Listen to the impact that medieval Persian poet Hafiz exerted on the Romantic movement in Europe through this compelling recital by the Russian-born baritone Anton Belov. He explores German musical settings derived from the poetry of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that was in turn inspired by the first translation of Hafiz’s Divan into a Western language in 1813. Goethe’s West-Eastern Divan (1818) combined his own Hafiz-inspired poems with Sufi poems by the Persian mystic. The resulting work inspired Beethoven, Schumann, Wolf, and Brahms and crossed the Atlantic to influence Emerson, Whitman, and Thoreau. These German works are paired with settings by Russian composers of the Biblical Song of Songs and poems by Azerbaijani writer Mizra Shafi Vazeh and Russian mystic Nikolai Minsky. This performance was recorded in concert in 2015 in conjunction with the exhibition Nasta’liq: The Genius of Persian Calligraphy.
Inspired by the Mystics:
Four Songs on Poetry by Georg Friedrich Daumer after Hafiz (1864, 1868)
An Eastern Romance (1852)
The Nightingale and the Rose, op. 2, no. 2 (1866)
Six Songs on Poetry by Goethe after Hafiz (1889)
Selections from Myrthen (Myrtles), op. 25
Robert Schumann (1810‒1856)
Surrounding the time of his wedding to Clara Wieck on September 12, 1840, Robert Schumann composed some 140 songs, a genre to which he had not contributed since writing eleven Lieder in 1827 and 1828. The twenty-six songs set to poems by Goethe, Rückert, Heine, Byron, Robert Burns, and others that he collected under the title Myrthen (Myrtles) were his wedding gift to Clara. (Myrtle was then a traditional flower in German wedding bouquets.) “This I did not expect,” she wrote to a friend. “My reverence for him grows along with my love. No one alive today is as musically gifted as Robert.”
Several of the Myrthen songs are based on texts by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749‒1832) after the poet Shams-ud-din Muhammad (ca. 1320–ca. 1390), who is universally known as Hafiz. One of the most celebrated poets of the Islamic world, he must have received a thorough education in Persian literature, sciences, and Arabic. It is estimated he wrote some five-thousand poems that encompass philosophy, mysticism, romance, mystery, and adventure. About six-hundred of them were gathered into a Divan (collection) that remains popular today.
The Austrian diplomat and Orientalist Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall published the first German translations of Hafiz’s complete poems in 1812. Two years later Goethe was inspired to create the twelve books of his own West-östlicher Divan. His enthusiasm for Hafiz led to translations and original verses by such noted writers as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Friedrich Rückert, and Georg Friedrich Daumer.
Four Songs on Poetry by Georg Friedrich Daumer after Hafiz
Johannes Brahms (1833‒1897)
While Johannes Brahms is most widely famed as an instrumental composer, more than half of his opus numbers are devoted to vocal works: solo songs, song cycles, duets, quartets, cantatas, folksong arrangements, canons, psalms, and choral pieces, both accompanied and unaccompanied. He was greatly experienced regarding vocal performance, appearing frequently as piano accompanist in song recitals and successfully conducting choruses in Germany and Vienna. Brahms’s output of original solo songs totaled nearly two hundred separate items to texts by some sixty authors; his folksong arrangements add half again that number of pieces to his catalog. These compositions span his career, from the early op. 6 Songs, created when he was only twenty, to the final set of folksongs issued three years before his death. These songs cover a wide stylistic and expressive spectrum, yet they share several characteristics: the primacy of the voice and the melodic line, a quality grown from Brahms’s lifelong infatuation with the directness and lyricism of folksong; the use of the piano to provide a richly harmonized counterpoint to the melody; clarity of form; integration of voice and accompaniment; and a generally conservative idiom. Brahms composed the four settings of poems by Daumer (1800‒1878) after Hafiz in 1864 and 1868.
An Eastern Romance
Alexander Dargomyzhsky (1813‒1869)
The music of Alexander Dargomyzhsky figures little in today’s active concert repertory. He nevertheless occupies a significant place in the history of Russian music for developing what he called “melodic recitative” in his operas. This attempt to capture the cadence and inflection of his native language in music was an important influence on Mussorgsky, Shostakovich, Janáček, and even Britten. A talented amateur pianist, Dargomyzhsky frequently performed at social functions in St. Petersburg and began composing in earnest after meeting Mikhail Glinka in 1834. He completed the opera Esmeralda (based on Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame) in 1839, but it flopped at its premiere eight years later. He died before he could finish his last opera, The Stone Guest, based on Pushkin’s adaptation of the Don Juan legend. César Cui and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov completed it, and the opera has remained his best-known work, at least in Russia, since its premiere in 1872. Dargomyzhsky also wrote orchestral works and piano pieces as well as numerous songs, including “An Eastern Romance,” which sets a poem by Pushkin that was inspired by the biblical Song of Songs.
The Nightingale and the Rose, op. 2, no. 2
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844‒1908)
The Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov wrote some eighty songs: about a dozen at the outset of his career, another nine around 1882, and the rest in 1897 and 1898. Among the best known of these is “The Nightingale and the Rose,” written in 1866 when he was just twenty-two years old. The song’s text was a flight of romantic fantasy for poet Aleksey Koltsov (1809‒1842), who is generally known for verses that idealized the life and labors of the country’s peasants. Rimsky-Korsakov’s setting, with its melodic leadings and sensual wordless melismas, is the earliest of the Eastern evocations that figured prominently throughout his mature works. “This song,” wrote one commentator, “does as much for voluptuous eroticism in four minutes as Scheherazade does in forty.”
My Blood is Blazing with Desire, op. 27, no. 1
Alexander Glazunov (1865‒1936)
Gifted with an exceptional ear and musical memory, Alexander Glazunov had traveled to western Europe for a performance of his First Symphony by age nineteen. During the 1890s he established a wide reputation as a composer and a conductor of his own works, and in 1899 he was engaged as an instructor of composition and orchestration at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. When his teacher, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, was dismissed from the Conservatory staff following the revolutionary turmoil of 1905, Glazunov resigned in protest in April. He did not return until December 14, by which time most of the faculty demands for the school’s autonomy had been granted. Two days later he was elected director of the Conservatory. He worked ceaselessly to improve the school’s curriculum and standards, and he made a successful effort to preserve its independence following the 1917 revolution. In the final years of his tenure, which lasted officially until 1930, Glazunov was criticized for his conservatism and spent much time abroad until he died in Paris in 1936.
Among Glazunov’s many songs are the two of op. 27 that he composed to poems by Pushkin around 1890. The first of these is on text that was inspired by the Song of Songs, likely the most sensual book in the Bible.
Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873‒1943)
An intense interest in the genre of the art song gripped Russian composers at the close of the nineteenth century. Glinka, Dargomyzhsky, Balakirev, Borodin, Mussorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov all contributed to the form, whose intimate scale and dramatic potential fitted well with their limited technical skills and nationalistic aspirations. Tchaikovsky brought a greater harmonic and melodic refinement to the form, qualities that influenced the writing of Sergei Rachmaninoff, his protégé. Rachmaninoff composed more than eighty songs between 1890 and 1917, his most productive creative period. Most of these songs are settings of poems by Russian Romanticists that are well suited to his inherently melancholy nature.
“She is as beautiful as a mid-day,” the ninth of the twelve op. 14 Songs of 1896, was dedicated to Elizaveta Lavrovskaya, a noted contralto and teacher at the Moscow Conservatory. The text, by the Russian mystical poet Nikolai Minsky (1855–1937), equates the longing of the spurned lover to a wave cresting against the silent shore. “Oh, beauty, do not sing to me” was composed in the summer of 1893, the year after Rachmaninoff graduated from the Moscow Conservatory. The first of his half dozen settings of verses by Alexander Pushkin (1799‒1837), it draws both from the poet’s invocation of the “melodies of sorrowful Georgia” and the musical Orientalism that was popularized in imperial Russia by Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Balakirev, and others. As a result of the successful premiere of Rachmaninoff’s one-act opera Aleko in May 1893, the publisher Gutheil issued six of his songs as the composer’s op. 4. Written at the first flush of Rachmaninoff’s creativity at age twenty, “Oh, beauty, do not sing to me” already shows the young composer as a skilled melodist who could create sharply defined moods.
From Persian Songs, op. 34 (1854)
Golden swells at my feet the rushing Kura River
Anton Rubinstein (1829‒1894)
One of the towering figures of nineteenth-century Russian music, Anton Rubinstein was famed as a piano virtuoso across Europe before he was fifteen years old. He composed prodigiously throughout his life, founded the Russian Musical Society to promote the works of his colleagues, established the country’s first important conservatory—located in St. Petersburg, one of its earliest graduates was Tchaikovsky—and in general gave form and substance to the nation’s musical life. Rubinstein left a vast creative legacy of operas, ballets, symphonies, concertos, songs, sacred compositions, chamber works, and piano pieces, although little remains in the active repertory today.
His Persian Songs are based on the writings of the Azerbaijani poet and educator Mizra Shafi Vazeh (1794–1852), who is known in his homeland as the “Sage of Ganja.” He created poems that renewed the classical traditions of fourteenth-century Azerbaijan and Persia. In 1840 Shafi settled in Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, where he taught at a boys’ school and established a prominent literary society that attracted many of the city’s writers and intellectuals. Among the foreigners who attended the meetings of Shafi’s group was Friedrich Martin von Bodenstedt (1819‒1892), a German writer who studied Persian and Azeri literature. In 1851 Bodenstedt published Thousand and One Days in the Orient about Shafi and his circle, which included his free German adaptations of many of Shafi’s poems. Later that year Bodenstedt issued The Songs of Mirza Shafi, an expanded collection of poems that became popular across Europe in translation. In 1854 Rubinstein set twelve of the Shafi-Bodenstedt German verses as Persian Songs, op. 34, and published them in Leipzig the following year.
Six Songs on Poetry by Goethe after Hafiz
Hugo Wolf (1860‒1903)
After Schubert, Hugo Wolf was the greatest German composer of songs. Emotional turmoil dominated his life, from his zealous support of Wagner and his bouts of near-manic compositional frenzy, to his suicide attempts and his death in an insane asylum. His work as a music critic and his often-debilitating depression limited his output for many years, yet his most productive period began in 1888. From February to September, he set fifty-three verses by Eduard Mörike. A book of twenty songs set to Joseph Eichendorff’s poems followed before the end of October, and Goethe’s writings provided the texts for fifty more songs by February 1889. (Six of them are performed this evening.) That October he began setting sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spanish poems that Emmanuel Geibel and Paul Heyse had translated into German. By April he had completed the forty-four songs of his Spanisches Liederbuch (Spanish Songbook). In September 1890 he took up Heyse’s translations of Italian poems and wrapped twenty-two of them in music by early the next year. Tragically, by the autumn of 1897 Wolf had lost his reason, largely as a result of an untreated case of syphilis contracted twenty years earlier. He died shortly before his forty-third birthday.
―Richard E. Rodda, PhD
Anton Belov, baritone
Since winning the Young Concert Artists International Auditions, baritone Anton Belov has expanded his career to reach major opera houses and concert halls across the United States. Recently he sang the title role in Eugene Onegin with Eugene Opera, Escamillo in Carmen with OperaBend, Verdi’s Requiem with the Anchorage Concert Chorus, and Carmina Burana with the Eugene Ballet Company.
On opera stages, other recent performances include Germont in La Traviata with Opera North (NH); the title role in Don Giovanni with Vashon Opera; Angelotti in Tosca with Boston Lyric Opera; Count di Luna in Il Trovatore and the title role in Eugene Onegin with Anchorage Opera; Germont in La Traviata with Tacoma Opera; Escamillo in Carmen at Amherst College; John Sorel in The Consul, Maestro in Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar, and The Doctor/The Editor in The Nose with Opera Boston; the First Nazarene in Salome with Portland Opera; and the title role in Don Giovanni with Delaware Opera. He has also performed Marcello in La Bohème in concert with the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra.
His concert appearances include Orff’s Carmina Burana with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra; Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins with the Detroit Symphony as a part of Carnegie Hall’s “Spring for Music” series; Beethoven’s Symphony no. 9 with the symphony orchestras of Bozeman, Charlottesville, Hartford, Huntsville, Kalamazoo, and Wyoming; Rachmaninoff’s The Bells with the Symphony Silicon Valley and the Colorado Symphony; Fauré’s Requiem and Mozart’s Requiem with the Eugene Concert Choir; and Handel’s Messiah at Avery Fisher Hall with the Portland Chamber Orchestra and New Bedford Symphony. He has also appeared in recital under the auspices of New York Festival of Song.
Anton Belov is the first-place winner of many vocal competitions including the George London Competition, Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation International Competition, and the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions (Eastern Regional Winner). As the winner of Young Concert Artists International Auditions, Belov has appeared in over forty recitals throughout the United States.
A native of Moscow, Anton Belov holds a Bachelor of Music Degree from The New England Conservatory, and an Artist’s Diploma and Master of Music Degree from The Juilliard School. A specialist in Russian lyric diction, he is the author of Russian Opera Libretti in Word-to-Word Translation and IPA Transcription and the Anthology of Russian Arias (Leyerle Publications 2004–06).
Albert Kim, piano
Pianist Albert Kim made his professional debut at the age of ten, when he substituted on a day’s notice for an ailing Vladimir Horowitz to give the inaugural performance on the 500,000th Steinway piano at Carnegie Hall. He has performed throughout the United States and Europe as a soloist and chamber musician, including recitals at Weill Hall, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Konzerthaus Wien, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Ravinia, Caramoor, Bargemusic, and Kuhmo chamber music festivals. Kim has appeared as soloist with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Virginia Symphony, Orquesta Sinfonica de Tenerife, and Hartford Symphony, and he has recorded chamber music by Hilary Tann, Robert J. Bradshaw, and Angelique Poteat.
Kim has performed and taught at the Castleman Quartet Program, Dakota Sky International Piano Festival, Neskowin Chamber Music, Reinhardt Piano Festival and Academy, Dongfang Arts School (Shanghai), Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival, Texas State University, University of Central Florida, University of Rochester, Eastman School of Music, Linfield College, and the San Francisco International Piano Festival.
An active composer and arranger, Kim’s seven-piece chamber-ensemble transcription of Richard Strauss’s Salome premiered in a multimedia presentation by the Tabletop Opera and comic book artist P. Craig Russell. His solo transcription of Ravel’s La Valse premiered in 2013. Current projects include solo and chamber arrangements of music by Piazzolla and Mendelssohn. Kim holds a doctorate from the Eastman School of Music, and he is associate professor of piano at the University of Central Missouri. He is a New Piano Collective artist and the pianist of TableTop Opera, a multimedia performance collective based in Rochester, New York.
(All translations provided by the artists.)
Just let me prove myself in the saddle!
Remain in your huts and tents!
And I will ride joyfully into the distance,
With nothing above my cap but the stars.
He has set the stars before you
As guides across land and sea,
So that you will delight in them
As you gaze up into the sky.
I sit alone
I sit alone, where can I find better?
My wine I drink alone; no one sets a limit.
I have my own thoughts to think.
The Waiter: Don’t throw it down, you oaf,
Pushing the jug so roughly in front of my nose!
He who brings me wine should look at me with friendliness;
Otherwise, the liquid grows cloudy in the glass.
The Butler: You lovely boy, come here.
Why are you standing there on the threshold?
You should be my barman in the future:
Then every glass of wine will be tasty and light.
God’s is the Orient! God’s is the Occident!
Northern and southern lands repose
In the peace of His hands.
He, the only judge,
Desires for everyone what is right.
Of each of his hundred names,
Let this one be highly praised! Amen.
My errors bewilder me, yet
You know how to disentangle me from my confusion.
When I act, when I write poetry, show me the right path!
BRAHMS: FOUR SONGS
Blow, Breeze, gently and lovingly about the cheeks
of my beloved; Play tenderly in her locks, do not hasten to flee far away! If perhaps she is then to ask, how it stands with poor wretched me, tell her: “Unending was his woe, highly dubious was his condition; However, now he can hope magnificently to come to life again. For you, lovely one, are thinking of him!”
You are thinking
You are thinking of something bitter to say [to me]
But neither now nor ever might you cause offense,
Although you are so angry. Your sharp speech founders on coral rocks, and becomes pure grace, for it must, in order to cause shame, sail over a pair of lips, which is Sweetness itself.
So, we stand
So, we stand, I and my mistress, so unfortunate with each other! Never can I do anything to please her; never can she do anything to pain me.
It hurts her feelings when upon her brow I adorn her with a diadem; I myself am thankful, as much for a smile of favor, as for a furious reply.
Embers of love
To conceal this flame here, this wild flame, and all the pains that torment me, have I the power, when all the winds that blow about me recount the causes of my sorrow?
That I would strew even one grain of dust on your path, how could you—O tell me—how can you slander me? Accuse yourself, accuse the destiny.
That reigns over all human souls!
Since that same eternal destiny ordained
That all shall select their own paths,
The locks of your hair were instructed
To steal from me my honor, beliefs, and reason.
DARGOMYZHSKY: AN EASTERN ROMANCE
Garden of my sister, secluded garden;
No clear spring there runs down, captured from the mountains.
In my garden gleam fruits golden and ready to eat; In my garden runs noisily clear, living water. Spikenard, aloe and cinnamon, rich in fragrance: So long as the aquilon wind is blowing,
The aromas will spread!
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: THE NIGHTINGALE
Infatuated by a rose, a nightingale
Sings over it day and night;
But the rose listens to his song silently . . .
With his lyre, a certain singer sings to a young maid;
But the sweet maid does not know
To whom he sings; and why does his song sound so sad?
GLAZUNOV: MY BLOOD IS BLAZING
My blood is blazing with desire.
My stricken soul for you does pine.
Oh, kiss me now!
Your kisses’ fire is sweeter far than myrrh and wine.
Incline your head to me but softly and tamed,
I’ll linger with you calmly until the cheerful light of day chases the gloom of night away.
RACHMANINOFF: TWO SONGS
She is as beautiful
She is as beautiful as noon, she has more enigma than midnight. Her eyes have never filled with tears, her soul has never suffered.
And I, whose life is the one of struggle and sorrow, I’m destined to long for her.
Oh! So ever the roaring sea is in love with the silent shore.
Oh, beauty, do not sing to me
More songs of melancholy Georgia.
For they bring up, evoke in me
Another life, a distant shoreline.
Alas! You call forth in your tune,
In your cruel melody’s refraining,
The steppe, the night,
And ‘neath the moon the face of a poor, distant maiden.
That darling fateful spectre—when I see you—
But then you sing, and, once again,
Before my eyes it is engendered.
Oh, beauty, do not sing to me more songs of melancholy Georgia.
For they bring up, evoke in me another life,
A distant shoreline.
RUBINSTEIN: From PERSIAN SONGS, OP. 34
Gold swells at my feet
Golden swells at my feet the rushing Kura River
In the dancing bustle of the waves,
The sun smiles brightly, as do my heart and the meadow, Oh, that it would ever remain thus!
The Kakhetian wine sparkles red in the glass,
My glass is filled by my beloved,
And with the wine I draw in her glances as well,
Oh, that it would ever remain thus!
Into the black sea of your eyes rushes
The raging river of my love;
It is getting dark and no one is eavesdropping.
Oh, that it would ever remain thus!
WOLF: SIX SONGS
When Phoebus is joined with the wall of rain,
Instantly a bow appears colorfully shaded.
In the clouds I see an identical circle drawn,
Though the bow is white: Yes, heaven’s bow.
Do not worry, cheerful old man; though your hair is white, you will still love.
Has the Koran
Has the Koran existed for all eternity?
On that I shall not inquire!
Was the Koran created?
That I do not know!
That it is the Book of Books,
I believe as is my Muslim duty.
But that wine has existed for all eternity,
That I do not doubt;
Or that it was created before the angels perhaps is also no myth.
The man who drinks, as it always has been,
Looks God in the face afresh.
Drunk! We all ought to be drunk!
Youth is drunkenness without wine;
If old age can drink itself back to youth
That is a wonderful virtue.
Cares are part of our lovely life but an antidote to care is available in grapes.
For as long
For as long as you are sober,
You are pleased with what is bad;
When you have had a drink, you know what’s what; But then excess is on hand:
Hafiz, teach me how you understand this.
For my opinion isn’t an exaggeration:
If you can’t drink you can’t love;
But then, you drinkers shouldn’t imagine yourself to be better:
If you can’t love you can’t drink.
It isn’t the opportunity
It isn’t opportunity that makes a thief:
Opportunity itself is the greatest thief.
For it stole the rest of the love
That remained in my heart.
It has handed it over to you,
All the profit of my love,
So I now, impoverished, find that my life depends totally on you.
But at least I find comfort
In the jewel that is your eye,
And in your arms, I enjoy a renewed fortune.
Creation and animation
Adam the lad was a lump of earth
That God made into a man,
But when he emerged from his mother’s womb
A lot was still not finished off.
God took his nose and into it
He blew the best spirit,
But it soon became apparent there was more to do
Because he started to sneeze.
With these bones and limbs and head
He remained only half a lump,
Until eventually Noah, to complete the oaf,
Found the right thing—a bottle.
The lump immediately felt the uplifting effect
As soon as he encountered this liquid,
It was just like dough when yeast
Sets it in motion.
This podcast was coordinated by Michael Wilpers, manager of performing arts. Audio recording and editing by SuMo Productions. Web design by Gio Camozzi. Copyediting by Nancy Eickel and Ian Fry. Special thanks to the artists for granting permission to share their performance at the Freer Gallery. This performance was presented as part of the twenty-third season of the Bill and Mary Meyer Concert Series, which was established in memory of Dr. Eugene Meyer III and Mary Adelaide Bradley Meyer. It is generously supported by Elizabeth E. Meyer, E. Bradley Meyer, the New York Community Trust—The Island Fund, the Bill and Mary Meyer Concert Series Endowment, and numerous generous supporters.