Couperin, NIMH, Mugs

from Friday, June8th of the year2007.

There are funny little traditions in music that I always take for granted ““ for instance, standing up at the Hallelujah Chorus; I’m sure there are weird Wagnerian ones, too, like playing certain brass interludes to get people back in their seats at Bayreuth. One of my all-time favorite traditions (and a tradition that I myself would like to participate in at some point) is the long, sinewy setting of the Hebrew letters at the beginnings of the sections of the Lamentations of Jeremiah the Prophet. Tallis did them, Couperin did them, and there is something so intense about how the incantation of a single letter becomes the emotional high point of the work. The Jod section from Couperin’s setting became famous in non-musical circles when it appeared in a key moment in that great film Tous les matins du monde. It goes without saying that you should see it if you haven’t. Anyway, because I wanted to focus on another letter today, here are two versions of Lamed from Couperin’s Trois Leçons de Ténèbres.

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This is Chrisophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques from the 2000 Decca disc.

bress1.jpgI love these voices and how well they control their vibrato. At the end of the piece, when the prophet instructs us to turn back to the Lord, the two women spin a heartbreaking pair of lines across the desert sky. It has always reminded me of the ending to that movie The Secret of NIMH. “Girls,” Jeremy the crow tells us, “can’t resist sparklies.” I will confess, however, that I am not crazy about how these particular poules de bresse get into the drama of the main body of the text, but you can’t beat the sound of the letter climbing higher and higher into the sky.

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This is Alfred Deller.

Compared to the French recording, there is something so much more desolate about Deller’s sound. The emotion comes from these hooks at the ends of phrases rather than from the slightly more continental (read: papist) drama of the intertwining voices. I don’t know what recording this is from, so if anybody knows, call me. It’s decidedly not from the Harmonia Mundi disc, which is in Eb, whereas this here is in F, so, maybe an earlier incarnation? All you English Readers of this webpage, sette ytt out for me!

If you like this stuff, you must rush out and buy a copy immediately. There are many good recordings but I think the Alfred Deller cannot be beat if you go in for that sort of thing. The Rousset is certainly more beautiful in the conventional sense of the word. gimel.jpgThere is also a recording by the Theatre of Early Music with Robin Blaze & Daniel Taylor that is quite lovely and has countertenors dripping from the walls, but doesn’t divide up the sections, so you have to scrub around to find the letters you want.

The good news is that I have finished the Boston Pops piece, called Wish You Were Here. I’ll be posting more details about it shortly. There is a lot of emotional source material in it that needs sifting and organization. I know it sounds like I’m making a complicated cake or something but writing for the Pops is a complicated affair. The trick is to write something that fits a lot of people’s needs, which, for me, is sort of like cooking dinner for people who don’t eat certain fish, or for picky children. choy.jpgThere is a really ugly way to do it, and there is a graceful way; the ugly way is always easier, where basically you make what you want and then order bok choy from the Chinese down the street. Then there is a more sly, insiduous way involving broccoli rabe and the judicious use of beets that can make everybody happy. I may have to call in the big guns for help! That, by the way, is a blog worth following.

If you have followed all the links in the last paragraph, I hope that you ended up here. I am so getting one of those mugs and I don’t care what you say. When you come over my house for coffee it will be served in these mugs. Either that or my matched sets of His ‘n’ Herz Icelandic Name Mugs. I guess the joke won’t be funny if Keith Lockhart or somebody actually called Aðalheiður comes over. Stranger things have happened. In fact, there is a wonderful article by a lady called Aðalheiður Guðmundsdóttir about “Shape-Shifting in a country with no wolves” which is pretty damned exciting when you think about it. They don’t have wolves in Iceland, or railroads. What must they think of, like, the Lais de Marie de France, or Different Trains?

1 Comment

  • I, too, want one of those mugs. They are totally jammin’. We could go to Starbucks on Thayer again someday, but this time bring our own mugs. I want mine to have Kevin Lyttle’s signature on it.