Song of India
Rimsky-Korsakov, "Song of India"
I don't know how or when I first heard "Song of India," but I do know that from a little boy I loved it. I learned to play a simplified version on the piano when I was nine or ten; then, as the years progressed and my abilities increased, I learned more complex and beautiful versions. When I listened to an orchestral version of it again today, after fourteen years, I realized that if I had to choose ten favorite pieces of music, this would be one of them.
I can think of several reasons for this. "Song of India" is, like so much of Rimsky-Korsakov's music, gorgeous. There is a hint of melancholy in it that resolves to joy. The sounds hint of mystery and of other cultures: led, no doubt, by the title that includes the word "India," which is itself the synonym of romance, adventure, and of peoples and history that are, to me, exotic and fascinating. India has it all, really—the highest mountains on Earth, the Himalayas; jungles with tigers and monkeys; people riding elephants; ancient civilizations that date back to the end of the Ice Age; black pepper, cardamon, saffron and cloves; magnificent sunken cities off both coasts.
And this beautiful, if Western, song written in homage to all that, a song that was at least part of one boy's introduction to all that.
I hope one day to see India.
Rimsky-Korsakov wrote "Song of India" in 1896. It is an aria in his opera Sadko. It has been transcribed for many instruments, including, of course, the piano, and there have been jazz versions and orchestral versions. Here is a link to Rimsky-Korsakov's own version for orchestra, as performed in 2009 by the London Philharmonic Orchestra (no conductor given); it is from the album London Philharmonic Orchestra—Bolero:
And here is a link to a 2015 piano recording by Maria Lettberg, from the album The Enchanted Garden (Piano Transcriptions of Russian Fairy Tales by Glinka, Rimsky-Korsakov and Stravinsky):
I created "Passage O Soul to India," the image above, in 2006. It is based on Mandelbrot fractals. The title is from Walt Whitman's 1869 poem "A Passage to India" (reprinted here only in part):
Passage O soul to India!
Eclaircise the myths Asiatic, the primitive fables.
Not you alone, proud truths of the world,
Nor you alone, ye facts of modern science,
But myths and fables of eld, Asia’s, Africa’s fables,
The far-darting beams of the spirit, the unloos’d dreams,
The deep diving bibles and legends,
The daring plots of the poets, the elder religions;
O you temples fairer than lilies, pour’d over by the rising sun!
O you fables, spurning the known, eluding the hold of the known, mounting to heaven!
You lofty and dazzling towers, pinnacled, red as roses, burnish’d with gold!
Towers of fables immortal, fashion’d from mortal dreams!
You too I welcome, and fully, the same as the rest!
You too with joy I sing.