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Scheherazade (Sheherazade; Шехерезада in Cyrillic, Šekherezada in transliteration), Op. 35, is a symphonic suite composed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in 1888. Based on The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, this orchestral work combines two features common to Russian music and of Rimsky-Korsakov, in particular: dazzling, colorful orchestration and an interest in the East, which figured greatly in the history of Imperial Russiamarker, as well as orientalism in general. It is considered Rimsky-Korsakov's most popular work. The music was used in a ballet by Michel Fokine. This use of the music was denounced by the Rimsky-Korsakov estate, led by the composer's widow, Nadezhda Rimskaya-Korsakova.


During the winter of 1887, while working to complete Alexander Borodin's unfinished opera Prince Igor, Nikolai decided to compose an orchestral piece, based upon separate episodes from The Arabian Nights. After formulating musical sketches of his proposed work, he moved with his family to the Glinki-Mavriny dacha in Nyezhgovitsy, located along the Cheryemenyetskoye Lake. There, during the summer, he finished Scheherazade and the Russian Easter Festival Overture. Judging by the notes in his autograph orchestral score, the former was completed between June 4 and August 7, 1888. Sheherazade consisted of a symphonic suite of four related movements that form a unified theme. It was written to produce a sensation of fantasy narratives from the Orient.

Initially, Rimsky-Korsakov intended to name the respective movements in Scheherazade: Prelude, Ballade, Adagio and Finale. However, after weighing the opinions of Anatoly Lyadov and others, he settled upon thematic headings, based upon the tales from The Arabian Nights.

I. The Sea and Sinbad's Ship (Largo e maestoso — Allegro non troppo)
II. The Kalendar Prince (Lento — Andantino — Allegro molto — Con moto)
III. The Young Prince and The Young Princess (Andantino quasi allegretto — Pochissimo più mosso — Come prima — Pochissimo più animato)
IV. Festival At Baghdad. The Sea. The Ship Breaks against a Cliff Surmounted by a Bronze Horseman. (Allegro molto — Vivo — Allegro non troppo maestoso)

The composer deliberately made the titles vague, so that they are not associated with specific tales or voyages of Sinbad. However, in the epigraph to the finale, he does make reference to the adventure of Prince Ajib. In a later edition, he did away with titles altogether, desiring instead that the listener should hear his work only as an Oriental-themed symphonic music that evokes a sense of the fairy-tale adventure.

Rimsky wrote a brief introduction that he intended for use with the score, as well as the program for the premier:

The grim bass motif that opens the first movement is supposed to represent the domineering Sultan (see theme illustrated below). This theme emphasizes four notes of a descending whole tone scale: E-D-C-A#. But soon, after a few chord in the woodwind reminiscent of the opening of Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream overture, we hear the leitmotif that represents the character of the storyteller herself, Scheherazade, his wife, who eventually succeeds at appeasing him with her stories. This theme is a tender, sensuously winding melody for violin solo, accompanied by harp. Both of these two themes are shown below.

The movements were unified by the short introductions in the first, second and fourth movements, and an intermezzo in movement three. The last was a violin solo representing Scheherazade, and a similar artistictheme is represented in the conclusion of movement four. Writers have suggested that Rimsky's earlier career as a naval officer may have been responsible for beginning and ending the suite with themes of the sea. The peaceful coda at the end of the final movement is representative of Scheherazade finally winning over the heart of the Sultan, allowing her to at last gain a peaceful night's sleep.

The work is scored for two flutes and a piccolo (with 2nd flute doubling on 2nd piccolo for a few bars), two oboes (with 2nd doubling cor anglais), two clarinets, two bassoons, four horn in F, two trumpets in A and B-flat, three trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, triangle, tambourine, tam-tam, harp and strings. The music premiered in Saint Petersburgmarker on October 28, 1888 conducted by Rimsky-Korsakov.


A ballet adaptation of Scheherazade premiered on June 4, 1910, at the Opéra Garniermarker in Parismarker by the Ballets Russes. The choreography for the ballet was by Michel Fokine and the libretto was from Fokine and Léon Bakst, who also designed sets and costumes. The widow of Rimsky-Korsakov protested what she saw as the disarrangement of her husband's music in this choreographic drama.

Passages from the symphonic suite, Scheherazade, were also adapted for the ballet scene, that closes the motion picture Song of Scheherazade, in which the lead actress, Yvonne De Carlo, was also the principal dancer. The plot of this film is a heavily fictionalized story, based on the composer's early career in the navy.

Scheherazade has been transcribed in its entirety and in its original key for symphonic wind ensemble by Merlin Patterson. This transcription was commissioned by the University of Houstonmarker Wind Ensemble, Tom Bennett, conductor, who gave the premiere at the Moore Opera House in Houston, Texas in April 2005.

See also


  1. Rimsky-Korsakov (1942:291–294).

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