On Walpurgis Night none should leave,
Or walk alone, on the Witches’ Sabbath
When the devilish and the wicked walk the Earth —
The wicked who hide all year in the heaths
And the wicked among us who want to join them. –Kreduleð of Gulmanshire
Of Kreduleð we know nothing except that he stayed in the abbey of Gulmanshire for much of his life and disappeared in April 535. This brief poem and a Latin treatise on gardening are the only works currently attributed to him.
It seems the British Library has been thinking about Auden’s songs too, and produced a handy guide to them.
The blog I posted last week didn’t include any introduction to them whatsoever and I had been planning on doing a little one in case anyone was curious about what I was talking about.
I don’t suppose that many people are familiar with Auden or cabaret music these days, but it seems I did suppose so when I wrote that entry.
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.
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 be released as an ebook so you can download it, be safe, and not venture out of the house.
It’s the least exciting news ever, but I guess one needs them nowadays.
It will be a somewhat imperminent way for you to catch up on what I am doing, if your into that sort of thing.
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.