Friday, July 13, 2018

Due South

No. 284 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages is this week's Friday Blog and Podcast. Mobile followers can listen to the montage on our Pod-O-Matic Channel, and desktop users can simply use the embedded player found on this page.


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To launch our summer series of podcasts, I thought I’d provide a “musical passport” montage, something we haven’t done much of in the past couple of summers. In past years, we’ve provided travelogue-style podcasts that explore specific countries and regions, often not by native composers.
Today’s theme has to do with “going South”. South can be both a relative and an absoluter term. To illustrate, in one of his solo albums, Québec singer-song writer Michel Rivard talks of the South in this way (my translation) – At the pub, they sing farewell to Johnny, who’s headed South. South of Shefferville isn’t Jamaica, it’s Québec CIty, or Matane, or New Brunswick.

It’s in that vein that we should consider our first track, the concert overture In the South by Edward Elgar. Subtitled “Alassio” for the Italian Riviera town where Elgar and his family stayed in the winter of 1903 to 1904, it paints a picture of Elgar strolling around during the visit, while the buildings, landscape and history of the town provided him with sources of inspiration. In his words, “Then in a flash, it all came to me – the conflict of the armies on that very spot long ago, where I now stood – the contrast of the ruin and the shepherd – and then, all of a sudden, I came back to reality. In that time I had composed the overture – the rest was merely writing it down.”

We turn later in the montage to another British composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and his seventh symphony subtitled “Sinfonia antartica”. The symphony revisits the music Vaughan Williams provided for the film Scott of the Antarctic in 1947.

The symphony is in five movements; the composer specified that the third movement lead directly into the fourth. The score includes a brief literary quotation at the start of each movement. They are sometimes declaimed in performance, although the composer did not say that they were intended to form part of a performance of the work. The quotes are:

  • To suffer woes which hope thinks infinite,/ To forgive wrongs darker than death or night,/ To defy power which seems omnipotent,/ ... / Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent:/ This ... is to be/ Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free,/ This is alone Life, Joy, Empire and Victory. (Shelley, Prometheus Unbound)
  • There go the ships, and there is that Leviathan whom thou hast made to take his pastime therein. (Psalm 104, Verse 26)
  • Ye ice falls! Ye that from the mountain's brow/ Adown enormous ravines slope amain —/ Torrents, methinks, that heard a mighty voice,/ And stopped at once amid their maddest plunge!/ Motionless torrents! Silent cataracts! (Coleridge, Hymn before Sunrise, in the vale of Chamouni)
  • Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime,/ Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time. (Donne, The Sun Rising))
  • I do not regret this journey; we took risks, we knew we took them, things have come out against us, therefore we have no cause for complaint. (Scott's Last Journal)

The only work on today’s montage emanating from a Southern composer is by Argentina’s King of the Tango. Written between 1965 and 1970, the Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas, are a set of four tango compositions written by Ástor Piazzolla, which were originally conceived and treated as different compositions rather than one suite. By giving the adjective porteño, referring to those born in Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital city, Piazzolla gives an impression of the four seasons in Buenos Aires. Note the order of the seasons doesn’t match the “Northern” order of Vivaldi’s concerti!

The pieces were scored for his quintet of violin (viola), piano, electric guitar, double bass and bandoneón. The version I chose is an arrangement for piano trio.


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