Queen Scheherazade's Story of Survival

Nov 16, 2017

Many years ago, the Persian King Shahryar was betrayed by his wife. In anger, he vowed to marry a new woman each day and have the previous one beheaded, so that she would have no chance of being unfaithful to him. A man of his word, he executed 1,000 women before being visited by the young Scheherazade.

Scheherazade, painted in the 19th century by Sophie Anderson

A well-read and witty woman, Scheherazade devised a plan to keep her life. On her first evening spent with the King, she began telling him a gripping story. She weaved the tale all through the night, stopping with a cliffhanger. When the king asked her to finish the story, Scheherazade said there was no time, as dawn was breaking. The king decided to spare her life for one day to finish the story the next night. That evening, Scheherazade finished the story and then began a second, even more exciting tale, which she again stopped halfway through at dawn. The king spared her life once more.

And so the king kept Scheherazade alive day by day, as he eagerly anticipated the finishing of the previous night's story. At the end of 1,001 nights, and 1,000 stories, Scheherazade told the king that she had no more tales to tell him. During these 1,001 nights, the king had fallen in love with Scheherazade. He spared her life, and made her his queen. The legend says that her tales are the origin of the stories of the Arabian Nights.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade weaves the story of her clever plan through a brilliantly orchestrated symphonic suite. You can experience it along with works by Prokofiev and Liszt during this week’s Symphonies of Iowa broadcast of Orchestra Iowa’s “1,001 Arabian Nights” concert. Tune in on Monday, November 20th at 7 p.m.!