Rimsky-Korsakov - Scheherazade

Rimsky-Korsakov composed this symphonic suite, Op. 35, in 1888, based loosely on the stories and themes from Arabian Nights.

Despite there being 1001 nights in the original Arabian Nights stories, Scheherazade has just four movements: The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship; The Tale of the Prince Kalender; The Young Prince and the Young Princess (this is the big hit), and The Festival at Baghdad – The Sea – The Shipwreck. Initially, the composer intended to name the respective movements as Prelude, Ballade, Adagio and Finale, but then settled on the thematic titles after being opposed to writing the piece with a strict musical programme.

He kept the movement's titles vague, but settled on the work's title, Scheherazade, because he thought it "brought to everyone’s mind the fairy-tale wonders of Arabian Nights and the East in general." It's true; the haunting violin tunes and the strumming of the harp call to mind a mysterious far-away land.

Listen out for the character's themes: the evil Sultan has a loud, grim bass motif whereas Scheherazade, his wife, has a tender and sensual melody for solo violin and harp to represent her femininity.