This programme explores in song, poetry and painting Europe’s centuries-long love affair with the mystery and exoticism of the Orient. Ever fascinated by other cultures and their literature, the great Goethe fell under the spell of the fourteenth-century Persian poet Hafiz in his sixties. The upshot was the West-östlicher Divan, a collection of love poems, epigrams and drinking songs modelled on Hafiz. Goethe’s verses in turn inspired composers from Schubert and Mendelssohn – most famously in their ‘Suleika’ songs – to Hugo Wolf, while Richard Strauss’s rarely heard Gesänge des Orients of 1928 include dazzling, virtuoso settings of Hafiz poems.
From the mid-nineteenth century French composers, poets and artists likewise succumbed to the lure of the Orient, epitomised by the stories from the Arabian Nights. Saint-Saëns composed a clutch of beguiling Mélodies persanes to poems by Armand Renaud. Ravel brilliantly captured the East’s fragrance and erotic languor in his cycle Shéhérazade. Complementing this celebration of orientalism in French and German song are readings from Hafiz and projections of Eastern-inspired paintings by artists including Klimt, Matisse and Chagall.
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