Rimsky-Korsakov’s musical fairy tale, Scheherazade, is a quintessential programmatic work and an example of the composer’s glittering gift of transparent and evocative orchestration. Premiered in 1888, it is written in four movements, each with a descriptive title: 1.The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship, 2.The Tale of the Prince Kalendar, 3.The Young Prince and the Young Princess, and 4.The Festival in Baghdad.
The piece parallels the action in stories from The Thousand and One Nights, sometimes called the Arabian Nights. An edition of the story by the French translator Antoine Galland was popular in the West throughout the 19th century. Rimsky-Korsakov included this brief program note in the score and at the premiere:
“The Sultan Schariar, convinced that all women are false and faithless, vowed to put to death each of his wives after the first nuptial night. But the Sultana Scheherazade saved her life by entertaining her lord with fascinating tales, told seriatim, (serially) for a thousand and one nights. The Sultan, consumed with curiosity, postponed from day to day the execution of his wife, and finally repudiated his bloody vow entirely.”
The solo violin is the voice of Scheherazade, with solos that weave throughout the work, beginning with the 17th bar of the piece and ending on the last notes. The heroine proves that the power of love is ultimately the strongest emotion and can overcome fear as the violin solo also brings the piece to a serene conclusion.
The entire work lasts about 45 minutes and is scored for two flutes (the second flutist will also double on piccolo for just a few measures in the second movement) and piccolo. The piece is perhaps one of the composer’s most popular works.
The first movement is all about the ocean. The chromatic triplet passages describe waves crashing about the giant vessel. Count the long trilled notes very carefully so that the eighth-notes after the trills are exact, and placed precisely as eighths.
The trill at letter K should be E to F natural, only a half-step. It is not correct in the parts published by Kalmus. Make this correction to your part.
The second movement contains quite a few passages with the rhythm on beat one of a dotted eight-note, sixteenth-note and an eighth-note. This is followed by triplet eighth-notes on the second beat. Make sure the sixteenth-note is placed precisely. Often the sixteenth-note is played too late and the figure begins to sound like a quarter-note followed by two sixteenth-notes.
The passage for two piccolos occurs just after the vivace scherzando. Before letter H, pace the crescendo carefully so that you will not become too loud too soon. One of my teachers told me that crescendo means “start softer.” I agree with this advice.
Many of the passages in this movement are written in a tutti woodwind choir style with the piccolo as the top voice. I love to use varying syllables for the articulated passages.
I feel that TDT TKT is the best choice to keep the rhythmic propulsion during the passagework. It is not ever necessary to keep strict alternation of syllables if another pattern is more useful and comfortable for you. The goal of all double/triple tonguing patterns is to be completely facile and able to switch syllables in any order to suit the musical goal at hand.
The third movement has a delightful soli at letter G. The piccolo doubles the principal clarinet with this sweet melody. The accents within the passage keep the tune sounding innocent and light. The figure should have a little bit of a lilt or “swing” (accomplished thru articulation) to allow the charm to smile through.
The final movement is a thrilling conclusion to the work. Always bring out the printed dynamic indications for maximum melodic shaping. The crescendos are marked quite specifically throughout. Most of the writing is virtuosic and in a woodwind choir block. Exaggerate the crescendos at letter P and show a difference between mf, f and ff. The double tonguing passage at letter V can be challenging depending on the tempo as in some concerts it seems to go faster than others. Keep the air moving since this is what drives the tongue. Keep the tongue very relaxed and rely on the air.
The work ends with a reprise of the ocean wave theme heard in the first movement, although one senses that the ship is breaking apart on the rocks due to the more violent nature of the writing at this point.
Musicologist Paul Serotsky described this piece as “unrivalled in the quality of its scoring….the music is like a magic carpet; it can transport you to another world.” The vivid, colorful textures and gorgeous melodies, supported by plush harmonies, propel the story and engage our imaginations all along the way.
The tongue is one of the strongest muscles in the body, yet mastering articulation is a rather difficult skill since we never get to see the actual muscle in action.
Sometimes a player will try to move the whole tongue; this results in muddy or unclear articulation. Excessive movement of the whole muscle can be checked by looking in a mirror to see if there is lots of movement in the throat area when articulating. On piccolo, it is critical to move only the front of the tongue so that it interferes as little as possible with the air stream.
It takes time and good practice discipline (using the ears to hear the difference in sound and attack, an awareness of the exact placement of the tongue in the mouth, and patience, to repeat successful attempts) to transfer the action of articulation to the tip of the tongue only. It is also important to use even less pressure on the roof of the mouth and to keep the motion of the tongue to a minimum on the piccolo to stay even lighter than you would on the flute. There is a tendency to hammer the tonguing and push the air out with the tongue at times. Too much tongue pressure results in that unpleasant sputtering of the lips, and a Bronx cheer or buzzing of the lips.
One of my teachers, Patricia Garside, used to remind me that all articulation exercises are really tone studies. The tone should be focused, or you will not have a chance to achieve clean, clear articulation. Take care of tonal business first. Practice all articulated passages completely slurred to begin, and then move to patterns such as slurring in pairs, slur 2 tongue 2, tongue one slur 3 etc., until you are able to tongue the whole passage successfully.