“In the silence of the monotonous steppes of Central Asia is heard the unfamiliar sound of a peaceful Russian song. From the distance we hear the approach of horses and camels and the bizarre and melancholy notes of an oriental melody. A caravan approaches, escorted by Russian soldiers, and continues safely on its way through the immense desert. It disappears slowly. The notes of the Russian and Asiatic melodies join in a common harmony, which dies away as the caravan disappears in the distance.”
-Alexander Borodin's notes on the score
I think Borodin's note there says more about the piece than I ever could. I really love this song, because of the many layers and different textures, and the underlying theme of cultural harmony.
This song isn't very difficult to play; the difficulty rather lies in capturing the mood. You have to be very mindful of the setting. You can't just be playing in a concert hall, you have to envision yourself in this very foreign place, where you're not entirely comfortable.
The structure of the piece is quite interesting. We begin with the violins, playing a very high, but very quiet harmonic note, quite evocative of desert heat. The music grows from there, with the melodies becoming stronger, and going from being rather nervous and uncertain, to sounds of joy and harmony. As the piece begins its slow and gradual decrescendo, both the Russian melody and the Asian melody are played at the same time, and the violins start playing their harmonic again. The piece finishes out with a lovely flute solo, which is in theory, very easy to play, but look at the dynamic markings...
Next Up: The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Paul Dukas or Gymnopedie by Erik Satie