Review Summary: each new tale more exciting than the last
Scheherazade, the crafty seductress that beguiled the bitter King with captivating story-telling for one thousand and one nights, is the musical narrator of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade
, which is a love song, starring the young but cunning Scheherazade and the mean-spirited King. Slowly but surely, Scheherazade tames the King, pouring love into the blackened heart the King had long kept from the deep wound his unfaithful first wife had inflicted on him. In his fury, the wound grew deeper with every passing virgin he bedded and then beheaded, leaving the withered edges of his already damaged heart to decay until it was a gaping hole. Given the embittered King's situation, Scheherazade's task to win him over was certainly daunting, but, as great heroines always do, she eventually seduces the King with rich and colorful stories – each new tale more exciting than the last.
Representing the tales Scheherazade told, Rimsky-Korsakov split Scheherazade
into four, approximately ten-minute movements. The first tale, “The Sea and Sinbad's Ship,” introduces the audience to the King and Scheherazade, assigning them stern and sweet voices respectively, which exist on the periphery of the stories – the King's voice listening; Scheherazade's creating. Both voices sustain the stories because they're the interconnected pulses propelling them forward. Scheherazade
thrives on the love theme, carrying the encircling elements that'd fall apart without it. The first measures of the first movement are dark and brassy, akin to the intimidating task ahead of Scheherazade; they then open into the sweet, high violin melody indicative of Scheherazade; from there, the movement goes out to sea with strings, repeating the same phrasing, undulating with the ocean waves, sometimes finding the calm in the water, allowing for some sweetness to ripple before returning to the rigorous waves.
The second and third movements, “The Kalender Prince” and “The Young Prince and Princess,” follow the same form where the first part of each movement reemerges in the last part. “The Kalender Prince” weaves the voices of the King and Scheherazade but the mixture of bombast and flash, and the variety of textures - from sprightly to dissonant, makes the movement unique – the thematic less clear as opposed to “The Young Prince and Princess,” which has the most identifiable thematic because it's the movement where the voices of the King (prince) and Scheherazade (princess) are front and center. This movement is shadowed with woodwind entries, mystifying the strings. The melodies are fluid and the well-positioned percussive elements brand the slower movement as stately and polished, making it, even though less complex, the most accessible.
The final movement, “Festival at Bagdad,” amalgamates the previous melodies, reshaping them and giving them new identity, but tying them together and forming a cohesive close. It revisits brass fanfares from the second movement, repeatedly recycling former melodies and motifs until it comes back to Scheherazade's voice – the sweet, feminine and lovely violin that survived the tumultuous journey amidst the thundering madness.
While this piece is relatively simple and unstructured compared to the pieces of Rimsky-Korsakov's contemporaries, it perfectly demonstrates how music manipulates time. Scheherazade
captures the nearly three-year long transformation of a man in fewer than fifty minutes, compressing time in a space for us to feel immediately. And what's more lovely than a space such as Scheherazade
, which is both exotic and human – a nice place to explore, reminisce, and simply seep ourselves in beauty.
Gimnazija Kranj Symphony Orchestra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17lEx0ytE_0