Love Songs of Hafiz for voice and piano op. 24 (1911)

Wünsche – Życzenia
Die einzige Arzenei – Jedyne lekarstwo
Die brennenden Tulpen – Płonące tulipany
Tanz – Taniec
Der verliebte Ostwind – Zakochany wiatr
Trauriger Fruhling – Smutna wiosna

Szymanowski’s interest in orientalism was not a matter of fashion and superficial stylising; he did not turn to it because of the need for those “turqueries” and “chinoiseries”, to which many composers paid their dues. His interest in the East grew out of a culture in which orientalisation of artistic taste has a tradition going back centuries. It was stimulated by the same sources of inspiration as in Polish art generally: “oriens christianus” and “oriens islamicus” (T. Mańkowski 1959). We find traces of the first in the music to Miciński’s Kniaz Patiomkin [Prince Potemkin], and in the “Byzantium-like, Orthodox church-like, dark” choral scenes from Act I of King Roger. The second source, “oriens islamicus” reveals itself in a special way in vocal lyrical works, in the two cycles of Pieśni Hafiza [Songs of Hafiz] to German texts by Hans Bethge (op. 24 and 26), in Pieśni księżniczki z baśn [Songs of the Fairy-tale Princess], and in Pieśni muezina szalonego [Songs of an Infatuated Muezzin]. These might be described as a reflection, expressed in sound, of the composer’s deliberations on the subject of his own, individually understood, philosophy of love, which in an even more “religiously elevated” form found their expression in the vocal Symphony No. 3 to a text by Jalaluddin Rumi.
Turning to oriental themes had significant aesthetic implications. It took place during a period of powerful artistic ferment in European music, and offered the composer an opportunity for acquiring a new area for creative exploration. Szymanowski, whose talent was very much of a lyrical nature, tending to virtually ecstatic melodic phrases, went against the tendency which limited the development of vocal melodic contours according to the German models of “spoken singing,” and the recitative shaped by French composers. In his interpretation of poetic texts, he took a different path. When planning the songs of Hafiz, Muezzin and the Fairytale Princess, he sought out the musical elements hidden in the words, and he “develops, musicalises [them] to the highest degree, seeking in them themselves the ultimate expressive possibilities.” Hence that “simply bewildering richness of sound”, that “rich ornamentation in melody, that profusion of melismatic figure” (S. Łobaczewska 1937).
Szymanowski’s interest in the Persian poet from Shiraz was awakened by a volume of poetry by Hans Bethge called Hafiz; the composer came across it during his stay in Vienna in the spring of 1911. Behtge’s freshly published paraphrases appeared to him to offer a living and convincing interpretation of Hafiz’s poetry. However, he himself approached it “not by following the route of musical devices with oriental colouring, on which he embarked so fortunately in Zuleikha [op. 13], but through the melopoeia of German style, which in the area of dramatic-lyrical aims with erotic background produced eternal masterpieces, with Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde in the forefront” (Z. Jachimecki.
Although the influence of German music – the chromatic and expansive melodic line, and intermittently massive and harmonically dense sound of the piano part – can be still discerned in the six Songs of Hafiz for voice and piano (1911), it is also precisely here that Szymanowski began to free himself from that influence. A new aesthetics of sound gradually becomes apparent: the texture of the accompanying part is diluted, in places reduced to two voices, the timbre loses its shrillness and at the same time gains in mobility and colouristic changeability (Zachodni wiatr [The Western wind]). The chords are soft, tertian, with minor seventh, symmetricaly arranged. The stereotypical dominant seventh chord is used as passing or colouristic effect (e.g. at the beginning of the song Taniec [The Dance]), devoid of functional meaning. Szymanowski took his next step in the direction of musical sensuality in the orchestral cycle Songs of Hafiz op. 26.