The Sea

I have mentioned my friend Norman Perryman before, here and here and here.

This week, he is performing at Birmingham Symphony Hall, and if you can possibly make it I would highly recommend that you book  your seat asap. You won’t regret it.

I wanted to reblog this post by Jessica Duchen — Jessica is a kindred spirit – but the system won’t let me, so I can only refer you to the URL: https://jessicamusic.blogspot.com/2019/02/seeing-is-believing-norman-perryman.html as well as to Norman’s own blog at https://normanperryman.blogspot.com/2019/02/genius.html?fbclid=IwAR0CGWxT-DCVvV3RXbJ1PUq0ANzZ3ouLM9JOTL8sRfDjG8DNraCZ8bUw4Ps

These describe the experience far better than I ever could, and contain video clips and stills from the performance.

 

 

 

Time to Ding-Dong Merrily

One of the things about being an expat is that you sometimes get a very skewed view of matters that you would never have questioned if you had stayed back home. I grew up in Middle England, going around on cold dark December evenings from door to door with my pals singing the old Christmas carols for pennies to the familiar traditional melodies, and never dreamed there could be any alternative (apart from Little Town of Bethlehem to which I knew at least 3 different tunes not including descants). So it was a shock to my true-blue British system to hear Away in a Manger sung by Americans.

“No, no, it goes like this,” I cried, and they gazed at me in amazement.

“Never heard THAT before!” was the response.

Even more incongruous to my ears is the tune that Americans use for It Came upon the Midnight Clear. Our British version thunders from the church organ, and dignified Baroque angels lean gracefully down through the clouds towards the shepherds.

ANGELS main-qimg-4ba9399db7b254d7093b17ec8e365157-c

Photo credit: Wikipedia

The Americans sing the same words but their melody is in three-four time. These are Rococo angels waltzing around, maybe even bouncing up and down on carousel horses; certainly not playing golden harps, more likely keyboards with hurdy-gurdy harmonic effects. Yes, it’s a pretty tune, but I can’t take it seriously. Walt Disney should illustrate this, not Michaelangelo.

And look what our transatlantic cousins have done to Angels from the Realms of Glory. Once again, I prepare my full-throated version and after a couple of bars am stopped in my tracks.

“You’re singing Angels We Have Heard On High.”

“No I’m not. I don’t know that one.”

They sing their versions of the two slightly different carols, and I can see that there must have been a mid-Atlantic storm that shifted some of the notes around. Okay, I’m enriched by learning a new carol, and my Christmas angels are still pretty well Johann Sebastian  Bach rather than Johann Strauss.

They also add to my repertoire with a fourth melody for Little Town of Bethlehem, which is still lying pretty still amid its deep and dreamy streets. No waltzing there. But wait! Why am I being so stuffy about three-four time? Next up is the mediaeval carol In dulci jubilo  (Good Christian Men Rejoice): surely these angels must be skipping and lindyhopping, and I can’t blame the Yanks. Even the Putti must be bouncing about to this! I remember that wonderful jaunty rendering by Mike Oldfield – 1970-something, I think – and have to claim that there are some tunes that are immortal, and can stand up to virtually any treatment. Listen to Bach’s arrangement sung by a choir.

I’m off on a tangent now, looking for the origins of this joyful song. Thank you, Wikipedia! This is a great story. And I have learnt a new word: macaronic.

The original song text, a macaronic alternation of Medieval German and Latin, is thought to have been written by the German mystic Heinrich Seuse  circa 1328. According to folklore, Seuse heard angels sing these words and joined them in a dance of worship. In his biography (or perhaps autobiography), it was written:

Now this same angel came up to the Servant (Suso) brightly, and said that God had sent him down to him, to bring him heavenly joys amid his sufferings; adding that he must cast off all his sorrows from his mind and bear them company, and that he must also dance with them in heavenly fashion. Then they drew the Servant by the hand into the dance, and the youth began a joyous song about the infant Jesus …

The tune first appears in Codex 1305, a manuscript in Leipzig University Library dating from c. 1400, although it has been suggested that the melody may have existed in Europe prior to this date. In print, the tune was included in Geistliche Lieder, a 1533 Lutheran hymnal by Joseph Klug. It also appears in Michael Vehe‘s Gesangbuch of 1537. In 1545, another verse was added, possibly by Martin Luther. This was included in Valentin Babst’s Geistliche Lieder, printed in Leipzig. The melody was also popular elsewhere in Europe, and appears in a Swedish/Latin version in the 1582 Finnish songbook Piae Cantiones, a collection of sacred and secular medieval songs.

I have left all the links in this excerpt so that anyone with time to spare can also dig deeper down this rabbit hole.

A blessed and joyous Second Sunday in Advent to you all.

Thoughts that lie too deep for tears

Interesting, that the piece of music that instantly comes to mind when we mention the composer Tomaso Albinoni is the Adagio in G Minor, 90% or more of which was actually the product of a musicologist hardly anyone has heard of, called Remo Giazotto. Who remembers that name? Or anything else composed by Albinoni? But you have only to hear the opening bars and the measured tread of those imaginary footsteps advancing down the halls of eternity, and you know what you are listening to.

Giazotto claimed to have discovered a fragment of a manuscript that survived the bombing of the Saxon State Library in Dresden at the end of WWII in 1945, and to have reconstructed the rest of this haunting Adagio from these few bars. He copyrighted and published it in 1958, under the title: “Adagio in G Minor for Strings and Organ, on Two Thematic Ideas and on a Figured Bass by Tomaso Albinoni”. No official record of it has been found in the collection of the Saxon State Library, and Giazotto never produced any manuscript fragment to back up his story, so the debate goes on as to whether Albinoni’s score ever actually existed.

The Adagio itself, of course, has a life of its own. It’s been used over and over again in films, in popular music and as background music in TV productions and for computer games. It’s also a popular choice at funerals. We should be sick and tired of it, but it never grows stale or hackneyed.

My first encounter with it was in 1962 or 63 as the theme music in Orson Welles’ film of Kafka’s “The Trial”, and then again in the film “Les dimanches de Ville d’Avray”, both of which I saw as a student during my final undergraduate year at the Université d’Aix en Provence. It got under my skin. And I wasn’t alone. It became a kind of theme to our student gatherings, always somewhere in the background, and we never tired of it. Sure, we danced and partied to all kinds of pop and jazz, where the Adagio would never have fitted in, but in moments of tranquility, study or contemplation, it was the Adagio that would be played.

It was a record of the Adagio that I gave as a token of thanks to my fellow student who had acted as proofreader/editor to my thesis (I couldn’t afford to pay her for that kind service), and she was so moved that she burst into tears as she opened the package.

Music is powerful. It can penetrate to the deepest part of our soul. Somehow, it is fitting that this particular Adagio should be associated with the senseless devastation of Dresden.  It may sound corny, but I would like to think that – if possible – when I am on my deathbed, someone will play me this recording of Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor as arranged by Remo Giazotto, so that my life here can fade away with those immortal sounds. And if that isn’t possible, then play it at my funeral.

Thank you to Auntie Uta for leading me to this performance on YouTube:

More reflections on painting “The Sea” — Norman Perryman: A Life Painting Music

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Once again, I’m pointing you in the direction of the one genius personally known to me, who is truly capable – in that hackneyed phrase – of affording us a glimpse of eternity. Timelessness, anyway. And from the height of his 85 years, a true inspiration for anyone worried that advancing age is an excuse for slowing down! I last wrote about Norman here, with links to two previous blog posts. I’m sorry I can’t get to this next concert but look forward to a youtube version.

 

I’m now hard at work choreographing a continuous painting, to be memorised and performed live in concert to the symphonic poem The Sea (1907) by the Lithuanian M.K. Čiurlionis. This masterpiece offers me perhaps the supreme opportunity to tap into the vast reservoir of Nature with my watercolour brushes, using my own…

via More reflections on painting “The Sea” — Norman Perryman: A Life Painting Music

Once in a Blue Moon …

 

… comes the privilege of witnessing, live, two men of genius performing at the same event. Two days on, I’m still glowing from the reflected glory and deep inner joy, all enhanced by the memorable timing of this experience on the eve of the Super Blue Blood Moon.

What event am I mooning about? I have already mentioned my old friend Norman Perryman in two previous blogposts (here and here – please read them again, and have a look at his websites). Naturally I’ve seen some of his impressive static paintings, and videos of his kinetic art, but this was my very first opportunity to see his unique genius in action, live, right before my eyes.

When he told me that he was coming to perform with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra on the evening of 30 January, of course I knew I had to go to the concert. So near, yet so far: Zurich is only an hour and a half away by train, so I’ve always considered it easily accessible. However, as I get older and feel more vulnerable, I have become ever more reluctant to take the train late in the evening because there are “some weird folk” abroad at that time, hanging around stations as well as on the train. There is probably little risk, I know, but I feel that my fear is palpable and that, like animals, these people can sense fear and are attracted by it. So call me cowardy-custard, but I prefer not to take the train after 9 pm if I can avoid it.

My Darling Daughter came to my rescue once again. She lives close enough to Zurich that the train journey is not so fraught, and anyway she looks after me so well, I don’t have to worry about anything. Plus, she offered me a bed for two nights. She was so keen to go, she actually bought the tickets, so another treat for me. In fact, I don’t think I would have found the concert venue on my own, though once you know its location it’s actually very easy, practically next door to the railway station.

The programme was an interesting and lively mix: Stravinsky’s “Basel” concerto for strings in D with Norman’s kinetic watercolours, followed by Mozart’s piano concerto no 21 (with the famous Elvira Madigan Andante 2nd movement) featuring the extraordinary Radu Lupu, and culminating in a rollicking rendering of Beethoven’s second symphony.

Stravinsky, I freely admit, is not among my favourite composers although in the past I have enjoyed watching ballets to his music. It is, I’ve always felt, more a vehicle to move to than music to listen to, and have disparagingly referred to the opening movement of this concerto as “Music for grasshoppers”. It had struck me as suitable for the soundtrack of some film noir, but with Norman’s synaesthesia supplying the colours and the paintbrush providing the choreography, I suddenly found this work palatable. Kinetic art is the perfect partner for this piece. To my surprise, it touched feelings and emotions in me that were buried very deep, arousing a sense of a profound connection to universal truths and meanings that flashed in and out too swiftly for me to catch them. Almost cathartic. Certainly beautiful.

We had seats in the middle of the front row so that we would get a good view of the screen where the art is projected. This also gave us a new perspective on the Steinway during the piano concerto, a true worm’s eye view of the mirrored inside lid. It didn’t matter. I’m one of those people who close their eyes while listening to classical music, preferring not to see the writhing and grimacing of many gifted musicians as they perform. All I could see of the soloist Radu Lupu, once he had sat down, was his left foot barely pressing the pedal. But my daughter, who was slightly better placed in the aisle seat, was struck by his stolid impassivity as he played, in such contrast to the delicacy of his touch and the power of his performance. No writhing or grimacing here. Yes, unmistakably a genius, able to coalesce with the music and the instrument, proving how much greater is the whole than the parts. Mozart must have been very pleased by this interpretation.

Then, after the interval, the Chamber Orchestra came into its own with an exuberant rendering of Beethoven’s Symphony No 2 that must also have had the composer wanting to jump up from his grave and join in. This, surely, is how it is meant to be performed, the conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste truly channelling the composer, and the musicians wallowing in the stirring spirit of the piece. Hard to imagine that Beethoven was anything but happy when he wrote this symphony, but in fact its composition coincided with his despair when he realised he was now permanently deaf.

This performance was joyful, jolly, jubilant. I couldn’t see the conductor’s face, but the musicians were all beaming and exhilarated, as was the audience. “Beethoven rocks!” laughed my daughter, as we watched the Leader of the orchestra rolling around on his seat, feet in the air much of the time as he put lots of gusto and brio into his bowing and his Stradivarius responded full-heartedly. The cellist was also sawing away so energetically that the strings of his bow were visibly disintegrating and by the end of the last movement there was a pile of fluff all round the feet of his chair. It was a rousing end to the programme.

How its first audiences must have been blown away by this fresh, exciting music that came with the new eighteenth century; no wonder the ladies were fainting and swooning, their corsets tight beneath their Empire dresses!

Happily, we were also able to catch Norman on the way out, and have him to ourselves for a few minutes before he had to go and mingle with the throng sipping their champagne in the foyer. We saw no point in lingering longer, so instead of champagne we went home for a cup of tea, and to tell my Dear Son-in-Law what a delight he had missed.

This will never be repeated and I may never see either of these geniuses again. Radu Lupu is more or less a recluse and his public performances are now extremely rare. Norman is due to perform at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham in the autumn, but it’s unlikely that I can make it there since I no longer have a permanent base in England. So I bask gratefully in the beautiful memory of an exceptional event on the blessed eve of the Super Blue Blood Moon.

 

Miaou

High time we had a blog about CATS again, I think, and what could be better that the Duetto Buffo di Due Gatti by Rossini? My favourite performer of this is actually Montserrat Caballé – she is a true pussy cat!

soulgifts - Telling Tales

 ‘Miaou’ means ‘woof’ in cat.
George Carlin

If your cat falls out of a tree, go indoors to laugh.
Patricia Hitchcock

Cats have let us humans into their lives for about 4000 years. They had the Ancient Egyptians twisted around their tales. Seriously – they were worshipped as gods and goddesses. Some of them were even mummified.

From there they moved on to conquer the rest of the world. Genghis Khan, Hannibal, Julius Caesar and Napoleon were mere amateurs in comparison. By 500 BC cats had become the most popular pet in China, continuing on to take dominion in India and Japan. From there they moved on to take over the Roman Empire and Britain where they were declared to be sacred and valuable animals by the King of Wales. Killing a cat was an offence punishable by death.

Something horrid happened to cats in the Middle Ages…

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Colchiques dans les prés …

Temperatures during the day are still in the high twenties here, and sometimes I’m sure it’s been over 30”C, too hot for me to do anything demanding energy. A late afternoon stroll with some old friends to Heidi’s village, just across the river from here, gave me a poignant reminder however that autumn is nigh: the autumn crocus, or meadow saffron, is blooming in profusion on the slopes.

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Goat in Heid’s village, above Maienfeld, view towards Bad Ragaz

I startled my friends by bursting into song – not too loud, I didn’t want to scare the droves of oriental tourists that flock to the scene of the 1950’s Heidi films – because for me this little flower is inextricably linked with my first September in Switzerland, in the mountain meadows near Geneva, where I first came across the colchicum autumnale and the children were all singing this melancholy little melody.

colchiques

Colchiques dans les prés fleurissent …

As autumn songs go, it actually isn’t so sad: yes, the summer is over but the colchique is blooming, the colourful leaves are swirling, clouds wing their way across the sky, chestnuts are bursting in the forests and the song that lingers in the heart – despite the plaintive tune – is one of happiness.

Not an anonymous folk song, as I discovered from Wikipedia, but a ritournelle written for the scout movement in 1942 or 43, the words by Jacqueline Debatte and the melody by a lady with the marvellous name of Francine Cookenpot. What better name for a composer of campfire songs!

For anyone interested, here are links to YouTube versions of the song, one in a traditional children’s arrangement, the other by the romantic chansonnier Francis Cabrel  (one of my favourite French singers, who doesn’t sound like a bleating sheep). There’s also a version of the melody with English words that bear no relation to the original by a long-forgotten French progressive rock band called Sandrose.

I listened to the first few bars of this batlike singer and understand why the band sank into oblivion.

This pretty little flower is deadly poisonous, with no known antidote, but has medicinal uses. Interesting that once upon a time, nobody was bothered that little children sang so blithely about it. I do know that when I first heard it, sung by first-graders, they all knew it was not to be picked or nibbled. “If you touch it, you’ll DIE!” they told me. I hope that, despite modern over-protective parents, first-graders are still singing about it, aware of the dangers and with enough childish common sense not to eat it.

Finally, if you also want to sing along to this haunting little song, here are the words:

Automne (Colchiques Dans Les Près)

Colchiques dans les près
Fleurissent, fleurissent
Colchiques dans les près
C’est la fin de l’été

(Refrain)
La feuille d’automne
Emportée par le vent
En rondes monotones
Tombe en tourbillonnant

Nuage dans le ciel
S’étire, s’étire
Nuage dans le ciel
S’étire comme une aile

Châtaignes dans les bois
Se fendent, se fendent
Châtaignes dans les bois
Se fendent sous nos pas

Et ce chant dans mon cœur
Murmure, murmure
Et ce chant dans mon cœur
Murmure le bonheur.