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Love Songs of Hafiz Op. 26 – Karol Szymanowski

It was in August 1914 that Szymanowski completed his second series of Love Songs of Hafiz Op. 26, setting paraphrases of poems by the 14th century Persian poet, Hafiz of Shiraz. While the first series, Op. 24, had been written for voice and piano, the songs from op. 26 were intended for voice and orchestra. Szymanowski added five new songs (No. 1 Das Grab des Hafis / The Tomb of Hafiz, No. 2 Die Perlen meiner Seele / The Pearls of My Heart, No. 3 Deine Stimme / Your Voice, No. 4 Jugend im Alter / Eternal Youth and No. 5 Trinklied / Drinking Song) to three from the previous opus (Wünsche / Desires, Der verliebte Ostwind / The Infatuated East Wind and Tanz / Dance), orchestrating them - as he says in his letter to Stefan Spiess:

for a small yet colourful orchestra with a piano, celesta, harps etc., thus producing a certain concert entity.1

The re-working of the three songs written three years before has resulted in a somewhat uneven style of the whole Opus. Whereas the three older songs still draw on late Romantic music, the five new ones represent Szymanowski's new, individual style, with colour coming to the fore. Oriental items (characteristic turns of melody and rhythm with numerous melismas and embellishments as well as harmony) were subjected to the new esthetics of sound, one which transcended the tonal system. The new songs shimmer with the hues of subtle, glimmering colours, producing musical pictures evocative of the Impressionistic works. This is particularly the case with The Tomb of Hafiz, its beautiful, Orientally-tinged, lyrical melody complemented by the chamber sound of the instruments.

Love Songs of Hafiz Op. 26 were first presented to the public at the Warsaw Grand Theatre on 12th September 1922 as a ballet version, with Adelina Czapska (soprano), Halina Szmolcówna (solo dancer) and orchestra under Emil Młynarski. This was followed by a concert in Paris during the Polish Music Festival on 23rd June 1925. As far as the recordings are concerned, two stand out: by Ryszard Minkiewicz and the Silesian Philharmonic Orchestra under Karol Stryja (Naxos) and by Katarina Karnéus and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Sir Simon Rattle (EMI).


1 Karol Szymanowski. Korespondencja, Tom I: lata 1903-1919, s. 445, list z 7/20 IX 1914 do Stefana Spiess, ed. Teresa Chylińska, PWM, Kraków 1982.

Author: Anna Iwanicka-Nijakowska, September 2007.

Tags: Love Songs of Hafiz Op. 26karol szymanowski

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