Auden’s Songs (Cabaret Music pt. I)

I can’t find a suitable version of Auden’s cabaret songs.  I can find some well-done versions, but they are all done in the operatic style.  It may have something to do with Britten’s settings, or the simple fact that Britten did the settings, which are musically fine, but don’t really reflect how good the lyrics are, or the nature of the material.

Opera can ignore bad writing, because it is about the performance, but the same is not true here — the quality of the song depends largely on the quality of the lyrics. That is the story of popular music in the first three quarters of the 20th century.

There was a sentimental movie in my youth that featured one of these songs read aloud at a funeral as if it were a poem. Whoever wrote the screen play showed good judgement here (if not anywhere else).  The lyrics aren’t poetry (there is a very big difference and Auden wrote on the subject) but they do function better on their own.

It doesn’t have to be the case. Certainly, we can imagine these songs would be better if they had been scored by Kurt Weill, or George Gershwin, but it ain’t necessarily so. The music is better than sufficient, but the songs themselves need to be sung in different voices — the baritones and contraltos they were meant for. The ones that could deliver the wry jokes with the sly winks they need.  The songs need to be transposed into a different sensibility (and perhaps into keys low enough for us to hear the words).

But, alas, the song are, and have always been, the property of the classical world.  It is a world of composers and of performers, but not of lyricists. It is a world where changing a key is an act of impiety, where a great performance treats the voice as an instrument, but it is far away from the world where these songs belong.

A Day for Angels, A Day for Witches

 

I warned you before that I had a Christmas story appearing in a horror anthology, so look for ‘Christmas Angels’ in the newest edition of the Yellow Booke. Like the previous editions, it will be illustrated by M. Grant Kellermeyer. And will be released on the very night of the Witches’ Sabbath, Walpurgisnacht, April 30th.

I should also say that it will Kellermeyer_Christmasbe released as an ebook so you can download it, be safe, and not venture out of the house.

 

 

 

It’s Not You It’s Me…or Maybe I’ll Blame my Job

I’ve had a few inquiries of late about why I haven’t been blogging.  The answer is simple and probably nonsensical: I’ve been working, and attending to some personal matters and, when I fall behind on something I deem essential, I feel guilty doing anything I deem non-essential.  If I am at a ‘bus stop I can write a blog, but cannot file my taxes.  But the later prevents me from doing the former.  If I had downtime at my day-job could I catch up on my correspondences? I certainly could — if it weren’t for the laundry.

Guilt my be a great motivator but for me at least it’s terrible for general efficiency.

There Are Days when Poetry Is Required

September 1, 1939

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright 
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can 
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return. 

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire 
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
--W.H. Auden

On Mathoms: a Manifesto (Almost)

I should get rid of my old CDs.  There is no real reason to keep them.  Maybe a few of the local bands who never made it big that signed copies would be an exception, but I have kept them all, along with every program from every play that I have ever seen.  There is no real sense to this. I have seen a lot of plays.  I have to make a concerted effort to not save stubs from movie tickets, although I do find them piling up in places.

Long ago I wrote (luckily I don’t save everything that I have ever written, but I did save this):

I first encountered the word ‘mathom’ twenty-one years ago when I was reading The Lord of the Rings. Hobbits, like both Dragons and New Yorkers, are natural hoarders. And, when a healthy amount of material possessions becomes burdensome, some of the more interesting things are sent to a museum run by the Mayor: “The Mathom-house it was called; for anything that Hobbits had no immediate use for, but were unwilling to throw away, they called a mathom. Their dwellings were apt to become rather crowded with mathoms….” I later found out that ‘mathom’ meant ‘treasure’ in Old English. And, indeed in Beowulf, the dragon’s hoard is filled with many a mþum.

It was an introduction to an old blog. I thought at the time that the mathoms I kept were only in my mind, but, it turns out that when I moved a few months later I had more than I realized in boxes.

I make no pretense that the mathoms I put here will be worthy for a dragon’s hoard, merely that they will be worthy of your consideration. I only hope, that by writing them down, I can be done with these pesky notions so that they stop cluttering my mind and clutter yours instead.

I didn’t mean it at the time but I think that this notion sums up all writing, or at least all of the writing that I do.  The ideas need to be let out one way or another, and they have to be let out properly.

I told an idea to a friend years ago for a story I wanted to write and he told me it was cliché, and there was no more damning word to me then than ‘cliché.’  I would even have preferred ‘bad.’ I can’t recall exactly what the idea was but I doubt it was cliché, or even bad.  I do know that I went about it in the wrong manner.  Nobody wants to hear story ideas, although a few may want to read them once they are finished.

I can’t speak for anyone else but for me the ideas have to come out or they become distracting.

Tags: The Mathom-House at Michel Delving,