Thursday, February 16, 2012

Montreal Symphony: Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade

The Montreal Symphony Orchestra performs from the first movement of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, opus 35, Charles Dutoit conducting, during the orchestra's tour of Japan in 1992.


Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov completed the four-movement orchestral suite during the summer of 1888 at Nyezhgovitsy, a summer residence along the Cheryemenyetskoye Lake. It was first performed on November 3, 1888 by the Russian Symphony, in St. Petersburg, Russia, with Rimsky-Korsakov conducting.

The work is based on the tale, One Thousand and One Nights, which is also known as The Arabian Nights, a collection of  Middle Eastern and South Asian tales and folk stories compiled in Arabic during Islam's Golden Age.

These stories, including "Aladdin," "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" and "Sindbad the Sailor" were brought to Europe by  Anotine Galland, a French orientalist and scholar, who between 1704 and 1717 published these stories in 12 volumes.  It coincided with an European interest in Orientalism, of something foreign and mysterious. As one reviewer, Barbara Heninger, writes:
Though the subject of Scheherazade is based on Arabian tales, the work is still firmly Russian in its sensibilities and its flavor of "oriental" sound. Rimsky-Korsakov himself wrote that the piece was not meant to be an exact depiction of Scheherazade's stories, and titles of the movements are meant to "direct but slightly the hearer's fancy on the path my own fancy traveled." The piece exhibits his skill in varying orchestral color, using a standard Brahmsian orchestra that has been augmented by piccolo, harp, and extra percussion (snare and bass drum, tambourine, cymbals, and tam tam).