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Divan on Themes of Hafez

for countertenor, oboe, and string orchestra, with percussion

Composition Date: 2012

Duration: 23'

Instrumentation: CT(perc-opt)/ob/Str



Commissioned by Michael Chance and Fretwork. String orchestra version written at the request of George Vass.

Programme Note:


Sally Beamish 2009

for countertenor, oboe, and string orchestra, with percussion

texts: Divan-e-Hafez, translated by Jila Peacock

I have been setting the work of the Persian 14th century poet Hafez since 2007. I was introduced to Hafez by the Iranian-born, Glasgow-based artist Jila Peacock, whose 'shape poems', using Hafez' original texts to make expressive images of birds and animals, were a springboard for inspiration. The artist had also made simple, direct translations of the poems, which seemed ideal for setting to music.

In 2009 I made a new 'Divan' (collection), taking elements of the previous works as a starting point, and reinventing them for countertenor, oboe and viols, while developing the material to include new instrumental sections. The music reflects traditional classical Iranian setar playing, ornamentation and birdsong.

This work was first performed at Kings College Chapel, Cambridge, by Michael Chance, Nicholas Daniel, and Fretwork, in November 2009.

At the request of George Vass, I have made a new version of Divan, for countertenor, oboe, percussion and string orchestra.

Sally Beamish 2012



Roaming the dawn garden

I heard the call of a nightingale

Forlorn like me he loved the rose

And in that cry surged all his warbling grief

I drifted in that garden’s timeless moment

Balancing the plight of rose and bird

For endless roses flower each day

Yet no man plucks a single bloom

Without the risk of thorn

O Hafez, seek no gain from the orbit of this wheel

It has a thousand failings and no concern for you



When my beloved offers the cup

Graven idols are crushed,

And those who gaze into that intoxicating eye

Call ecstatically for rescue.

I plunge into the ocean like a fish

Craving the beloved’s hook,

I fall pleading at those feet

In hope of a helping hand.

O happy the heart who like Hafez

Has tasted the wine of creation.


‘When all is said and done,

What have you gained?

The falcons of the path repose content as flies,

Such is the sweetness of this world.

But I have seen the lightening flash from Sinai,

And I can bring you brands of burning bush.

The caravan has left you

Sleeping in the wilderness.

How many bells must ring

To rouse you from your daze?

Pity a bird like you

Imprisoned in a cage.

Spread your wings and sing

From the Tree of Paradise.


The rose opens crimson

And the nightingale is drunk with love.

Our time of joy comes tied to care,

As bliss was bound to loss at time’s dawn.

Even Solomon’s splendour,

His horse of the winds,

The language of the birds

Are lost with the wind.

Each shining arrow soars a while

But must return to dust.

So do not waver from the path

Love life now,

For oblivion completes all design.

O Hafez, rejoicing in the beauty of your pen,

See how we pass your words from heart to heart!



O Hoopoe of the east wind,

To Sheba I shall send you.

Take heed from where to where

I shall send you

Pity a bird like you

Lodged in a well of sorrow.

From here, to the nest of devotion

I shall send you

In quest of love

There is no near or far but only now.

I see you whole, and my fealty

I shall send you

Whispering in the winds

Each dawn and dusk,

Convoys of sweet invocations

I shall send you

Love’s face

Reveals the joy of all Creation

In the God-reflecting mirror

I shall send you



Available Recordings:

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