Scheherazade - An Exotic Tale of Arabian Nights
Rimsky-Korsakov’s masterpiece Scheherazade is one of the easiest and most enjoyable compositions for the listener. It is just the opposite for an orchestra, as it is fiendishly difficult. Korsakov was not a master of most of the skills a composer needs. He was poor to average in counterpoint, harmony and never mastered fugal writing. However, he grew from his amateur status with the skills of beautiful melodies and masterful orchestration. He ranks with Berlioz, Wagner, Ravel, and Mahler in his ability to fully utilize every instrument in the orchestra.
The Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra will perform Scheherazade in the next concert on November 16 and will feature Steve McClain performing the famous violin solos. Not only does this work feature all the principal solo wind players, but also the entire brass and percussion sections. Korsakov was one of the first composers to use the Ottoman Turkish instruments--cymbals, tam-tam (gong), and tambourine.
The four-movement work is not a symphony, as there is no sonata form development. The work is a fantasy based upon the 1001 Arabian Nights stories, and each section features various tales. Using Wagner’s leitmotiv technique, he provides melodies unique to people and events in the stories.
Part I opens with ominous heavy low brass and strings depicting the Sultan Sharyar who takes a new wife from his harem every night, and following marital relations, has her executed. The concubine Scheherazade is selected and she craftily is able to avoid her demise by telling Sharyar exotic and erotic stories that have to be continued another night. She is able to pull this off for 1001 nights until the Sultan halts the executions. Solo violin represents Scheherazade playing her theme throughout the four movements.
The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship is both the title and the story of Part I. Part II is the Tale of the Kalendar Prince in ABA form. The main themes depict Sharyar, Scheherazade and the Prince. Scheherazade adds a new character in the romantic third part with a princess in The Young Prince and Princess. This music is romantic, has oriental dances, and features great percussion. The Finale Part IV, has everything going. The long title is Festival at Baghdad - The Sea - Shipwreck on a Rock Surmounted by a Bronze Warrior - Conclusion.” Here the music is ever changing with a multitude of tempo and meter changes, wild brass and percussion, dances, rapid trumpet double tonguing and a strong hit on the tam-tam signaling Sinbad’s ship breaking apart. The conclusion represents Sharyar and Scheherazade in a passionate embrace with a romantic quiet ending. This is no Tchaikovsky ending, but this entire work is Russian throughout.
Linus Lerner will direct the concert, which celebrates the 100th anniversary of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s death. Also on the program is Finlandia by Sibelius and Britten’s Serenade For Tenor, Horn and Strings featuring Brad Benoit, tenor and Daniel Katzen, French and alpine horns. The concert will be at the DesertView Performing Arts Center at 3 p.m. For more details, go to www.sasomusic.org.