Robert Alter, the greatest living commentator on Hebrew literature both ancient and modern, calls the Song of Songs “an ode to intimacy, the great love poem of commingling – of different realms, different senses, and of the male and female bodiesâ€. Landscape becomes body, bodies are fruit and wine, both are touched, tasted and savoured. Love is celebrated through the body as few other poems, ancient or modern, have ever done.
Boris Yoffe is a Russian-born Israeli composer currently residing in Germany. Born in 1968, he began writing one-page string quartets in his twenties, one each day on average. His â€Book of Quartetsâ€ is now thousands of pages long. These are five of them, each based on a line from a stanza taken from the Song of Songs (in Hebrew, here the translation from the liner notes):
I sought him but I found him not
My own vineyard I did not keep
My head is filled with dew, my locks with drops of the night
I sleep, but my heart waketh
My soul went forth when he spoke.
Having torn these page from the book, Yoffe added the four voices of the Hilliard Ensemble to the four sets of strings comprising the Rosamunde Quartett. Threading in and out of one another, commingling realms and bodies, the strings and voices approach, retreat, embrace, recline. Yoffe and his players effortlessly convey a secrecy so very much of this world and universally familiar through a music which is both high modern, unconventional and immediately accessible. There is much breathing and much breathing space, there are silences of indecision, sighs of contentment. Rarely has a minimalism been so bursting with genuine human emotion.
A man of our times grasping at eternity, bringing it down to earth to roll in the grass, shedding new light on one of the truly immortal works of literature.