Friday, 7 April 2006

Words and music

A couple of days ago I wrote a piece hinting at my extensive knowledge of French poetry. This was perhaps misleading, and I was rightly taken to task in a comment by an old friend. Actually, I do know several chansons de salle de garde (a less crude equivalent of our rugby songs), a poem that begins Le temps a laissé son manteau…, some French cabaret songs, and a blasphemous French limerick, but that’s about it: my acquaintance with poésie is, well, limited.
I think I might appreciate it more if I knew more of it, though I doubt if the same could be said of my feeling for German poetry and French music (always excepting Bizet). For me, the parodist Anna Russell was not far off when she said that the difference between German lieder and French art songs is that lieder consist of rather soggy poems set to magnificent music, whereas French art songs are magnificent poetry set to rather wispy music.
That was not her only bon mot; it was she who noted that a certain kind of English soprano sings in a Pure White, or Nymphs-and-Shepherds, style.
After she became hugely popular in North America and Australia her parodies became less amusing, but at her best she was accurate and very funny. At one of her concerts she sang her own four-part setting of a secular text called O Lovely Death to underline the point that there is absolutely NO sex in madrigals.

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