On My Shelves: Rimsky-Korsakov’s _Scheherazade_


The Arabian Nights is a classic tale centering around Scheherazade, a young woman about to marry, who is faced with a truly daunting problem: the Sultan or king she's about to marry has all his wives executed the day after their wedding, to prevent any possible infidelity. (apparently his first wife had in fact been unfaithful).

Scheherazade of course has no desire to be wed on one day and executed the next, so she devises a unique strategem: she asks to be allowed to say goodbye to her sister, who – according to plan – asks Scheherazade to tell her a story before she goes. The king listens in amazement as Scheherazade proves herself a master storyteller, and Scheherazade ends the tale on a cliffhanger, when the night is now late and it is too late to finish.

Eager to hear the rest of the tale, the Sultan spares her life to the next night; Scheherazade, naturally, finishes the one and starts another. And so it goes for a thousand and one nights…

Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov, inspired by this tale, composed one of the most beautiful pieces of music of the 20th century in the name of this clever heroine. The Scheherazade suite is comprised of four separate movements: "The Sea and Sinbad's Ship", "The Story of the Kalandar Prince", "The Young Prince and Young Princess", and "Festival At Bagdad - The Sea - The Ship Goes To Pieces On A Rock Surmounted By A Bronze Warrior".

The dramatic, basso, brassy theme that opens is meant to represent the danger and absolute arrogant power of the Sultan, and does so well; it is counterpointed with the rising and falling violin-based theme of Scheherazade herself. From this, the suite evolves multiple themes to accord with Sinbad, one of the main characters of Scheherazade's tales, the sea and storms, Sinbad's ship itself, and other characters and events.

For me and my writing, this is one of the most inspirational pieces of classical music. Deep, rich, and dramatic, it encapsulates much of what I write for. Unlike many other pieces, I don't generally have a specific character or event that I associate with this music in my writing; instead, it's a mood-setter, for dramatic events. I used part of it when trying to make a second Grand Central Arena trailer but while the music worked great, the imagery available at the time, well, not so great for the whole trailer.

Still, I often listen to this when writing, because its power and depth resonate with the worlds I want to create.

Your comments or questions welcomed!