Hi guys! Welcome to episode six of Tenny’s Tunes. I am your host Tenny.
Last time we discussed Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C Sharp Minor, which describes his very own funeral he dreamed of as a 19-year-old. It was said that the piece grew so much in popularity that Rachmaninoff himself grew sick of playing the piece every time someone in the audience asked him to perform it.
This week, we follow the same logic by briefly exploring another piece of music so popular that anyone studying orchestral music should know. Scheherazade, composed in 1888 by the great Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov who lived from 1844 to 1908.
A brief background before we introduce Scheherazade, which is playing in the background. Rimsky-Korsakov was a Russian composer and a member of The Five, a group of prominent 19th-century Russian composers who were working on creating a distinct Russian classical music genre at the time. In particular, Rimsky-Korsakov developed a nationalistic style of classical music, which features a fusion of Russian folk song and exotic harmonic, rhythmic elements, a practice known as musical orientalism. In contrast, he takes inspiration from Western compositional methods when organizing these into the final, coherent piece.
Interestingly enough, Rimsky-Korsakov had been a young navy officer in the Imperial Russian Navy, which traveled to the United States during the American Civil War. Naturally, his experiences on the sea would have influenced his composition style later on.
Scheherazade, one of the definitive milestones in Rimsky-Korsakov’s career, is a fitting example of this. For anyone who has read One Thousand and One Nights, a.k.a. the Arabian Nights, a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales, this name should ring a bell. To be honest, everyone should have read at least some stories from the Arabian Nights; otherwise, you were missing out on a big part of childhood.
Scheherazade is the female storyteller in One Thousand and One Nights who told stories to the Sultan in order to stay alive. At the time, the Sultan became convinced that all women were deceptive, and thus he would kill all of his wives after the first night spent with each one. Subsequently, nearly all of the families took their daughters and fled for fear of them being killed, except for Scheherazade who was confident in her storytelling. Each night, she would tell vivid but unfinished stories to the Sultan so that he would keep her alive to finish them. This continued for about three years until the Sultan finally decided that Scheherazade would be his wife, once and for all.
The symphonic suites in Scheherazade features four stories in One Thousand and One Nights: The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship, The Story of the Kalandar Prince, The Young Prince and Princess, and Festival at Baghdad The Sea. The music is currently playing the first part, The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship. If you noticed, the music elements serve to convey the commanding voice of the Sultan as he demands Scheherazade to entertain him during their initial encounter.
I would now like to play you the middle portion of the third movement, The Young Prince and Princess. It’s my favorite, even though I enjoy every movement. See if you can hear the range of powerful emotions between the two characters as a love story begins to develop. I am Tenny Tsang, and this is NBN Audio.
[Play Scheherazade III. by the U.S.S.R. Orchestra, Released 1969]