Songs of Majnūn Leyla (2018) by Richard Aldag
for tenor, flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, piano, and percussion
World premiere

Songs of Majnūn Leyla is based on four poems (in English translation) by the poet Qays al-Mulawwah, also known as Majnūn Leyla (the one who was mad for Leyla). Qays was a 7th century Bedouin poet of the Bani Amir tribe in the Najd desert in Arabia. Consumed by his unending passion for Layla Al-Aamiriya (whose father married her to a man she disliked), Qays fled his tribe's camp and wandered throughout the surrounding desert for years. His family eventually gave up hope for his return and left food for him in the wilderness, and he could sometimes be seen reciting poetry to himself or writing in the sand with a stick. Years later, Qays was found dead near a gravesite believed to be Leyla's, with his final three poems carved in rocks strewn nearby.

Aside from Rumi, the poetry of Qays al-Mulawwah and other Middle Eastern poets is largely unknown to Western audiences. And, while the story of Majnūn Leyla (as presented by the 12th century Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi) is widely known in the Middle Eastern community, Qays' own poetry is not as widely known as one might expect. The Qays poems that I have chosen for the project represent a deep and tragic love, a universal human narrative that transcends borders and can unite us across cultures and across millennia.

Poems by Qays al-Mulawwah
Translated by Joyce Akesson
Poems © Joyce Akesson, used with permission of the author.

I kiss the earth on which your foot has stepped,
O soft Leyla.
They say: "Look at the madman — See what he is doing!"
Do I love the earth so much
that I have to kiss it?
No! It is you that I love
and your steps in it.
It is you who I am madly in love with.
It is because of you that I find comfort
in the memories that torment me.
Forever separated from the towns,
in the desert I must live,
hoping there to find some peace
among the beasts!

Her beauty is like wine,
her saliva and its clarity, too.
Three kinds of wine
have mixed together in her,
one more intoxicating than the other.

I say to my friends: "She is the sun.
Its light surrounds you
but it remains distant
and inaccessible to everyone!"

But the wind hit me right in the heart:
It was her breath.
O scent! O freshness!
The end comes now.
Unconscious and impatient,
all the words have left me.
They carry me,
they take me away,
I hear my relatives cry,
wanting to sacrifice their lives
if they could only rescue me!

Your whole body in its garment
is radiant in its beauty and gaiety, O Leyla.
Oh! How I wish that I could be revived
by its refreshing warmth!
I have seen you,
I have seen you,
— was it in my dreams — ?
or with my loving eyes
in the light of the day?
I said holding you in my arms:
"My fire dies!"
But, no, the fire does not die.
It still burns,
It is stronger!

— R. A.    

[from program for January 23, 2023 concert]