“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.” Victor Hugo – so appropriate for St. Valentine’s day.
I had no idea that being the patron saint of engaged couples and happy marriages was not enough for the dear Saint V. He is also the patron saint of beekeepers, epilepsy, plague, fainting and traveling and now, perhaps COVID19 as well! Saints’ Holy duties include interceding in earthly affairs and entertaining petitions from living souls. They are certainly expected to keep busy in the afterlife. St. Valentine surely has his work cut out today!
Interestingly, it is thought that our own medieval English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer invented Valentine’s Day. Apparently he often took liberties with history, placing his poetic characters into fictitious historical contexts that he then represented as real. There aren’t any records of romantic celebrations on Valentine’s Day prior to his poem “Parliament of Foules,” [fowles] which Chaucer wrote around 1375. In his work he links a tradition of courtly love with the celebration of St. Valentine’s feast day. This association didn’t exist until after his poem received widespread attention. The poem refers to February 14 as the day birds come together to find a mate. “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate,” so he may well have invented the excuse to celebrate, that we know today – bit chilly but it certainly brightens up good ol’ February n’est ce pas? Of course the collective noun for crows is a ‘Parliament’ Well now there’s a thing…..!
Time for some music – what better way to start the day than with Alfred Brendel performing Schubert Impromptu Op90 No 4 D899 A flat major My absolute favourite. As you may know, Schubert wrote two sets of four Impromptus in 1827. No 4 is from his first set published during his lifetime. To me it feels like the start of a romance – that fluttering heart ladies, illustrated so perfectly by the cascading arpeggios, followed by murmuring chordal responses – as we settle down to reality!!
Time for a little indulgence with Peter Hewitt’s ‘Coffee Concertissimo’ featuring Brahms’ G minor Rhapsody Op.79. Peter says, “I always find that Brahms is a composer that I can indulge in over and over again. His limitless powers of musical expression and wonderful textures and harmonies are all demonstrated in this work”. I love Peter’s introductions which really sets the scene – this time he tells us all about this work whilst standing in a woodland setting with snow falling all around. Well worth that double click of kettle and link!
We all know that heavenly romantic work, Salut d’Amour by Edward Elgar but do you know the delightfully romantic story behind it? It was finished in July 1888 when Elgar had fallen in love with Caroline Alice Roberts. He named the work, ‘Liebesgruss’ (Love’s Greeting) because of Miss Roberts’ fluency in German. On their engagement she presented him with a poem ‘The Wind at Dawn’, which she had written in 1880. Later, Elgar set it to music. However, far more romantic in my view is the presentation of Salut D’Amour which Elgar gave to Miss Roberts as an engagement present. Those harmonies certainly trigger endorphin release. The story goes even further – the dedication is written in French “A Carice” – a combination of his fiancé’s names and if that is not enough, they called their daughter, born two years later, Carice! Although written for the violin, I love this ‘cello version performed byJulian Lloyd Webber with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by James Judd.
A more modern work to get those endorphins flowing it the hugely romantic composition, Gabriel’s Oboe by the late Italian composer Ennio Morricone. Gabriel’s Oboe is the main theme used in the film, ‘The Mission’ staring Jeremy Irons and Robert de Nero. The protagonist, Jesuit missionary, Father Gabriel hopes to ’spread the word’ to the indigenous Guarani tribe of Paraguay. He walks up to a waterfall and starts to play this incredibly soothing and romantic tune on his oboe with the aim of befriending them. It had interesting results! Well worth watching for the rest of the story which is a lot less romantic!
Now for one of the most moving works the Adagietto from Gustav Mahler’s 5th Symphony performed by the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra under the baton of Leonard Bernstein. Absolute and complete bliss. Scored only for strings and harp it is said to represent Mahler’s love song to his wife Alma. Here are the words of the poem that Mahler wrote which are so touching:
In which way I love you, my sunbeam,
I cannot tell you with words.
Only my longing, my love and my bliss
can I with anguish declare.
Before leaving the St. Valentine’s day theme, spare just 8 minutes to dip into the National Gallery. The theme is Love and punishment: Arrows in art . From Cupid’s bow to Odysseus’s epic archery skills, discover the meaning of arrows in art with [the inspirational] Carlo Corsato. really worth a click.
And now for some fun! Raise your glasses to the London Mozart Players who are celebrating their 70th birthday this week. They have recorded a fabulous version of the famous Happy Birthday that we all know and love, (according to the Guinness Book of Records, the most recognised song in the English Language). It was allegedly started as a song with the words, “Good Morning to You”, created as an easy tune for American nursery children to sing at the beginning of the school day. This version was filmed in St. John’s Smith Square from a most original angle. Well worth a click and indeed passing it on to anyone with a birthday.
And FINALLY – Shrove Tuesday is coming up. Pancake time! I am hugely grateful to Choir Director and expert pancake-maker Liz Glen whose inimitable sense of fun caused her to take up her apron, microphone and spatula, on the spur of the moment to make this musical demonstration of pancake-making. No time to rehearse. Don those aprons ladies, print off the words (below), turn up the volume and join in!
I just cannot resist drawing your attention to the origin of Pancake racing. It dates back to 1445. In the village of Olney, Buckinghamshire there is a local legend about an absent-minded housewife who, realising that she was late for church dashed the 420-yard journey, only to realise that she still had a frying pan in her hand! This dash is commemorated annually on Shrove Tuesday by a pancake race! Only female residents of Olney could take part. They donned aprons and headscarves (the uniform remains to this day) and waited in their kitchens for a bell to ring twice. The first was to start making their pancakes and second to summon them to the village square with their frying pans to start the quarter-mile race to the church. On the way, they had to toss their pancakes at least 3 times. The winner would be given a bible or prayer book, but wait for it, the verger would claim a kiss and often the pancake too! The pans were placed around the font and a blessing given. No doubt there was plenty of music for the occasion. Hilarious! Click here to see the race in 2018
With every possible good wish to keep safe, healthy and happy as we look forward to Spring and the coming of a just bit of freedom – and from these blogs!!