is then taken up and developed by the orchestra. This theme is full of grace and lyricism, and it weaves through the movement like a love song.
Throughout the movement, the music alternates between moments of tender intimacy and more passionate, expressive passages. Rimsky-Korsakov demonstrates his mastery of orchestral color and texture, creating a rich tapestry of sound that perfectly captures the mood of the story. The use of dynamics is particularly effective in this movement, with the music swelling to passionate heights before returning to a more subdued, intimate tone.
“The Young Prince and The Young Princess” is a showcase for the orchestra’s ability to convey emotion through music. The movement is less about dramatic narrative and more about creating an atmosphere and mood. It invites the listener to imagine the world of the young lovers, filled with beauty, romance, and a touch of melancholy.
This movement stands out in the “Scheherazade” suite for its romantic and expressive qualities. It’s a beautiful contrast to the more vigorous and colorful movements that surround it, demonstrating Rimsky-Korsakov’s versatility as a composer. The music is both evocative and deeply moving, making “The Young Prince and The Young Princess” a beloved part of this symphonic suite.
4. Festival at Baghdad. The Sea. The Ship Breaks against a Cliff Surmounted by a Bronze Horseman. (Allegro molto – Lento – Vivo – Allegro non troppo e maestoso – Tempo come I)
The finale of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” is titled “Festival at Baghdad. The Sea. The Ship Breaks against a Cliff Surmounted by a Bronze Horseman.” This movement is a dramatic and exhilarating conclusion to the suite, combining elements of excitement, adventure, and grandeur.
The movement starts with a lively and spirited theme that evokes the bustling energy of a festival in Baghdad. This part of the suite is characterized by its vibrant rhythms and vivid orchestration, capturing the sense of a lively celebration. The music here is full of bright colors and dynamic contrasts, with the orchestra playing vigorously and exuberantly.
As the movement progresses, the mood shifts to depict the sea, revisiting the maritime theme introduced in the first movement. This transition is seamless and natural, with the music capturing the sense of movement and the vastness of the sea. The orchestration here is masterful, with Rimsky-Korsakov using the full range of the orchestra to create a vivid seascape. The listener can almost feel the swell of the waves and the wind in the sails.
The climax of the movement, and indeed of the entire suite, comes with the depiction of the ship breaking against a cliff surmounted by a bronze horseman. This dramatic event is portrayed through a sudden, intense increase in musical tension and volume. The orchestra unleashes a powerful and dramatic theme that conveys the sense of catastrophe and the formidable power of nature. This moment is one of the most thrilling and dramatic in the entire suite, showcasing Rimsky-Korsakov’s ability to convey intense drama through music.
Throughout this movement, the violin solo representing Scheherazade weaves in and out of the texture, reminding the listener of the storytelling framework of the suite. This solo line, with its beauty and expressiveness, serves as a contrast to the drama and energy of the rest of the movement.
The movement concludes with a return to the themes of the festival and the sea, bringing the suite to a triumphant and satisfying close. The music ends with a sense of resolution, both musically and narratively, as the tales of Scheherazade come to an end.
- Scheherazade (Rimsky-Korsakov) on Wikipedia
- Scheherazade, Op.35 (Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolay) on the International Music Score Library Project website
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