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Hello and welcome to Sticky Notes: The Classical Music Podcast!  This podcast is for anyone who loves classical music, or is just getting ready to dive in for the very first time.  Thanks so much, and I hope you enjoy it!  

Feb 3, 2022

Rimsky-Korsakov, above anything else, is regarded as a master of orchestration, the art of creating orchestral sound and color. As Rachmaninoff said about Rimsky-Korsakov’s music: "When there is a snowstorm, the flakes seem to dance and drift. When the sun is high, all instruments shine with an almost fiery glow. When there is water, the waves ripple and splash audibly throughout the orchestra … ; the sound is cool and glassy when he describes a calm winter night with glittering starlit sky." Nowhere is this gift more on display than in one of Rimsky-Korsakov’s seminal works, Scheherezade. But this work is far more than only orchestration. It is a shining example of a number of complicated facets of both Rimsky-Korsakov’s and Russian Nationalist music of the time. It also displays so many of the contradictions that marked this era of classical music, and in particular, Russian classical music. Rimsky-Korsakov originally gave the piece a clear narrative, but then withdrew it angrily, saying that any programmatic narrative was merely meant peripherally, and “I meant these hints to direct but slightly the hearer’s fancy…All I had desired was that the hearer, if he liked my piece as symphonic music, should carry away the impression that it is beyond doubt an oriental narrative of some numerous and varied fairy-tale wonders and not merely four pieces played one after the other…” And that word, oriental, a complicated word in our modern times to be sure, plays a huge and unavoidable role in this piece. This was a time when Imperial Russia occupied lands in Central Asia, and when the Russian public became obsessed with so called “oriental” literature and music. Composers drew liberally on these sources for their music, and Rimsky Korsakov’s mentor, the great composer Mily Balakirev, heavily encouraged Russian composers to use these sources as a way to set their music apart from German composers of the time. A group of composers, the not at all egotistically named “Mighty Five” Balakirev, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, and Cesar Cui, almost all became famous through their use of Central Asian and Middle Eastern themes and stories. But no piece has captured the imagination of listeners around the world more than Scheherezade, a piece that drew upon the collection of Middle Eastern folk tales known and One Thousand and One Nights, and features some of the most legendary melodies in the history of Western Classical Music. We’re going to talk about all of this today on this Patreon sponsored episode, so please join us!