1888: Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade in E minor

FRIDAY, September 18, 2020 – 9:18 AM

1888: Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade in E minor, 24 years old

Here is another amazing recording by Stokowski, the amazing conductor who was so famous as the man with the baton in Disney’s “Fantasia”, and this is complete, all four movements. It is my personal favorite performance of this work, but there are a lot of problems with this recording, which totally distorts at the end. I don’t know what caused this, but I think the old Phase 4 recording had some issues with setting some recording levels too high. What I’m hearing sound-wise should not be happening.

  • 0:01 – I. The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship: Largo e maestoso – Lento – Allegro non troppo – Tranquillo (E minor – E major). The form is sort of A B C A1 B C1. In other words, it’s a bit like sonata form but with three themes instead of two, and there is no development section. There is also no conventional key switch between sections. The Russians tended to invent their own forms. The Arabic sounding melodies are Rimsky-Korsakov’s own, with his idea of an oriental flavor.
  • 10:02 – II. The Story of the Kalandar Prince: Lento – Andantino – Allegro molto – Vivace scherzando – Moderato assai – Allegro molto et animato (B minor). The important thing is even though this is not called a symphony, he is moving keys in the manner of a symphony by moving from E minor to B minor. The violin solo at the beginning links to the 1st movement, so it’s like an intro. It’s still in E minor, but it acts like a V chord moving to B minor. There are many sections, so it’s kind of free form. The fast section in the middle, announced by trombones, sets apart the beginning and ending sections.
  • 21:44 – III. The Young Prince and Princess: Andantino quasi allegretto – Pochissimo più mosso – Come prima – Pochissimo più animato (G major). The key change is important because again it is doing what a symphony does. It moves to the relative major so from E minor to G major. You might say that this is the romance part, since the feeling is very romantic
  • 33:37 – IV. Festival at Baghdad. The Sea: Allegro molto – Lento – Vivo – Allegro non troppo e maestoso – Tempo come I (E minor – E major). Everything is tied together with themes from the other movements, and this is a huge show-off piece for orchestra with lots of what is called “triple tonging”. The tempo indication does not “play as fast as possible”, but that’s precisely what happens until the end, which returns to the beginning to bind everything together.

0:01 – And another benchmark recording by Reiner…

This is legendary both the recording and the fact that it was done with almost no editing. This is from 1959, and at the end even with this one there are some problems with too much sound to be perfectly recorded, but this is better than the 1st recording.

0:01 – And now a recent video by a mad Russian…

Well, he’s not crazy, but to me this man, Gergiev, always looks like he needs to go to rehab, but he’s a brilliant conductor.  I can’t look at this video because all the sweat actually repulses me, but the performance is pretty amazing. However, the last movement is too fast for me, and I find the pace too frantic. I’ll look for another video if I can find an equally good performance where the conductor does not look like he needs a shower, and by the way his conducting technique is probably the worst I’ve ever seen.


  • 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, cor anglais, 2 clarinets in A and B♭,2 bassoons
  • 4 horns in F, 2 trumpets in A and B♭, 3 trombones, 1 tuba
  • Timpani, Bass drum, Snare drum, Cymbals, Triangle, Tambourine, Tam-tam,
  • Harp
  • strings

Popular for 131 years…

Here is the story of Scheherazade itself:


Music that tells a story…

Rimsky-Korsakov was a Russian composer who is most famous for writing music that is “programmatic”, meaning that it tells a story, and I will be adding more music by him in the future. His life was extremely interesting.

1988 was quite a year…

The Franck: Symphony in D minor, Richard Strauss’s Don Juan Overture and Rimsky-Korsakov’s: Scheherazade all appeared in the same year. There is probably more I have missed because I just recently started putting in the year of composition for each thing on this site, and it accidentally started giving me a very interesting timeline. Just these three pieces represent France, Germany and








5 thoughts on “1888: Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade in E minor

  1. I really liked how in Sheherazade the violin, at first, was a solo, but then as the piece progressed the violins were used to give off the same sound yet still be separate from one another.

  2. I have to agree with Michael about the difference. There is something extra in Stokowski’s version that puts life and character into it. Am I remembering correctly that Stokowski was also particular about the placement of microphones with a musician’s understanding of the music and instruments?

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