5 Songs (Based on Poetry of Hafez)

for piano and voice

Program Notes

 

 

These songs are written based on poetry of Hafez, a highly influential 13th century Persian poet.  His book of Ghazals is found in homes of most Iranians, and his poetry is often recited in all settings, from casual use as proverbs, to more formal recitals on special occasions. 

 

On the surface, the poetry is simply beautiful in its arrangement of words, and a unique meter that is akin to music.   A unifying rhyme ends each two-line stanza, and witty metaphors dominate each poem from start to finish.  These elements make the poetry enjoyable to read and listen to.   More importantly, Hafez embeds a secondary message in his words – a deeper meaning inline with his mystic philosophy.  A higher level of expression emerges when the beauty in the arrangement and choice of words so often coincides with the deeper meaning.

Hafez’s mystic philosophy stems from his infinite love for a superior spirit (the "Beloved") that sometimes reveals itself through the beauties of the universe.  It is the power of this love that has set him on a spiritual journey to get closer to, and ultimately reunite with, the Beloved.    In his quest, Hafez seeks signs and messages from the outside world, which he often describes in poetic detail, like the dizzying scent of the morning flowers, the mighty sunrise, the unbreakable friendship between the rose and the nightingale, and so on.   He has an equal respect and fascination with the world inside, and feels the presence of the Beloved within him – catalyzing his creative genius and ultimately producing his awe-inspiring poetry.  

 

He uses “wine” as a metaphor for these signs and messages, and drinking wine often represents intake of the Beloved’s signs and a step forward toward his union.   Naturally, Saaghee, the beautiful hostess who serves him this “wine”, is one of Hafez’s favorite metaphors.

 

On the flip side of the tremendous joy in his path, Hafez is faced with great difficulties – the crushing effort required to transcend his “human” limitations, and the inadequacies of his world, which was filled with ignorance and hypocrisy.  These difficulties inspired Hafez to produce a set of poems that share this darker character.

 

This Cycle of Five Songs follows an “arch” or “chiastic” structure.   The first and fifth are based on one poem or “Ghazal” – the fifth continuing where the first left off with similar musical themes and characters.   Similarly, the second and fourth songs are related, and complete a different Ghazal.   The third song is based on one stanza taken from the middle section of his first Ghazal.    

 

Despite this relationship, each song has its own distinct identity.  I strove to reflect in the entire Cycle a range of different characters, from Hafez’s overwhelming fascination with the worlds inside and out, to the enormous melancholy and hardship that he endured in his spiritual journey.