Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Scheherazade’ – No. 17 in our collection

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (18.03.1844 – 21.06.1908) was a Russian composer, and a member of the group of composers known as The Five. He was a master of orchestration and his best-known orchestral compositions; Capriccio Espagnol, Op. 34, the Russian Easter Festival Overture, Op. 36, the symphonic suite Scheherazade, Op. 35 and his most widely known piece the Flight of the Bumble Bee are all staples of the classical music repertoire. Rimsky-Korsakov was at his best in descriptive orchestrations suggesting a mood or a place.

Scheherazade was inspired by the collection of largely Middle Eastern and Indian tales known as The Thousand and One Nights (or The Arabian Nights). The music tells the story through some of the most colourful, evocative and descriptive orchestration to be found in classical music.

Scheherazade is the young bride of the Sultan. After one of his wives cheats on him, he decides to take a new wife every day and have her executed the next morning. But it all stops with Scheherazade. She marries the Sultan in order to save all future young women from this fate. She tells the Sultan fascinating stories, leaving him in such suspense each night that he can’t execute her the next morning for fear of not hearing the end of the story. After 1,001 of these well-told tales, the Sultan relents.

The music is composed in four sections:

  1. The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship
  2. The Story of the Calender Prince
  3. The Young Prince and the Young Princess
  4. Festival at Bagdad – The Sea – The Shipwreck against a rock surmounted by a bronze warrior (The Shipwreck)

Throughout, the music of Scheherazade showcases Rimsky-Korsakov’s mastery as an orchestrator; in terms of the pure, sensory pleasure of sound, he is unsurpassed.

Our favourite recording of this work is performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Kirill Kondrashin and stars the Dutch violinist Herman Krebbers. The sound on this live 1979 recording is very good. Indeed the sound of the Concertgebouw has been captured really well, placing the listener about 20 rows deep and centered; far enough away to offer a realistic perspective, yet close enough to hear individual instruments in detail (on our audio systems at least). Wholeheartedly recommended.

Stream on Spotify or buy from Presto Classical.

View the other works in our collection.