January 31, 2012 in Teaching Tuesday
My all time favorite symphonic work has been Scheherazade. It’s one of those incredible works of music that engages the musician, engages the audience and really evokes the story of Scheherazade and her 1001 Arabian nights with Sultan Sharyar. The imagery is awesome. Not only do you get transported to a new location each time Scheherazade starts to tell a story (represented by the violin) the melodic form of the symphony is almost like a series of variations on the same melodies in each movement. This makes listening much easier and interesting.
If you don’t know the story, Sultan Sharyar was known for being a promiscuous man who like to avoid any long term relationships, by executing his current wife, the morning after any love affairs. He ran rampant until he met Scheherazade. She knew that she would be executed, so like a modern day hollywood director, she told stories each night with an exciting “cliff-hanger” to leave the Sultan wanting more. Each night she returned to his chamber and told more stories. One thousand and one nights of stories.
Rimsky-Korsakov had some “exotic experiences” during his naval career, which apparently, fueled by his vivid imagination, helped him conjure up the 4 movements that make up the symphonic piece “Scheherazade”. He was known to be a strictly amateur composer in the beginning of his career, but in 1871, after being noticed for his “ultra-modern” writing style, got offered a position at the St. Petersburg Conservatoire. He accepted the job, but claims that he had no real proper training in composition at all. He bluffed his way through teaching by staying one step ahead of his students, working his way to the title of “finest composition teacher in Russia”.
His orchestration techniques were apparently learned from Berlioz’ Treatise on Orchestration. (MUST READ!)
Listen to the whole thing performed here:
Read below while you listen to each movement!
I found this excellent exerpt from www.musicweb-international.com about the 4 movements.
The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship (Largo e Maestoso – Allegro non troppo) Two memorable mottos represent the protagonists: “Sharyar”, majestic and fearsome on bass strings and heavy brass, and “Scheherazade”, sinuously seductive on solo violin over harp arpeggios. The movement alternates three climactic passages predominantly scored for strings and brass, casting “Sharyar” in the role of Sinbad, with three calm twilit episodes featuring both mottos. The scoring of the two interstitial episodes, otherwise practically identical, is breathtaking in its simple ingenuity: in the second episode the solo ‘cello swaps places with the horn, likewise clarinet with flute, while oboe and solo violin stay put.
The Tale of the Kalendar Prince (Lento – Andante) The Kalendars were wandering beggars, for some superstitious reason fêted as royalty. The movement is a ternary form (ABA) regarding deployment of themes, but otherwise a kaleidoscope of increasingly colourful variations, making atmospheric use of string tremolandos and “thrummings”, and characteristically “pricking” textures with sharper sounds. “Scheherazade” weaves her spell to introduce the A theme – half dancing, half declamatory – on the only woodwind not yet heard solo: the bassoon (resolving a sort of “dissonance””). The B theme is based on “Sharyar”, first heard plucked deep in the basses, then in fierce growls and brassy fanfares. A bold march gradually emerges, bracketed by two cadenzas on the declamatory part of A. The first is for clarinet, the second (on bassoon) initiates the final section, containing the most exquisite scoring of the entire work. “Sharyar” reappears, low down, generating a huge crescendo to a knockout close.
The Young Prince and Princess (Andantino quasi Allegretto) Invent a story of young love, if you wish – Rimsky provided scant clues: the sumptuous main theme (flowing strings) he identified with the Prince, a brief counter-subject (rippling clarinet) with the Princess, and at the central allegretto he suggested, “They carry the Princess on a palanquin”. Again, this is a “ternary/variations” form. The first section rings the changes on string textures tinted by added wind, with contrasting solo woodwind timbres. The allegretto, one of those wonderful oriental dances, is just an upbeat variation of the same material, where the snare-drum part is played on more than the snare-drum. A resounding trumpet-led rubato reinstates tempo primo for a rhapsodic closing section where solo instruments predominate, and “Scheherazade” embroiders the tale. The codetta is particularly captivating, woodwind swirl over string pizzicati and scintillating percussion: what images that conjures!
Festival at Baghdad – The Sea – Shipwreck on a Rock surmounted by a Bronze Warrior - Conclusion (Allegro molto) The orchestration reaches a peak of virtuosity, inevitably with less subtlety as the big guns are drawn to blast huge splashes of poster-colour. Paralleling the work’s beginning, the introduction finds “Sharyar” now gruffly impatient (grabbing first whack on the bass drum), and “Scheherazade” correspondingly more animated. The Festival is, loosely, a “rondo/variations”: AB[AC]ABA, where [C], developing the Kalendar fanfare, hijacks the second [A]‘s climax. The first and third occurrences of [A], a skittering dance, whip up a blaze of crackling trumpets and booming tuttis – these last based on the the Kalendar Prince’s bassoon tune. [B] is the “palanquin” allegretto, liquidly re-scored. The final [A] builds manically, trumpets triple-tonguing like mad, only for the scene to cut cinematographically to Sinbad’s storm-tossed ship, which shudders (theme stuttering in basses) and breaks (tamtam!). In the stunned calm one recognises, through the thematic identity, that this symbolises Sharyar’s rising passion for his enchantress and cataclysmic acquiescence to the superiority of woman (or at least this particular woman). “Sharyar” and “Scheherazade” finally make sweet music together.