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

Mr. Peabody Says:

Rimsky-Korsakov was a Russian composer who is most famous for writing music that is “programmatic”, meaning that it tells a story, and I am now adding more music by him, concentrating mostly on mostly his orchestral compositions. His life was extremely fascinating, including his early navy career.

Valery Gergiev /Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra

Total time: 49:15

Leopold 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 the recording is a drawback.

Total time: 45:48

Here is another landmak recording by Stokowski, 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.

Other conductors:

I’ll continue listening, because there are so many recordings. I’m still looking for one that is heads and shoulders above all others both in sonics and in interpretation.

Instruments:

  • 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

I. The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship:

(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.

II. The Story of the Kalandar Prince:

(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.

III. The Young Prince and Princess:

(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. It is also the slow movement.

IV. Festival at Baghdad. The Sea:

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.

Here is the story of Scheherazade itself:

This has been popular for more than 130 years. It’s music that tells a story, but it also has much of the form of a conventional symphony

1988 was quite a year…

Debussy’s 1st Arabesque, Franck’s Symphony in D minor, Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, Mahler’s 1st Symphony, Richard Strauss’s Don Juan Overture, Rimsky-Korsakov’s: Scheherazade, his Russian Easter Overture, and Tchaikovksy’s 5th Symphony all appeared in the same year.

5 thoughts on “1888: Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade in E minor, 24 years old

  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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