Sunday, November 28, 2010

Rimsky-Korsakov-"Sheherazade" (1888) -Gergiev-Kirov orchestra

St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra, Sergey Levitin as conductor (2003).

Rimsky-Korsakov's soaring composition was inspired by a Tales from the Arabian Nights, specifically a tale of the wicked Sultan Schariar who began marrying,bedding and beheading brides after he became convinced all women were faithless. Sheherazade volunteered to marry the king ,against all logic, but, with one major difference from her unfortunate predessors:

"[Shahrazad] had perused the books, annals and legends of preceding Kings, and the stories, examples and instances of by gone men and things; indeed it was said that she had collected a thousand books of histories relating to antique races and departed rulers. She had perused the works of the poets and knew them by heart; she had studied philosophy and the sciences, arts and accomplishments; and she was pleasant and polite, wise and witty, well read and well bred."--Translated from "The Tales" by Sir Richard F. Burton

Only after studying many stories, sciences and histories could she tell spellbinding stories to the sultan and keep him entranced night after night, waiting to hear more.

Finally, the Sultan's heart melted and he fell in love with this enchanting story-teller, ending the reign of terror.

This is the Sixth and final movement of the symphony, one of the most beautiful romantic pieces of its time, and a favorite of mine from the first time I heard it a long time ago. It harkens to me of a beautiful technicolor Arabia of the imagination.


  1. my kids used to play this in the back of the car when we were driving from base to base here in Europe--they loved it

  2. It is an incredible piece of music, Heidi--in parts soaring and delicate.

  3. Doesn't just! Magnificent music Doug.

    Encore Maestro!

  4. Couldn't help thinking it was good that she didn't have an 'off day' before the Sultan lost his taste for post coital decapitation Doug.

    This is an inversion of the Praying Mantis of course because the female of that species does much the same thing....In Arabic and Turkish cultures, a mantis was thought to point toward Mecca.

    The Rimsky-Korsakov piece is wonderful anyway, although it sounds rather nautical for a story set in the desert - to my ear at least but maybe that was just the serene passing of dhows I could hear beyond the star lit heavens and silhouetted against Arabian moon .....

    Excellent choice Doug!

  5. It is a wonderful performance indeed, Jim. One can almost see dhows and deep blue sea, and ditant minarets. Rimsky-Korsakov was in the Russian Navy for a time so I'm sure he got his share of wanderlust satisfied.

    Glad you enjoyed this one!

  6. LOL! Yes, AA, the pitfalls of an arbitrary-monarchical style of government are hard to overcome when one has a tough customer like this Sultan looking for a bit of a distraction from the Light Entertainment Department. :-)

    Didn't know the part about a mantis and Mecca.

    I gather from my liner notes of the album at home that part of the story-within-the-story concerns Sinbad and a voyage, and a beautiful priness of course, so that explains that nautical theme I suppose.

    Yes, there is that sense of serenity that likely can only happen when the sky and stars meet a broad desert or a calm ocean surface. It is a masterpiece of that I am sure. Thanks for that very nice description, which I think conjures parts other music exactly.

  7. A beautiful respite after a long, long day! Thank you. Rimsky-Korsakov is one of my favourite composers.
    I was also drawn to Sergey Levitin--how incredibly he felt the music. When I was very young, I wanted to be a conductor, but I am a psychologist instead. Perhaps in some ways, they are the same? :)

    I do not have the nautical feeling that Aaran has, but music has different voices to different ears, does it not?

    The symbolism of the Praying Mantis is primarily the same; The praying mantis is the oldest symbol of God: the African Bushman’s manifestation of God come to Earth, “the voice of the infinite in the small,” a divine messenger. When one is seen, diviners try to determine the current message. In this culture they are also associated with restoring life into the dead. “Mantis” is the Greek word for “prophet” or “seer,” a being with spiritual or mystical powers.

    Meet the eye of a mantis and feel the presence of God. In the Arabic and Turkish cultures a mantis points pilgrims to Mecca. In Africa, it helps find lost sheep and goats. In France, it's believed that if you are lost the mantis points the way home. So, it is always "a divine messenger."

    I am sure you have heard Le Coq D'Or, which is quite different than this, & I like very much.
    Thanks again--

  8. I can't get it to play for me here for some reason, but I'm quite the fan of the Russian State Orchestra...and, of course, the Tales of the Arabian Nights. But what a monster! Shahrazad was one crazy lady!!!! ;¬D

  9. Thank you Dragon--both you and Aaran have given me quite a lot of background and appreciation on the humble mantis and its effect on the human imagination.

    And if there is a more satisfying position in music than one who feels the music so intensely and leads an orchestra, I can't imagine what it could be.

  10. That she was Shers. I hope you get this to work or check it out on You Tube.

  11. Glad you enjoyed it Stephen. I love the dramatic elements this conductor brings out in the music.

  12. "Finally, the Sultan's heart melted and he fell in love with this enchanting story-teller, ending the reign of terror."

    One very clever lady, I would say!

  13. What a beautiful piece of music. Close your eyes, and just imagine the court in all of it's glory and wealth.
    I love it Doug. Thanks.

  14. Perfectly put Jacquie. And thank you!