SCHEHERAZADE: THE YOUNG PRINCE AND YOUNG PRINCESS
GERARD SCHWARZ, CONDUCTOR
Music that speaks to the soul…
SCHEHERAZADE was a symphonic suite composed by the Russian composer Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov in 1888. It is his most popular work, and represents the epitome of his (already great) orchestrating ability. Scheherazade is comprised of four movements, each one of which represents a facet of the One Thousand and One Arabian Nights.
The Arabian Nights were, in turn, a collection of middle eastern folk tales written in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age from the 8th to the 14th centuries. In the Nights, Scheherazade is the wife of a Sultan, who has plans to kill her. She forestalls this plan by telling him story after story—the Arabian Nights.
Rimsky (as he is often referred to, a shortened version of his hyphenated last name) sought general inspiration from the Nights. His plan was not to depict particular stories from the Nights in Scheherazade. He originally titled the four movements “Prelude, Ballade, Adagio, and Finale”—generic titles with no special literary allusion. He did not want the listener to associate any of the movements specifically with the voyages of Sinbad, which are central to the Arabian Nights. Rather, he said:
“All I desire is that the hearer, if he likes my piece as symphonic music, should carry away the impression that it is beyond a doubt an Oriental narrative of some numerous and varied fairy-tale wonders and not merely four pieces played one after the other and composed on the basis of themes common to all the four movements.”
It was Rimsky’s faithful student and protégé Anatoly Lyadov who ultimately—after Rimsky’s death—gave each of the four movements its name, cementing in our minds the four stories:
1. The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship
2. The Kalandar Prince
3. The Young Prince and The Young Princess
4. Festival at Baghdad – The Sea – The Ship Breaks Against a Cliff
I think I have mentioned elsewhere that Rimsky-Korsakov combined a career in the military with a life of composition, that he was a member—really the most professionally accomplished member—of “The Five”—those Russian composers who were breaking ranks with Western ways of composing—Mily Balakirev, Cesar Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, Alexander Borodin, and Rimsky-Korsakov. His influence on western composition, in turn, can be heard in works by Debussy, Ravel, and Respighi.
Because of the immediacy and emotional depth of the music of Scheherazade, it has become a standard work in the symphonic repertoire. There are very few works of Russian music that are better known or more beloved. Non-musicians—even non-music lovers—have, over the years, become acquainted with it, hearing it as the backdrop for so many figure skating routines.
In particular, the third movement—The Young Prince and The Young Princess love story—is the simplest music of the suite, a simple A-B-A form, and the most immediately appealing. It is just so beautiful, with its long, spun-out phrases, music that speaks with immediacy to the soul.
The All-Star Orchestra is a very interesting project of the conductor Gerard Schwarz. He gathered 95 of the best musicians from the major American orchestras—half from Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Washington (DC), Houston, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Tulsa, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati, and the other half from the various New York City orchestras. Together, they filmed 8 programs of symphonic music for PBS utilizing 18 high definition cameras, playing in empty halls—the emphasis was exclusively on the music with no distractions. Scheherazade was part of the series.
Pics are Rimsky-Korsakov and Gerard Schwarz.