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).


  1. I love the titles of your posts. They are so alluring to me from time to time as they appear in my blogroll ! This one attracted my attention by the name Scheherezade, because I have been a fan of the 1001 Nights when I was a little boy.

    I am musically tone deaf, so no one should ever blindly trust my music appreciation skills if I ever make a comment about any melody, but I wanted to say that I was tempted enough by the name of Scheherezade to click on this orchestra's interpretation of the music composed by Mr Rimsky-Korsakov, and yes, I totally agree with the critics who say that this aristocratic salon type eurocentric music has absolutely nothing to do with the stories of 1001 Nights, not even with the story of their being imported for the purpose of advertising and popularizing of the "exotic" into Europe.

    I think that, more than anything else, this melody has more to do with childhood memories of Mr. Rimsky-Korsakov himself, as he was remembering maybe a little nostalgically a possibly happier time when he was enjoying to read these stories.

    I distinctly thought I could catch a glimpse of a birch tree in one of the musical passages from this videoclip, and I am pretty sure that birch trees are not so widespread in the territories where Scheherezade once lived.

  2. OMG ! I just couldn't resist and I actually checked ! First of all, I realized that Scheherezade and the 1001 Nights belong to Persia (Iran), NOT to the Arabian Peninsula. And second of all...did you know that Tehran was actually called the BIRCH city (by an Italian traveller Pietro Della Valle in the XVII th century, during the Safavid rule before the Afghans took over) ? LOL ! I had NO idea ! Which tells you about the possible value of the comments I may feel tempted to make from time to time !

    I actually wonder if Mr. Rimsky-Korsakov himself knew about it ? If he did, I really think I owe him a formal apology, because I had made the preceeding comment in total ignorance.

  3. Rudolphh,

    Thank you for your comments. The background to a piece is always interesting, but it's the music that matters most, at least to me.


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