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Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, Like a Painting Taking You to Distant Lands

Sheherizade und Sultan Schariar, 1880, by Ferdinand Keller

According to Middle Eastern legend, Scheherazade saved her own life by telling her husband, the Sultan,  folk tales for A Thousand and One Nights. Those stories-within a-story inspired 19th-century composer Rimsky-Korsakov to create an orchestral suite that remains one of his most popular works today. WRTI’s Susan Lewis has more.

On Sunday, May 20th on WRTI, in a 2016 live broadcast from Hong Kong, Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads The Philadelphia Orchestra in a program featuring Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, as well as music by Ravel and Rachmaninoff.

Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Yannick Nezet-Seguin talks with WRTI's Susan Lewis about Scheherazade - what it reflected in the late 19th century, and what it means to us today.

Radio script:

MUSIC: Rimsky Korsakov's Scheherazade

Susan Lewis: Scheherazade is a musical showcase for the orchestra - there’s the solo violin that represents the young Arabic queen telling her tales; solos for other instruments including bassoon, clarinet, oboe, flute, English horn and cello; as well as lush ensemble playing.   

Rimsky-Korsakov, a naval officer as well as a composer, used the music not to narrate specific stories but to evoke exotic imagery and create a mood. 

Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director YannickNezet-Seguin talks about the desire of the Europeans to learn about foreign lands.

Yannick Nezet-Seguin:  They couldn’t take a plane, like we can now, and be in the Middle East, and savor that culture, and the history. 

And with a piece like Scheherazade, we have to remember that this is fascinating and extraordinary and that our planet Earth is so diverse. A piece like Scheherazade, in the 21st century, sends the message we can still dream together and focus on the beauty...of all the parts of the world.

SL: Scheherazade, composed in 1888, has become a core work in the classical repertoire.