Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was one of the most influential composers in Russia in the second half of the nineteenth century. He was a member of The Five, a group of Russian composers in St. Petersburg who led the nationalistic movement in music (the others were Mily Balakirev, César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, and Alexander Borodin). They all wrote music incorporating Russian folk songs or elements of them, which generated distinctively different sonority from that of Western harmony and melodies. Rimsky-Korsakov played an important role in the history of Russian music. He succeeded the style of composition established by Mikhail Glinka (1804–1857). Rimsky-Korsakov’s knowledge and experience was then passed down to younger musicians, for he became Professor of Practical Composition at the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1871.
Rimsky-Korsakov wrote a high number of large-scale compositions, including more than fifteen operas. Among numerous works for orchestra by the composer there are three symphonies. The best known orchestral composition, however, is not any of them; it is his symphonic suite, Schéhérazade, Op. 35.
Rimsky-Korsakov composed Schéhérazade in 1888. The work premiered on the third of November of the same year, conducted by the composer himself. The suite is loosely based on One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales. Rimsky-Korsakov did not want to incisively depict characters and episodes from One Thousand and One Nights and did not provide the four movements in the suite with any descriptive titles. He, however, changed his mind later and wrote the following words: for the first movement, “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship; for the second, “The Kalandar Prince;” for the third, “The Young Prince and The Young Princess;” and for the fourth, “Festival at Baghdad. The Sea. The Ship Breaks against a Cliff Surmounted by a Bronze Horseman.”