On the writings of Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī
In Rumi’s quatrains the sensuality, spirituality and revelation of his longer poems are distilled into short, concentrated vignettes. I chose ones that speak of passion, love, loss of control; some tell a story, others ask a question, but all reveal an internal conflict, a twist of perspective, illuminating a different plane.
Narrowing down Rumi’s many hundreds of quatrains, I found that some immediately gave rise to simple musical textures and clear melodic outlines, while others were more resistant. Working closely with 9 texts I found that they fell into natural pairs, exploring love through loss of perspective, sacrifice, mystery, and the transition between life and death. There was one quatrain, however, which seemed to summarize the whole set, No. 1359:
Do you think I know what I’m doing?
That for one breath or half-breath I belong to myself? …
This quatrain begins the cycle with solo soprano singing into the piano – with the sustain pedal down – so that her notes resonate in a veiled, sonic perfume.
A pair of quatrains follows, celebrating the state of love and questioning the lover’s ability to see clearly the world around him. A stately walking bass and a transparent texture in movement II give way to intoxicated close harmonies in III.
Movements IV and V delve into the dangerous side of love: loss of identity and freedom, which the lover can’t help but embrace. In IV a nervous, fluttering piano underlies a lover’s anticipation and inner dialog. In V a pastoral duet between the voice and cello is abruptly spoiled by jealous discord.
A third pair of quatrains revels in the enigma that is love, it’s elusive, heady nature. VI is set for voice and cello alone, in a mimicking children’s song which blooms in its final confidence. The liquid ostinato of the piano in VII envelops a breathless, pleasurably tortured soprano.
The fourth pair contrast starkly. To death’s heartbeat, the voice and cello chant a slow, hypnotized dirge. A spirited, bare-bones tango follows, imploring the lover to embrace both worlds wide-eyed.
Quatrain No. 1359 returns to frame the cycle, all three instruments now emphatically unified in asserting the folly of trying to know anything about love.