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An Exploration of Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio Espagnol and Scheherazade

Cupola of Russian churches



The Cultural Duality of Rimsky-Korsakov’s
“Capriccio Espagnol” and “Scheherazade”


     The orchestra sits motionless onstage. The conductor’s baton is poised in the air. The audience waits breathlessly in anticipation. With one swift motion, music surges into every corner of the hall. The audible landscape sweeps concertgoers into a fantastic world of imagination and intrigue. Certain melodies swiftly transport the imagination to different lands.  But what causes this music to stir the emotions of the listeners? The “Capriccio Espagnol” and “Scheherazade,” are both important works by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov and favorites of audiences everywhere. Their beautiful depictions of foreign lands create the perfect scene to explore national and foreign influences in the music. What stylistic techniques did Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov employ in his representation of other countries through music, and why? Were they effective and accurate? To answer this question, it is key to discuss the musical styles of Russia, Spain, and the East, along with a musical overview of each major work. The works will then be compared and contrasted with the traditional music styles of the related countries. The exotic stylistic forms employed in Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Capriccio Espagnol” and “Scheherazade” create imaginative landscapes of far-away countries. The brilliance of this music appeals to audiences everywhere, with Russian undertones emphasizing the composer’s roots while unconventional techniques maintain a fascinating atmosphere for spellbound audiences everywhere.


Biographical Overview


     Before diving into the details of his compositions, it is important to look briefly at the life of Rimsky-Korsakov. Rimsky-Korsakov was born March 6, 1844, in Tikhvin, Russia. His father was a government official and his mother was a pianist. Naval influences from his brother and uncle spurred his love for both music and the sea (Slonimsky et al.). In 1861, Rimsky-Korsakov met composer Mily Balakirev and under his guidance began to compose his first symphony. Shortly thereafter, he graduated from the Naval Academy in St. Petersburg in 1862. His first long voyage was on the clipper ship Almaz. The vessel traveled to New York City, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Brazil, Spain, Italy, France, England, Norway, and anchored in Kronstadt. This voyage increased the young composer’s fascination with the sea, which had a large influence on later works, including Scheherazade. Upon a concert of Slavonic music in St. Petersburg in 1867, critic Vladimir Stasov proclaimed that Russia had its own “mighty little heap” of native composers. This paved the way for these men, namely Rimsky-Korsakov, Balakirev, Borodin, Cui, and Mussorgsky to become known as “The Five.” They were lauded in history books as composers who sought to assert Russia’s musical independence from the West. Rimsky-Korsakov taught composition and orchestration at the St. Petersburg Conservatory from 1871 until the end of his life. His musical influence on two generations of composers (including Igor Stravinsky) is prevalent. His compositions in all genres demonstrate a technical accuracy and attention to detail. His fugues were lauded by Tchaikovsky as “impeccable” (Slonimsky et al.). This great composer left an indelible mark on the world of music.


Music of Russia


     One of the key elements of Russian music and culture in the late 19th century was the growing influence of nationalism. “Artists, philosophers, and politicians generally agreed that people who shared an ethnic and linguistic heritage were somehow bound together and should belong to the same nation” (Resonances 308). As a result of this growing movement, national anthems began to develop. These anthems were full of character and history, which aided in reflecting a nation’s identity (308). Music continued to be written that began to specifically reflect its country of origin, as it possessed unique aspects of that country or region. In Russia, “The Five” were presented by critics as “the only true friends of Russianness and progress in music” (Frolova-Walker, 3.iv). These five composers tried to create a national school of Russian music without Western styles making their way into the traditional forms (“The Five”). However, Rimsky-Korsakov utilized both Russian techniques and traditional European training in his works. This almost virulent nationalism gives valuable insight into the motivations and culture behind music of the time. It also explains the Russian undertones that are so prevalent in these works. Traditional stylistic techniques, such as “nationalist techniques” and “harmonic idioms” have roots in 19th century Russian music while also being associated with European impressionism, a style sweeping the west at the time. Interestingly, “A fascination with the exotic” was a major characteristic of impressionism (Runyan). Towards the end of the 19th century, there was a marked increase in folksong research, and this scholarly work soon made its mark on concert life. (Frolova-Walker, 2.ii) Walker notes that Rimsky-Korsakov was especially interested in the balalaika (an instrument similar to the American guitar and banjo) and even contemplated using the traditional instrument in one of his operas. The tambourine was a traditional Russian folk instrument that was heavily employed in both compositions. However, “At the beginning of the 20th century, Russian music was no longer essentially divided along the nationalist and Europe-orientated lines that had defined much 19th-century Russian aesthetic debate” (Frolova-Walker, 4.i) This makes it clear that the balance between traditional and foreign began loosening slightly as the musical landscape of Russia changed.  In light of these facts and the changes occurring at the time, the music of Spain as it relates to the Capriccio Espagnol will be discussed in the next section, followed by a similar breakdown of Eastern music and Scheherazade.


Music of Spain and the Capriccio Espagnol


     Spanish music has a rich history of folk songs, dances, and traditional instrumentation. A famous dance that appears in the Capriccio Espagnol is that of the Fandango. The Fandango is of uncertain origin. However, by the late 18th century it gained a footing among the Spanish aristocracy and was popularized in different stage works such as ballets and zarzuelas (Katz). This type of dance is usually accompanied by guitar and castanets and/or hand clapping. “As a dance and as a genre of song, the fandango exists both within and outside of the flamenco (q.v.), or Andalusian Gypsy, tradition” (“Fandango”). Interestingly, the dance often begins slowly and gains speed. The fandango is a couple dance in triple meter. Though it was originally notated in the time signature of 6/8, later it was often written in 3/8 or 3/4. The Alborada also appears in Rimsky-Korsakov’s work. It is known as a “morning song.” According to World Music Central, Asturian musical genres include Alborada and Flamenco (a style in which the fandango plays a large part). Drums, Asturian bagpipe, and accordion are instruments indigenous to the region. “The rich expressiveness of cante jondo and flamenco dance has been attributed to a variety of origins, which inextricably link the genre to its performer, the Gypsy, tracing back to Byzantine or North African beginnings” (Stevenson). This is important, as gypsy influences are seen across the Capriccio Espagnol.

     The Capriccio Espagnol is a work richly intertwined between two countries. Written in 1887, this work is based off of a collection of Spanish folk songs. These folk tunes were written into an orchestral work that showpieces both folk and art music of Spain and Russia. There are five movements: 1. Alborada, 2. Variazoni, 3. Scena e canto gitano, 4. Alborada, and 5. Fandango Asturiano. Rimsky-Korsakov’s life has a brief tie to Spain as it was one of the countries he traveled to during his voyage on the Almaz. However, the inspiration for this particular work may have come from another direction. Famed composer Michael Glinka traveled extensively in Spain, collecting folk music and composed works from them. Glinka was a large source of inspiration for Rimsky-Korsakov (Howard). Coupled with his real-life experience in Spain, a work based upon Spanish tunes and styles seemed to be a natural progression from these influences on Rimsky-Korsakov.

     The Capriccio Espagnol is written for violin, viola, cello, bass, piccolo, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, French horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba, triangle, tambourine, cymbals, castanets, bass drum, and harp. The first movement, Alborada, is in A major. The second mvt., Variazioni, is in F. The third mvt., Alborada, is in B-Flat. The fourth mvt., Scena e canto gitano, is in F. The final mvt., Fandango Asturiano, is in A. There is some parallelism between keys. The first and fifth mvt. are in A, bookending the work. The second and fourth are in F, while the middle mvt. is in B-Flat. The middle mvt. is the only one with a key in B-Flat, perhaps signaling the peak of the work. The time signatures vary throughout the piece according to the folk theme. The first mvt. is in 2/4. The second is in 3/8, which gives is a rounded, smooth movement. The third mvt. is in 2/4 and the fourth is in 6/8. As discussed above, the fandango can be notated in 3/4. Mvt. 5, Fandango Asturiano, is in 3/4.

     The use of themes in melodic and instrumental motifs appear frequently in the Capriccio Espagnol. The melodic theme in the very beginning of the work (“Rimsky-Korsakov Capriccio Espagnol,” 0:18) reoccurs in beginning of mvt. 3. The theme consists of an energetic melody in the strings, while the woodwinds add sparkling trills. A tambourine emphasizes the beat, giving the theme the feeling of a fantastic dance. The Alborada is a traditional Spanish dance, which is very fitting for the energetic opening. While the violin and clarinet have solos throughout the first mvt., their solos in the third are reversed (Howard). This adds variety to the solo instrumentation.  The melodic theme from the beginning reoccurs in end of final mvt. in the same key, bringing the piece to a close (“Rimsky-Korsakov Capriccio Espagnol,” 14:48). However, the theme speeds up significantly, growing faster and more exciting until a crashing chord signals the end of the work. In mvt. two, a beautiful call and response takes place between the French horn and the oboe (“Rimsky-Korsakov Capriccio Espagnol,” 3:07). The violins accompany with a soft tremolo as the oboe plays a yearning melody, answered by the horn, which plays a far-off bugle call. The strings then swell into a triumphant, yearning melody echoing that of the oboe. Interestingly, Resonances mentions that “an operatic love scene … is usually accompanied by slow, sweeping gestures in the strings” (171). This use of these musical topics might signal that the oboe is the voice of home and romance, while the horn is the far away call of cavalry and military duty. This variation uses the tune of a simple Spanish folk song to tell a moving and unique story (Howard). The title of mvt. four is “gypsy scene and song.”  A splendid theme in mvt. 4 opens with the brass and reoccurs throughout the movement, specifically when the orchestra enters after the cadenzas. (“Rimsky-Korsakov Capriccio Espagnol,” 7:55, 10:23) The cadenzas mirror phrases from the original theme in the first mvt. The use of themes play an important part in depicting the music, dance, and scenery of Spain.

     Rimsky-Korsakov uses different stylistic techniques to create a thrilling Spanish atmosphere. The use of solo violin passages highlights important melodies and astonishes with beautiful cadenzas. The use of the tambourine adds sparkle to the cheerful melodies. The tambourine is a popular instrument in folk music across a variety of cultures, especially in Spain as an accompaniment for dancing. The use of it in this piece lends the music an exotic twist while still being recognizable as a popular folk instrument to the Russian audience. The virtuosic cadenzas in the fourth mvt. use the flute, harp, violin, and clarinet to showcase each instrument’s abilities while serving as a flourish in the wild gypsy dance. The cadenzas interrupt the themes to give the music a brilliant atmosphere evocative of a gypsy band with their unique and wild dances and instruments.  The brass fanfare in beginning of mvt. 4 adds intensity to the theme, while the orchestral interlude before flute cadenza reiterates the feeling of a dance. The rhythmic dance after harp cadenza with the accompanying chromatic melody builds into a fantastic finish at the end of the mvt., which moves directly into the final fandango (“Rimsky-Korsakov Capriccio Espagnol,”10:23). In the score, the passage can be found from pages 45-46 (Capriccio Espagnol, Op 34).  The castanets at the beginning of the final mvt. continue the idea of dance that occurs throughout the music, which builds upon the preceding gypsy theme. However, this mvt. follows a traditional pattern by adding castanets, which is a traditional percussive instrument in the fandango dance. The mvt. gradually accelerandos until the end, which is typical of a fandango dance. The violin harp flute “trio” that occurs in mvt. 5 interludes a loud orchestral part with an intimate moment between the three instruments, adding to the folk-like atmosphere that punctuates the piece.  The violin pizzicato in mvt. 5 (notated on pgs 53-54 in the score) evokes the strumming of a guitar, while the winds flourish above. (“Rimsky-Korsakov Capriccio Espagnol,” 11:23). These stylistic jewels create dazzling Spanish elements that deftly portray the folk traditions of Spain.

     The music of the Capriccio Espagnol is so naturally Spanish that as a result, the traditional conventions of Russian music of this time seem to take a backseat in this work. Instead of ignoring the influence of romanticism and the West, the style of the work is significantly Western. Rimsky-Korsakov was a talented composer who was adept at writing with traditional Western motifs, styles, and musical forms. Interestingly though, this piece was originally entitled “Capriccio russo-espagnol” (Howard). Rimsky-Korsakov’s work was seen as being as much a Russian work as it was a Spanish one. Rimsky-Korsakov took the forms, instruments, and music of Spain and combined with his strong interest in Russian folk music. The result is a sweeping work that expands traditional folk instruments and music from two sides of the world. Rimsky-Korsakov’s interest in the Balalaika (a Russian instrument similar to a western banjo) combined with the influence of Spanish guitar are evident in the violin pizzicato discussed above, while the triangle and tambourine are popular instruments in folk tradition in both countries. The chromatic and minor scales bring to life the gypsy dances of Spain and Russia while using the traditional dance fandango as the foundation of much of the work. Meanwhile, the use of the selective instruments gives the music extra sparkle.  The tambourine and castanets are a traditional percussive accompaniment in dancing, specifically the flamenco. Their use in the Capriccio brings the flamenco form to life within the context of an orchestra. The trumpet and brass are also an important part of the work. They add extra fanfare and spice to the orchestral timbre. The cadenzas are another integral part of this piece. Aside from amazing the audience, the virtuosity of each solo takes the motif of the “gypsy theme” and incorporates it into a brilliant flourish. This contributes to the “gypsy scene” of the 4th mvt. The use of different Spanish dances as a foundation for the music is important, as it adds the necessary Spanish influence by incorporating the traditions of the country. It is important to note that Rimsky-Korsakov intentionally used music from the Asturian region, where the fandango and gypsy tradition were intertwined musically and culturally. This explains the gypsy dance and scene in the middle of the work and the “fandango asturiano” (Asturian fandango) which ends the piece. The folk traditions from this area combine homogeneously with the folk traditions of Russia, creating a work that is fantastically Spanish. The melodies of the Capriccio Espangol woo the hearts and ears of concertgoers and audience members everywhere with their winsome brilliance.


Eastern Music and Scheherazade


     Before discussing the work “Scheherazade,” it is important to discuss traditional techniques of Eastern music. “The Middle East comprises four historically interlinked art music systems: Arab, Persian, Turkish and Maghribi, or North African” (Bohlman). This section will focus on Arab and Persian music because of its connections to both Rimsky-Korsakov’s work and ancient Persia from which the collection The Arabian Nights stems. The Maqam, a type of Persian scale, builds the musical foundation of Iranian music and has many tonal ties to Scheherazade. Eastern music is organized in a 24-tone system, while the European system is that of 12 tones. This results in small intervals equal to a European “quarter-tone” (Alves 88). Small segments (like tetrachords, a group of four pitches) are combined to make unique ascending and descending scales, referred to as maqams. The purest form of a maqam is “non-pulsatile improvisations,” or taqsim when played by a solo instrument (89). The taqsim is a “journey through a sequence of emphasized pitches, the principal tones of the maqam scale” (89). While quarter tones are not used in adjacent scale steps, 3/4 or 1 1/4 tones frequently appear, adding an extra evocation of chromaticism in performances. It showcases the beauty of the instrument, ornamentation, and the performer’s skills and technique (“Improvised Forms”). The ‘ud and violin are both popular instruments for this ornamentation. Traditional Arabic performances frequently modulate between related pitches. The Mawwal, a popular improvisatory technique, is a “solo vocal improvisation on a colloquial Arabic poem” (“Improvised Forms”). This technique showcases both the musical theme of the maqam as well as the singer’s voice and ornamentation. Traditional instruments used in Iranian music are: the ‘ud (ancestor of the European lute, very similar to the lute), rabab (spike fiddle), Kamanche (short-necked fiddle, held and played vertically like the rabab), nay (notch flute), Zurna (conical-bore double reed, ancestor of the modern oboe), and the daff, a shallow frame drum played with the hands and fingers. In more modern Middle Eastern music, the violin is a popular addition.

     “Scheherazade” is a lengthy work full of musical complexity. As a result, most of the observations will be of a much broader fashion. Scheherazade is a gold mine of musical theory and beauty, the depths of which cannot be plumbed in a short essay. Written in 1888, Scheherazade is an orchestral suite inspired by the Eastern tales One Thousand and One Nights. The main character of the work is Scheherazade, a beautiful girl who is the wife of the Sultan Shahryar. Shahryar is filled with bitterness from the infidelity of his first wife, so he takes a wife every night only to kill her in the morning. Scheherazade convinced her father to let her marry the Sultan and each night told the Sultan a story, but as dawn broke, she left off at the climax. The Sultan, eager to hear the rest of the story, delayed her sentence for one thousand and one nights. By the end of her tale, he had fallen in love with Scheherazade (“The Thousand and One Nights.”). The music focuses not only on the two main characters, but on the accompanying stories as well. The four movements were not originally named, but later were given names by Anatoly Lyadov, Rimsky-Korsakov’s former student (Schwarm). There are four mvts., known as “The Sea and Sinbad’s ship,” “The Story of the Kalandar Prince,” “The Young Prince and the Young Princess,” and “Festival at Baghdad; the Sea; the Ship Goes to Pieces on a Rock Surmounted by a Bronze Warrior.” In his memoirs, Rimsky-Korsakov wrote of the music: “I meant these hints [themes] to direct but slightly the hearer’s fancy on the path which my own fancy had traveled, and to leave more minute and particular conceptions to the will and mood of each” (Schwarm). Rimsky-Korsakov’s use of musical storytelling enhances the music and the scenes each movement portrays.

The work is written for 3 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings. Mvt. 1 begins in E minor. After the violin cadenza, it modulates to E major, but remains in a minor mode. The work modulates continuously while remaining in a minor tone. The second mvt. begins in E minor sharp7 and has much fewer key changes. The third mvt. is in G and contains more modulations than the previous movements, with roughly five key changes throughout. The final mvt. is in E minor. There is plenty of modulation between complicated keys, such as C# and D-flat. The work ends in E major.

     As in the Capriccio Espagnol, there are plenty of motifs in Scheherazade. Each theme represents a person, place, or thing and contributes significantly to the mood of the piece. Scheherazade’s theme is denoted by a violin and harp duet. The violin theme is easily recognizable, as it occurs throughout the work, usually as an interlude, signaling a new story or a break in the current tale (“Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade op.35,” 1:57). The theme is played at the beginning of each movement except the third. This theme represents Scheherazade’s voice as she tells her stories to the Sultan. The voice of the Sultan is heard in the winds and strings, as the melody moves in a downward direction (perhaps symbolizing Scheherazade’s possible ominous fate at the hands of a bitter ruler). This theme is heard immediately as the work opens, as if the Sultan is demanding a story of Scheherazade (“Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade op.35,” 00:09). Scheherazade’s theme follows immediately after in answer to the Sultan.  The second mvt., “’The Story of the Kalandar Prince,’ opens with Scheherazade’s now familiar violin line, which dissolves into animated march-like passages, intermittently interwoven with suggestions of the Sultan’s theme” (Britannica). The final mvt. weaves together a variety of themes from the work, including those of the Sultan and Scheherazade. The sea is portrayed in detail throughout the work, but most specifically in the first mvt., which is about the sea and Sinbad’s ship. Because of his life as a sailor, Rimsky-Korsakov’s depictions of the sea are beautiful and moving. At timestamp 1:49 in the video, the nautical theme is introduced. The low register and the conjunct, chromatic movement of the melody brings a moving, ominous, and almost cloudy feeling to the scene, while the rising and falling accompaniment in the cellos mimics waves. As the melody rises, the music swells gracefully into a quite interlude before crashing into the original theme. The sea can be heard again in the last mvt. (“Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade op.35,” 41:44, 45:46). In the 2nd mvt., the Andantino (timestamp 12:54) begins a new theme that reoccurs in the mvt. The oboe and harp that enter shortly after mirror Scheherazade’s theme, signaling that she is beginning a new story.  The love theme of the young prince and princess in the third mvt. is played by the strings, taking a rich timbre. Like in the Capriccio, a luscious sweep in the strings signals romantic moments. This moment is soon interrupted by Scheherazade’s theme, which takes on staccato movement as a form of excitement as she continues to tell the story. Her theme merges seamlessly into the rest of the mvt.

     There are number of stylistic techniques in the work that create a uniquely Persian atmosphere. Interestingly, the use of mostly minor keys and modes over the course of the work lends it a deep mystery that seems to call to mind dark, exotic tales. The first key of the piece is E minor. However, it cannot exactly be classified as a harmonic or melodic minor. Instead, it could be called E minor sharp 7, where the seventh note of the scale is raised a half pitch. This creates a darkness by using a rather unusual minor harmonic progression. This ties directly into the chromatic scales and melodies that make up the music. There are a variety of chromatic movements throughout the piece. This is clear when reading the score, as keys such as A major are notated while the music is filled with accidentals, with the melodies moving by half steps throughout the scale. This chromaticism lends an extravagant and foreign sense to the music. The set key is often used as a framework to embellish upon. The violin and harp also work together to create a particularly Eastern sound in the work. The soft, luscious chords of the harp with the sparkling sound of the violin hearken to eastern instruments, where the violin and lute are important parts of traditional music. These two instruments, which comprise Scheherazade’s theme, use modern instruments common in Russian (and other western instruments) to remind the listener of Eastern sounds. The soft beauty of the instruments evokes beauty and romance. In the recording referenced throughout the essay, there is one stylistic element that stands out as it is not in the score. In the final mvt. at timestamp 44:59, the conductor and some orchestra members begin yelling along with the crashing music and cymbals. This is not found in the score, as can be seen on page 226 (rehearsal number W), where the yelling begins in the recording (Sheherazada Symphonic Suite, Op. 35). This is the artistic choice of the conductor, and an interesting one at that. Part of the mvt. title is “the Ship Goes to Pieces on a Rock Surmounted by a Bronze Warrior.” The yelling is most likely meant to represent the disaster and resulting chaos.

     Scheherazade still maintains many Russian elements while dealing with an obviously Eastern theme. The impressionistic style that was prevalent at the time can be seen in the large orchestration and dramatic musical elements, such as the dense harmonic structure of the harmonies and the sweeping movements and arpeggios in the strings and woodwinds. The fascination with exotic material that defined western impressionism is evident in the literary inspiration, while Rimsky-Korsakov’s personal touch can be seen in the addition of the tambourine, an instrument he favored in the Capriccio Espagnol.  The march-like passages in the fourth mvt. hearken to Russian roots, as nationalistic marches and anthems were widely composed and performed. Even though the work is filled with suggestions of Eastern musical sounds, it retains obviously Russian overtones, as discussed above. Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestration is similar to his other works, while the melodies and harmonies are written in traditional progressions, cadences, and resolutions. This results in a work that is impressionistically Russian while still sounding fascinating, romantic, and sensational. Rimsky-Korsakov deftly wove Eastern and Western techniques together to create a work that tells a spell-binding Arabian tale while being delightful and moving for a traditionally Russian audience.

Even though Scheherazade contains many Western elements, the music still remains fascinatingly exotic. Traditional Eastern music and its instruments were little known in the West at the time of Scheherazade’s composition. However, by using techniques that were unusual to listeners at the time, Rimsky-Korsakov effectively created a foreign atmosphere that accurately reflected Eastern music. Interestingly, the heavy modulation in the work is similar to the traditional performances of the maqam, which often contain modulation within a performance. The taqsim, where a variety of movement between emphasized pitches of a scale takes place, is similar to the violin solo representing Scheherazade. Scheherazade’s theme moves smoothly through the E minor key, with triplets creating emphasis on the downbeats. The ‘ud and violin (and in ancient times, possible the rabab or kamanche) are most often used in this Eastern technique. The mawwal, the solo vocal improvisation on a colloquial poem, ties into the symbolism of Scheherazade’s theme as the solo violin represents her voice beginning a tale for the Sultan. The chromatic melodic movement in the piece represents exoticism. Western music is not as strongly chromatic in movement. Because Eastern music moves in smaller intervals than Western music, the chromaticism in Scheherazade beautifully reflects this Persian musical convention. The orchestral suite is truly a work that bridges the gap between Eastern music and traditional Western orchestration. Rimsky-Korsakov artfully wove Eastern and Western techniques together to create a work that tells a spell-binding Arabian tale while being delightful and moving for a traditionally Russian audience.


Ties between the Capriccio Espagnol and Scheherazade


     As both the Capriccio Espagnol and Scheherazade were written by the same composer, some obvious similarities appear in both works as testaments to their authorship. Both works employ the use of solo violin passages, with the violin taking prominent melodies and a cadenza in the Capriccio Espangol and main theme in Scheherazade. The violin is known as a folk instrument, which may explain its presence in the former, while its soft tone is used to evoke beauty and romance in Scheherazade. The tambourine plays a large part (pun intended) in both pieces. In the Capriccio Espagnol, it is used as accompaniment to much of the music, especially in the fandango, where the tambourine is a traditional part of the dance. In Scheherazade, the triangle is used in a more percussive aspect, accompanying the orchestra and adding flair to different passages. The use of brass instruments (such as the trumpet, trombone, French horn, tuba) is also significant, as the brass plays a large part in both pieces. In the Capriccio Espagnol, the brass is used as a fanfare in the fourth mvt., heralding the gypsy dance. Brass instruments such as the trumpet and French horn are played individually to emphasize themes throughout the music. In Scheherazade, the brass signals the demanding voice of the Sultan. It is also used to evoke the deep darkness of the sea and the heat of battle in the first and last mvts. The Capriccio Espagnol is a fantastic work meant to showcase both traditional Spanish and Russian styles of music within the context of a large orchestra. The music is exciting, virtuosic, and dance-like. On the other hand, Scheherazade is a kaleidoscope of themes taken from the Arabian Nights. These themes are woven together to guide the listener’s imagination. The music focuses on setting the scene by conjuring audible images of Eastern mystique in the ear and mind of the listener rather than “showing off” the music of a particular country or practice. 

In light of the above analysis, some questions remain to be answered. Are these magnificent works truly “exotic?” What makes them “unique?” Merriam-Webster defines unique as “being without a like or equal,” or “distinctively characteristic.” These descriptors can both be said of the works discussed above. Each piece has specific aspects that set them apart from others. This ties into the “exoticism” of each work. “Exotic” can be defined as “Introduced from another country: not native to the place where found; strikingly, excitingly, or mysteriously different or unusual” (“Exotic”). The theme of Capriccio Espagnol is certainly from another country and not native to Russia, and Scheherazade is strikingly, excitingly, and mysteriously different than Russian folk and art music. These two works are both exotic and unique, as their musical aspects set them apart from other works of their time.




     The exotic stylistic forms employed in Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Capriccio Espagnol” and “Scheherazade” create imaginative landscapes of far-away countries. The brilliance of this music appeals to audiences and concertgoers everywhere, with Russian undertones emphasizing the composer’s roots and unconventional techniques maintaining a fascinating atmosphere for spellbound audiences everywhere. The different traditional and musical techniques and styles employed in each work accurately depicted the culture, country, and thrilling stories behind the music. These works are truly, in every sense of the word, “art.” The beautiful dances of Spain. Mighty heroes and delightful heroines. Romance, danger, and excitement. As the beautiful pictures fade into silence, the audience sits, dazed, between two worlds. The conductor lowers his baton. The orchestra breathes again. The journey is over.



Annotated Bibliography


Bohlman, Philip V. “Middle East.” Grove Music Online, Oxford Music Online, 2001.

         Bohlman’s article explores the history of the Middle East and its music. He considers musical systems, instruments, and regional differences. This is a key source in understanding the basics of Eastern music and its history.

Dotsey, Calvin. “Roman Holiday: Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien, Opus 45.” Houston Symphony, 20 Aug. 2019, 

         This is a short, reader-friendly overview of the Capriccio Italien and its inspiration. It provides valuable insight into the roots of this work. 

“Exotic.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Mar. 2024.

         This is the definition of the word “exotic” as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

“Fandango.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 1998,

         This article defines the traditional Italian Fandango, which is a type of dance very popular in both culture and music. It is possible that the Fandango form can be found in the Capriccio Italien.

“The Five.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 20 July 1998,

         This article provides important background information on the influential Russian group of musicians and composers, known as “The Five.” Rimsky-Korsakov was a part of this group.  

Howard, Orrin. “Capriccio Espagnol, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.” LA Phil, Accessed 22 Mar. 2024.

         These concert notes give an interesting and informative synopsis of the Capriccio Espagnol and influences on its creation.

Farraj, Johnny. “Improvised Forms | The Taqsim, Layali, Mawwal, and Qasida.” Maqam World, MaqamWorld,

 In this source, which is sponsored by the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, the author explores traditional improvisatory forms in Arabic music.

Frolova-Walker, Marina, et al. “Russian Federation (Russ. Rossiiskaya Federatsiya; Russia).” Grove Music Online, Oxford Music Online, 2001.

         Frolova-Walker explores traditional, secular, and artistic Russian music and its evolution throughout history. This article provides important information about the roots and history of Russian music.

Morgan-Ellis, Esther M., Editor-in-Chief. Resonances | Engaging Music in Its Cultural Context. University of North Georgia Press. 

         Resonances addresses nationalism and the effect of national music throughout different countries in history. The definitions and examples are helpful when delving into Russian nationalistic music.

“Rimsky Korsakov Capriccio Espagnol Op 34 Berliner Phil Dir Zubin Mehta YouTube.” YouTube, uploaded by Joao Viriato, 27 January, 2013,

            This is a high-quality performance of the Capriccio Espagnol, performed by the Berlin Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta.


Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolai, composer. Capriccio Espagnol, Op 34. M.P. Belaieff, Leipzig, 1888. Score.

            This is a full musical score of the Capriccio Espagnol.


“Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade op.35 - Leif Segerstam - Sinfónica de Galicia.” YouTube, uploaded by SinfonicadeGalicia, 26 May, 2015,


This is a high-quality performance of Scheherazade, performed by the Sinfonicade de Galicia.


Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolai, composer. Sheherazada Symphonic Suite, Op. 35. 1888. State Music Publishing House, Mockba, 1931. Score.

            This is a full musical score of the Scheherazade symphonic suite.

Runyan, William E. “Capriccio Espagnol, Op. 34.” Capriccio Espagnol, Op. 34, Runyan Program Notes, Accessed 21 Mar. 2024. 

         This source is from a database of program notes for all major orchestral repertoire. The author, a distinguished musician, writes about the history and general musical overview of the work.

“Russian Instruments.” Skagit Symphony, Accessed 19 Mar. 2024. 

The Skagit Symphony published an article detailing different Russian folk instruments. This source is important part of researching traditional Russian musical forms.

Schwarm, Betsy. “Scheherazade.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 14 May 2013,

         This article discusses Scheherazade and its musical and historical background. It is a valuable source to have when establishing the historical foundation for this work.

Slonimsky, Nicolas, and Richard Taruskin. “Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 1 Dec. 2000, 

         This article covers the life and music of Rimsky-Korsakov. It provides important information about his life and the different influences that affected his music.

“Spanish Music: World Music Central.” World Music Central, 12 Apr. 2021, 

         This article reviews traditional Spanish music and dance forms. It is filled with a variety of information on these dances, which may help in decoding the motifs in the Capriccio Italien.

Stevenson, Robert, et al. “Spain (Sp. Reino de España).” Grove Music Online, Oxford Music Online, 2001.

         Stevenson discusses traditional Spanish music, its history, art forms, and traditional, sacred, and secular uses throughout time. It is a valuable foundation when approaching Spanish music and its influence in the Capriccio Espagnol.

“The Thousand and One Nights.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 18 Feb. 2024,

         This article covers the history and general tales from the famous One Thousand and One Nights. It is helpful to have as a backdrop when approaching Scheherazade.

“Unique.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Mar. 2024.

         This is the definition of “unique” as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

William, Alves. “The Middle East and North Africa.” Music of the Peoples of the World, Thomson Schirmer, 2006, pp. 76–105. 

This book provides a helpful breakdown of Middle Eastern music history, theory, and instruments.

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