This work is a real showpiece for the orchestra. The orchestration is colorful and bold, there are numerous opportunities for the first-chair players for solos, and the Spanish tunes used are memorable. The work is in one continuous movement but it is in 5 different sections:
Albarado - a song celebrating the morning sun, and opens the work.
Theme and variations - The tune is first played by the horns and then is carried to different instruments of the orchestra.
Albarado - The same tune as in the first section, but in a different key.
Scene and gypsy song - This section begins with five solos by different instruments played over drum rolls that lead into a fast dance in triple time.
Fandango from the Asturias - A fast and energetic dance that leads to a repeating of the Albarado theme which finishes the work.
Rimsky-Korsakov originally was going to compose a virtuoso work for violin and orchestra on Spanish themes but he changed his mind. Evidently he kept some of the solo violin virtuoso passages and gave them to the concertmaster of the orchestra.
At the premiere of the piece in 1887 with Rimsky-Korsakov conducting, the audience demanded that the entire work be repeated after the first hearing. During rehearsals of the work the orchestra members kept interrupting the rehearsals to applaud the composer. It is hard to imagine that Rimsky-Korsakov first had a career in the Russian Navy. He began composing as an untrained amateur and actually was appointed Professor of Practical Composition at the St. Petersburg conservatory despite his lack of even basic music fundamentals. He could not name intervals, chords, knew nothing about fugue or harmony, and what knowledge he had about instrumental technique was obsolete. He managed to stay one step ahead of his students and studied all of these on his own and formed himself into an excellent teacher, master of orchestration, composer and conductor.