The Song of Songs

Radio program about a small chapter of the Bible (with pictures from the Berlin Picture Gallery)

Musical arrangements through the centuries

A rather small chapter of the Bible towards the end of the Old Testament is the Song of Songs. In a flowery but very detailed language, it sings about the joys and longings of love. Because of its eroticism and sensuality, the Song of Songs has been the subject of much discussion: Such a book as part of the Bible? But this very book has been set to music more often than any other biblical model. WDR 3 Music Passages Uli Aumüller.

Scholars argue about when the Old Testament Song of Solomon, Hebrew shir hashirim, was written in the Latin vulgata translation canticum canticorum. Some say it was written in Solomon's time, around 1000 B.C., although they usually exclude the legendary king as the author, although the hypothesis that King Solomon wrote these songs to justify taking an Egyptian princess into his harem has a picturesque charm.

Others call the Persian exile of the Israelite people, around 500 BC, paradise because of some Persian loan words, pardes, for example.

The next consider the third century B.C. most probable because of demonstrable Hellenic influences. Undeniably, some scenes are tailor-made for the theatre, which did not exist in Palestine at that time, but did in Greece.

Some scholars, however, claim that there are parallel passages of Summersian and Egyptian love and sacred rituals - if one can separate them at all in that period - whose evidence goes back to the 15th century BC.

However, compared to the many interpretations that the Song of Songs has had to endure, the disagreement over its authorship is a mere prelude.

Like every piece of high-ranking world literature, the Song of Songs is not exhausted in one level of meaning. Like an opal, it shines in different colours depending on which side you look at it from, which light you shine on it with. To read and understand it as a collection of profane love poetry, which it appears to be at first glance, is to sell it far short.

The fact that two lovers, called Solomon and Sulamith, meet in an oriental landscape with Palestinian place names, burst with longing for each other in the budding, blossoming spring, find each other, hide, disappear, search for each other, everywhere, in the nowhere of the real place of love, unfoliate, burn, revel in senses....

And that this high song has been set to music countless times, not only in the Jewish and Christian tradition, goes without saying - from Gregorian to Celan's Todesfuge - as opera, operetta, musical - there is nothing that does not exist.


Cast & Crew

Uli Aumüller
Gabriele Faust