from Sunday, November23rd of the year2008.
One thing I like enormously about traveling is having little scars and wounds that exist on both sides of the surreal thing that is an overnight flight. I cut my finger making dinner in New York last week, and feeling the cut helped me focus when I woke up at 6:00 in the morning in Iceland. It was so windy at the airport that I physically couldn’t leave the terminal to get to my rental car until it calmed down. Then, when I did, I had to walk against the wind for ten minutes while banked snow whirled around: Very Dramatic Hertz Rental Situation.
I got sent this very pleasant and soothing track by a band called Kyte:
Kyte Boundaries from a self-titled album
Who are put out by a label called Erased Tapes who seem to be Consistently Excellent.
It’s almost time to start thinking about Christmas Music! I have been listening obsessively to Benjamin Britten’s arrangement of the traditional carol “The Holly and the Ivy”. Now, this is a very well-known tune and there are a bunch of very famous arrangements of it, but for some reason this Britten really hits the spot for me. When you get a really plummy recording from England, too, they really lean in on the last word of the chorus, that being, “choir,” and somehow compress it into a one-syllable loaf. I just adore the pagan universe described in these lyrics:
The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir
This particular recording has the MOST PINCHED AND DELIGHTFUL KUMAMOTO OYSTER of a countertenor solo in the third verse, too. Check it out.
[audio:12 arr. Britten _ The Holly and the Ivy.mp3]
The Holly and the Ivy (Traditional, arr. Britten)
King’s College Choir, Cambridge
Curiously, I can’t seem to find a source for Britten’s lyrics. The third verse (the one the kumamoto countertenor sings) seems to go on about Tree and Setting Sinners Free and such. I love these tight little protopagan rhyme schemes! Another good example of that is one of these Rhyming Numerologygasms, called “Joys Seven.”
[audio:18 Joys Seven (Arr. Cleobury).mp3]
Joys Seven (arr. Cleobury)
Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge
This arrangement is perfectly English: efficient and sentimental without being too outrageous. There is, however, a completely over-the-top descant at the end that performs a little trick. The organ rises up the scale, and the trebles sing aah aah aah on the top four notes of an Ab-major scale. Then, when they repeat it immediately afterwards, the G is flatted, followed by the F, and then a G-natural: it’s very subtle, but it lines up perfectly with the text below “…to see her own son Jesus Christ to wear the crown…” “” what you expect is, of course, the crown of thorns, but the word that you get is “heav’n” (to rhyme with Seven). That little turn in the trebles is precisely the Tart Joy of Christmas: you have to make sure that you advance the clock to Good Friday, looming just a few months later. See:
There are several little galling moments, specifically in the sixth cycle, at the words:
The next good joy our Mary had,
It was the joy of six;
To see her own son Jesus Christ
Upon the Crucifix.
Upon the crucifix, good man: And blessed may he be,
Both Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
To all eternity.
Mmm. This is one of my favorite lyrics EVER, because a little digging reveals some alternate words. Check out the first verse the way it’s sung these days:
The first good joy our Mary had,
It was the joy of one:
To see the blessed Jesus Christ
When he was first her son.
When he was first her son, good man…
and now an alternate:
The first good joy our Mary had,
It was the joy of one;
To see her own Son Jesus
To suck at her breast bone;
To suck at her breast bone,
Good man, and blessed may he be…
Ooh, see, isn’t that so much better? Then, dig deeper:
The forte joye, in good fay,
Was upon halewyn thursday,
He stey to hevene in ryche aray,
With Fader and Sone and Holy Gost.
The fyfte joye, withoutyn dene,
In hevene he crownyd his moder clene,
That was wol wil the eyr a sene,
With Fader, etc.
Now we’re talking! Mm, crownyd his modr clene. I wonder if this is an error (Queene is prolly what is meant, here) or if really we’re talking about “clene” in its Middle English use as a noun, meaning, “(a) Guiltless or excellent person; also, purity; (b) = clene Lenten; (c) clear path,” in which case, she, as a Pure Virgin or whatever, can properly join the “sene,” (here, from the root that brings us Synod – sort of a holy gathering) of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Inneresting.
Two final things. I got a comment in my Comment Space saying, “your meat talk is relentless. i find it a bit dull,” to which I respond, “Sorry! I am just a big flessh enthusiast.” Second thing: anybody who wants to witness a particularly ugly argument online about the staging of Opera should check out this website. It’s interesting and nasty: the basic premise here is that Patrice Chéreau directed a production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle a couple years ago that got stuck on DVD and is a kind of mainstream example of a wacky production (the whole thing is set in, like, the industrial revolution). Now, I am somebody who thinks that operas (especially great ones) can bear the weight of totally crazy productions with, you know, elephants and gas masks and gender reversals and piles of syringes or whatever. But I don’t really “care” in that same way that a lot of people do. And some people hate the whole idea of applying a production to an opera (rather than letting the production come from within, if that makes any sense). Anyway, read that nasty argument and feel glad that you don’t have to fight with these people.