Mercoledi Musicale

It is difficult to reconcile the current temperature and forecasts with the season of the year. According to phenology, theoretically, it is Spring here on the Island. It’s just that no one has told the weather man. Ah well it’s Canada and we really shouldn’t expect anything until mid-May.

The budding season has been oft celebrated in music and song. I first heard one of my favourite “spring” songs one Sunday afternoon on Otto Lowy’s The Transcontinental. I have mentioned Lowy and his “musical train ride through Europe” in many previous posts. He introduced me to so much beautiful music and so many wonderful performers.

Original sheet music cover
Chappell – 1945

We’ll Gather Lilacs in the Spring was written by Ivor Norvello for his 1945 operetta Perchance to Dream and became an instant hit. It was first recorded by Olive Gilbert and Muriel Barron from the original cast and has since had covers by everyone from Richard Tauber to Frank Sinatra. The show ran for over 1000 performances and the song struck a cord with a world where, as the war ended, parted couples and families yearned to be together again.

In looking for a recording I found many out there. I was tempted by the Gilbert-Barron version, it was after all the first one I ever heard, and also by a lovely rendition by Ben Heppner. However I settled on a more recent and pandemic-centric version by the Hayes Community Singers of Kent, England. It was recorded in 2020 during lockdown and once again Novello’s words and music reflect the yearning to be reunited with our friends and families.

The word of April 21st is:
Phenology /fəˈnäləjē/: [noun]
The study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life.
Late 19th Century: from German (phänologisch, Karl Fritsch, 1853) from Latin phaeno-, from Greek phaino-, from phainein “bring to light, cause to appear, show” + logy.

Mercoledi Musicale

As I have mentioned before I am currently taking a fascinating online course on Russian classical music of the Soviet period with my dear friend David Nice. At the time three Russians made a triumvirate of giants amongst modern composers: Serge Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovitch, and Igor Stravinsky. In the last weeks of the course the later perforce faded into the background. Unlike the other two Stravinsky had left Soviet Russia behind and was not subject to the ever increasing restrictions and demands of the stifling Union of Soviet Composers.

Yesterday (April 6th) was the 50th anniversary of the death of Stravinsky in New York at the age of 88. After a funeral service in New York his body was taken to Venice where he was buried in the Russian section on the beautiful cemetery island of San Michele.

During our second visit to La Serenissima we spent an afternoon wandering around the Isola including a visit to the simple graves of Stravinsky and his wife Vera.

The simple graves of Igor Stravinsky and his wife Vera in the Russian section of the cemetery at Isola di San Michelle in Venice.

Though he was best known as a composer Stravinsky was also a conductor and toured extensively – primarily conducting his own works. His final appearance in London was in 1965 at the age of 83 conducting the New Philharmonia Orchestra in The Firebird and The Symphony of Psalms. This brief excerpt is the Lullaby and Finale of the ballet – it is almost as fascinating to watch him conduct as it is to hear the music. Around the 06:00 mark he cues the horns slightly early and gives a flicker of a smile at his mistake.

The applause went on and on with Stravinsky was called back so often – and with great difficulty – that for his final appearance he wore his coat and hat.

Two years later (1967) he made his final stage appearance at the age of 84 with the Toronto Symphony conducting Pulcinella. He had concerts booked into 1969 but ill health forced cancellations. The sold-out audience at Massey Hall had no idea that they were seeing his final concert. (As a side bar I saw many concerts from that second balcony as I was growing up and this brought back so many memories.)

Laurent and I have often remarked that on our visit to San Michele we saw some very ornate graves with lengthy purple prose histories on the tombstones of their now unknown occupants. Stravinsky’s simply bears his name and a cross – nothing more is needed.

The word for April 7th is:
Soviet /ˈsōvēət/: [1. noun 2. adjective]
1.1 An elected local, district, or national council in the former Soviet Union.
1.2 A citizen of the former Soviet Union
2. Of or concerning the former Soviet Union.
Early 20th century: from Russian sovet ‘council’.

Mercoledi Musicale

The other evening we could find nothing on the radio to give pleasure so we riffled through our CD collection – yes dear reader we still own CDs and a CD player. Laurent pulled out one that we hadn’t played in years: Canciones de mi padre – Linda Ronstadt’s tribute to her Mexican heritage. It brought back all sorts of memories of our time in Mexico City – 1987-89. Mexico was a safe place in those days we enjoyed so much – the food, the history, the people, and the music.

I’ve always felt that Linda Ronstadt was greatly under-appreciated despite, or perhaps because of,her diversity. She seemed to be able to excel at any style of music she put her hand, well voice, to.

Though she got her start in blues and pop she expanded well beyond that to include everything up to Gilbert and Sullivan.

I first began to really appreciate her when I heard, bought and played to death, Trio the incredible album she made with Dolly Parton and EmmyLou Harris.

She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and retired in 2011. In an interview in 2014 she said that she was unable to sing a note. The diagnosis has since been re-evaluated to progressive supranuclear palsy. A tragedy on so many levels for a talented and vibrant individual.

The word for March 31st is:
Versatile /ˈvərsədl/: [adjective]
1.1 Able to adapt or be adapted to many different functions or activities.
1.2 changeable; inconstant – Archaic
Circa 1600 (in the sense ‘inconstant, fluctuating’): from French, or from Latin versatilis, from versat- ‘turned about, revolved’, from the verb versare, frequentative of vertere ‘to turn’. Meaning “able to do many things well” is from 1762 in English.
Interesting how it changed from a pejorative to more positive meaning.

Mercoledi Musicale

It’s always difficult to figure out when and how a February 29th birthday should be celebrated. Once every four years you can do it on the day but what do you do the other three years when it’s a non-day? The good folks at the Rossini Festival decided to through a non-birthday recital on February 28th in honour of the lad from Pesaro who made good in the music world. Ever the rugged individualist I decided to wait until today to celebrate one of my favourite composers.

Sometime after 1848 Franz Liszt wrote a piano transcription of La caritá (Charity) the third of Rossini’s Trois choeurs religieux from 1844. Appropriately the other two are called La fede (Faith) and La speranza (Hope). The lyricist of Rossini’s original settings is unknown though it is thought that the composer may have translated the texts into Italian from poems by the French poet Louise Colet, the mistress of Gustav Flaubert. They were both visitors to Rossini’s famous Paris and Passy salons, as indeed was Liszt.

The first version of the transcription was never published but later Liszt created a simplified version that became, for a time, very popular. I had hoped to post a video I made back in 2014 which featured Leslie Howard playing that published version however Hyperion has blocked it* and there is not a wide choice of performances available. However I did find an interesting version which appears to be a performance by Anne-Marie Dubois of that first unpublished score. I think it’s a fitting birthday salute to my beloved Gioachino on his 229th birthday. Though let’s be honest the Swan of Pesaro has only had 55 real birthdays since 1792; the other 174 have been non-birthdays.

Here is the original piece for chorus and soprano solo that Liszt based his transcription(s) on. I could not find a translation of the lyrics so have done a rather rough – non-literal – one of my own.

O caritade, virtù del cor,
Tu l’uomo infervori di santo ardor.
Tu l’affratelli, e nei martir
Consoli il povero de’ suoi sospir.

Iddio rivélasi solo per te:
Tu inspiri al misero del ben la fe’.
L’alma che accendesi del tuo fervor
Spande suglio uomini divin fulgor.

Allor che il mondo tua voce udrà,
Di guerra il fremito si spegnerà;
L’ira, l’orgoglio fian vinti allor
Da un sacro vincolo d’eterno amor.

O charity, virtue of the heart,
You fire mankind with holy passion.
You inspire brotherhood and martyrdom.
You console the poor in their need.
God is revealed only through you:
You inspire us to do good works and
Your spirit spreads a holy warmth upon the world that envelopes mankind.
When the world attends your voice,
the thrill of war will be extinguished; Anger and pride will be defeated
In a sacred bond of eternal love.

Whither it be the 55th or the 229th I say “Auguri e bon compleano, caro Gioachino!” Your music has brought us joy for over 200 years and long may it do so!

*As I always do I gave full credit on the video for the artist, label and ordering information which normally is appreciated but I understand fully the desire and right to protect copyrights.

The word for March 3rd is:
Charity /ˈCHerədē/: [noun]
1.1 An organization set up to provide help and raise money for those in need.
1.2 The voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need.
1.3 Kindness and tolerance in judging others.
1.4 Archaic: love of humankind, typically in a Christian context.
Late Old English (in the sense ‘Christian love of one’s fellows’): from Old French charite, from Latin caritas, from carus ‘dear’.

Mercoledi Musicale

I’ve been MIB* for almost a week now with the only excuse being that the old Muse (we really do have to find a name for the muse of blogging) wasn’t being inspirational. Well okay that and frankly I was getting to that stage that I’m sure we’ve all been at over the past 12 months – pandemic fatigue. I’m not at all sure that it has passed but one way to get through it is to get the mind busy with other things. Ergo the advise from the Muse seems to be – get blogging again Idiot! It keeps you off Facebook and the deserted streets of Charlottetown. So I lift quill to lower lip and put nib to paper and see what results.

Another way to ease some of the fatigue – other than drink – is to just sit back and relax. Last evening while listening to Stanley Péan’s Quand le jazz est là – proof that CBC/Radio Canada can do good programming – I heard a Carole King classic done in that style that identified it immediately as by The Nylons with the distinctive voice of Marc Cooper.

We all need our own rooftop every now and then when this old world starts getting us down.

*Missing In Blogging

The idiom for February 10th is:
The last straw
1. to be the last in a sequence of unpleasant things
2. to be the last tolerable thing after which something cannot be accepted
A shortened version of the phrase “the last straw that broke the camel’s back”, it has been used since the mid 1700s. Based on an apocryphal story of a merchant who loaded his camel to the maximum and one day went just a bit too far with disastrous results.