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"Doc Talk"/ Class Lesson 5/5/2020

posted May 5, 2020, 3:50 AM by Athens Drive High School Band   [ updated May 5, 2020, 3:50 AM ]
“DOC TALK”/CLASS LESSON – Tuesday, May 5, 2020

VIDEO LINK:  https://youtu.be/9f9Awn0Fx94

Monday’s Lesson:  A study of the allegretto movement of Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 7”...one of the most simplest, profound pieces of music ever written.

TODAY’S LESSON: Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade”:  Music that tells a story
Our marching band show for next year will be entitled: “Once Upon A Time…”  (Music that tells a story).  We will open with excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s “Overture-Fantasy Romeo & Juliet” which we explored last week.  We are going to close with excerpts from another well-known classic by Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Sheherazade.”

First a bit of background on the composer…
Nicolay Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) wanted to be in the Russian navy since childhood.  However, the “music bug” also grabbed Rimsky-Korsakov early on and after serving a stint in the navy, he accepted the position as head of the St. Petersburg Conservatory.  During this time, he actually taught himself harmony, counterpoint and orchestration.  As “Inspector of Naval Bands” from 1873-84, he learned about all the musical instruments and truly became a master of orchestration.  Rimsky-Korsakov matured into the consummate musician—a fine composer, teacher and conductor! 

Rimsky-Korsakov was also the leader of a group of fairly radical musicians known as the “Mighty 5” or the “Mighty Handful” due to their rebellious writings.  You see, this group of musicians wanted to write music that was not so influenced by western Europe—especially Germany.  They wanted to forge a new path.  The reason why Tchaikovsky was not a part of this group was that he wrote too much like a “westerner.”  Really!  You must also remember that the huge country of Russia is situated between Europe and the far east.  There were influences of each in this country and these composers wanted to make the most out of this…  This will give you a “hint” as to why “Scheherazade” was so special, as it contained music that sounded more “eastern,” more exotic, than European music!

The “Mighty 5” included Mily Balakirev, Cesar Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, Alexander Borodin, and Rimsky-Korsakov.  In addition to their somewhat radical philosophy, all of these “composers” were amateurs--their professional “day jobs” were NOT in music.  (Remember, Rimsky-Korsakov started out as a naval officer. He was the only member of “the five” that eventually turned professional.)  As amateurs, they were not “traditionally trained” in music, so their writing tended to be freer, and hence they were able to “think outside the box” more than other more classically trained composers.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s works include operas, symphonic works, choral works and transcriptions (orchestrations) of other composers’ works.  His most well-known pieces are “The Russian Easter Overture, “Procession of the Nobles,” and “Scheherazade.”

A few pieces of information about “Scheherazade”
“Scheherazade” is a 4-movement work which is really more a “suite” than a symphony.  The main difference between these 2 terms is that a “suite” denotes music that is “lighter” in subject matter and that doesn’t rely so much on development and older forms for its construction.  Suites are therefore more “straight-forward” and accessible to most listeners.  Often suites are based on an image or story which makes them similar to tone poems, except that suites are in many movements whereas a tone poem is a single movement work.

“Scheherazade” is based on the book “The Arabian Nights” – it’s the same book that the story of Aladdan comes from! Scheherazade is the name of the woman who tells 1001 stories to the Sultan (king) in order to avoid being executed after their first night of marriage.

Here’s the program as it appears in the score:

The Sultan Schahriar, convinced of the faithlessness of women, vowed to execute each of his wives after the first night.  But Scheherazade saved her own life by interesting him in the tales she told him through 1001 nights.  Impelled by curiosity, the Sultan put off her execution and at last entirely abandoned his resolve to execute her.  The 4 movements are as follows:

I.              The sea and Sinbad’s ship

II.            The story of the prince-kalandar

III.          The young prince and the princess

IV.           Festival in Baghdad.  The sea.  The ship breaks up against a cliff surmounted by a bronze horseman.  Conclusion

Ok!  Let’s dive into the music!

Movement 1:  The sea and Sinbad’s ship
Music Cue #1:  Beginning – 1:35 in attached link
Introduction:  The Sultan’s theme; brief chorale in the woodwinds; Scheherazade’s theme

Sultan’s theme (e minor/low strings & winds) is the source of most of the themes in this work.  Note the musical elements that make the Sultan’s theme sound menacing and ferocious whereas Scheherazade’s theme (a minor/solo violin) sounds seductive, feminine with a heavenly touch added by the harp.  

Music Cue #2:  1:35-2:27 in attached link
Sinbad’s theme (E major)
Note how closely it resembles the Sultan’s theme!  Also note the wide arpeggio figures in the lower strings—suggestive of the rolling waves of the ocean.  Also, Rimsky-Korsakov associated keys with colors; E Major was “dark blue”—like the ocean!

Music Cue #3  4:22-5:04 in attached link
Sinbad’s ship as it weathers a storm.
Note the emergence of the Sultan’s theme at the climax of the storm’s raging.

Music Cue #4  6:37-6:54 in attached link
Re-emergence of Scheherazade’s theme before second storm; her theme recurs often in the four movements of this work!

Movement 2:  The Story of Prince Kalandar
Music Cue #5:  8:45-10:05 in attached link
Scheherazade’s theme (e minor) followed by Prince Kalandar’s theme (b minor/solo bassoon).  Note how similar Prince Kalandar’s theme is to Scheherazade’s.  Both are marked “recitative” in the score (recited…a bit rubato, free with tempo, as if telling a story).

Music Cue #6  12:10-13:37 in attached link
The middle portion of this movement (it is in A-B-A form) introduces the “danger motif” which occurs when trouble is lurking for our main characters.  Note how similar the “danger motif” is to the “Sultan’s theme”--both begin with the descending perfect 4th.

Movement 3:  The Young Prince and the Princess
Music Cue #7  20:50-22:20 in attached link
The Prince’s Theme (G major)

Music Cue #8  24:20-26:05 in attached link
The Princess’ Theme (Bb major)
Note how both the Prince’s theme and the Princess’ theme include the “Am-ster-dam” rhythm as a primary motif.  Also note the use of the “eastern sounding percussion” which always accompanies the Princess’ theme.  These include the tambourine, triangle, and cymbals.

Tomorrow, we’ll explore the last movement of this suite—where ALL the themes return and where the many instruments have to play some of the most challenging parts in the repertoire!!!

It took Rimsky-Korsakov over 10 years to complete this work as he was always making revisions after each performance.  You see, he turned each “failure” into a lesson and made something great come out of each shortcoming!


1) Listen to the first 3 movements of this suite without interruption.  I have provided several links, including one with a score. 

Source of timings in this “Doc Talk/Lesson”


Look up “Scheherazade Moris Senegor Stockton Symphony Lecture” for a wonderful synopsis/analysis of this work!

2) Happy Cinco de Mayo!  Give a listen to Aaron Copland’s “El Salon Mexico!”