Some pieces of music stand out not only as exceptional but as reflections of who we are as human beings. I have always felt that way about the following excerpts from Rimsky-Korsakov as interpreted by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Several things stand out in my mind about this piece. First, this is the perfect vehicle by which we can see the type of orchestra Philadelphia was -- as molded and shaped by Ormandy's 44 year tenure as music director and conductor. It was as if this piece were written just for Ormandy and Philadelphians even though it was written 100 years earlier in pre-Bolshevik Russia. Second, Ormandy recorded this symphony at least four times. He so loved this piece that he wanted a new recording of it each time a major advancement was made in recorded music. And if you add in videos, it was much more than that. The following 1979 version was the last time Ormandy would conduct this piece. Third, Ormandy got so carried away by this piece of music that he sometimes cried as he directed while other times he smiled -- all dependent of course on whether or not his musicians "nailed it" the way he wanted. They never let him down, and because the maestro was so moved by the sound his orchestra produced in this piece, we the listeners were also moved. It is hard to listen to this entire symphony without crying.
Ormandy had his favorites, no doubt, one of which was the great Jean Sibelius of Finland. He introduced this man's compositions to the world and took them to great prominence. Ormandy liked the difficulty of Sibelius' works. Sibelius is not for novices. And some of the best work of Ormandy and the Philadelphians were Sibelius compositions. Ormandy was quite proud of those recordings.
But the proof is in the pudding, and it is a fact that he recorded this Rimsky Korsakov work called Scheherazade more than any other. And a case can be made that he had a deep emotional connection with this symphony as no other.
I am only going to provide two portions of this symphony as examples. The final portion will be posted first because we see the deep emotion of Ormandy and the tear rolling down his cheek. I, too, find myself tearing up at this point. The first portion of the symphony will be provided last. I want you to see the foundation of the entire piece, which we find in Movement One.
By the way, here is a hint of what this symphony can tell you about me if you can look far beyond the literal to the realm of major themes, such as the possibility that anyone can be transformed, their hearts "strangely warmed" by a powerful spiritual force that is irresistible. This piece is based on the novel The Arabian Nights, or "One Thousand and One Nights." An Arab sultan was known for compelling women to spend the night with him and then kill them the next day. But in this case, he encountered a woman who was very clever. She dazzled him with captivating stories, night after night. When he lost interest in her tales, he would kill her. But she captivated him for over one thousand nights, thus buying her a few more years of life. But finally the day came when she ran out of material, and he was ready to murder her. But he was torn as a great internal battle ensued, the battle between good and evil, that raged in his mind and heart. For the first time in his life, however, he found it in his heart somehow to "forgive" her, or allow her to live. The heart of this hardened Arab melted, and he gave the woman mercy. You can clearly hear as the music depicts this dramatic turn of events near the end of the piece in Movement Four.
There should be enough there to keep you busy with contemplation. I am a Christian. Ormandy was a Jew. But here an Arab showed mercy. Even he could experience the mystery of "the heart strangely warmed" as his heart melted. This is exclusively the work of the Holy Spirit.
Scheherazade as performed by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.