Top 50 Favorite/Best Classical – #9 Rimsky-Korsakov Sheherazade, Op. 35

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov makes his first and only appearance on my Top 50 Favorite/Best Classical list at #9 for his symphonic suite, Sheherazade. Much like my enjoyment of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture, Sheherazade is a fantastical tale told through music with beautiful melodies and lush harmonies. 

Rimsky-Korsakov liked telling fantastical fairytales. Most of his 15 operas are fairytales. While working on orchestrating Alexander Borodin’s Prince Igor, Nikolai was inspired to create a symphonic poem based on some of the tales from One Thousand and One Nights. This Sheherazade is a distinctive Russian composition mixed with oriental harmonies. There is no sonata-form to be found within this piece. Its function more to tell a story, the music shifts in each movement to express a tale. So the first movement’s form is more of an A B C form with alterations when the A theme comes back. 

The second movement brings back the original theme on the violin introduced at the beginning of the first theme and goes through several variations. My favorite is the third movement, which is probably the most classically formed. The movement is entitled “The Young Prince and the Young Princess” and Rimsky-Korsakov composes one of his most beautiful melodies. The fourth movement brings out all the stops, ending with a huge crescendo wherein the music describes the ship torn to pieces against a cliff. Sheherazade’s theme comes back at the very end again, on the violin, reaching to the stratosphere of the violin’s range. Done well, as most concertmasters can, the sound is absolutely gorgeous in a concert hall. 

My first contact with Sheherazade was actually from a very silly 1985 film, entitled The Man With One Red Shoe. Tom Hanks plays the concertmaster at the Washington DC Orchestra and the Sheherazade theme plays prominently throughout the film. 

One of the key points that makes this symphonic work so well crafted is that, as grand as it gets at times, Rimsky-Korsakov treats each instrument as an important voice, providing numerous opportunities for solos throughout for almost every instrument, including violin solo, oboe, clarinet, flute, bassoon, trumpet, French horn, and the rest. Rimsky-Korsakov was a master orchestrator and had a deft touch at orchestrating his music as well as others. I’ve noted that he was working on completing Borodin’s Prince Igor. He also reworked Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, among many others. 

As for which version to listen to, there are plenty, since this is a popular piece. However, let’s give it up for the youth of Poland who, once again, took on a difficult piece with brilliant mastery! Enjoy Tomasiewicz conducting the Karol Szymanowski Youth Symphony Orchestra. 

#09 – Rimsky-Korsakov Sheherazade, Op. 35

#10 – Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet Overture

#11 – Dvorak Serenade for Strings in E major, Op. 22

#12 – Stravinsky Le Sacre du Printemps

#13 – Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue

#14 – Mozart Symphony No. 41 in C major, K. 551

#15 – Coltrane My Favorite Things

#16 – Dvorak Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70

#17 – Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30

#18 – Mozart Don Giovanni, K. 527

#19 – Liszt Les Preludes, S. 97

#20 – Mozart Le Nozze di Figaro, K. 492

#21 – Tchaikovsky Swan Lake, Op. 20 

#22 – Mahler Symphony No. 2 in C minor

#23 – Tchaikovsky String Quartet No. 1 in D major, Op. 11

#24 – Williams Empire Strikes Back

#25 – Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5 in Eb major, Op. 73

#26 – Bernstein West Side Story

#27 – Enescu – Octet for Strings in C major, Op. 7

#28 – Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110

#29 – Mussorgsky Night on Bald Mountain

#30 – Webber Phantom of the Opera

#31 – Prokofiev Alexander Nevsky

#32 – Chopin Nocturne in Bb minor, Op. 9, No. 1

#33 – Debussy Images, Book 1, L110

#34 – Debussy Pour Le Piano, L. 95

#35 – Chaminade Guitare, Op. 32

#36 – Chopin Berceuse in Db major, Op. 57

#37 – Boulanger Nocturne pour violon et piano

#38 – Schönberg Les Miserables

#39 – Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18

#40 – Miranda Hamilton

#41 – Strauss Salomé

#42 – Britten Peter Grimes

#43 – Loewe My Fair Lady

#44 – Liszt Mephisto Waltzes

#45 – Webber Evita

#46 – Poledouris Conan The Barbarian

#47 – Bernstein Trouble in Tahiti

#48 – Beethoven Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67

#49 – Chaminade La Lisonjera, Op. 50

#50 – Beethoven Coriolan Overture, Op. 62

Honorable Mention

Wolfe Fire in my Mouth

Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition

Glass Anthem, Pt. 2

Weber Der Freischütz

Coleman Lonely Woman

Beethoven Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125

Tchaikovsky Nutcracker

Jobim Girl From Ipanema

Shostakovich Suite for Variety Orchestra

Schubert Symphony No. 9 in C major, D 944

Saariaho L’Amour de Loin

Schubert String Quartet No. 14 “Death and the Maiden”

Desmond Take Five

Wagner Die Walküre 

Puccini Tosca

Davis So What

Stravinsky Petroushka 

Wagner Tristan Und Isolde

Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings

Williams Raiders of the Lost Ark

Verdi Aïda

Schoenberg Verklärte Nacht

Grisey Les espaces acoustiques

Gade – Octet for 4 violins, 2 violas, 2 violoncellos in F major, Op. 17

Schubert – Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D759

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