Mercoldi Musicale

My friend Jim posted a music video on FaceBook last week that had me close to tears. I had never heard of Eva Cassidy, and it would appear that during her short career not many people had. Listening first to her sing what is after all a pretty well-covered standard and then reading story gave a second hearing further depth of poignancy and longing. I suggest you might want to do the same.

This is restored footage of Eva Cassidy performing her signature song at the Blues Alley jazz supper club in Georgetown, DC, on January 3rd 1996. Six months later she was diagnosed with cancer and died in November of that year at the age of thirty-three.

On this day in 1862: Hartley Colliery disaster: 204 men and boys were killed in a mining disaster; this prompted a change in UK law requiring all collieries to have at least two independent means of escape.

Mercoledi Musicale

On occasion it will happen that Laurent and I will write about or include the same thing in our blogs. And it has happened twice in the past two weeks (though I am holding off on one of the duplicates until after the Holidays).

Last week I featured a French Christmas song that was completely unknown to me until we heard it one morning on Radio Canada (Falala). On the same programme they played another Nöel that was new to me: Trois anges sont venus ce soir (Three Angles Came This Evening). Laurent featured the version they played by Mathé Altery, a lovely light soprano who was very popular in the 1950-60s.  

The piece was composed in 1884 by Augusta (Mary Ann) Holmès (left) a French composer of Irish parentage who wrote the lyrics to her songs, oratorios, operas and symphonic poems. Though I don’t like to duplicate things I am posting another version of this little “chanson de Nöel”. I was struck by the lyrics to the piece, particularly the last verse. Once again this week I’ve made my own rough version in the spirit of the song rather than as a word-for-word translation

It is sung here by one of the great 20th century French entertainers: Tino Rossi

Three angels appeared tonight
To bring me beautiful things.
The first had a golden censer,
The second a crown of roses,
And the third had in hand
An embroidered robe
Of pearls, gold and jasmine
Like the Virgin Mary wears.

Nöel! Nöel! we come from heaven
To bring you whatever you wish.
The Good Lord in Heaven
Is sad when he hears your sighs.

Do you want this beautiful golden censer?
Or this crown of blossoming roses?
Or do you want this beautiful robe or perhaps
A necklace of silver flowers?
Or do you wish the fruits of Paradise?
Or wheat from the celestial fields?
Or like the shepherds in Bethlehem
Do you want to see the infant Jesus in the manager?

Nöel, Nöel, Quickly return to heaven
Oh beautiful angels
And only ask of God on his throne
For happiness for the one I love.

As we pass through this season of hope and love I would like to change the last line of Madame Holmès’ lyrics slightly.
She writes:
Le bonheur pour celui que j’aime!
I’d like to change it to:
Le bonheur pour tous ceux que j’aime!
For happiness for all those whom I love!

On this day in 1898: Marie and Pierre Curie announce the isolation of radium.

Mercoledi Musicale

My friend Dr Spo was mentioning that he would like to explore Christmas music beyond the usual carols and tin-pan alley anthems to the Yuletide season.  And there is a wealth of undiscovered seasonal music out there, it is just a matter of finding it. I was fortunate that I was introduced to the Christmas music of so many cultures and eras by people like Bob Kerr, Clyde Gilmour, and Jurgen Gothe on the old CBC.  I have often bemoaned the passing of programming like theirs on the “new” CBC particularly over the holiday season.

However Saturday morning as we listen to Radio Canada (the national French broadcaster known in our household as Radio Falala) I was introduced to a Christmas song from a much loved if unexpected performer: Edith Piaf.  Being Piaf it is not a song that is filled with silver bells, sleeping infants or softly falling snow but speaks of those without hope in the season of  hope.

Rather than a literal translation (there are argot idioms that would not make sense) I offer my translation that I hope captures the spirit of the lyrics.

Hey little guy, where are you going
Running barefoot like that?
“I’m running after Paradise
Because they say it’s Christmas!”
The Christmas of the streets
is snow and wind.
A wind so bitter
It makes the children cry.

The bright lights and happiness
Are behind windows.
They aren’t for you and me
They are for others.
My small one, enjoy it all
But at a distance.
Look, only look
Make sure you don’t touch anything.
The Christmas of the streets
Is the cold of winter reflected
In the wide eyed longing of the street kids.

With their mugs pressed against the windows
They hunch their shoulders like frightened cats.
They are huddled like a child Jesus
That his Blessed Mother had lost.
The Christmas of the streets
is snow and wind.
A wind so bitter
It makes the children cry.

They move on empty-handed and still searching
Searching for a bright shining star.
My little one if you find that star
Use it to warm your small frozen fingers
The Christmas of the streets
Means living under a sleeping star
That never reaches earth.

On this day in 1921:  the last Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost is sold in London, England.

Mercoledi Musicale

We missed the big storm that ended November here on PEI .  It caused a fair bit of havoc with downed trees and power lines, extended blackouts  and general chaos.  A friend of ours recalled that as a kid they looked forward to possible blackouts with a sense of adventure but now they are generally greeted with wails of distress at lost internet signals. Sic transit gloria socialis instrumentis!

As I said we missed all that but the past week or two has been one of snow, melt, snow, melt and now more snow.  It looks very much like it will be a white Christmas.  Now I’ve vowed that I will not be posting pictures this year of the winter wonderland that is our Province and I will make every effort to keep to that promise.  Nor will I wax enthusiastic (initally) or morose (as winter goes on) about the continued cold and frozen precipitation.

Instead I will let Vera Ellen (voiced by Trudy Stevens), Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby raise their voices in praise of – are you ready for it? – SNOW!

Fine for them they were caroling Irving Berlin’s paean to the white stuff on a sound stage sheltered by swaying palm trees. But I guess it’s early enough in the season to joy in the white stuff – I wouldn’t dare post this come March or April.

My mother thought Bing Crosby was really hot (?) and the day that White Christmas opened we headed downtown to the grand Imperial Theatre on Yonge Street to see the first show at 1000 in the morning.  And we sat through the second show before heading over to Diana Sweets for lunch and afterwards, if my memory serves me right, to Eaton’s to talk to Santa Claus.

On this day in 1925: The Majlis of Iran votes to crown Reza Khan as the new Shah of Iran, starting the Pahlavi dynasty.

Mercoledi Musicale


Also: brainworm, sticky music, stuck song syndrome, Involuntary Musical Imagery (IMI)
A piece of music that continually repeats through a person’s mind after it is no longer playing.  Possibly a calque from the German Ohrwurm. The earliest known usage is in Desmond Bagley’s 1978 novel Flyaway.

die-tote-stadtAs I was having my coffee this morning the first piece that they played on CBC, during the brief few hours they now devote to classical music, was one of my favourite  ear worms* and it sent me into a rage.  Italian violinist Nicola Benedetti played an arrangement of Marietta’s Lied from Erich Wolfgang Korngold‘s Die tote Stadt and frankly murdered the piece!  In what was obviously an attempt to make it sound melancholy and soulful she took it so slow that it almost ground to a halt.  What is meant to be a lyric outpouring for lost love came out as a disjointed funeral dirge.  I immediately ran to listen to several other versions, though I was not desperate enough to listen to Renee Fleming’s maudlin distortion, including one of my favourite modern versions (modern? well 1983 but still modern enough).  I have posted it before but as it then became stuck in my head for the rest of the day I decided to post it once again.

At this stage of her career Karen Armstrong may not have had the most lyric voice in the world but she was  Marie/Marietta for an entire generation in Europe and here she is partnered by the remarkable Siegfried Jerusalem.  Their chemistry matches the almost raw longing in Korngold’s music.

Glück, das mir verblieb,

Marietta (taking the lute from the table begins to play):
Joy, that near to me remains,
Come to me, my true love.
Night sinks into the grove
You are my light and day.
Anxiously beats heart on heart
Hope itself soars heavenward.

How true, a sad song.

The song of true love,
that must die.
I know the song.

I heard it often in younger,
in better days.
It has yet another verse—
Do I know it still?

Though sorrow becomes dark,
Come to me, my true love.

Marietta (joins him):
Lean (to me) your pale face
Death will not separate us.
If you must leave me one day,
Believe, there is an afterlife.

And now that I’ve passed my ear worm on perhaps I can stop humming and whistling it and driving poor Laurent and the HFH crazy.

*I once listened to a podcast of 15 versions of it on a four hours train ride from Bologna to Rome.  Talk about your bugger for punishment.

On this day in 1766: in London, auctioneer James Christie holds his first sale.