Three Reflections on Empathy

Michael Bridge

1. Saadi:

“Humans are the limbs of the same body,
and are from the same essence in their creation.
When the conditions of the time hurt one of these parts, other parts will suffer from discomfort, as well.”

Selections from Saadi’s Gulisan, translated by Richard Jeffrey Newman (Global Scholarly Publications 2004)


Instrumentation: Accordion and String Quartet
Commissioned by: Michael Bridge
Composition date: 2015
World Premiere: Oct 17th, 2015 – Regent Theatre Oshawa, ON

Music shows empathy in a way that words can’t. It can stir in the listener the most subtle and most mountainous of feelings. The concept of empathy is also captured artfully by the poets that inspired this composition. The three movements, each based on a poem by the Persian poets Saadi Shirazi, Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, and Hafez, are interpreted here as different approaches to this concept, amongst other humanistic insights.

The first movement, inspired by Saadi’s poem, portrays this message: an injury to one member or group in society is an injury to all. Feeling the pain of others is represented here as dissonant threats to tonal melodic elements.

The second movement, based on the Hafez’s poem, is about the persistence of unconditional love. A sustaining, one bar musical pattern is repeated throughout, continuous despite confrontation by challenges and interruptions. The musical mode is such that no great expectations are built up, just as the sun has no expectation of the earth receiving its life-giving heat and light.

The last movement uses many of the same musical motives and passages from the first movement, referring back to the relationship between the individual and the whole. According to Rumi’s poem, each individual possesses within them the suffering and joy of the world.

2. Hafez:

“And still, after all this time, The sun never says to the earth, “You owe Me.”

Look what happens with A love like that,
It lights the Whole Sky.”

3. Rumi:

“You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.”