Review Summary: each story better than the last
Scheherazade, a crafty seductress that beguiled a bitter King with captivating story-telling for a thousand and one nights, is the musical narrator of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade
, which is a love song, starring a young but cunning Scheherazade and a mean-spirited King. Slowly but surely, Scheherazade tames the King, pouring affection into his blackened heart, which after his ex-wife's deceit, rampaged on a tragic endeavor of bedding, then beheading other girls, which left his already damaged heart to decay into nothing. Given this embittered King's situation, Scheherazade's was challenged with an intimidating task, but, as great heroines always do, she eventually seduces him with rich and colorful stories - each story better than the last.
Representing the stories Scheherazade told, Rimsky-Korsakov split Scheherazade
into four movements (each around ten minutes). The first story, “The Sea and Sinbad's Ship,” introduces Scheherazade and her King, assigning them sweet and stern voices that exist on the periphery of each story - Scheherazade's creating; the King's listening. Both voices sustain the stories, serving as pulses that connect and propel them forward. For this reason, Scheherazade
needs both their themes; they carry other elements, encircling them so they don't fall apart. The starting movement's first measures seem dark and brassy, aligning with Scheherazade's intimidating task ahead; then, they open into a sweet, high violin melody that represents Scheherazade; from there, the movement goes out to sea with strings, repeating similar phrasing, undulating with ocean waves, and - at times - finding calm stillwater, which allows for sweetness to resound until returning to rigorous waves.
The second and third movements, “The Kalender Prince” and “The Young Prince and Princess,” follow similar forms, in that the beginning of each movement reemerges at the end. “The Kalender Prince” weaves the King and Scheherazade's voices, however the bombast and flash, accompanied by the variety of textures - from sprightly to dissonant, makes the movement special - the thematic is less clear compared to “The Young Prince and Princess,” which has obvious motives because it's where Scheherazade (princess) and the King (prince), and their voices, finally sing out front and center. This movement is shadowed with woodwind entries, which mystify the strings. Also, fluid melodies and well-positioned percussive elements brand this slower movement stately and polished, making it, even though less complex, easy to retain.
The final movement, “Festival at Bagdad,” amalgamates the previous melodies, reshaping them and giving them new identity, but tying them together; it revisits brass fanfares from the second movement, repeatedly recycling former melodies and motifs until it comes back to Scheherazade's vocal - the sweet and lovely violin that survived a tumultuous journey amidst thundering madness.
Although this composition is relatively unstructured, and I might even say undemanding
, compared to pieces from Rimsky-Korsakov's contemporaries, it perfectly demonstrates how music maneuvers ideas. Scheherazade
captures a 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 greater than a space such as Scheherazade
, which is both exotic and human - perfect to explore, reminisce, and seep in beauty.