Musical Selection: Scheherazade

Composer: Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov [or Korsakoff] (1844-1908)

This is an exceptionally beautiful composition in four parts. Rimsky-Korsakov was a brilliant composer who could weave musical themes together with a great deal of emotional tone color. His compositions often reflected Russian folk tunes, or in this case, oriental melodies.

The story of Scheherazade begins with a Sultan who has concluded that women can not be trusted to be faithful. Scheherazade, who is the daughter of the Sultan’s assistant, a vizier, marries the Sultan and manages to survive for 1,001 nights by telling him stories in the evening. At just the right moment, she complains that it is too late to continue or that she is too tired to finish the story and that she will finish the story the next night. The next evening she indeed finishes the story from the night before, and begins a new story. After 1,001 such Arabian nights the Sultan falls in love with Sultana Scheherazade and she and the Sultan live happily ever after. Scheherazade is the storyteller in One Thousand and One Arabian Nights (A collection of Middle Eastern and South Asian stories and folktales first translated into English in 1706)

Rimsky-Korsakov shared "The program…Scheherazade consisted of separate, unconnected episodes and pictures from The Arabian Nights: the fantastic narrative of the Prince Kalandar, the Prince and the Princess, the Baghdad festival, and the ship dashing against the rock….In composing Scheherazade I meant these hints to direct but slightly the hearer’s fancy…Why Scheherazade?... Because the name and subtitle One Thousand and One Nights connotes to everybody’s mind the East and fairy-tale wonders…” Philharmonic Symphony Society of New York, The Concert Companion, 563-564.)

Scheherazade: Four Movements
1. The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship (a sailor with many adventures)

2. Tale of the Kalendar Prince

3. Prince and Princess

4. Baghdad Festival - The Sea and the Ship

The first section is notable for introducing the Sultan in very stark and dark colors. Then a very light section, that seems to assure everyone that we have, for our fancy, an oriental fairy-tale…subjectively I can almost hear the words "once upon a time”…and then Scheherazade’s beautiful theme, which is introduced by a solo, gorgeous violin, and then it seems to me, subjectively, that we have an ocean theme with waves building and breaking. Note that in the 4th section Scheherazade’s theme suggests that she has acquired a hoarse voice, perhaps from telling so many stories.

Lesson Opportunities
1. Music Appreciation: Scheherazade can simply be played and enjoyed. Noting the last paragraph, my students found it very easy to identify the various motifs and describe the character in response to the music.

2. Music- Literature: One Thousand and One Nights ("Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp,” "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” "The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor,” etc.) are available in a variety of editions suited to the age group of the student. Also, a variety of film interpretations of these stories have been made with varying degrees of success.