For the Western world, one of the major sources of connection to ancient Persian poetry and philosophy was established thanks to the rediscovery of Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of the ‘Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám’. Although Fitzgerald attempts to remain loyal to the general form or Rubáiy, his quatrains do not resemble the rhythmical properties of the originals.
The poetry of Khayyám, compared to that of other masters such as Sa’di, Firdausi and Hafiz, is not much praised for its mastery of the language, but for the anecdotes, flash stories and philosophical arguments it presents. The form of Rubáiy is a simple, regular and complete 16-bar, four-verse period in 6/8 with a crotchet caesura (“AABA”). Khayyám takes various approaches towards this form to present his arguments with specific order and rhythm.
In a vocal musical tradition such as Persian music, musical forms and rhythms are heavily based on that of the poetry. As a result of that, improvisers and composers tend to follow the traditional practice of following the rhythm of the syllables of the poem. I have written ‘Wine of the Mystic’ as a collection of variations on the form of Rubáiy. In doing so, I have taken many liberties with the form in order to convey the meaning of the poems, instead of following the “correct” rhythm of the Rubáiy. My attitude towards the traditional system of Persian modes (known as Radif) has been somewhat similar, if not more radical. Since Khayyám, himself, treated words as a means towards a higher goal, I assumed a 21st century composer Khayyám, would probably have a somewhat similar attitude towards both his poems and Persian music.
There have been numerous successful attempts at setting the Rubáiyát to the known traditional forms of Persian music. I don’t suggest any of the variations in the ‘Wine of the Mystic’ to be following the “correct” form. On the contrary, my wish has been to push the boundaries of the form in order to create a strange-sounding music that is uncertain, asks questions and stands on no firm ground. I find the sound of this music suitable for the philosophy of Khayyám and the structural adventures presented through an improvised performance of it are variations based on and departing from the form of Rubáiy.