Sacrum & Profanum in Beijing

China National Symphony Orchestra Choir,
photo. press materials

A symphonic concert entitled "Sacrum & profanum" took place in Beijing's Concert Hall featuring three compositions by Polish composer, Karol Szymanowski, including: "Stabat Mater", Op. 53", "Love Songs of Hafiz" and "Songs of the Infatuated Muezzin". Szymanowski's works were accompanied by Chinese composer, Quan Xia's "Requiem for the Earth"

"Love Songs of Hafiz" was inspired by thirteenth century Persian poetry, translated by Hans Bethge. The rare melody and clear instrumentation mark the heights reached by European orchestral song at the end of the Romantic period. Szymanowski's later works, by contrast, included oriental-inspired elements and a new sound aesthetic in terms of tone. 

One such piece in this category is, for instance, "Pieśni muezina szalonego" / "Songs of the Infatuated Muezzin", which was inspired by the songs of muezzins during Islamic holy days. The piece is characterised by a strong erotic element - an impassioned sense of love, which borders on idol-worship and serves as a means of transposing human love onto a God-like figure.

A different religious context is reflected in the "Stabat Mater", written by Szymanowski after the tragic death of his niece, Alusa. The composition refers to Mary's grief during the crucifixion. The piece has been hailed as one of Szymanowski's most accomplished works. 

The last piece in the concert's programme was "Requiem for the Earth" which was composed by Guan Xia as a memorial for the more than 69,000 victims of the Wenchuan earthquake on the 12th of May, 2008. Many millions of people also lost their homes in the earthquake. The composer strived to include classical elements of western requiems alongside characteristics typical of Chinese music. "Requiem for the Earth" is known as "China's first requiem".

"The piece is made up of four parts, named as follows: "Looking at the Stars", "Heavenly Wind and Earthly Fire", "Unbound Love", and "The Wings of Angels". Each piece describes a different scene - meditations over nature [and] great love; the type that gives hope to people and strength in the face of adversity...and lends itself to an idealised world. The composition makes use of a special type of flute, the so-called 'flute quiang' used by a minority of peoples in the Quiang province of Wenchuan. A traditional requiem normally finishes with a silent 'extinguishing'. In Chinese requiems, the opposite is true. The ending is meant to convey strength of spirit and the might of the Chinese" (Guan Xia).


  • Barbara Kubiak – soprano
  • Yue Shi – soprano
  • Agata Schmidt – mezzo-soprano
  • Yuqiao Song – mezzo-soprano
  • Erdemutu – tenor
  • Keqing Liu – baritone
  • Cheung Chau– conductor
  • Sinfonitta Polonia
  • The China National Symphony Orchestra Chorus.

The concert was part of the International Karol Szymanowski Festival, entitled: "Karol Szymanowski - an artist before his time"

Date: 6th of August, 2011.

Miejsce: Beijing Concert Hall, Beijing

Organisers: APOLLO Music Foundation, the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in China, China National Symphony Orchestra – International bureau, CEA China-Europa-America International Culture & Trade Ltd, Berlin, Laiyin Suny Arts Center, Beijing China.

Project cofinanced by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland

Source: Adam Mickiewicz Institute

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