Saturday, June 27, 2015

Rubinstein - Persian Love Songs, Opus 35, No. 9 'Swirling Waves'

As a reaction to the Age of Enlightenment, artists of the late 18th century began to create works that were reflections of their ideals of free expression. This was the beginning of the Romantic movement, a movement that was guided by numerous influences, with the emphasis on emotion.  The emotion most often represented was love, which sometimes took the form of unrequited love that ended in the violent end of one or both the parties involved.

Mizra Shafi Vazeh
Another influence on the Romantics was the exoticism of different lands and peoples. These were often expressed as crude stereotypes such as the Janissary music imitated by Mozart in the third movement of his Piano Sonata In A Major K.331.  But exoticism also exerted an influence through artists that were natives of those far away places. One of those artists was a poet from Azerbaijan, Mirza Shafi Vazeh, who continued the tradition of Azerbaijani classic poetry. He was also fluent in the Persian language and some of those poems were collected by one of his devoted German disciples Friedrich Martin von Bodenstedt.  Mirza Shafi Vazeh was literate but seldom wrote down his poems. Bodenstedt wrote some of them down in the original Persian, translated them to German and in 1851 published them in a book titled Die Lieder des Mirza Schaffy.  Anton Rubinstein chose twelve poems from this book to set to music for his opus 34 12 Lieder des Mirza-Schaffy, also known as Persian Love Songs. 


Friedrich von Bodenstedt
Rubinstein was second only to Liszt in his ability to play the piano. His repertoire was vast, his stamina legendary, he also became a conductor and founded the St. Petersburg Conservatory. But he also had ambitions as a composer and wrote a huge amount of music in all the forms of the day.  His 4th Piano concerto was once a staple of the repertoire, but despite a modern resurgence of interest, his music is rarely heard. Persian Love Songs has been recorded a few times and although the text Rubinstein set was in German, they are usually sung in Russian translation.  The 9th song in the set, 'Swirling Waves', was a favorite of the Russian opera singer Feodor Chaliapin, whose interpretation of the song has become somewhat of a tradition.  The video below has a recording sung by Boris Shtokolov, one of the most famous Russian bass singers of the modern era. His interpretation adds some of the falsetto singing introduced in the song by Chaliapin that deviates from Rubinstein's original music:

At my feet the swirling waves of the 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 red Kakhetian wine sparkles in the glass,
That is filled by my beloved,
And with the wine I draw in her glances as well,
Oh,that it would ever remain thus!

The sun is sinking, already night is darkening,
But my heart, like the star of love,
Flames in the deepest darkness, in brightest splendor.
Oh, that it would ever remain thus!

Into the black sea of your eyes rushes
The raging river of my love;
Come, maiden, it is getting dark and no one can hear us!
Oh, that it would ever remain thus!

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