On Music: the use of brass in Scheherazade


Today's an exciting day for me here at the _floss. I'm kicking off a brand new feature called ON MUSIC, which I hope you're gonna enjoy reading as much as I will posting.

The idea behind ON MUSIC is this: every week or so I'll be writing about something to do with so-called "classical" music. I put it in quotes because I really hate the label. But the alternatives aren't much better: "concert music" "“ "longhaired music"??


So until we come up with something better, classical it is, and classical will be the theme of this feature. To help launch ON MUSIC, I'll be posting one a day for the next 7 days or so. The theme of this batch will be the instruments of the orchestra.

So let's jump right in then. The orchestra, as many of you probably know, is made up of four basic groups of instruments: strings, brass, winds, and percussion. Today we'll be listening to some hot brass playing in an excerpt from Russian composer Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, written in 1888 and based on The Book of One Thousand and One Nights.

Want I'd like to bring to your attention is the variety of different ways the brass section is used in this 2-minute excerpt. Listen to the punctuating flourishes that punch out the main theme in the beginning of the excerpt. Rimsky was a masterful orchestrator. He even wrote a book on orchestration techniques which composers still use in school today. Listen at around 44 seconds in for the amazing staccato triple tonguing... that rapid fire sound from the trumpets. Then at about the 1 minute mark, he uses the trombones and tubas, later adding trumpets, as well, to recapitulate the main theme in a very large way, with bravado and breadth. Three very diverse dynamic ways of writing for brass within the space of a couple minutes. If you don't already know Scheherazade, be sure to download a copy to your iPod. I recommend the Von Karajan recording, though just about all of them are good enough to begin to get acquainted with this jewel.

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