Song of Scheherazade

cf. Rimsky-Korsakov

The Final JEOPARDY answer for Tuesday, January 10, 2023, was in the category CLASSIC TALE CHARACTERS. “In one 19th-century translation, she ‘perceived the dawn of day and ceased’ speaking nearly 1,000 times.”

To my mild surprise, no one got the correct answer. The contestants answered Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, and Echo.

I knew immediately it was Scheherazade, though I wasn’t positive I knew how to spell it. While I read a story about this Arabian Nights tale, my greater recollection was from the music, which is often the case with me.

Specifically, there is an album by a group called Renaissance. It put out an album called Scheherazade and Other Stories. The title track, Song of Scheherazade, which took up the entirety of Side 2 on the LP, ends with these lyrics:

Scheherazade bewitched him
With songs of jeweled kings
Princes and of heroes
And eastern fantasies

Told him tales of sultans
And talismans and rings
A thousand and one nights, she sang
To entertain her king
She sings, Scheherazade…

Natal day present

I had heard the album several times when I was in college at SUNY New Paltz. But I did not own it.

As I noted seven years ago, in the winter to spring of 1977, I had graduated from college. But adrift, I ended up crashing at my parents’ house in Charlotte, NC. I was pretty miserable, helping sell costume jewelry and other geegaws. (If I had used a word as sophisticated as “geegaws” at the craft fair, I would be chided for allegedly putting on airs.)

My family asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I requested that Renaissance album, and I received it. But it was clear when my father heard it, he didn’t think much of it, which merely fed into my melancholy.

After the JEOPARDY show last month, my wife reminded me how much her college friend Alison played that album in heavy rotation. This prompted me to buy the CD, which now came as a three-disc (2 CDs, 1 DVD) set.

The first time I came to the end of the album, I wept, partly from the beauty of Annie Haslam’s voice and maybe a little from a sad memory.

The classical side

This story reminded me of another piece of music titled Scheherazade, written in 1888 by  Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. A 2007 NPR story by Scott Simon explained the power of music.

“For centuries, composers have tried to spin tales in music. My understanding of how important the concept could be was cemented by Leonard Bernstein when I went to a New York Philharmonic rehearsal. Bernstein raised his hands up and asked, ‘Do I have to tell you the story of this Haydn symphony?’

“These typically reserved musicians were practically jumping up and down, nodding their heads in anticipatory glee, like children at storytime. Bernstein was the consummate storyteller, often elaborating on or, dare I say, even fabricating some of the finer details for dramatic effect. But the memory was indelible for me, and the lesson was clear: It’s all about the story.”

Listen to:

Renaissance album

Renaissance side two

Several versions of the Rimsky-Korsakov

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