Thursday, 4 June 2015

Andrew Marvell and Bert Jansch

Marvell wrote:
Now therefore, while the youthful hueSits on thy skin like morning dew,And while thy willing soul transpiresAt every pore with instant fires,Now let us sport us while we may...
More here 

Or, as Bert Jansch put it [with more brevity if  less decorum]:

Love be bold,

We're not so old,

Don't you be afraid to lie

By me, my love,

Your father will not know.

More: here 

This sort of correspondence strikes me quite often. In a summer concert (probably called Music for a summer's evening  – they usually are [see here]) given by a choir I used to sing with we were singing, inter alia [or should that be aRia? {bou-boum-tsh  – Ithangyou}],  Verdi's Va Pensiero and Borodin's Polovtsian dances [victim of many a metathesis, but I digress]. They seemed quite dissimilar, until you look at the lyrics – particularly the metaphors in them:

Verdi's setting is:
(the melody known to the listeners of Classic FM as The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves)

The words are translated ('after a fashion' as my brother once said in response to a sales assistant's 'Are you being served?') in this Wikipedia article:

Fly, thought, on wings of gold;
go settle upon the slopes and the hills,

where, soft and mild, the sweet airs

of our native land smell fragrant!

Borodin's setting is:

(the melody known to the listeners of Classic FM as Stranger in Paradise)

translated as
Fly away on wings of wind
To native lands, our native song,

To there, where we sang you freely,

Where we were so carefree with you.

There, under the hot sky,
'Fly', 'wings', 'native land'  – it's all there in both of them., because the people singing, in both pieces, are expatriated slaves. Moreover, the Wikipedia translation does the correspondence no favours: Borodin's sky is 'hot', but Verdi's 'sweet airs' are 'mild' – a flamboyantly inappropriate translation of tepidi (which you'll see towards the end of the second line).

In our coming concert it took me a while to make this sort of link between seemingly disparate pieces. But I've finally got it; it's not  matching words, but matching structures, between Palestrina's setting of Psalm 42 (Sicut cervus) and Elgar's setting of Longfellow's 'As torrents in summer'. The first word gives it away ('Sicut...' vs 'As...'). They are both extended metaphors.

In the Palestrina† (sung here beautifully by the Cambridge Singers) the deer (cervus) occupies the first third; and although the 'That's the way...' (Ita...) bit starts at 1'15", God doesn't get a mention until quite near the end (2'23", the whole piece taking only 3'16"). The text is:

Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum, ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus.

<philological_note comment="insufficient data">
In  my youth I would have hazarded a guess [okay, I do now too, though with less confidence] that the writer of that translation into Latin had links with the Iberian peninsula. I've not met this use of desiderare ad elsewhere. It is reminiscent to me of the Castilian desear a.

The Elgar/Longfellow is more evenly divided – into two verses. The first verse is about torrents in summer (duh), and the second verse starts with 'So hearts that are fainting' – in a Mills & Boon novella tears would suddenly well up, reinforcing the generally wet theme – and God enters the picture only in the closing bars.

Is that the time...


Many of my posts kick off from something I've heard on the radio. This time, the radio has followed the blog. After writing about Bert Jansch – who was big in the '60s and early '70s and active until his death in 2011 – I caught on Radio 3 a recording I have, insulated in vinyl. (That's my word of the day; on In Our Time just now I heard the phrase 'insulated Christians'‡ and  it's inspired me to find innovative uses of the word. My vinyl records are an island of unplayability [well, not unplayable, but just not easily playable given the technology I have]).

PPS (later the same day, after rehearsal): added this footnote:
Oops, no – this piece has been axed. Shame.

Update 2015.06.05.10:25 – Added this footnote:
By this she didn't mean 'uninfluenced by non-believers' – which depends on a more common application of the insulation idea (cut off  – in an intellectual sense). This is a usage (perhaps a common one among religious historians, but one that's new to me) that refers to physical isolation.

Update 2021.10.18.15:30 Deleted old footer.

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