• New CD Note (Szymanowski vol.3/Chandos)

CHSA 5143

It’s ‘You’, not ‘I’.

The third volume of Edward Gardner’s Szymanowski CD series on Chandos has just been released.  It contains one of Szymanowski’s best-known compositions – the Third Symphony, The Song of the Night – alongside two earlier and lesser-known works, the First Symphony and the orchestral version of Love Songs of Hafiz.  It’s been a great privilege to have written the booklet notes for this and the preceding Lutosławski series.

This time, however, I received an additional request: would I make a new translation of the poem, by Jalal al-Din al-Rumi, that Szymanowski used in the Third Symphony?  The translation was not to be from the original Persian (fortunately!), but from Tadeusz Miciński’s Polish version, which was itself preceded by a German paraphrase. Chandos wanted an English translation that was as faithful as possible to the Polish.

This was quite a task for a non-poet and non-professional translator.  Occasionally, Miciński’s vocabulary can be prosaic.  The translation in the published score of The Song of the Night is by Ann and Adam Czerniawscy (1970). Their version of the two lines:

Targowiska już ucichły.
Patrz na rynek gwiezdanych dróg nocy tej!

reads as follows:

Thorough-fares on earth are silent.
There behold the starry roads of this night.

But even Czerniawski (a distinguished poet and translator) and his wife have had to draw a veil over the fact that targowiska and rynek are virtually synonymous and mean ‘marketplace’.  My version, for what it’s worth, stays as close as possible to Miciński:

The marketplaces have now stilled.
Look at the market square of starry trails this night!

The 1970 translation is beautifully poetic, but it has another curiosity.  As Miciński proceeds to name stars and constellations, he writes:

Andromeda i Merkury krwawo lśni nocy tej!

The Czerniawscy, again presumably to fit the scansion of Szymanowski’s vocal line, change this to:

Sagittarius and the Virgin blood-red gleam through this night.

I have restored the original names:

Andromeda and Mercury glisten blood-red this night!

The most surprising thing was to realise that no-one (including myself) has previously observed – at least in books or CD booklets – that Szymanowski made a change to the end of al-Rumi’s poem and Miciński’s translation.  (The Szymanowski authority, Teresa Chylińska, has included the change in her transcription, but apparently without comment.)  What Szymanowski did was to add a final extra line that had already appeared in the Symphony, early in the central section:

Ja i Bóg jesteśmy sami tej nocy!
I and God are alone together this night!

Szymanowski’s repetition is not all that it seems.  Crucially, he has changed the poet’s focus from himself to his Beloved.  ‘I’ becomes ‘You’.

Ty i Bóg jesteście sami tej nocy!
You and God are alone together this night!

I’m no literary analyst or philosopher, but it seems to me that this refocusing is radical.  It gives the final moments a quite different profundity than that of Miciński’s original.  This needs to be acknowledged, both in the scholarly and the wider public understanding of Szymanowski intentions in The Song of the Night.

Here’s the link to my booklet note for this new Szymanowski CDor you can scroll the CD NOTES tab above.

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