I’ve never written a post for The Spill before. Isn’t that shocking? So I thought it was about time I made amends and started chucking the odd thing on over here, as it’s nice to break loose from the RR confines when time permits and do something about what is lighting my fire currently. As I’m still getting used to the vagaries of WordPress, I thought I would just throw something out and use it to work out how to do the techie bits; so hoping to work those out whilst writing this but hopefully still say something interesting….
Anyway, I thought I would draw attention to two completely different songs that have been haunting me this week that happen to be thematically linked in that they both take place on the water and try to evoke that wateriness through the musical soundscape that they occupy.
Exhibit One: The Sallyangie – Banquet on the Water
Who are The Sallyangie? Well, they are a late 60′s folk duo consisting of the terrifyingly young and precocious brother and sister combination of Mike and Sally Oldfield – Mike being only 16 years old when he wrote and made this record, a fact that still surprises me, given that I could still barely manage a blues scale on the guitar at that age. Granted, it does have a clumsy naivety about it, but that’s easily lost in the sense of childish whimsy that this genre of psychedelic folk always liked to evoke. I’ve never been able to tell if the words to this song are poetic genius or just a hopeless mishmash of classical and pseudo-Christian imagery, but in some respects, it doesn’t matter – as a piece of writing, it is as beautiful as it is assured.
In this song, the water is as still as a millpond, perfect for mythical beings or just lovers to walk and feast upon. The guitar playing evokes the stillness through steady folk finger picking overlayed with beautiful harmonics ringing out like concentric waves spreading out across the surface. Sally Oldfield’s voice is clear and unwavering whilst still holding an incredible fragility that could carry for eternity over a midnight lake.
Exhibit Two: Franz Schubert – Auf Dem Wasser Zu Singen (To be Sung on the Water)
In contrast, the water is more disturbed in this masterful piece of German Art song from Franz Schubert, the rippling of the high semiquaver notes suggests the ebb and flow of waves, the bobbing up and down of the boat on the swell of the current and the wind gently blowing the reeds, perfectly mirroring the words of the poet Leopold Graf zu Stolberg-Stolberg.
Mitten im Schimmer der spiegelnden Wellen
Gleitet, wie Schwäne, der wankende Kahn
Ach, auf der Freude sanftschimmernden Wellen
Gleitet die Seele dahin wie der Kahn;
Denn von dem Himmel herab auf die Wellen
Tanzet das Abendrot rund um den Kahn.
Amidst the shimmering, mirroring waves
the rocking boat glides such as a swan
Oh, gently shimmering waves of joy
as the soul too glides like a boat
for from the heavens the setting sun
dances on the waves around the boat
In Graham Johnson’s superb analysis of Schubert Lieder, he suggests that this song carries a perfect synergy between the musical and lyrical metaphors – just as the words liken the journey of the immortal soul to a boat on troubled water, the music captures this metaphor too, with the repetitious nature of the accompanying music suggesting that human life is a mere brief journey on the boat of time, endlessly rocked by the waters of life. Meanwhile, the vocal line starts low, submerged with the dark rippling music, but at the end of each verse it breaks through to a soaring vocal high note which basks in a momentary emergence of a bright major key, a perfect metaphor for the human soul breaking free from its Earthbound sorrows – you can read that as death if you wish, or finding enlightenment, peace, happiness. Whatever works for you.
Or you can forgot all that, close your eyes and let this beautiful music, written by a genius at the peak of his powers, carry you along on its journey across the waters. The performance in the YouTube link above is a glorious one from the early 60′s by Christina Ludwig.
And if that’s got you in the mood for more water based adventures, check out these other tracks in this miniplaylist:
1) The Marcin Wasilewski Trio – Lugano Lake; radiant Polish jazz, as beautiful as the Italian lake that inspired this piece.
2) Frederick Delius – Summer Night on the River; Delius writes impressionist music like few others, it’s highly fragmentary, yet still holds a solid form that suggests floating down a summer river on a hot, humid night.
3) The Turquoise Swimming Pools – The Winds; magical early 80′s nautical Scouse pop. You can almost feel the salty tang in the air and the breeze ruffling the sails, as you set sail on choppy seas for adventures in mysterious lands.