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