World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Scheherazade (Rimsky-Korsakov)

Scheherazade by Léon Bakst (before 1917)

Scheherazade (Russian: Шехерaзада, Shekherazada in transliteration), Op. 35, is a symphonic poem composed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in 1888 and based on One Thousand and One Nights, sometimes known as The Arabian Nights.[1] This orchestral work combines two features typical of Russian music and of Rimsky-Korsakov in particular: dazzling, colorful orchestration and an interest in the East, which figured greatly in the history of Imperial Russia, as well as orientalism in general. It is considered Rimsky-Korsakov's most popular work.[2]


  • Background 1
  • The music 2
  • Movement overview 3
  • Adaptations 4
  • Recordings 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


During the winter of 1887, as he worked to complete Alexander Borodin's unfinished opera Prince Igor, Rimsky-Korsakov decided to compose an orchestral piece based on pictures from One Thousand and One Nights as well as separate and unconnected episodes.[3] After formulating musical sketches of his proposed work, he moved with his family to the Glinki-Mavriny dacha, in Nyezhgovitsy along the Cheryemenyetskoye Lake. During the summer there he finished Scheherazade and the Russian Easter Festival Overture. Notes in his autograph orchestral score show that the former was completed between June 4 and August 7, 1888.[4] Scheherazade consisted of a symphonic suite of four related movements that form a unified theme. It was written to produce a sensation of fantasy narratives from the Orient.[5]

Initially, Rimsky-Korsakov intended to name the respective movements in Scheherazade "Prelude, Ballade, Adagio and Finale".[6] However, after weighing the opinions of Anatoly Lyadov and others, as well as his own aversion to a too-definitive program, he settled upon thematic headings, based upon the tales from The Arabian Nights.[3]

The composer deliberately made the titles vague, so that they are not associated with specific tales or voyages of Sinbad. However, in the epigraph to the finale, he does make reference to the adventure of Prince Ajib.[7] In a later edition, he did away with titles altogether, desiring instead that the listener should hear his work only as an Oriental-themed symphonic music that evokes a sense of the fairy-tale adventure.[4] He stated "All I desired was that the hearer, if he liked my piece as symphonic music, should carry away the impression that it is beyond a doubt an Oriental narrative of some numerous and varied fairy-tale wonders and not merely four pieces played one after the other and composed on the basis of themes common to all the four movements.” Rimsky-Korsakov went on to say that he kept the name Scheherazade because it brought to everyone’s mind the fairy-tale wonders of Arabian Nights and the East in general.[3]

The music

The Blue Sultana by Léon Bakst

Rimsky wrote a brief introduction that he intended for use with the score, as well as the program for the premiere:

The Sultan Schariar, convinced that all women are false and faithless, vowed to put to death each of his wives after the first nuptial night. But the Sultana Scheherazade saved her life by entertaining her lord with fascinating tales, told seriatim, for a thousand and one nights. The Sultan, consumed with curiosity, postponed from day to day the execution of his wife, and finally repudiated his bloody vow entirely.[8]

The grim bass motif that opens the first movement represents the domineering Sultan[4] (see the first theme, below). This theme emphasizes four notes of a descending whole tone scale: E-D-C-B.[9] Soon after a few chords in the woodwinds, reminiscent of the opening of Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream overture,[7] the audience hears the leitmotif that represents the character of the storyteller herself, Scheherazade. This theme, the second below, is a tender, sensuous winding melody for violin solo,[10] accompanied by harp.[8]

  \relative c{
    \set Staff.midiInstrument = #"tuba"
    \set Score.tempoHideNote = ##t
    \tempo 4 = 130
    \clef bass
    \key g \major
    \time 2/2 
      e2 \ff b d~ \times 2/3 { d4 c b } c2.~\startTrillSpan c8. g16\stopTrillSpan ais2\accent\staccato fis\accent\staccato \bar "||"
  \relative c'''{
    \set Staff.midiInstrument = #"violin"
    \set Score.tempoHideNote = ##t
    \tempo 4 = 60
    \clef treble
    \key g \major
    \time 4/4
      e4(~ e8 \times 2/3 { d16 e d } \times 2/3 { c d c) } \times 2/3 { b( c b } \times 2/3 { a c e } \times 2/3 { g fis e) } e4( \bar "||"

Rimsky-Korsakov stated "The unison phrase, as though depicting Scheherazade’s stern spouse, at the beginning of the suite appears as a datum, in the Kalendar’s Narrative, where there cannot, however, be any mention of Sultan Shakhriar. In this manner, developing quite freely the musical data taken as a basis of composition, I had to view the creation of an orchestral suite in four movements, closely knit by the community of its themes and motives, yet presenting, as it were, a kaleidoscope of fairy-tale images and designs of Oriental character."[3] Rimsky-Korsakov had a tendency to juxtapose keys a major third apart, which can be seen in the strong relationship between E and C major in the first movement. This, along with his distinctive orchestration of melodies which are easily comprehensible, assembled rhythms, and talent for soloistic writing allowed for such a piece as Scheherazade to be written.[11]

The movements are unified by the short introductions in the first, second and fourth movements, and an intermezzo in movement three. The last is a violin solo representing Scheherazade, and a similar artistic theme is represented in the conclusion of the fourth movements.[4] Writers have suggested that Rimsky-Korsakov's earlier career as a naval officer may have been responsible for beginning and ending the suite with themes of the sea.[8] The peaceful coda at the end of the final movement is representative of Scheherazade finally winning over the heart of the Sultan, allowing her to at last gain a peaceful night's sleep.[12]

The work is scored for two flutes and a piccolo (2nd flute doubling 2nd piccolo for a few bars), two oboes (2nd doubling cor anglais), two clarinets in A and B, two bassoons, four horns in F, two trumpets in A and B, three trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, triangle, tambourine, tam-tam, harp and strings.[13] The music premiered in Saint Petersburg on October 28, 1888 conducted by Rimsky-Korsakov.[13]

The reasons for its popularity are clear enough; it is a score replete with beguiling orchestral colors, fresh and piquant melodies, with a mild oriental flavor, a rhythmic vitality largely absent from many major orchestral works of the later 19th century, and a directness of expression unhampered by quasi-symphonic complexities of texture and structure.[11]

Movement overview

I. The Sea and Sinbad's Ship (Largo e maestoso — Lento — Allegro non troppo — Tranquillo)

This movement is composed of various melodies and contains a general A B C A1 B C1 form. Although each section is highly distinctive, aspects of melodic figures carry through and unite them into a movement. Although similar in form to the classical symphony, the movement is more similar to the variety of motives used in one of Rimsky-Korsakov's previous works Antar. Antar, however, used genuine Arabic melodies as opposed to Rimsky-Korsakov’s own ideas of an oriental flavor.[11]

II. The Kalendar Prince (Lento — Andantino — Allegro molto — Vivace scherzando — Moderato assai — Allegro molto ed animato)

This movement follows a type of ternary theme and variation and is described as a fantastic narrative. The variations only change by virtue of the accompaniment, highlighting the piece's "Rimsky-ness" in the sense of simple musical lines allowing for greater appreciation of the orchestral clarity and brightness. Inside the general melodic line, a fast section highlights changes within both tonality and structure.[11] of the fanfare motif, played by trombone and muted trumpet.[3]

III. The Young Prince and The Young Princess (Andantino quasi allegretto — Pochissimo più mosso — Come prima — Pochissimo più animato)

This movement is also ternary, and is considered the simplest movement in form and melodic content. The inner section is said to be based on the theme from Tamara, while the outer sections have song-like melodic content. The outer themes are related to the inner by tempo and common motif, and the whole movement is finished by a quick coda return to the inner motif, balancing it out nicely.[11]

IV. Festival at Baghdad. The Sea. The Ship Breaks against a Cliff Surmounted by a Bronze Horseman. (Allegro molto — Lento — Vivo — Allegro non troppo e maestoso — Tempo come I)

This movement ties in aspects of all the preceding movements as well as adding some new ideas Including but not limited to: an introduction of both the beginning of the movement and the Vivace section based on Sultan Shakhriar’s theme, a repeat of the main Scheherazade violin theme,[11] and a reiteration of the fanfare motif to portray the ship wreck.[3] Coherence is maintained by the ordered repetition of melodies, and continues the impression of a symphonic suite, rather than separate movements. A final conflicting relationship of the subdominant minor Schahriar theme to the tonic major cadence of the Scheherazade theme resolves in a fantastic, lyrical, and finally peaceful conclusion.[11]


Theodore Kosloff in a 1913 performance of Michel Fokine's adaptation of Scheherazade

A ballet adaptation of Scheherazade premiered on June 4, 1910, at the Opéra Garnier in Paris by the Ballets Russes. The choreography for the ballet was by Michel Fokine and the libretto was from Fokine and Léon Bakst, who also designed sets and costumes. The widow of Rimsky-Korsakov protested what she saw as the disarrangement of her husband's music in this choreographic drama.[14]

Sergei Prokofiev wrote a "Fantasia on Scheherazade" for piano, which he recorded on piano roll.

Passages from the symphonic suite Scheherazade were also adapted for the ballet scene that closes the motion picture Song of Scheherazade,[15] in which the lead actress, Yvonne De Carlo, was also the principal dancer. The plot of this film is a heavily fictionalized story, based on the composer's early career in the navy. He was played by Jean-Pierre Aumont.[16]

It has also been arranged for clarinet in B and piano by Oriol López Calle, keeping the E major key and giving the clarinet the solo violin role and a constant dialogue with the orchestra which is represented by the piano.

In 2004 Drum Corps International's Santa Clara Vanguard used the work as the theme of their program entitled "Attraction: The Music of Scheherazade" with brass arrangements by Key Poulan and percussion by Jim Casella. The corps is revisiting the material in 2014 for their program, "Scheherazade: Words 2 Live By" with brass arrangements by JD Shaw and percussion by Paul and Sandi Rennick.

Stephen Roberts has written a 'fantasy' on this work for brass band. It was written for the 2013 British Open.

Scheherazade is a popular music choice for competitive figure skating. Various cuts mainly from Movement I were widely used by skaters like Michelle Kwan, Kim Yuna, Mao Asada, Carolina Kostner and Midori Ito etc. Notably, American figure skater Evan Lysacek used Scheherazade in his free skate and won the gold medal at 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.[17] It was also used by American ice dancers Charlie White and Meryl Davis in their free dance, where they won the gold medal at 2014 Winter Olympics.[18]


See also


  1. ^ Jacobson, Julius H.; Kevin Kline (2002). The classical music experience: discover the music of the world's greatest composers. New York: Sourcebooks. p. 181.  
  2. ^ Minderovic, Zoran. [Category:All articles with dead external links] "Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov, Scheherazade, Symphonic Suite for Orchestra, op. 35"] . Dayton Philharmonic. Retrieved 2008-10-25. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolay Andreyevich (1942). My Musical Life. translated by Judah A. Joffe (3rd edition ed.). Alfred A. Knopf.
  4. ^ a b c d Rimsky-Korsakov (1942:291–294).
  5. ^ Abraham, Gerald, ed. (1990). The New Oxford History of Music, Volume IX, Romanticism (1830–1890). Oxford University Press. pp. 508, 560–562.  
  6. ^ Lieberson, Goddard (1947). Goddard Lieberson, ed. The Columbia Book of Musical Masterworks. New York: Allen, Towne & Heath. p. 377. 
  7. ^ a b Mason, Daniel Gregory (1918). The Appreciation of Music, Vol. III: Short Studies of Great Masterpieces. New York: H.W. Gray Co. Retrieved 2008-11-02. 
  8. ^ a b c "Scheherazade, Op. 35". The Kennedy Center. Retrieved 2008-10-28. 
  9. ^ Taruskin, Richard (1996). Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions: A Biography of the Works Through Mavra. Oxford University Press. p. 740.  
  10. ^ Phillips, Rick (2004). The essential classical recordings: 101 CDs. Random House, Inc. p. 150.  
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Griffiths, Steven. (1989) A Critical Study of the Music of Rimsky-Korsakov,1844-1890. New York: Garland, 1989.
  12. ^ Powers, Daniel (2004). "Scheherazade, op. 35, (1888)". China in Focus, Tianshu Wang, piano. Terre Haute Symphony Orchestra. Retrieved 2008-10-28. 
  13. ^ a b Schiavo, Paul. "Program Notes". Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. Archived from the original on 2007-10-12. Retrieved 2007-07-06. 
  14. ^ Programme, Thirty-Eighth Season. Boston: Boston Symphony Orchestra. 1918–1919. p. 829. Retrieved 2008-10-30. 
  15. ^ Anonymous. "Song of Scheherazade". IMDB. Retrieved 2009-06-18. 
  16. ^ Hare, William (2004). L.A. noir: nine dark visions of the City of Angels. McFarland. pp. 28–29.  
  17. ^ "Evan Lysacek - U.S. figure skater Evan Lysacek wins gold medal - Baltimore Sun". Baltimore Sun. 
  18. ^ Jenkins, Sally (February 18, 2014). "Meryl Davis and Charlie White’s gasp-inducing performance in winning ice dancing gold". The Washington Post. 

External links

  • Scheherazade: Scores at the International Music Score Library Project
  • Retold in a Symphony1001 Nights, Scheherazade - (NPR audio).
  • Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade (Beecham-EMI) on Internet Archive
  • Video - Rimsky-Korsakov - "Scheherazade" - Suite (50:23).
  • Video - Rimsky-Korsakov - "Scheherazade" - Ballet (37:36).
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.