NOTES about PICTURES OF THE HIDDEN
The music recorded here is influenced the most by four Grand Masters: J.S. Bach, Hafez, Mom, and Dad.
The Five Songs (Based on Poetry of Hafez) are dedicated to my mother. She is a traditional Persian vocalist and educator, and throughout my childhood, I heard her practice relentlessly. I even have memories of being in a cradle, dozing off to her angelic voice as she sang me my favorite lullabies.
Music is often a reflection of life as viewed through the lens of the composer. Ballade in C is such, as the opening three-note motif forms a character that travels through a story of uncertainty, turmoil, contentment, strength, and hope to move forward. Reng for woodwind quintet incorporates the quintessential Persian dance rhythm in a syncopated 6/8 time. This ancient rhythm dominates the Persian culture, starting from the meters in Hafez and Rumi’s poetry, to traditional dances, all the way to today’s pop music. When we dance, we lose our inhibitions, and let our bodies embrace the music. As I wrote the piece for woodwinds, I imagined the instruments representing dancers, sometimes as a group, and other times forming a circle around one or two dancers who showed off their moves in the middle.
Years ago, when I had just started writing music, my parents flew over from Toronto to the Bay Area, California for a weekend visit. We grew up as a very close family, so living apart for months at a time made their visit quite special. It was during this visit that my father heard my compositions for the first time. After listening for a while, he took a long break, then handed me a yellow piece of paper. He had written down three stanzas from separate Hafez poems, the first one of which is translated as follows:
Marvelous harp, and glorious tune, the Maestro of Love owns;
Pictures of the Hidden plucks, passage to unknowns.
My father was a passionate advocate of the arts, and a devout Hafez reader and interpreter. Some of our closest bonding moments were staying up late at night, while he recited and explained Hafez, leading us to deep talks about the biggest questions surrounding the worlds inside us and out. A year after handing me that yellow paper, my father suddenly and unexpectedly passed away, resulting in some of the most difficult times for our family. Having finished the String Quartet during this period, I often ask myself whether the music was impacted by my life circumstances. Nonetheless, I always saw the last section in the third movement as a bittersweet farewell.
Hafez is a highly influential 13th century Persian poet. His book of Ghazals (a kind of love sonnet) is found in homes of most Iranians, and his poetry is often quoted in all settings, from casual use as proverbs, to more formal recitals on special occasions. Hafez is in love with a superior spirit (the “Beloved”) that sometimes reveals itself through the marvels of the universe. On the surface, the poetry is simply beautiful in its arrangement of words and unique meter that is akin to music. He often references Wine as a metaphor for the beauties of the universe, and drinking Wine as a way to absorb the Beloved’s signs and messages. He describes these messages in poetic detail, like the dizzying scent of the morning flowers, the mighty sunrise, and the unbreakable friendship between the rose and the nightingale. In short, Wine helps him “lose his mind” and cleanse his spirit:
Path to righteousness is Wine, worship the ruby red.
Get up right away, Hafez; summon a righteous day.
Nowadays, I start my mornings by reading a poem or two by Hafez, followed by playing through preludes and fugues of J.S. Bach. Inspired by Bach’s preludes, I decided to write one for string trio. Prelude intertwines three complementary themes, played simultaneously to create a unified pattern that repeats throughout the entire piece, eventually building toward a climax, and finally resolution. I use polychords that share a third (for example interchanging G major and G sharp minor), representing a sort of duality. A hint of Eastern modes, blended together with Western techniques, represent my own bifurcated development as an Easterner who has made the West his home.
Making Bach a daily habit, I later learned, is common practice for many musicians – beautifully described by the iconic cellist Pablo Casals as “a sort of benediction on the house.” “Perfect” is one way of describing Bach’s music – ingenious motifs and flawless counterpoint woven together into cohesive storylines. Every note serves a purpose. Yet, embedded in this order, is an important underlying meaning. As a devout Christian, Bach’s chief purpose was to create music to God’s Glory. I feel God’s presence in Bach’s music, as I do in Hafez’s poetry. I believe Bach’s God and Hafez’s Beloved to be one and the same – an infinite source of Love that breathes fire into the stars and life into us, manifesting its Glory through all things. For me, reading Hafez and playing Bach are a form of prayer.
This recording is not about me, as I believe art does not begin and end with one individual. My Grand Masters had their own, and my influences extend well beyond four people. Millions of generations have pushed us toward our orderly existence in small increments. I am a tiny drop in a vast ocean. Yet, our short life is an opportunity to leave this continuum a bit better for the future. I hope this album helps that purpose.
- Kamyar Mohajer
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