Rimsky-Korsakov - Scheherazade: Symphonic Suite, Op. 35 (1888), played on period instruments





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Published on May 26, 2011

Scheherazade - Symphonic Suite, Op. 35 (1888)

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

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

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

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)

The symphonic suite "Scheherazade" is among the most famous works by Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908). It is based on various stories in the One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights), a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales dating from the Islamic Golden Age. The work is framed as a set of stories within a story, since they are related by the queen Scheherazade to Sultan Shahryar in order to stave off her execution. Rimsky-Korsakov prefaced the score with this introduction:

"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 Sheherazade 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."

The work opens with the sultan's theme played by the low brass - an ominous, slow motif representing the stern, merciless nature of the despotic ruler. It is quickly followed by Scheherazade's theme played by solo violin over the strumming of a harp. It is a melancholy motif with a strong Oriental character, and it serves to unify the work by reappearing regularly, just as Scheherazade's character appears throughout the One Thousand and One Nights, setting the disparate stories into a definite frame.

Scheherazade is scored for two flutes and a piccolo (with 2nd flute doubling on 2nd piccolo for a few bars), two oboes (with 2nd doubling cor anglais), two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns in F, two trumpets in A and B-flat, three trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, triangle, tambourine, tam-tam, harp and strings. The suite received its premiere on October 28, 1888, under the baton of the composer.

This recording was made by conductor Jos van Immerseel, violinist Midori Seiler and the Anima Eterna Orchestra, which plays on period instruments. (So listen for some interesting sounds!)

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