Saturday, 10 October 2020

Where have I heard that before? (Take 2)

Today's excursion (taking a thought for a walk, whereas Klee took a line) is an idea I've looked at before (here, and probably other places – I often notice these things [and as often can't place the tunes]

Many years ago, when my ability to read music was even more hesitant than it is now, I found the score of Goodbye old paint in a collection  of American folk songs. It wasn't a melody I knew, but the book provided chord symbols and I eventually worked out A tune that fitted the harmonies. But my grasp of the actual notes petered out after the first phrase

When I later heard the Delius piece [HD – On hearing the first cuckoo in Spring] I thought  AHA. While Delius was living in Florida he must have been exposed to Goodbye Old Paint.

But the BBC has now disabused me of this. The Delius piece was not an original idea (although I've never been a stickler for originality – as I've said often enough in this blog,  here for example); he got it from Edvard Grieg who he was with in Leipzig in 1887...

Grieg's source was the Norwegian folk song In Ola valley, which he included in a collection of piano transcriptions in 1896. But as that radio programme made clear, the atmosphere of the piece was very different. The story behind In Ola Valley is rather Scandi Noir...

More here

(You may want to follow that link,  but here's a plot-spoiler: the falling third represents not a cuckoo but a bell tolling for a lost boy.)

My most recent AHA moment came in a guitar lesson ...

Between the late '60s and the mid '70s I was a folk-rock hero manqué. One of my most cherished memories of this time is of an American audience member at the folk club in the crypt at St Martin-in-the-Fields saying to me "You're subdood, but hit it"; I was never sure what this meant, but it felt encouraging.

My last public performance with a guitar was in an OUP Christmas Revue in 1979. (I appeared in the 1980 one as well, but sans guitar... 


(Captain Hook, the character I was playing, would've had trouble with the fingering.)


  Now, after 40 years, I've decided to learn properly.

... as I was stumbling through a Russian folk tune about a Little Tree in a Meadow (life's too short to track down the Cyrillic) I thought I recognized it.

<yawn reason="Everyone knows that">
Well I don't. I know that a favourite habit of some composers is to quote from folk songs, and if I had a decent musical education I could reel off umpteen examples. But no, apart from the Hovis advert (which everyone does know) I keep tripping over this stuff and it's always a surprise.

And it's not just folk songs. Watching The First Night of the Proms earlier this year I was struck by the similarity between Copland's Quiet City (at 24'45" in that programme) and Frank Loesser's My Time of Day . Maybe it's just the plaintive lone trumpet and the general atmosphere of deserted city streets (and they're both set in New York), but I wouldn't be at all surprised if there was some other theoretical clue in the music.  Loesser might well have heard the Copland piece (or vice versa – they both premiered in 1940. Come to think of it, they might both have borrowed it from somewhere else).

I discuss another example (but the Devil's music this time [Clapton's Wonderful Tonight and Handel's Silent Worship] here). And that song brings to mind another musical quotation which brings us back to folk; in one of Cream's songs [I'll have to look it up] Jack Bruce's bass line is The Cutty Wren.

After a false alarm when I thought I'd placed it in the 1812 (at 8'10")...

(in my defence, the two songs are both in the Dorian mode.

On the piano's white notes, the Dorian mode starts with D.

</inline_PS> >

... I found it in the same composer's  Fourth Symphony (it first appears at 0'15" into the 4th movement, but is restated several times).

That's all for now. I may revisit this next week (Sunday's a day of rest) with an update about my time with "the fastest balalaika player in the West".


Update: 2020.10.13.14:10 – added < inline_PS /> and PPS

PPS: That folk song mentions a balalaika; I know only a handful of Russian words,  but balalaika leaps out of the jumble of foreign sounds – that is, most of it does (the last syllable seems a bit /u/-ish to me, but I'm sure there's a perfectly good reason for that). 

Anyway, listening to it reminded me of my time as Boris the Accompanist, supporting Bibs Ekkel, the fastest balalaika player in the West. If you saw a film or TV drama that called for a balalaika-playing extra, if it was made in the 1970s or '80s it was probably Bibbs. (IMDB cites more recent films, so maybe he was younger than he looked). It was Bibbs who introduced me to the idea of practice rewards  – Stolichnaya in his case.

When we first met, he asked  exciting questions like Had I got a passport? and How soon could I fly to Israel? (he had worked on cruise ships; I think the Israel  gig was a figment of his imagination. But the furthest afield we ever got was a restaurant in South Kensington, where he was constantly asked to play Lara's Theme, which he despised (to the extent of not telling me the chords, so we couldn't rehearse – and this was in the pre-Youtube days, when research like that was a less trivial matter).

Update: 2020.10.28.16:20 – added < inline_PPPS />

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