miércoles, 16 de mayo de 2012

Youngster Guide to Classical Music #1

Yes, this is the first post for you (and everyone and anyone) can become closer to classical music and enjoy it (I hope) as much as I do. Some friends have asked how to approach classical music. Well, I think you must not simply go to any concert or opera you find randomly, especially if you have never done so before: you'll get tired and bored and feel that you hate classical music and you will not wanna listen to it again. I believe you should have an explanation and an approach before going to a long concert and so you'll understand it for better enjoying.

Ready? Well, let's get started:
Do you remember this from last January?

Well, probably as watching the livestream I was the only one of my friends super excited for the baroque soundtrack. So here's the question: What the hell were we listening to?
It was a song from Purcell's semi-opera "King Arthur" known as "The Cold Song" or "What power art thou". And here we start with problems: Purcell? Semi-opera?! I can imagine some of you running in circles, but don't worry I shall explain.

First, King Arthur.
King Arthur is a super patriotic semi-opera staged in 1691 by the english (and awesome) composer Henry Purcell (1659-1695). A semi-opera is closer to our modern musical play than to the opera: the principal characters are actors, not singers. The singing characters are the supernatural, pastoral or drunk ones, excepting the choruses in battles and ceremonies.

The libretto is loosely (veeeeeeeeeeeeery vaguely) based in the all known legend of the King Arthur, actually the only common things are the name of the king and the character of Merlin.
This story is about the rivalry between Arthur, king of the Britons and Oswald, Saxon king of Kent; they both wanna marry the blind daughter of the Duke of Cornwall, Emmeline. Saxons and Britons have a battle and the Britons sing in triumph. Oswald, his magician Osmond and his servant spirit Grimbald offer a sacrifice while realizing that another spirit, Philidel has betrayed them. Philidel joins Arthur and Merlin since he's gentle hearted and warns them that Grimbald in planning to deceive the Britons by leading them to drown in rivers or fall off cliffs. In the meantime, while shepherds entertain Emmelind and her attendant Matilda, Oswald makes his way to kidnap them.
Arthur and his men attack Oswald's castle but Osmond's magic is protecting it with a magical wood spell.  Osmond tries to seduce Emmelind using a masque of spirits and conjures a vision of winter ice land. Philidel guides Arthur through the wood and Grimbald warns Osmond that Merlin's spells are working. Arthur is seduced by singing sirens but he doesn't fall and by cutting the trees he breaks the wood spell. He and Philidel captures Grimbald. With the magic destroyed Oswald and Arthur have a last battle, winning Arthur and ordering the Saxons to return Germany 'cause the Britons "brook no foreign power". Finally Merlin casts a masque full of mythological characters and visions of the seas and Britain.
Yes, very patriotic and rather senseless stuff.

Second, The Cold Song.
This song is in the 3rd act and is sung by the Cold Genius while being woken by Cupid. Here the lyric:

"What power art thou, whom from bellow
hast made me rise unwillingly and slow
from beds of everlasting snow?
See'st thou not how stiff and wondrous old,
far unfit to bear the bitter cold,
I can scarcely mode or draw my breath?
Let me, let me freeze again to death."

This scene is called "The frost scene" and here the Cold Genius and Cupid (yes, I know, where did they came from?! It doesn't matter, they just appear) have some argue while he wakes the Cold Genius who is very reluctant to awake but finally even he with the coldest heart acknowledges the power of love. Apparently this winter scene that comes from no kind of reason in the play was inspired by the Thames Frost fairs during the 1680's severe winters.

Third, let's listen a couple versions of this song:
This one is sung by a bass (like in the Prada catwalk and the origianl version).

Thomas de Vres, Ensamble Mattiacis, 2008

And this other is by one of my favorite singers ever. WARNING-> this guy is a countretenor, so it might look odd looking at him singing like that. But he's a master in antique music AND in Purcell.

Andreas Scholl, Accademia Bizantina, 2010

Now, you tell me why did Miccia chose this song for the catwalk? (you can do so in the comments section).

links, links links!
Finally you're finished with this post (officially the longest one!) and if still wanna know more about this music, I leave you some links:
  • You can read the full libretto HERE, in english.
  • You can watch some highlights of the semi-opera HERE, in english with english subtitles (sounds odd but you'll get it when you watch it), this funny-odd-quirky version was presented at the 2004 Salzburg festivale.
  • Read the full act-by-act synopsis HERE.
  • Read the biography of Henry Purcell by the bbc HERE.
  • A little glimpse from Web History of England of the Frost Fairs in the Thames HERE.

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