Tonight I attended a performance of UCSF’s Chamber Music Society. The video is of my favorite of the pieces they played (played by not-them).
It’s transcribed from an organ piece. But I was destined to like this piece. It’s Handel. It’s a passacaglia. It’s on strings.
I was also at the SF Symphony this past weekend. The contrast between the two experiences makes me think I prefer chamber music. I don’t care for the dramatics of having dozens of musicians anyway. It isn’t the temperamental clashing that makes me feel like I have a soul. It’s the melody. The more… how shall I put this .. amabile, the better.
At this event, there were hardly any old people, as compared to the demographic of the SF Symphony’s audience. That means, no coughing or dying tainted the playing. No one was dressed especially nicely. No one had a much fancier seat than anyone else. No one was there to “see and be seen”. There were no crowds. The room wasn’t even half full, and it wasn’t even as large as the biggest lecture halls I’ve had class in. Everyone was there for the music.
It was also more personal: the musicians introduced themselves and gave brief introductions to their chosen pieces. They chose what they played for us, so even that tells us a bit about them as people. All of them were either affiliated with UCSF medical school or had jobs in unrelated sectors (like software engineering): all of the musicians were hobbyists playing for the fun of it. I got to sit close enough to see their faces. Ah, I hope for a summer full of such concerts! Let me know if you are aware of any in San Francisco, won’t you?
Oh, and for anyone who’s curious, here’s the original Handel organ passacaglia:
I’ve been attending tree lightings lately. They seem to be in season. Being in the San Francisco Girls Chorus when I was little made the Christmas season especially hustle-bustle and bright. I miss it. We performed a sing-along yearly at Davis Symphony Hall. We sang at tree lightings of posh hotels, where they would bribe us with intricately frosted sugar cookies. We even performed for the Elks club, and for a morning news show to air on Christmas day.
What does Christmas mean to me? Well, I’m an atheist, so to me, it means singing to dear, sweet Christmas trees. O Tannenbaum is one of my favorite Christmas songs. German club would sing it at the retirement home on Geary street. Some residents were moved to tears, saying that they hadn’t heard a Christmas song in their native German in decades.
It also means snow. I would wish for snow every year because I grew up seeing it in the movies and read about it in Molly’s (American Girl) series. I never saw a white Christmas in San Francisco, but there was one time, when the temperature was below freezing and I tried to jump in a puddle but slipped and hit my head on the concrete because it was completely frozen over. Of course, I love “Let It Snow”.
The true meaning of Christmas for this spoiled girl, though, is getting every damn thing I want. From tickets to the SF Symphony’s new year’s eve ball to plane tickets to exotic locales (omg, only kidding). But wanting just one thing, and having that thing actually be a person is sort of adorable. And it’s in my favorite Christmas movie too, so “All I Want for Christmas” is probably the best Christmas song of all time.
Confession time: my favorite Christmas cd when I was growing up was actually Christmas with the Vienna Boys Choir. Especially the Mozart mass. It didn’t sound like any of the other Christmas music but I figured it was probably just what the Europeans listened to…
To your darling, to the light of your life, to someone who is difficult and deeply suspicious of the value of words and the transient nature of feelings, don’t say words. If you feel your heart is full to bursting and you have to do something, just recommend songs. But not in English. Even that would be too much. Try this. This one is called “Caro mio ben” and I’ll link the lyrics below.
I like to (loosely) translate as follows:
Darling dearest, believe this at least —
without you, my heart languishes.
Stop torturing me, cruel one.
My heart languishes without you.
Caro mio ben
Two songs I like — one from 1784, and the other much more recent — share a melody and I didn’t realize until I read about it. This is the French original, Plaisir d’amour
It’s a cautionary tale about love* not lasting.
Tant que cette eau coulera doucement
vers ce ruisseau qui borde la prairie,
Je t’aimerai me répétait Sylvie.
Even though the girl gave pretty speeches, like the one recounted above, it didn’t last and she left the narrator for another man.
Contrast this with the American re-write, Can’t Help Falling in Love
This is almost the opposite of the original. Reckless. She can’t help it. So she entreats her lover to taker her hand and her whole life too.
I like that both use a metaphor about flowing water — in the first case, to illustrate how long their love will last (though it doesn’t) and in the second, to show the inevitability of her falling in love.
I can actually imagine the girl from Can’t Help Falling in Love as the “l’ingrate Sylvie” mentioned in Plaisir d’amour. They have the same way with words.
* Or perhaps passion?
All translations to these lyrics that I’ve read have been horrendously stilted. Maybe, if you’re better at French, you can tell me what they mean to you?
Mon coeur se recommande à vous,
Tout plein d’ennui et de martyre;
Au moins en dépit des jaloux
Faites qu’à Dieu vous puisse dire!
Ma bouche qui voulait sourire
Et conter propos gracieux
Ne fait maintenant que maudire
Ceux qui m’ont banni de vos yeux.
On the last day before the end of girls chorus camp, everyone would gather in the dining hall. Right before we packed onto the busses, we would join hands in a circle and sing this song. I never fully understood the words, but the melody and the tears streaming down the girls’ faces said enough. We left our hearts, pieces of ourselves, with each other in a way that is incomprehensible to anyone who wasn’t there.
Something that makes me sad whenever I think of it is that I will never be able to fully feel the beauty of these words because I don’t understand French. If I did, I would only understand in a mechanical, useful way. Never in the way that native speakers do. Words have personalities and by the time you’ve lived all your years speaking one language, they develop associations and a richness that just don’t exist to a non-native speaker. Words can open up entire imagined worlds bursting with playfulness and nuance. Ah, but I’m left with my poor scrabbling for proper mappings from foreign words to ones I understand.
If I could live forever, I would. If only so I could read and truly understand great works in their original languages.
A/N: This drabble was inspired by Handel’s gorgeous aria, Ombra Mai Fu. It is meant to convey a feeling that we all get one day, when we’re grown up but wish that we weren’t.
He needed this. It felt as if the entire world and its expecations were crushing in on him at once. Oxford was his childhood home, but he hadn’t been back in years. As he wandered the wooded paths on the outskirts of town, he waited for the familiarity to comfort him.
He had grown up here, played in these woods as a child. Made friends of wayward cows from nearby farms. Pretended to be a knight, and then a dragon, then a knight again. All of that was gone from him now. On and on he walked, through raspberry fields, along the murmuring Thames, willing that same peace to return. Those golden days he spent as a child, letting the long summer days and his imagination lead him. His heart desperately wished to return to that simplicity, and if there were anywhere he could achieve it, it was in these woods.
The sun began to set and he realised that though the surroundings had barely changed, he had. The pleasures of an endless, empty day for him to fill with adventures was no longer within reach. His sense of wonder had faded to grey, and he was just tired. Tired of responsibility, tired of keeping up an image. Tired of the can’ts and shouldn’ts and ought to’s. But there was nothing to be done but return to his regular life, aching with the memory of the idyllic childhood dreamland he could no longer seem to find his way back to.
This aria is the theme song of emotional masochists. It’s for all those dear hearts that find it somehow more glorious or purifying or true to hope in the absence of possibility. Bononcini may as well have written this for hopeless dreamers. Even if you aren’t fluent in Italian, the lyrics are beautiful and well worth the read — I’ll link them below.
Translations of some of my favorite lines:
For the glory of adoring you, I want to love you.
In love I will suffer, but I will always love you.
I will learn this song, and upon my return to San Francisco, I will hold a concert. Perhaps on a rooftop.
Per la gloria d’adorarvi