Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bream, Stravinsky; and the Voice of God

"Stravinsky is waiting," says the voice of God.

Julian Bream (bn 1933) is introduced to Stravinsky. Bream brought the lute into the modern age. He also commissioned or premiered a significant repertoire of 20th century classical guitar music from composers like Benjamin Britten, William Walton, and Hans Werner Henze:

[0:23] "Julian Bream," says a voice from the Twilight Zone: "is the world's best player of the lute."

Bream has always wanted to play the lute for Stravinsky because Stravinsky found the lute "a beautiful and expressive instrument." Stravinsky had also become influenced by the sound of early music and had incorporated influences from composers as diverse as Gesualdo and Machaut into his music.

[1:13] "Would you like to see a lute?" Bream holds cheese in front of a mouse. What could possibly happen?

"Stravinsky is excited by the physical presence of musical instruments." Hmm. The voice is too serious to pull off a line like this one, which could be from the pay-per-view version of Fantasia.

Then in the midst of distractions from every corner [2:00], Bream starts playing a pavane based on the Air called "Flow my Tears" by John Dowland. The text upon which the lute pavane is based glows quietly, concealed deep within in the background:

"Flow, my tears, fall from your springs!
Exiled for ever, let me mourn;
Where night's black bird her sad infamy sings,
There let me live forlorn."

This text is John Dowland's voice, and it is the real narrator for this video; "night's black bird" [2:21] set in G minor.

At [2:44] Bream skips ahead to the closing stanza of the original air:

"Hark! you shadows that in darkness dwell,
Learn to contemn light
Happy, happy they that in hell
Feel not the world's despite."

In whatever way Stravinsky has become connected to this sweet and unexpected performance, one can be certain he is not so disengaged that he is contemplating experiences from his childhood in Russia. But if one can hear beneath the babble that the voice-over has become there is a lute singing quietly about the strange advantages of being in hell: one need not feel "the world's despite."

[3:35] "Why don't you continue this in the next break, because..." says the world.
"The world pays homage. [3:53]" says God...

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