The Song of Songs is some of the most erotic poetry ever written. Originally Hebrew love poetry, it is believed to celebrate the union of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon.
The Queen of Sheba was all powerful, a mighty leader, wise, wealthy and very beautiful. She briefly appears in the Old Testament, to a larger extent in the Koran and in much greater detail in the Kebra Nagast, the national book of Ethiopia. Her exotism has inspired numerous composers through the centuries not least because these Song of Songs through the advent of Christianity became synonymous with the Virgin Mary.
Their imagery abounds in the 12th-century poetry of the Abbess Hildegard of Bingen and with her music she reveals an exceptional spirituality and grace. The ‘Prince of Music’, Palestrina, produced some of his most sensual music; he even apologised for possessing ‘light and vain ideas’ and indeed ‘blushed and grieved’ at presenting these erotic motets. No such embarrassment prevented the Augustinian nun, Raphaela Aleotta from displaying her prodigious talent.
The programme closes with a tribute to the French composer, Daniel-Lesur, whose 20th anniversary of his death we celebrate this year. His sumptuous setting of verses from the Song of Songs beautifully mirrors the fusion of the erotic and the divine, the sacred and the secular.