Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Sheherezade by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Allright, so who's up for 50 minutes of colorful orchestration, amazing tunes, and righteous solos for nearly every instrument in the orchestra?
I'm talking about Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's masterpiece, Sheherezade; based on the Arabian Nights. In the story that this piece is based on, a piggish sultan has decided that all women are faithless, and decides to marry one woman each night and execute her the next morning. Not really family friendly, but there it is. So one woman, the titular Sheherezade, decides to save her life by telling the sultan a story each night, and timing it well enough that it ends on a cliffhanger and he has to let her live another night to hear the end. After 1001 nights, he finally decides that she can live.
Sheherezade is split into four movements, each one is kind of like a different story. But just four. I think composing 997 more movements was a bit much. ;)
So all the movements feature a delicate, winding violin solo that is meant to represent the storyteller herself. I love how the violin solos kind of 'lead' into the parts of the song meant to be the stories, like she's beginning to tell the story, and it takes flight from there. I really love this piece (a 'Symphonic Suite', as I think it's technically called?) because it combines my two artistic passions- writing and music! Aaaaahhhh!

1. Sinbad and the Storm at Sea
Rimsky's Korsakov's evocation of the sea through music is masterful here. You can almost feel the spray against your face, listening to this! And the brass absolutely punching that low, dark, theme sounds like something monstrous rising from the depths of the sea! I love how the violin (Sheherazade, if you will!) interludes weave in and out of the big orchestral (the story, if you will also!) parts. It really feels like she's telling the story.

2. The Legend of the Kalendar Prince
The first movement was awe-inspiring, and sends shivers down my spine. This movement is rich, exciting, and 'angers up the blood' as we say. The first movement was amazing, this second movement is double that. A Kalendar is a fakir who was gifted in story-telling. He is represented by the lengthy bassoon solos in this movement, so it's almost like Sheherazade is telling a story, and there's another storyteller in THAT story! So cool! This movement is really righteous because it is filled with action, tension, and wildly colorful orchestration!
This also showcases another one of Rimsky-Korsakov's strengths! Taking a melody, and changing the chords and context of it without changing the melody itself. The Kalendar prince theme is taken first by the bassoon, and it's moody and contemplative. Then by the friendlier oboe, then by the strings, who sound determined and like they mean business!

3. The Prince and the Young Princess
Allright, time to settle down. After the crazy-awesomeness of the previous movement, you'd think that this one would be a little overshadowed. Well, it kind of is, but this is still a very nice piece of music! It tells the story of a romantic prince who is in love with this pretty and fun-loving princess. Unfortunately for him, it takes a while for his words of love (represented by the first theme) to be taken seriously by the goofy and light-hearted princess (who is represented by the second theme). Eventually the feeling of love is mutual though, and you'll definitely be able to tell, musically, when that happens! ;)

4. The Festival at Bagdhad
This piece takes us to the end of Sheherazade's story. We open up with the angry and impatient Sultan. The Sheherazade violin solo takes on a totally new color, with tense double stops as she implores him for one more night of stories. This movement calls back melodies from ALL the previous movements, almost as if she's trying to calm down the sultan's temper by recalling previous stories and characters. Sure enough, the sultan theme interrupts a few times, but the story keeps on going. Finally, her story ends and the music takes a quiet and uncertain sound as she prepares to be sentenced to death. But the sultan has had a change of heart, and decides to let her go free. The music ends on a peaceful, major chord as Sheherazade gets to settle in for her first full night of sleep in a LONG time.
So! That was the subtext, now the music. XD
There is some absolutely NUTTY brass section action in this movement. I mean, all of the movements are challenging for the brass, but this one calls for so much skill. The violin solos in this movement are probably the most challenging of all the movements, with close double stops that require perfect placement of the fingers to get in tune.
While themes from all of the previous movements are recalled, this theme still has room to add in it's own themes and flavor. I love the whirling conclusion that ends her story- a crashing, massive return of the Storm at Sea theme.

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