Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Exoticism in Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade

When I think about exoticism in music, I cannot help but hum the lovely violin solo from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade (1888). Continuing our “exotic” theme this month, today let’s look at one of Rimsky-Korsakov’s most famous orchestral works based on a collection of Arabic, Persian, and Indian stories known as The Arabian Nights.


As a child, Rimsky-Korsakov dreamed of traveling the world as a naval officer. When his time came however, the young man realized his passions had shifted. Longing to devote his time to composing rather than sailing, Rimsky-Korsakov made the decision to travel through his imagination and convey that through his music. He beautifully does this in Scheherazade, a story about the Sultan Shahriar who vowed to kill each of his wives after the first night. When Sultana Scheherazade marries him, she attempts to prevent her own death by telling the Sultan successive stories each night. Enticed, the Sultan keeps her alive in order to hear the next part of her story. The story continues for 1,001 nights after which Scheherazade wins the Sultan over.


Below you can listen to this exotic masterpiece. Note the solo violin, which represents Scheherazade.



Next time, we’ll look at exoticism in Saint-Saëns’ Samson and Delilah: Danse Bacchanale!