Mussorgsky Mondays – Scheherazade, played by the Vienna Philharmonic

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If Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition provides the setting and plot of my upcoming novel, The Mussorgsky Riddle, then Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade provides the character.

As psychic Mira Tejedor invades young Anthony Faircloth’s mind again and again in an effort to free him from his self-imposed prison, she adopts the guise and abilities of Scheherazade, the storyteller from One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. The “Scheherazade theme,” heard first at the one minute mark of the video below, is the melody in the story that comes back again and again, bringing Mira to Anthony’s aide throughout the novel. Whether hummed from the comatose boy’s mouth, or echoing through the grand Exhibition his mind has created to protect him from a far too cruel world, this theme is his saving grace, as is Mira herself.

Listen to the entire piece when you have opportunity. Just as Mussorgsky returns to the “Promenade” theme throughout Pictures at an Exhibition as the unifying melody, so does Rimsky-Korsakov use the storyteller’s solo “violin voice” to provide the musical throughline for Scheherazade. If the whole piece is her telling the Arabian Nights, then the violin moments are her taking a breather between stories and letting the listener hear her own voice. Brilliant, no?

And just as “Promenade” is different throughout Pictures at an Exhibition, so is Scheherazade’s theme different each time it’s heard. Cautious the first time, solemn the second, impetuous the third. Listen as she and the Sultan argue as the 4th movement begins, and more importantly, how they come to an understanding at the end of the piece. I wish I could write with words half as deftly as Rimsky-Korsakov writes with music.

And with that I will leave you to enjoy Scheherazade, as played by the Vienna Philharmonic in 2005. They play this piece a lot faster than I’m used to hearing it, but this is still a kick ass performance.

Oh, and I totally dig the conductor’s hair.

About Darin Kennedy


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