Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Song Beyond the NationTranslation, Transnationalism, Performance$

Philip Ross Bullock and Laura Tunbridge

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9780197267196

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: September 2021

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197267196.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM BRITISH ACADEMY SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.britishacademy.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright British Academy, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in BASO for personal use. Subscriber: null; date: 20 May 2022

The German Roots of Russian Orientalism: Hafiz’s Poetry in Early-20th-Century Russian Song

The German Roots of Russian Orientalism: Hafiz’s Poetry in Early-20th-Century Russian Song

(p.47) 3 The German Roots of Russian Orientalism: Hafiz’s Poetry in Early-20th-Century Russian Song
Song Beyond the Nation

Philip Ross Bullock

British Academy

Abstract and Keywords

The Russian arts were as fascinated by exotic languages, cultures, and locales as their Western European counterparts, and at first glance, Russian settings of the poetry of Hafiz appears to form part of the broader field of musical exoticism in general, and Russian orientalism in particular. This chapter begins by examining the relationship between empire and music, before setting out a rather different account of Russian musical orientalism, one marked by a complex transnational flow of literary and musical influences, as well as practices of translation, imitation, cultural appropriation, and cross-border artistic exchange. Whilst forming part of a broader tendency to imagine visions of a supposed ‘orient’ that had little to do with any documented anthropological, ethnographic, philological, or linguistic reality, Russian settings of Hafiz’s poetry are ultimately the result of the import of elements of German romanticism. Here, writers, translators, and commentators co-opted a range of ‘exotic’ literatures in an attempt to distinguish themselves from the dominance of French classicism and fashion an autonomous form of German nationalism, key elements of which were then incorporated into mid-nineteenth-century Russian culture (as in the case of Afanasy Fet’s translations of Georg Daumer’s well-known ‘versions’ of Hafiz). Accordingly, Hafiz figures not so much as the object of orientalist representation (although there is certainly a strong element of that to the songs discussed here), but as an exemplary figure within a complex network of literary mediation.

Keywords:   Russia, Soviet Union, Persia, Orientalism, Colonialism, Empire, Romanticism, Georg Daumer, Afanasy Fet, translation

IT IS, OF course, hardly new to observe that the Russian arts were as fascinated by exotic languages, cultures, and locales as their western European counterparts. At first glance, the modest corpus of settings of the poetry of Shams al-Din Muhammad Hafiz Shirazi by Russian composers around the turn of the 20th century would appear to form part of the broader field of musical exoticism in general, and Russian Orientalism in particular. Studies of Russian Orientalism have tended to link it to colonialism, and this chapter will begin by examining the relationship between empire and music. However, it will then set out a rather different account of Russian musical Orientalism, one marked by a complex transnational flow of literary and musical influences, as well as practices of translation, imitation, cultural appropriation, and cross-border artistic exchange. As will become clear, Russian settings of Hafiz’s poetry, whilst undoubtedly part of a broader tendency to imagine visions of a supposed ‘Orient’ that had little to do with any documented anthropological, ethnographic, philological, or linguistic reality, are ultimately the result of the import of elements of German Romanticism. Here, writers, translators, and commentators co-opted a range of ‘exotic’ literatures in an attempt to distinguish themselves from the dominance of French classicism and fashion an autonomous form of German nationalism, key elements of which were then incorporated into mid-19th-century Russian culture. Accordingly, Hafiz figures not so much as the object of Orientalist representation (although there is certainly a strong element of (p.48) that to the songs discussed here), but as an exemplary figure within a complex network of literary mediation.

A brief history of Russian Orientalism

As scholars have demonstrated, Russian Orientalism differs from canonical accounts of western European Orientalism on a number of grounds, whether geographical, historical, or political. Unlike the maritime empires of Britain and France, which have long functioned as normative models of cultural domination and economic exploitation (as in Edward Said’s influential Orientalism, for instance), Russia’s empire was land-based and contiguous.1 As Russia expanded from its East Slavonic heartlands from the 15th century onwards, it gradually acquired colonial territory to both the east and the south (its eventual control over lands to the west, such as Finland, the Baltics, and Poland requires a rather different conceptual framework).2 By the 19th century, the peoples of the Caucasus and Central Asia found themselves caught up in a process of Russian imperial expansion, whose limits were set by a number of rival imperial enterprises–whether Qajar Iran and the Ottoman Empire, or the British Empire.3 As with other empires, discourses of civilisation and enlightenment on the one hand, and backwardness and barbarism on the other, were invoked in order to justify Russian intervention in other cultural spheres.

This was, however, despite the fact that many of the peoples of the Caucasus had been Christianised long before Russia itself (leaving aside the thorny question of whether Christianisation can be interpreted as an unproblematic marker of modernity), or otherwise enjoyed long histories of sophisticated social and cultural achievement. Whether through the imposition of military oversight, the dissemination of cultural practices modelled on Russian norms, or the establishment of educational, social, and artistic institutions, Russia became responsible for the administrative control of a vast geographical territory and, in the process, was itself transformed into a multilingual, multicultural, multireligious, multiethnic polity that was quite distinct from Britain and France. It is also equally important to note that whilst Russia frequently perceived of itself as a European-style colonising power, it was also the subject of quasi-orientalising, or at least exoticising, narratives on the (p.49) part of its western European rivals, who seized on its Caucasian and Central Asian territories as ostensible proof of its essentially primitive, even barbarian, nature.4

All of these factors profoundly shaped questions of artistic representation, and throughout the 19th century, one can observe a frequent blurring of the distinction between Russian ‘self’ and oriental ‘other’. In 1883, for instance, Vladimir Stasov–head of the art department of the Imperial Library in St Petersburg, critic, and one of the principle ideologues of Russian artistic nationalism–proposed the following five key features of Russian national music as part of a longer essay on recent developments in the arts:

  1. 1 ‘the absence of preconceptions and blind faith’ and ‘complete independence of thought’;

  2. 2 ‘little faith in academic training’;

  3. 3 ‘its striving for national character’;

  4. 4 ‘the oriental element’;

  5. 5 ‘its strong inclination to “programme music”’.5

Stasov’s reference to the centrality of programme music to the work of Russian composers around the mid-century suggests that the primary genre through which Orientalism was conveyed was the orchestral tone poem. Certainly, works such as Mily Balakirev’s Caucasian fantasy Tamara (1876–79), Aleksandr Borodin’s V srednei Azii (In the Steppes of Central Asia (1880)), or Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov’s two sets of Kavkazskie ezkizy (Caucasian Sketches (1894 and 1896)) have come to exemplify the musical representation of Russia’s colonial territories. Opera, too, articulated the imperial aspects of the nationalist project, most vividly in Borodin’s unfinished Knyazʹ Igorʹ (Prince Igor (1869–87)).

Song was no less implicated in the processes whereby musical encounters with Russia’s imperial borderlands were conveyed to and represented in its cultural and political centres.6 Take, for instance, Aleksandr Pushkin’s ‘Ne poi, krasavitsa, pri mne’ (‘Sing not in my presence, beautiful girl’ (1828)), which has enjoyed a long musical afterlife as one of the most frequently set of all Russian poems.7 It allegedly began life as a genuine Georgian melody, brought back to Russia by the playwright and diplomat Aleksandr Griboedov, and for which Pushkin composed (p.50) the words and Mikhail Glinka provided a simple accompaniment.8 For a work so seemingly rooted in some kind of ethnographical authenticity, Glinka’s simple, syllabic, diatonic setting carries no obvious markers of musical Orientalism, unlike Balakirev’s setting of 1865, which is suffused ‘with strong Turkish and Persian influences, not Georgian’.9 Drawing on all the by now well established techniques of generalised musical exoticism (‘close little ornaments and melismas with telltale augmented seconds’),10 Balakirev sacrifices ethnographical verisimilitude in favour of an immediately audible sense of ‘otherness’. This process is taken still further in Sergey Rakhmaninov’s 1892 setting, one yet more replete with all the markers of musical exoticism: melismas, rocking syncopations, drone basses, and extensive chromaticism.11 These musical fingerprints were immediately comprehensible to an audience brought up on other instances of musical Orientalism, Russian or otherwise, and their use overrode any attempt at conveying the national idioms of Russia’s conquered peoples with any degree of accuracy, fidelity, or sensitivity.

Persia and the Russian Oriental Imaginary

Surely, then, songs to words by Hafiz fall readily in this stylistic and ideological context? After all, Persia was a natural extension of Russia’s imperial ambitions in and beyond the Caucasus, not least because the territories of modern-day Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia were wrested from Persian control by Russian forces in the first half of the 19th century. When Griboedov brought back his Georgian melody to the imperial capital, he was returning from diplomatic duties in Tehran, where he served as Russian ambassador. There, his primary role involved persuading the Persian authorities to cede various parts of its territory through a series of treaties; he was eventually murdered by a crowd of indignant locals in Tehran in 1829.12 The notion that the Caucasus constituted a ‘contact zone’ between the Russian Empire and Persia can also be seen in Mikhail Lermontov’s novel Geroi nashego vremeni (A Hero of Our Time (1840)), whose romantic hero, Grigory Pechorin, dies on the Georgian Military Highway, en route back from Persia.13 Although beyond the boundaries of the Russian Empire, Persia nonetheless formed part of Russia’s (p.51) imperial imaginary, and its culture could be readily assimilated on the basis of existing patterns of reception.

Accordingly, from the 1880s, a small but growing number of songs to texts by Hafiz began to expand the national and linguistic ambit of Russian musical orientalism by incorporating translations and imitations of Persian poetry to set alongside an existing canon of songs on Caucasian themes for domestic consumption in the imperial centres. In 1881, the now forgotten Nikolay Polezhaev published his Tri romansa (Three Romances), Op. 1, to translations of Hafiz by M. Prakhov. Six years later, his Tri romansa (Three Romances), Op. 6, included a single setting of an unattributed translation of Hafiz–‘Efira okean lazurnyi’ (‘The Azure Ocean of the Air’)–alongside songs to his own words and those of Lermontov. Detailed–indeed any–information about Polezhaev is hard to come by, and evidence of his activities as a composer is confined to the catalogues of the major Russian libraries. His interest in Hafiz is, though, revealing for the light it sheds on the literary taste of a composer who was not a member of the Russian cultural elite, but who wrote instead for a growing market of salon amateurs (his songs were published relatively extensively in Moscow and Kyiv in the final decades of the 19th century). Two further settings from the mid-1880s represent a modest evolution of Hafiz’s presence in Russian song, whether their composers were aware of Polezhaev’s examples or not. In 1886, Sergey Taneev composed his ‘Iz Gafiza’ (‘From Hafiz’) to words by Fedor Maslov, although as this juvenile work was not published until 1979, it can barely be said to form part of the musical world of 19th-century Russia. Then, in 1882, Aleksandr Glazunov produced his ‘Iz Gafiza’ (‘From Hafiz’), this time to a more canonical text by Pushkin (himself, of course, the author of a number of key texts of Russian literary Orientalism). Taken together, these three songs form a scant set of occasional works that existed on the margins of the Russian song tradition. Their stylistic features are too varied and accidental to be easily summarised, although they clearly belong to the genre of the oriental romance. In particular, they might be seen as extending the line of songs pioneered by Anton Rubinstein in his 12 Lieder des Mirza-Schaffy, Op. 34 (1854), which ostensibly set texts by the early-19th-century Azeri poet Mirza Shafeh Vazeh, but that were in fact based on stylised German imitations made by Friedrich von Bodenstedt in the mid-19th century. These songs were widely praised as key documents in Russian musical Orientalism and were republished with equimetrical Russian translations by Pyotr Tchaikovsky in 1870.14

Thereafter, it took a further two decades for composers to return to Hafiz in the early years of the 20th century. Now, though, interest became more sustained and consistent, and it becomes possible to speak of a more thorough-going reception of Hafiz’s poetry in music. There are evident reasons behind his appeal to composers at this moment, such as explicit references to songs, instruments, (p.52) and performers in his works, or his use of poetic genres such as the ghazal, which seemed to possess an inherent songfulness.15 Moreover, the cosmopolitan nature of Russian modernism meant that Hafiz could be taken up alongside other foreign poets at the time, including Sappho, Paul Verlaine, and Charles Baudelaire, whose verses were increasingly incorporated into the Russian song repertoire around this period.16 Accordingly, as Hafiz’s place in the Russian literary canon became more secure, so too did more established composers turn to his poetry for inspiration. Here, three figures illustrate Hafiz’s specific impact on Russian song:

  • Nikolay Cherepnin, Iz Gafiza: 4 romansa na slova Gafiza, Op. 25 (From Hafiz: 4 Romances to Words by Hafiz) (Moscow and Leipzig, 1906);

  • Anatoly Aleksandrov, Tri stikhotvoreniya Gafiza, Op. 2 (Three Poems of Hafiz) (Moscow, 1917 [composed 1912]);

  • Aleksandr Grechaninov, Pesni Gafiza, Op. 76 (Songs of Hafiz) (Moscow, 1917 [composed 1916]).

To this list should also be added Reingolʹd Glière’s seven Gazely o Roze (Ghazals about a Rose), Op. 57 (1911). Whilst these do not set Hafiz’s poetry per se, they are based on contemporary imitations of the ghazal form by Vyacheslav Ivanov, one of the leading poet-translators of the Symbolist movement and one of the foremost representatives of the syncretism of Russian modernism more generally.17

Aleksandrov, Cherepnin, and Grechaninov were all key figures in the late imperial period, and each of them contributed significantly to the expansion of the Russian song repertoire at this time. One could certainly analyse their settings of Hafiz from a number of points of view: both diachronically, for what they reveal about the development of the oriental song genre after its heyday in the 19th century; and synchronically, for the light they shed on each individual composer’s literary taste and musical style. Yet in order to gain a sense of what is most particular about their engagement with Hafiz, it is necessary to turn to the literary origins (p.53) of the verses they set, since this reveals a rather different genealogy of Russian Orientalism from the one advanced so far. Glière’s Gazely o Roze illustrate the prominent role played by imitation as a Symbolist practice, yet they are not the product of Ivanov’s own direct reading of Hafiz’s original Persian (although Ivanov was certainly a formidable linguist), but are rather the culmination of a process of prior mediation structured around processes of literary translation, transcultural reception, and even cultural appropriation. This becomes clearer when one turns to the texts set by Aleksandrov, Cherepnin, and Grechaninov. Three of Grechaninov’s five settings of Hafiz are based on translations by the Symbolist poet Vladimir Solov′yov, but the remaining two employ versions by the 19th-century poet Afanasy Fet, as do all the songs of Aleksandrov and Grechaninov. It is to the figure of Fet that the discussion now turns.

Russianising Hafiz

Fet was one of the leading lyric poets of the 19th century, although in the mid-century, much of his verse was dismissed by radical and utilitarian critics who objected to the graceful, Parnassian elegance of his verse, as well as his studied lack of interest in contemporary themes (not to mention his conservative politics).18 Fet’s original poetry was, though, widely taken up by song composers, who were drawn to the beauty, simplicity, and musicality of his verses.19 Fet’s affinity–both formally and thematically–with the poetry of Hafiz is clear, and in 1860, he published 27 translations in the journal Russkoe slovo (The Russian Word), together with a short preface.20 The opening paragraph of Fet’s preface shows something revealing about his working method:

In offering up to the judgement of lovers of true poetry this modest bouquet, made up of my translations of the poetic flowers of the Persian poet, I consider it appropriate to say a few words that might facilitate a true understanding of the pieces presented here. As I do not know any Persian, I used a German translation that has won for its translator an honoured name in Germany; and this should be sufficient proof of its fidelity to the original. The German translator, as befits a translator, would rather Persianise his native tongue than depart from the original. For my part, I too have striven as far I could to adhere not only to the meaning and number of the lines, but also to the peculiar form of the ghazal when it comes to metres and rhythms, which are is often doubled in the corresponding lines.21

Fet’s claims prompt a number of potential lines of enquiry. One of these might explore the role played by translation in renewing a poet’s native language by (p.54) bringing new genres, forms, and means to bear on an established tradition. Another would examine the notion of translation as a ‘foreignising’ process, rather than a ‘domesticating’ one. As in Friedrich Schleiermacher’s seminal discussion of the translation of Ancient Greek into German a generation earlier (‘Über die verschiedenen Methoden des Übersetzens’ (1813)), Fet sees translation as a process that directs the reader towards the foreign culture, rather than incorporating that culture into their own worldview.22 Prompted by Fet’s translations of Hafiz, the reader is encouraged to embark on an imaginative journey to 14th-century Shiraz.

Yet Fet’s claim that his translations were faithful to Hafiz in both form and content was profoundly mistaken. The translator of the supposedly authoritative German version mentioned in his preface is not named, but it is clear that Fet had consulted Georg Friedrich Daumer’s Hafis: eine Sammlung persischer Gedichte nebst poetischen Zugaben aus verschiedenen Völkern und Ländern (Hafiz: A Collection of Persian Poems, alongside Poetic Encores from Various Peoples and Lands), published in Hamburg in 1846 (with a second edition following in 1856), as well as his Hafis: neue Sammlung (Hafis: A New Collection (1852)). Whether Fet knew it or not, Daumer’s versions of Hafiz had few claims to accuracy or authenticity, especially when it came to the very aspects of poetic form that Fet singled out as fundamental to his own Russian translations. It is not clear how much Persian Daumer even understood, and his poems are best seen as free imitations, rather than scrupulous, scholarly translations. Indeed, when it came to translation, Daumer himself rejected literal accuracy, preferring a freer, more impressionistic approach: ‘Translations should be communications, not gaps and barriers; if they repel more than they attract, then they cannot be considered communications, and in this respect, translations. Faithfulness in the commonly understood sense of the word is often unfaithfulness in a higher sense.’23

Daumer’s Hafiz poems–as well as his other translations and original verses–were much appreciated by German song composers. Johannes Brahms, for instance, set his verses more frequently than any other poet, including six translations from Hafis.24 Even before Brahms, Adolf Jensen had produced an entire set of Daumer’s Hafiz translations, published in 1863 as his seven Lieder des Hafis: Sieben Gesänge am Pianoforte aus dem Persischen von G. Fr. Daumer, Op. 11 (1863). Fet’s versions of Daumer predate the compositions of these songs, but they still belong to the same cultural moment and share a similar vision of how Hafiz’s poems could transform the lyric, whether literary or musical. Rather than representing instances of Russian Orientalism in its most familiar form (as embodied by poets (p.55) such as Pushkin, and which thematise the contiguous encounter between an ethnically national Russian state and the non-Russian territories it had acquired through expansion and colonisation), Russian songs to words by Hafiz constitute a belated response to a much earlier phase of German Romanticism, itself mediated through Fet’s mid-century imitations.25 Fet’s poetry becomes, in this reading, a point of contact between two different schools of Orientalism: the contemporary Russian one, dictated by the particular nature of Russian imperialism; and an older and longer western European one, with its roots in German Romanticism, and before that, the French Enlightenment. In order to grasp this latter form of Orientalism and understand its relationship to the former one, it is necessary to ask why an early-19th-century north German poet, one-time pastor, and philosopher should have turned to Hafiz in the first place. Even if Daumer’s poems were little more than imaginative versions inspired by Hafiz, they nonetheless bespeak a longer and deeper historical European engagement with Persian literature.

Persia through European eyes

A detailed history of the western European reception of classical Persian poetry is beyond the scope of this chapter, but even a cursory (if necessarily selective) survey will suffice to reveal some of its principal contours. André du Ryer’s 1634 French translation of part of Saadi’s Golestan (The Rose Garden) may serve as a convenient starting point, initiating as it did a series of other translations. Saadi was a 13th-century Persian poet and thinker from Shiraz, whose ghazals in particular prefigured those of Hafiz. Johann Friedrich Ochsenbach subsequently rendered du Ryer’s text into German in 1636, and this was followed by Levin Warner’s bilingual Persian–Latin edition of Saadi’s maxims in 1644. Saadi’s Golestan was eventually translated in full into Latin by Georg Gentius in 1651, by which time Adam Olearius had published his Offt begehrte Beschreibung der newen orientalischen Rejse in 1647. This account of Olearius’s visit to Persia as part of an embassy sent by the duke of Schleswig-Holstein established itself as one the foundational travelogues to have been authored by a European eyewitness, and was widely consulted and cited. It was republished in 1656 in a revised and expanded form that gave greater detail of the embassy’s initial journey through Muscovy, hence linking, albeit subconsciously, Russia and Persia in the minds of many of its readers. Olearius’s German version of Saadi’s Golestan appeared under the title Persianischer Rosenthal (A Persian Rose Valley) in 1654. As scholars have argued, this phase of interest in (p.56) Persian life and letters can be read in the context of early Enlightenment debates around questions of religious tolerance. As Europe slowly emerged from the wars of religion, it looked to a romanticised view of medieval Persian culture as a model for civilised co-existence and flourishing courtly creativity.

This first phase was followed by a second wave of interest in Persian culture, centred this time on England and Germany. In his Grammar of the Persian Language (1771), William Jones recommended both Saadi’s Golestan to interested readers, as well as a number of versions of poems by Hafiz (one, in particular, was translated as ‘A Persian Song’). The following year, he produced an anthology entitled Poems, Consisting Chiefly of Translations from the Asiatick Tounges, and including yet more versions of Hafiz.26 Jones’s grammar went into many re-editions and was often seen as a vehicle for enhancing readers’ appreciation of poetry, as in the case of Samuel Rousseau’s The Flowers of Persian Literature: Containing Extracts from the Most Celebrated Authors, in Prose and Verse, with a Translation into English. Being Intended as a Companion to Sir William Jones’s Persian Grammar (1801). A parallel wave of interest in Persian culture seized the German Romantics too. Here, Johann Gottfried von Herder’s Persepolis (1787), Persepolitanische Briefe (Persepolitan Letters (1798–1803, published posthumously in 1805)), and posthumously published Blumenlese aus morgenländischen Dichtern (A Florilegium of Oriental Poets (1807)) deserve special comment, given his espousal of a form of artistic practice that rejected the universalist claims of the enlightenment in favour of locally inflected forms of cultural nationalism, to be found above all in folklore. Meanwhile, in Vienna, Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall initiated a long-running journal, the Fundgruben des Orients, bearbeitet durch eine Gesellschaft von Liebhabern (Treasures of the Orient, Edited by a Society of Amateurs (1809–18)), which included German, French, and Italian translations of Arabic, Turkish, and Persian verse. The journal may have been edited by a group of so-called ‘amateurs’, but Hammer-Purgstall’s work was rooted in the highly professional milieu of linguists, charged with administering Austrian government relations with the Ottoman Empire, and hence illustrates once again how closely literary and political concerns were intertwined. In 1812–13, Hammer-Purgstall produced the first complete translation into any language of Hafiz’s posthumously collated Diwan (as a collection of a poet’s lyric works were called in Persian), and his Geschichte der schönen Redekünste Persiens (A History of Persia’s Beautiful Arts of Rhetoric (1818)) was the very first literary history of Persian poetry and prose to be published in Europe. It is against the background of all of these works that the most famous literary response (p.57) to Hafiz’s oeuvre emerged: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s West-östlicher Divan (West-Eastern Divan (1819)).27

Goethe’s Divan would eventually be exploited by generations of German composers, but from the point of view of song, it is Herder’s presence that is perhaps most redolent here. Whether arguing for the intimate relationship between language and music, or promoting the importance of folk culture as the basis for national movements throughout Europe, Herder synthesised a wide and cosmopolitan range of influences to lay the foundations for what would become German Romanticism. Sources as diverse as Slavonic folk poetry, Shakespeare’s plays, and Persian literature all appealed to him as powerful alternatives to ‘French aesthetic and literary norms and ideals’.28 In this regard Daumer’s Hafis is an exemplary instance of Herderian practice, since it includes not only German versions of Persian poetry, but also a catholic selection of ‘national’ poetry, including Turkish, Arabic, Hebrew, Indian, Gypsy, Modern Greek, Moldovan, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian. As in the case of Herder, the work of Hammer-Purgstall and other Austrian scholars was based on ‘an analogy between the dominance of Persian language, literature and culture by the Arabs and the dominance of German language, literature and culture by the French culture and literary norms of eighteenth-century Europe’.29 Through their dialogue with Hafiz and other Persian poets, the German Romantics were positioning themselves as somehow ‘oriental’, and hence distinct from their French Enlightenment precursors.

Assumptions such as these would, in turn, guide the formation of Russian nationalism, which was also inextricably bound up with questions of Orientalism and a concomitant rejection of cultural norms that were predominantly seen as French. Indeed, it was precisely because Russia was already a major imperial power that such questions became so tangible, unlike Germany, whose colonial ambitions were limited and belated in comparison with Britain, France, and Russia itself. This process was certainly the result of Russia’s distinct geopolitical specificity and colonial experience, yet it was also strikingly similar to debates that had already characterised the German context. Even such a seemingly specific cultural construct as ‘the Russian soul’ (russkaya dusha)–eagerly promoted by many nationalist commentators and just as enthusiastically advanced by foreign observers as an explanation for almost every aspect of Russian life, history, and (p.58) society–turns out to be little more than a calque of the German Seele.30 The notion that the oriental ‘other’ was a constituent factor of the Russian ‘self’, something deemed by Stasov and others to be an aspect of national identity that was quintessentially Russian, turns out to be the result of a series of conceptual translations from German Romanticism.

Subaltern voices?

Let us return, then, to the specific question of Hafiz’s place in the Russian song tradition. Superficially, this might appear to have been the product of Russia’s imperial condition, which brought it into a contiguous relationship, through colonial expansion into the Caucasus and Central Asia, with Persia itself. Literary works such as Lermontov’s Geroi nashego vremeni, or the diplomatic career of the writer Griboedov, would seem to corroborate such a view, as would the broader development of Orientalist artistic representation.31 What we find, however, is another trajectory, one on which Hafiz arrives in the metropolitan capitals of late imperial Russia via a long detour through the literary and intellectual centres of early modern, Enlightenment, and Romantic Europe. It is a process comprising several forms of mediation, imitation, and translation, and one, moreover, freighted with a strong sense of belatedness: early-20th-century Russian composers find themselves reaching back to Fet’s Parnassian poetry of the mid-19th century, itself a refraction of earlier aspects of German Romantic nationalism. Although Hafiz’s poetry was initially set by Russian composers from the 1880s onwards, it transpires that this phenomenon is ultimately rooted in the literary politics of the first half of the 19th century and has little or nothing to do with the development of Russian Orientalism as an academic discipline or late imperial debates about the nature of Russian national identity.32

By the first decades of the twentieth century, then, Hafiz had become more fully accessible to Russian composers as a source of new inspiration, and musical settings of his lyrics–whilst forming a small but significant corpus on their own–duly interacted with two other axes within the Russian song tradition. One was the well-established Oriental romance genre, with its roots in texts such as Pushkin’s ‘Ne poi, krasavitsa, pri mne’. The other was a cosmopolitan attitude, which made room for a very substantial body of foreign poetry, whether in translation or in the original (or, most probably, both, as in Igor Stravinsky’s bilingual (p.59) settings of Verlaine from 1910). The first of these calls for a musicological prism, inasmuch as Orientalism was primarily a question of the use of certain musical tropes, which gave rise to an easily reproducible and recognisable exotic style. The second, by contrast, is more philological in character, given that it relies primarily on patterns of literary reception, translation, and imitation. The settings of Hafiz by Aleksandrov, Cherepnin, and Grechaninov (as well as Polezhaev, Glazunov, and Taneev before them) may all sound exotic because of the obvious use of conventional musical devices designed to signal the presence of an oriental theme. Yet they owe their presence within the cultural sphere of late imperial Russia to a series of primarily literary influences that are western European in origin.

The composers discussed so far trained at imperial Russia’s principal conservatories (Aleksandrov, Grechaninov, and Taneev in Moscow; Cherepnin and Grechaninov in St Petersburg) and went on to make careers in the country’s main metropoles (Aleksandrov, Grechaninov, and Taneev in Moscow, Cherepnin and Glazunov in St Petersburg). Regardless of their fate after 1917, when Russian culture bifurcated into Soviet and émigré traditions, these figures embody a fundamentally Eurocentric and Orientalist vision of Persian culture. There are, though, two intriguing exceptions to this state of affairs, and they bring the discussion back to Russia’s imperial borderlands: Aleksandr Spendiarov and Dmitry Arakishvili. Spendiarov–also known by his Armenian name of Spendiaryan–was born in Crimea in 1871. After studying law in Moscow, he enrolled in the St Petersburg Conservatory, where he studied composition with Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. Thereafter, he returned to Crimea, although he remained active in metropolitan Russia. He moved to Armenia only in 1924, dying in Yerevan just four years later. Arakishvili was born in Vladikavkaz in 1873 and went on to become an important figure in pre-revolutionary musical life in Moscow. He graduated from the Moscow Philharmonic’s School of Music and Drama in 1901, helping to found the People’s Conservatory in 1906. After founding and editing a journal, Muzyka i zhiznʹ (Music and Life), he undertook further studies at the Moscow Institute of Archaeology, graduating in 1918. Arakishvili also pursued ethnographical work, publishing three collections of folksong transcriptions in 1906, 1908, and 1916.

Before the October Revolution, both composers made three settings each of Hafiz’s poetry in Russian translation. Two of Spendiarov’s settings were included as the second and fourth of his Chetyre romansa (Four Romances), Op. 13 (Moscow, 1906):

  • ‘Veselisʹ, o serdtse-ptichka’ (‘Revel, little birdlike heart’, words by Fet);

  • ‘Veter nezhnyi, okrylennyi’ (‘Tender, wingèd wind’, words by Fet).

The other songs in the group are settings of an original poem by Fet and a translation of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s ‘To the Moon’ by Konstantin Balʹmont: clearly, (p.60) Spendiarov was still working within the framework of the Eurocentric, orientalising tradition in which he was trained. His third setting of Hafiz is the third of the four Vostochnye pesni (Oriental Songs), Op. 22 (Moscow, 1910), and sets words by I. Rachinsky. Here, the other songs in the group suggest that Spendiarov’s approach to Hafiz had begun to evolve. The first song sets words by the humorist Teffi (the pseudonym of Nadezhda Lokhvitskaya), written for a projected opera on an oriental theme that was subsequently abandoned by Spendiarov. However, the second and fourth songs chart new territory and are based on an Armenian folksong and a Crimean Tatar melody respectively. Hafiz’s poetry is now detached from the Europeanised contexts of Fet’s translations of Daumer’s poetry, and is instead placed in dialogue with the cultures of southern Russia and the Caucasus. Translation and imitation are replaced by ethnography and indigeneity, and it is interesting to see Spendiarov drawing on Hafiz’s poetry in order to make sense of his identity as an ethnic Armenian composer within the multiethnic, multilingual, multicultural make-up of late imperial Russia.

A similar process can be observed in the career of Arakishvili, who included settings of Hafiz as the first, fourth, and sixth of his Op. 6 songs (1911):

  • ‘Vstrepenisʹ, vzmakhni krylami’ (‘Rouse yourself and shake your wings’, words by Apollon Maikov);

  • ‘V tsarstvo rozy i vina pridi’ (‘Come into the kingdom of roses and wine’, words by Fet);

  • ‘Veter nezhnyi, okrylennyi’ (‘Tender, wingèd wind’, words by Fet).

Having moved from the colonial periphery to the imperial centre, Arakishvili had clearly internalised the practices of Russian musical exoticism. However, after the October Revolution, he settled in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, in 1918, where he eventually directed the local conservatory from 1926 to 1929, before becoming chair of the Georgian Union of Composers from 1932. His opera Tkmuleba Shota Rustavelze (The Legend of Shota Rustaveli (1914)) opened at the Tbilisi opera house in 1919, laying the foundation of the country’s national opera tradition. Three years before his death in 1953 (the same year as Stalin and Sergey Prokofiev), Arakishvili shared in a collectively awarded Stalin Prize in 1950 for his score for the war film Jurgais pari (Jurgai’s Shield (1944)).

Such a career suggests that Arakishvili was an astute reader of politics and could readily discern the constantly changing direction of the party line (Spendiarov’s death in 1928 meant that he avoided many of the complex decisions necessitated by the advent of Stalinism). Having begun his musical career in Moscow, Arakishvili re-exported what he had learned there upon his return to his homeland, helping to establish a new form of cultural production in one of the Soviet Union’s fraternal republics. As both teacher and administrator, it would have been his role to ensure that ideological conformity was imposed, (p.61) even whilst a certain amount of local colour was tolerated, even encouraged.33 One consequence of this was that his songs remained in print, even when settings of Hafiz by other composers had long become unavailable. The Hafiz settings of Cherepnin and Grechninov, both émigrés, were not republished in the Soviet Union at all (at least under Stalin), and Aleksandrov’s were reissued just once, in relatively relaxed times, in 1926. By contrast, Arakishvili’s ethnicity, ideological rectitude, and work as an ethnomusicologist all functioned as a licence that would allow his more conventional art-song settings to continue to circulate in print and performance even after the advent of socialist realism (similarly, a bilingual Russian–Armenian edition of Spendiarov’s complete romances was published in Yerevan in 1943). As a member of the Georgian cultural elite, Arakishvili could compose songs in an oriental vein, whilst claiming to be free of the kind of exoticising practices of the pre-revolutionary Russian song tradition from which he had in fact emerged.

This use of local elites, which was central to cultural policy in the fraternal republics, was one way in which the Soviet Union could seek to exempt itself from charges of imperialism and colonialism. Moreover, the fact that modern-day Azerbaijan had been under the control of the Persian Empire, meant that attempts to position Hafiz as part of the wider cultural heritage of the Soviet Caucasus could be interpreted as a homecoming of sorts, albeit a highly ideological and tendentious one. Arakishvili’s settings represent, therefore, a geographical link between the Russian centre (Moscow) and Hafiz’s Persian homeland. They also constitute a temporal connection, serving to convey Hafiz’s poetry from its origins in fourteenth-century Persia to the Soviet present, whilst effacing its literary and musical iterations in 19th-century Germany and turn-of-the-century Russia. This effacement is, however, partial and oblique, since Arakishvili’s songs do not employ newly made translations, but rely on canonical 19th-century versions by Fet and Maikov. Indeed, the equimetrical Georgian singing translations, also included in publications of Arakishvili’s settings of Hafiz, can only have been made on the basis of these 19th-century Russian intermediaries.

Things would slowly begin to change from the mid-1930s onwards, when a new generation of Soviet translators began to provide fresh versions of Hafiz’s poetry. Russian-language selections of Hafiz’s poetry appeared in Moscow in 1935, 1956, and 1963.34 Significantly, however, an anthology of 50 of Hafiz’s ghazals, published in 1955 in Stalinabad (as the Tadjik capital, Dushanbe, was then known), appeared in a series entitled ‘Classics of Tadjik Literature’.35 The close affinity (p.62) between classical Persian and modern Tadjik as varieties of Farsi meant that Hafiz could be readily incorporated into the Soviet literary canon in ways that built on and extended his prior reception through the Caucasus. Likewise, Russian-language anthologies such as Naum Grebnev’s Istiny: izrecheniya persidskogo i tadzhikskogo narodov, ikh poetov i mudretsov (Truths: Sayings of the Persian and Tadjik Peoples, Their Poets and Sages (1968)) and Iosif Braginsky’s Irano-Tadzhikskaya poeziya (Irano-Tadjik Poetry (1974)) established the historical basis for a regional, cross-border literary field that was no longer dependent on Western European figures such as Daumer and Fet.36

There is some evidence that these literary developments began to influence music too. In 1941, Mikhail Grachev published his ‘Siyanʹe krasoty (iz Gafiza)’ (‘The Radiance of Beauty (from Hafiz)’, a song based on P. Zheleznov’s translation from the Tadjik. Grachev had studied in Moscow between 1939 and 1941, before moving to Stalinabad, where he ran the Tadjik National Theatre; his setting hence constitutes both an act of local acculturation, and the export of European-style artistic genres from the centre to the periphery. Local composers also began to explore this new wave of poetic translations, albeit still mediated through the Russian language. In 1950, for instance, the Tadjik composer Ziyadullo Shakhidi wrote his ‘Vzglyani’ (‘Behold!’), a bilingual setting of Hafiz with Russian words by D. Tonsky. As Shakhidi was a student at the Moscow Conservatory at the time, his song ultimately expresses the hierarchical relationship between the Soviet capital and the composer’s Central Asian homeland. Then, in 1971, Yakub Sabzanov’s Ohanghoi musikī ba ashori Hofiz (Melodies to the Poetry of Hafiz) was published in Dushanbe. In this Tadjik anthology–consisting of songs and romances by contemporary Tadjik composers, as well as traditional shashmaqam to be performed to the accompaniment of the tanbur (a long-necked lute, common in Central Asia)–Hafiz sets aside the temporary mantle of his European guise to come almost full circle, if not quite to his homeland, then at least to its historic borders.


This chapter has taken a seemingly narrow corpus of songs to trace the intricate and expansive trajectory by which Hafiz’s poetry found its way into Russian and Soviet music. Setting aside accounts of Russian Orientalism that emphasise its debt to imperialism and colonialism, it has preferred instead to employ ideas derived from translation studies, reception theory, comparative literature, and the history of ideas in order to expose the distinctive literary origins of this aspect of the Russian (p.63) song tradition. In arguing for an attentive, philological interpretation of Hafiz’s significance in Russian culture, the chapter has also sought to extend and enrich our understanding of the role played by exoticism in the formation of particular forms of nationalism. By reaching beyond the nation, composers can evoke foreign locales, even whilst they remain loyal to seemingly fixed categories of national, cultural, and linguistic belonging. At the same time, however, all acts of translation, imitation, and emulation contain traces of an irreducible form of otherness, serving to upset monolithic conceptions of the self. Throughout its long journey of translation and imitation across a series of European cultures and languages, then, Hafiz’s poetry reveals song’s persistent adhesion to the idea of the nation, as well as its potential to subvert the very categories on which the nation appears to be constructed. (p.64)


(*) I am grateful to participants at the original Song Beyond the Nation conference for their comments and observations, to Laura Tunbridge for comments on the written text, and to Adelina Angusheva-Tihanov for an invitation to present my ideas to the Cross-Disciplinary Russian and Eurasian Studies Network at the University of Manchester. I am equally indebted to the staff of the Russian National Library in St Petersburg for their help in locating rare scores and sources, and to Petr Budrin for tracking down a particularly elusive source in Moscow. Dominic Parviz Brookshaw and Kamila Akhmedjanova assisted with linguistic questions pertaining to Tadjik.

(1) Edward Said, Orientalism (London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978).

(2) Edward C. Thaden, Russia’s Western Borderlands, 1710–1870 (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1984).

(3) There is an extensive critical literature on this subject. See, in particular, Susan Layton, Russian Literature and Empire: Conquest of the Caucasus from Pushkin to Tolstoy (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994); Robert D. Crews, For Prophet and Tsar: Islam and Empire in Russia and Central Asia (Cambridge, MA, and London, Harvard University Press, 2006); and David Schimmelpennick van der Oye, Russian Orientalism: Asia in the Russian Mind from Peter the Great to Emigration (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2010).

(4) Larry Wolff, Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment (Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 1994).

(5) V. V. Stasov, ‘Nasha muzyka za poslednie 25 let’, Vestnik Evropy, 18/10 (1883), 561–623 at 562, 565, 566, 568, 569 respectively.

(6) Adalyat Issiyeva, Representing Russia’s Orient: From Ethnography to Art Song (New York, Oxford University Press, 2021).

(7) The main bibliography of pre-revolutionary Russian song settings lists 26 versions of this poem. See G. K. Ivanov, Russkaya poeziya v otechestvennoi muzyke (do 1917 goda), 2 vols (Moscow, Muzyka, 1966–9), I, 288.

(8) M. A. Tsyavlovskii, ‘Aftograf stikhotvoreniya “Ne poi, volʹshebnitsa, pri mne …”’, in Statʹi o Pushkine (Moscow, Izdatelʹstvo Akademii nauk SSSR, 1962), pp. 37889.

(9) Richard Taruskin, Defining Russia Musically: Historical and Hermeneutical Essays (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1997), p. 156.

(12) John P. Hope, ‘The Self in the Other: Aleksandr Griboedov’s Orient’, Canadian Slavonic Papers/Revue canadienne des slavistes, 57/1–2 (2015), 108–23.

(13) ‘Contact zone’ is a term proposed by Mary Louise Pratt to refer to ‘social spaces where disparate cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in highly asymmetrical relations of domination and subordination’. See Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation, 2nd edn (London and New York, Routledge, 2008), p. 7.

(14) Nadejda Lebedeva, ‘Die Lieder des Mirza-Schaffy op. 34 von Anton Rubinstein: zwischen Folklorismus, Orientalismus und Nationalismus’, Archiv für Musikwissenschaft, 67/4 (2010), 284–309.

(15) On Hafiz’s musicality and related appeal to composers, see Franklin Lewis, ‘Hafez and Music’, in Ehsan Yarshater (ed.), Encyclopaedia Iranica, 16 vols (London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982–), XI/5 (2002), pp. 491–8; and Dominic Parviz Brookshaw, Hafiz and His Contemporaries: Poetry, Performance and Patronage in Fourteenth-Century Iran (London, I.B. Tauris, 2019), especially pp. 69–114.

(16) See, variously, Konstantin Pluzhnikov, Zabytye stranitsy russkogo romansa (St Petersburg, Kompozitor, 2004), pp. 122–8; Philip Ross Bullock, ‘ “An Era of Eros”: Hellenic Lyricism in the Early Twentieth-Century Russian Art-Song’, in Katerina Levidou, Katy Romanou, and George Vlastov (eds), Musical Receptions of Greek Antiquity: From the Romantic Era to Modernism (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Cambridge Scholars, 2016), pp. 260–95; and Helen Abbott, Baudelaire in Song, 1880–1930 (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2017), pp. 114–31.

(17) See, for instance, Pamela Davidson, The Poetic Imagination of Vyacheslav Ivanov: A Russian Symbolist’s Perception of Dante (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1989); and Michael Wachtel, Russian Symbolism and Literary Tradition: Goethe, Novalis, and the Poetics of Vyacheslav Ivanov (Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1994).

(18) Charles A. Moser, Esthetics as Nightmare: Russian Literary Theory, 1855–1870 (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1989).

(19) For details of the 177 poems by Fet set to music, often by multiple composers, see Ivanov, Russkaya poeziya v otechestvennoi muzyke, I, pp. 363–73.

(20) A. A. Fet, ‘Gafiz’, Russkoe slovo, 2/1 (1860), 25–37.

(21) Fet, ‘Gafiz’, 25 (my translation).

(22) Susan Bernofsky, ‘Schleiermacher’s Translation Theory and Varieties of Foreignization: August Wilhelm Schlegel vs. Johann Heinrich Voss’, The Translator, 3/2 (1997), 175–92.

(23) G. F. Daumer, Polydora: ein weltpoetisches Liederbuch, 2 vols (Frankfurt am Main, Literarische Anstalt, 1855), I, p. xi, cited in Natasha Loges, Brahms and His Poets: A Handbook (Woodbridge, Boydell, 2017), p. 82. See also Loges’s discussion of Daumer and Brahms in the opening chapter in this volume.

(25) On Fet, see Emily Klenin, ‘Turgenev’s Gift, or How Fet Read Daumer and Translated Hafiz’, in Kh. Baran et al. (eds), Yazyk. Stikh. Poeziya (Moscow: RGGU, 2006), pp. 255–62; V. A. Lukina, ‘Turgenev i Fet v rabote nad perevodami iz Gafiza (neskolʹko dobavlenii k akademicheskomu izdaniya I. S. Turgeneva)’, in N. P. Generalova et al. (eds), I. S. Turgenev: novye issledovaniya i materialy, vypusk 1 (Moscow and St Petersburg, Alʹyans-Arkheo, 2009), pp. 193–208.

(26) Zak Sitter, ‘William Jones, “Eastern” Poetry, and the Problem of Imitation’, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 50/4 (2008), 385–407. See too Guflishan Khan, ‘Muslim–Western Cultural Encounter in the Eighteenth Century: The Impact of Ḥāfiẓ Shīrāzī’s Poetry on Europe’, Islamic Studies, 48/1 (2009), 35–87.

(27) The survey of translations and commentaries given in the last two paragraphs is drawn principally from Alastair Hamilton and Richard Francis, André du Ryer and Oriental Studies in Seventeenth-Century France (Oxford, The Arcadian Library and Oxford University Press, 2004); Shafiq Shamel, Goethe and Hafiz: Poetry and History in the West-östlicher Divan (Oxford, Peter Lang, 2013); Suzanne L. Marchand, German Orientalism in the Age of Empire: Religious, Race, and Scholarship (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2009); and Susan Mokhberi, The Persian Mirror: Reflections on the Safavid Empire in Early Modern France (New York, Oxford University Press, 2019).

(30) Robert C. Williams, ‘The Russian Soul: A Study in European Thought and Non-European Nationalism’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 31/4 (1970), 573–88; and Catherine Brown, ‘The Russian Soul Englished’, Journal of Modern Literature, 36/1 (2012), 132–49.

(31) Patty Wageman and Inessa Kouteinikova (eds), Russia’s Unknown Orient: Orientalist Painting, 1850–1920 (Groningen, Groninger Museum; Rotterdam, Nai, 2010).

(32) Vera Tolz, Russia’s Own Orient: The Politics of Identity and Oriental Studies in the Late Imperial and Early Soviet Periods (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006).

(33) Marina Frolova-Walker, ‘National in Form, Socialist in Content: Musical National Building in the Soviet Republics’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, 51/2 (1998), 331–71.

(34) Lirika Shems-ed-Din Mokhammed Khafez, trans. E. Dunaevsky (Moscow, Academia, 1935); Khafiz, Lirika, trans. I. Braginsky (Moscow, Goslitizdat, 1956); and Khafiz, Lirika, trans. S. Lipkin (Moscow, Goslitizdat, 1963).

(35) Khafiz, Pyatʹdesyat gazelei, trans. V. Zvyagintseva et al. (Stalinabad, Tadzhikgosizdat, 1955).

(36) On Central Asia as a ‘contact’ zone between russophone culture, the colonised territories of what was once the Russian Empire, and the developing world, see Rossen Djagalov, From Internationalism to Postcolonialism: Literature and Cinema between the Second and Third Worlds (Montreal and Kingston, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2020).