Background

Feb. 17, 2015 , New York Festival of Song, Michael Barrett (Piano) and Shea Owens (Baritone)
Duration: c. 6 mins
Poetry: Omar Khayyām
Translation: Edward Fitzgerald

These songs were originally written for William George and Michael Strutt for inclusion on their album, East. They are available in various transpositions and arrangements for guitar or piano and voice.

Reviews

“Habibi’s two settings are lucid and unflamboyant, sensitive to the rich implications of the two texts. Though there are moments in which one detects Habibi’s Iranian origins – being married to an Iranian my ears have been educated to a degree of familiarity with Persian music – the idiom is essentially Western and is handled with considerable sophistication and assurance. I hope to hear more of Habibi’s music.”​ Glyn Pursglove of Music Web International

“The vocal lines are earnest and emphatic, the piano parts flavoured with hints of Persian exoticism.” The Whole Note Magazine

Poems

False Morning

Before the phantom of the false morning died,
Methought a voice within the tavern cried,
“When all the temple is prepared within,
why nods the drowsy worshipper outside?”

The River-Lip

And this reviving herb whose tender green,
fledges the river-lip on which we lean,
Ah, lean upon it lightly for who knows
from which once lovely lip it springs unseen

Programme Notes

Omar Khayyām, whose poetry I have chosen for these songs, was a medieval Persian polymath. He is best known in the West for his quatrains, which were made known particularly due to the effort of Edward Fitzgerald. Although concise and simple, each quatrain is rich in thought and addresses important philosophical concerns, which may have later inspired the writings of Sufi thinkers such as Rumi, and Attar. In this style, the tavern can be a place of worship, where one can lose oneself to connect with the unseen beloved (the divine).

Fitzgerald’s translations went through numerous poetic revisions. In the case of False Morning, for example, the revisions gradually departed from Khayyām’s original quatrain. The final result can no longer be considered a direct translation of Khayyām, but rather an adaptation, or a reinterpretation of the essence of Khayyām’s philosophy. The English poems serve more as a conveyance transporting readers to the world of Khayyām, rather than exact translations.

The issue of authenticity aside, Fitzgerald’s poetic adaptations are appealing in their musical flow and structure, qualities they share with classical Persian poetry. The music maintains the apparent simplicity of Khayyām’s message and Fitzgerald’s words, while drawing parallels between some of the underlying poetic connections.

Recordings

Tyler Duncan and Erika Switzer, from their album, A Left Coast

Shea Owens (baritone) and Michael Barrett (piano) – Both Songs Performed at the New York Festival of Song

William George (Tenor) and Michael Strutt (Guitar) – False Morning

Score (Tenor and Guitar Arrangement)

Score (Tenor and Piano Arrangement)

Score for False Morning (Baritenor and Piano Arrangement)