Songs of the Infatuated Muezzin Op. 42 – Karol Szymanowski
Szymanowski composed his Pieśni muezina szalonego / Songs of the Infatuated Muezzin Op. 42 - a setting of lyrics by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz - in late 1918, directly after the Four Songs to Lyrics by Rabindranath Tagore Op. 41. Unlike that previous song cycle, though, the Songs of the Infatuated Muezzin represent a style which Szymanowski had developed a few years earlier and which emphasized sensuous expression and utilized fantastic, Far-Eastern colour ornamentation. The pronounced Oriental touch is achieved by special melodics (derived more often than not from the Arabic-Persian scale) with rich, ornamental melismas. Harmony, in turn, is reduced to carefully selected chords that allow for a maximum expression and colour.
Szymanowski's music corresponds with Iwaszkiewicz's poems (incidentally, the poet entitled his cycle Namiętny muezin / The Passionate Muezzin, and it was Szymanowski who gave his composition a different name). The six songs represent
calls made from the minaret by a Muslim servant - muezzin - to the prayers held at different times of the day, and at the same time are eulogies for the woman he loves. The words addressed to God alternate with those of rapture and tenderness for his beloved one; the religious ritual is intertwined with amorous passion.1
The first song, Allah, Allah, Akbar..., representing a nocturnal and lyrical mood, abound in a variety of subtle ornaments and melismas. The second song O, ukochana ma... / Oh, my beloved is a confrontation of two elements - love of a woman and love of God - symbolized by the vigorous and the static motifs, respectively. The third song Ledwie blask słońca... / Barely the sun glistens on the tower's roof, a eulogy of the sunrise, delights one with the subtle, shimmering shades of colour of the piano part. So does the fourth song, W południe miasto białe od gorąca... / At noon the city is white from the heat, except that its sounds are saturated with more powerful expression. The fifth song, O tej godzinie, w której miasto śpi... / At the hour when the city sleeps, uses a monotonous bass piano accompaniment to paint a vision of a falling dusk. The last song of the cycle, Odeszłaś w pustynię zachodnią... / You departed into the western desert is a poignant lament of extremely powerful expressiveness and diverse colour.
Dedicated by Szymanowski to Lord Alington (Napier George Henry Stuart Alington), Songs of the Infatuated Muezzin were first performed by Stanisława Korwin-Szymanowska and Edward Steinberger in Lvov on 17th January 1922. In 1934 Szymanowski instrumented the work for voice and orchestra. Universal Edition published the original score and the instrumental version in 1922 and 1937, respectively. Both publications appeared in the Polish, French and German languages.
One of Szymanowski's most important works, Songs of the Infatuated Muezzin have enjoyed unflagging popularity among musicians, and have been frequently performed and recorde. Of particular note among many of the recordings is the interpretation by Halina Łukomska and Jerzy Sulikowski (done in 1971 and released by Polskie Nagrania, Muza in 1983), Barbara Zagórzanka and the Orchestra of the Grand Theatre in Warsaw under Robert Satanowski (Koch Schwann / Musica Mundi), Ryszard Minkiewicz and the Silesian Philharmonic Orchestra under Karol Stryja (Marco Polo) and Juliana Gondek and Reinild Mees (Channel Classics, 2004).
1 Tadeusz A. Zieliński, Szymanowski. Liryka i ekstaza, PWM, Kraków 1997, p. 167.
Author: Anna Iwanicka-Nijakowska, September 2007.