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Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov   Opus 35


Symphonic suite 1888. Time: 46'30.
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"Scheherazade Went on with Her Story." Illustration from Arabian Nights (1928) by Virginia Frances Sterret.

Sheherazade (Scheherazade; Russian: Шехерезада, Shekherezada in transliteration), Op. 35, is a symphonic suite composed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in 1888. Based on The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, sometimes known as The Arabian Nights,[1] this orchestral work combines two features common to 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] The music was used in a ballet by Michel Fokine. This use of the music was denounced by the Rimsky-Korsakov estate, led by the composer's widow, Nadezhda Rimskaya-Korsakova.[3]



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 The Arabian Nights as well as separate and unconnected episodes.[4] 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 Sheherazade 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.[5] Sheherazade 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.[6]

Initially, Rimsky-Korsakov intended to name the respective movements in Sheherazade: Prelude, Ballade, Adagio and Finale.[7] 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.[4]

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.[8] 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.[5] 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 Sheherazada because it brought to everyone’s mind the fairy-tale wonders of Arabian Nights and the East in general.[4]

The transliteration of the title 'Scheherazade' is, in fact German - the 'c' being redundant in English. The spelling 'Sheherazade' (withouth the 'c') is more correct in English and is gaining popular currency.

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 his previous works Antar. Antar however, used genuine Arabic melodies as opposed to Rimsky-Korsakov’s ideas of an oriental flavor.[9]

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 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.[9] of the fanfare motive, played by trombone and muted trumpet.[4]

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 motive, and the whole movement is finished by a quick coda return to the inner motive, balancing it out nicely.[9]

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 proceeding 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 Sheherazade violin theme,[9] and a reiteration of the fanfare motive to portray the ship wreck.[4] 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 Shakhriar theme to the tonic major cadence of the Scheherazade theme resolves in a fantastic, lyrical, and finally peaceful conclusion.[9]

Sheherazade the piece

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

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.[10]

The grim bass motif that opens the first movement is supposed to represent the domineering Sultan[5] (see theme illustrated below). This theme emphasizes four notes of a descending whole tone scale: E-D-C-A#.[11] But soon, after a few chords in the woodwinds reminiscent of the opening of Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream overture,[8] we hear the leitmotif that represents the character of the storyteller herself, Scheherazade, his wife, who eventually succeeds at appeasing him with her stories. This theme is a tender, sensuously winding melody for violin solo,[12] accompanied by harp.[10] Both of these two themes are shown below.


According to Rimsky-Korsakov, the unifying thread consisted of the brief introductions to the first, second and fourth movements and the intermezzo in movement three, written for violin solo and delineating Sheherazada herself as telling her wondrous tales to the stern Sultan. The final conclusion of movement four serves the same artistic purpose. Rimsky-Korsakov stated “The unison phrase, as though depicting Sheherazada’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 …” [13] Rimsky-Korsakov had a tendency to juxtapose keys a major third apart, which can even be seen in the strong relationship between E and C major in first movement. This, along with his signature orchestration style of simplistic melodies, assembled rhythms, and talent for soloistic writing allowed for such a piece as Scheherazade to be written.[14]

The movements were unified by the short introductions in the first, second and fourth movements, and an intermezzo in movement three. The last was a violin solo representing Sheherazade, and a similar artistic theme is represented in the conclusion of movement four.[5] Writers have suggested that Rimsky's earlier career as a naval officer may have been responsible for beginning and ending the suite with themes of the sea.[10] The peaceful coda at the end of the final movement is representative of Sheherazade finally winning over the heart of the Sultan, allowing her to at last gain a peaceful night's sleep.[15]

The work 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.[16] The music premiered in Saint Petersburg on October 28, 1888 conducted by Rimsky-Korsakov.[16]

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.[17]


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

A ballet adaptation of Sheherazade 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.[18]

Passages from the symphonic suite, Sheherazade, were also adapted for the ballet scene, that closes the motion picture Song of Sheherazade,[19] 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.[20]

Sheherazade has been transcribed in its entirety and in its original key for symphonic wind ensemble by Merlin Patterson. This transcription was commissioned by the University of Houston Wind Ensemble, Tom Bennett, conductor, who gave the premiere at the Moore Opera House in Houston, Texas in April 2005.[citation needed]

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. ISBN 9781570719509. 
  2. ^ Minderovic, Zoran. "Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov, Sheherazade, Symphonic Suite for Orchestra, op. 35". Dayton Philharmonic. Retrieved 2008-10-25. 
  3. ^ Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolay Andreyevich (1942). My Musical Life. translated by Judah A. Joffe (3rd edition ed.). Alfred A. Knopf. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolay Andreyevich (1942). My Musical Life. translated by Judah A. Joffe (3rd edition ed.). Alfred A. Knopf.
  5. ^ a b c d Rimsky-Korsakov (1942:291–294).
  6. ^ Abraham, Gerald, ed (1990). The New Oxford History of Music, Volume IX, Romanticism (1830–1890). Oxford University Press. pp. 508, 560–562. ISBN 0-19-316309-8. 
  7. ^ Lieberson, Goddard (1947). Goddard Lieberson. ed. The Columbia Book of Musical Masterworks. New York: Allen, Towne & Heath. p. 377. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Griffiths, Steven. (1989) A Critical Study of the Music of Rimsky-Korsakov,1844-1890. New York: Garland, 1989.
  10. ^ a b c "Scheherazade, Op. 35". The Kennedy Center. Retrieved 2008-10-28. 
  11. ^ Taruskin, Richard (1996). Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions: A Biography of the Works Through Mavra. Oxford University Press. p. 740. ISBN 0198162502. 
  12. ^ Phillips, Rick (2004). The essential classical recordings: 101 CDs. Random House, Inc.. p. 150. ISBN 0771070012. 
  13. ^ Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolay Andreyevich (1942). My Musical Life. translated by Judah A. Joffe (3rd edition ed.). Alfred A. Knopf.
  14. ^ Griffiths, Steven. (1989) A Critical Study of the Music of Rimsky-Korsakov,1844-1890. New York: Garland, 1989.
  15. ^ Powers, Daniel (2004). "Scheherazade, op. 35, (1888)". China in Focus, Tianshu Wang, piano. Terre Haute Symphony Orchestra. Retrieved 2008-10-28. 
  16. ^ a b Schiavo, Paul. "Program Notes". Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. Retrieved 2007-07-06. 
  17. ^ Griffiths, Steven. (1989) A Critical Study of the Music of Rimsky-Korsakov,1844-1890. New York: Garland, 1989.
  18. ^ Programme, Thirty-Eighth Season. Boston: Boston Symphony Orchestra. 1918–1919. p. 829. Retrieved 2008-10-30. 
  19. ^ Anonymous. "Song of Scheherezade". IMDB. Retrieved 2009-06-18. 
  20. ^ Hare, William (2004). L.A. noir: nine dark visions of the City of Angels. McFarland. pp. 28–29. ISBN 078641801X. 

External links

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Scheherazade_(Rimsky-Korsakov)". Allthough most Wikipedia articles provide accurate information accuracy can not be guaranteed.

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