When Shajarian came to perform in Berlin, Cologne or Frankfurt, the concert halls may have been full, but German audiences stayed away. Or in other words, they withdrew into their own spiritual provinces. And that left space for the man who would probably have been Shajarian’s most worthy, curious and grateful German listener. What might Goethe have said – or rather, what poems might he have written – about Shajarian’s interpretation of Hafez? If only we knew.

Goethe knew that Hafez’s poems were songs that should be sung. And he knew that these songs had the power to bring comfort. The West-Eastern Divan begins:

"Though my path be rocky, hard and steep,
Hafez, your songs will comfort me"

From a German perspective, Shajarian acquires a significance all of his own in cultural history. In calling on Hafez, in the aesthetic relationship that he has with him, Shajarian is no less than Goethe’s successor.

 

Goethe might not have been able to resist one snide remark. Shajarian’s music is very varied, but the tone and mood is always marked by an unshakeable, lofty seriousness. The flashes of mischievous wit that regularly appear in Hafez’s poetry, which Goethe picks up with such delight, are lost in this monumental music.

Shajarian certainly did not stick to setting the Persian classics to music; he also used modern poetry. And a clear political conviction can be read in his choices. The folk song about the “Bird of Dawn” was written at the time of the uprisings against the absolutist monarchy, more than 100 years ago. Another noteworthy piece is "Winter", an interpretation of the poem of the same name by Mehdi Akhavan-Sales (1929-1990), which reflects the icy period after the democratic prime minister Mosaddegh was toppled in 1953 and the restoration of puppet monarch Shah Reza Pahlavi.

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