While an International Exposition in Paris in 1889 stimulated the interest in exoticism among French composers such as Debussy and Ravel, Karol Szymanowski's interest in the "exotic" was inspired by the culture and history of Italy and North Africa, where he traveled several times in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Pieśni muezina szalonego, Op. 42 (Songs of an Infatuated Muezzin), was written in 1918 during the period when the composer's interest in Islamic culture peaked, and it became one of the most unique song cycles in early twentieth-century vocal literature.
The texts, created by the Polish poet Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, portray the fantasy of a Muslim holy man, the muezzin, whose main duty is to lead the call for the five daily prayers in Muslim worship. In Songs of an Infatuated Muezzin, the muezzin’s praise for Allah transforms into praise for the nameless "beloved," who deludes him and disappears without actually playing a role in the cycle. Within the frame of a traditional European song style, Szymanowski painted these Muslim-inspired exotic texts with his original, colorful sound world that is reminiscent of authentic Islamic music.
Due, in part, to the difficulty of singing the Polish texts, Songs of an Infatuated Muezzin are rarely performed, but they undoubtedly deserve more recognition. By introducing the International Phonetic Alphabet, word-for-word translation, musical analysis, and performance suggestions for these songs, this treatise is intended to be a practical performance guide for both singers and pianists.