Serenade to Music

November 19, 2016 at 12:00 pm

What more is there to say? Shakespeare, Vaughan-Williams, Serenade to Music.
(continuing the celebration of this blog’s birthday)

How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here will we sit and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.
Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold:
There’s not the smallest orb that thou behold’st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;
Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.
Come, ho! and wake Diana with a hymn!
With sweetest touches pierce your mistress’ ear,
And draw her home with music.
I am never merry when I hear sweet music.
The reason is, your spirits are attentive –
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not mov’d with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted. Music! hark!
It is your music of the house.
Methinks it sounds much sweeter than by day.
Silence bestows that virtue on it
How many things by season season’d are
To their right praise and true perfection!
Peace, ho! the moon sleeps with Endymion
And would not be awak’d. Soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.

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When will King Arthur return to rule?

November 10, 2016 at 10:30 am

The Arthurian Legends tell us that Arthur will one day return to reunite and rule over Britain. Arthur’s reign represents perfect politics, and his Christ-like return would mark the beginning of a new golden age. Even so, King Arthur, quickly come. We need you on this side of the pond as well.

How fitting that Henry Purcell, the greatest English baroque composer during his life (and easily the greatest English composer since the renaissance) had written an opera based on the King Arthur legends. And, interestingly, it was politically poignant when it was composed, as England was struggling with who would be the heir to the throne – their choices were the King’s brother (that’s good) who was Roman Catholic (that’s bad) OR an illegitimate son (that’s bad) who was Protestant (that’s good). Sadly, Arthur didn’t return then to fix the political strife, but fingers crossed that he shows up in the US sometime soon!

This is an older recording (from 1956), and it shows its age in its over-romantic interpretation of the music. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, but it’s different from the way it sounded in Purcell’s day. For one, the instruments used have evloved significantly over the 200 years; secondly, musical styles and practices have evolved as well. For a “performance practice” version of some of the same music, click here.

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All Souls’ Day

November 2, 2016 at 11:25 am

All Souls’ Day marks the end of Allhallowtide, the second of two Christian celebrations related to Halloween (the first being yesterday, All Saints’ Day.)

All Souls’ is a celebration that commemorates the dead. Not surprisingly, there are loads of great pieces linked with death – our own or that of a loved one. One of my favorites is “Bring Us, O Lord God”, a setting of a prayer for a peaceful death by the poet and priest John Donne, composed by the English cathedral musician William H. Harris.

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