Folksongs: The Oak and the Ash

Anonimo (secolo XVI): The oak and the ash, ovvero The Northern Lasse’s Lamentation. Alfred Deller, controtenore; Desmond Dupré, liuto.

A North Country maid up to London had strayed
Although with her nature it did not agree,
She wept, and she sighed, and she bitterly cried:
I wish once again in the North I could be.
Oh the oak and the ash and the bonnie ivy tree,
They flourish at home in my own country.

While sadly I roam, I regret my dear home
Where lads and young lasses are making the hay,
The merry bells ring and the birds sweetly sing,
And maidens and meadows are pleasant and gay.
Oh the oak and the ash and the bonnie ivy tree,
They flourish at home in my own country.

No doubt, did I please, I could marry with ease,
Where maidens are fair many lovers will come.
But he whom I wed must be North Country bred,
And carry me back to my North Country home.
Oh the oak and the ash and the bonny ivy tree,
They flourish at home in my own country.

La melodia è nota anche con il titolo Quodlings Delight. Variazioni composte da Giles Farnaby (c1563 - 1640) si trovano sotto questa intestazione nel Fitzwilliam Virginal Book (n. [CXIV]); qui la composizione di Farnaby è interpretata al clavicembalo da Pieter-Jan Belder.

Carpe diem

William Lawes (1602 - 24 settembre 1645): Gather ye rosebuds, song su testo di Robert Herrick. Anna Dennis, soprano; ensemble Voices of Music.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For, having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.

John Keating-Robin Williams invita i propri allievi a meditare sui versi di Herrick:


Fiero sostenitore del partito realista, William Lawes cadde sul campo di battaglia di Rowton Heath, presso Chester. Carlo I dispose che gli fossero dedicate speciali onoranze funebri e gli conferì postumo il titolo di Father of Musick.

Only peace, only rest

Henry Purcell (10 settembre 1659 - 1695): Close thine eyes and sleep secure, devotional song per soprano, basso e continuo Z 184 (pubblicato in Harmonia Sacra, 1688) su testo di Francis Quarles. Hana Blažíková, soprano; Peter Kooij, basso; L’Armonia Sonora, dir. e viola da gamba Mieneke van der Velden.

Close thine eyes and sleep secure;
Thy soul is safe, thy body sure;
He that guards thee, He thee keeps,
Who never slumbers, never sleeps.
A quiet conscience in a quiet breast
Has only peace, has only rest:
The music and the mirth of kings
Are out of tune unless she sings;
Then close thine eyes in peace and rest secure,
No sleep so sweet as thine, no rest so sure.

Altre composizioni di Henry Purcell in questo blog:


Irving Fine (1914 - 23 agosto 1962): Tigeroo per voce e pianoforte, da Childhood Fables for Grownups su testi di Gertrude Norman (1955). William Parker, baritono; Dalton Baldwin, pianoforte.

There once was a Tiger named Tigeroo,
The hungriest tiger in the zoo:
All day long he liked to eat
Not cake, not cookies, but only meat.

The keeper said, «Now, Tigeroo,
You eat too much, you know you do!
If you eat any more and you get sick,
I’ll call the tiger doctor quick!»

«I’ll eat all I like», said Tigeroo,
«I’m the hungriest tiger in the zoo.
You tell that doctor, I said POOH!
If he comes in my cage, I’ll eat him too!»

Calleno custure me

Anonimo (isole britanniche, XVI secolo): Calleno custure me. Alfred Deller, controtenore; Desmond Dupré, liuto.

When as I view your comely grace
  Calleno custure me,
Your golden hairs, your angel’s face,
  Calleno custure me.

Your azure veins much like the skies
Your silver teeth, your crystal eyes.

Your coral lips, your crimson cheeks
That gods and men both love and leeks.

My soul with silence moving sense
Doth wish of God with reverence.

Long life and virtue you possess
To match the gifts of worthiness.

Il verso ricorrente che dà titolo alla composizione è probabilmente un adattamento alla pronuncia inglese della frase in gaelico irlandese Cailín ó chois tSiúre mé, ossia « Sono una ragazza delle rive del Suir » (fiume che sfocia nell’Atlantico in prossimità di Waterford): la frase compare quale titolo di una composizione per arpa in un testo poetico irlandese del XVII secolo.
La più antica fonte nota della melodia (priva di testo) è il William Ballet’s Lute Book, una raccolta manoscritta di composizioni intavolate per liuto, risalente al tardo Cinquecento e conservata nella Biblioteca del Trinity College di Dublino. Qui il brano è interpretato da Dorothy Linell:

La melodia è stata rielaborata da William Byrd (c1540 - 1623) in una breve ma saporita serie di variazioni per strumento a tastiera, tramandataci dal Fitzwilliam Virginal Book con il titolo Callino Casturame (n. [CLVIII]). YouTube ne offre numerose interpretazioni: ho scelto quelle di David Clark Little al virginale e Lorenzo Cipriani all’organo.

Resta da segnalare che Caleno custure me figura spesso nelle antologie di musiche scespiriane: è infatti citata nell’Enrico V (atto IV, scena 4a) in un gioco di parole che oggi suona alquanto insulso, ma che testimonia la popolarità della canzone all’epoca del Bardo.
La scena si svolge prima della battaglia di Azincourt: Pistol, vecchio compagno di bagordi del re, sorprende un soldato francese, Le Fer, infiltratosi fra le linee inglesi. Temendo che l’altro voglia ammazzarlo, il francese tenta di blandirlo parlandogli nella propria lingua:
« Je pense que vous êtes gentilhomme de bonne qualité. »
Non riuscendo a comprendere nemmeno una sillaba, Pistol risponde scimmiottando la parlata di Le Fer, il suono delle cui parole evidentemente gli rammenta il titolo della nostra canzone:
« Qualtitie calmie custure me!  »
Gli fa insomma il verso, una specie di “gnagnagnà gnagnagnà” ma più raffinato 🙂
Le Fer poi si accorda con Pistol, che in cambio di duecento scudi lo lascia libero.

Dal Diario di Virginia Woolf

Dominick Argento (1927 - 20 febbraio 2019): From the Diary of Virginia Woolf, ciclo di composizioni per canto e pianoforte (1974). Janet Baker, mezzosoprano, e Martin Isepp, pianoforte (primi interpreti).
I testi sono tratti da A Writer’s Diary: Being Extracts from the Diary of Virginia Woolf, pubblicato nel 1954; il ciclo valse a Dominick Argento il Premio Pulitzer per la musica nel 1975. In merito a questo lavoro del compositore statunitense sono disponibili in rete un’accurata analisi di Noelle Woods e una guida all’interpretazione curata da Jacquelyn Matava.

I. The Diary (April, 1919)

What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something… so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk… in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through. I should like to come back, after a year or two, and find that the collection had sorted itself and refined itself and coalesced, as such deposits so mysteriously do, into a mould, transparent enough to reflect the light of our life…

II. Anxiety (October, 1920) [3:56]

Why is life so tragic; so like a little strip of pavement over an abyss. I look down; I feel giddy; I wonder how I am ever to walk to the end. But why do I feel this: Now that I say it I don’t feel it. The fire burns; we are going to hear the Beggar’s Opera. Only it lies all about me; I can’t keep my eyes shut… And with it all how happy I am—if it weren’t for my feeling that it’s a strip of pavement over an abyss.

III. Fancy (February, 1927) [5:53]

Why not invent a new kind of play; as for instance:
Woman thinks…
He does.
Organ plays.
She writes.
They say:
She sings.
Night speaks
They miss

IV. Hardy’s Funeral (January, 1928) [8:34]

Yesterday we went to Hardy’s funeral. What did I think of? Of Max Beerbohm’s letter… or a lecture… about women’s writing. At intervals some emotion broke in. But I doubt the capacity of the human animal for being dignified in ceremony. One catches a bishop’s frown and twitch; sees his polished shiny nose; suspects the rapt spectacled young priest, gazing at the cross he carries, of being a humbug; …next here is the coffin, an overgrown one; like a stage coffin, covered with a white satin cloth; bearers elderly gentlemen rather red and stiff, holding to the corners; pigeons flying outside, …procession to poets corner; dramatic “In sure and certain hope of immortality” perhaps melodramatic… Over all this broods for me some uneasy sense of change and mortality and how partings are deaths; and then a sense of my own fame… and a sense of the futility of it all.

V. Rome (May, 1935) [15:03]

Rome: tea. Tea in café. Ladies in bright coats and white hats. Music. Look out and see people like movies… Ices. Old man who haunts the Greco… Fierce large jowled old ladies…talking about Monaco (; about) Talleyrand. Some very poor black wispy women. The effect of dowdiness produced by wispy hair. (Rome. Sunday café… Very cold…) The Prime Minister’s letter offering to recommend me for the Companion of Honour. No.

VI. War (June, 1940) [18:19]

This, I thought yesterday, may be my last walk… the war — our waiting while the knives sharpen for the operation — has taken away the outer wall of security. No echo comes back. I have no surroundings… Those familiar circumvolutions — those standards — which have for so many years given back an echo and so thickened my identity are all wide and wild as the desert now. I mean, there is no “autumn”, no winter. We pour to the edge of a precipice… and then? I can’t conceive that there will be a 27th June 1941.

VII. Parents (December, 1940) [24:13]

How beautiful they were, those old people — I mean father and mother — how simple, how clear, how untroubled. I have been dipping into old letters and father’s memoirs. He loved her: oh and was so candid and reasonable and transparent… How serene and gay even, their life reads to me: no mud; no whirlpools. And so human — with the children and the little hum and song of the nursery. But if I read as a contemporary I shall lose my child’s vision and so must stop. Nothing turbulent; nothing involved; no introspection.

VIII. Last Entry (March, 1941) [28:57]

No: I intend no introspection. I mark Henry James’ sentence: observe perpetually. Observe the oncome of age. Observe greed. Observe my own despondency. By that means it becomes serviceable. Or so I hope. I insist on spending this time to the best advantage. I will go down with my colours flying… Occupation is essential. And now with some pleasure I find that it’s seven; and must cook dinner. Haddock and sausage meat. I think it is true that one gains a certain hold on sausage and haddock by writing them down.
[…to come back after a year or two, and find that the collection had sorted itself and refined itself and coalesced, as such deposits so mysteriously do, into a mould transparent enough to reflect the light of our life.]


Swanee x 3

Dedicato a Gianmarco Groppelli 🙂

George Gershwin (1898 - 1937): Swanee (1919) eseguito al pianoforte dall’autore (incisione su rullo per pianoforte automatico). Il brano fu concepito, almeno in parte, come parodia di Old Folks At Home ovvero Swanee River (1851), famosissimo minstrel song di Stephen Foster.

Lo stesso brano cantato da Al Jolson, sul testo originale di Irving Caesar, nel film Rapsodia in blu (Rhapsody in Blue), biografia cinematografica di Gershwin diretta nel 1945 da Irving Rapper.

I’ve been away from you a long time.
I never thought I’d missed you so.
Somehow I feel
You love is real,
Near you I long to wanna be.
The birds are singin’, it is song time,
The banjos strummin’ soft and low.
I know that you
Yearn for me too.
Swanee! You’re calling me!

How I love you, how I love you!
My dear ol’ Swanee,
I’d give the world to be
Among the folks in
D-I-X-I-E-ven now My mammy’s
Waiting for me,
Praying for me,
Down by the Swanee.
The folks up north will see me no more
When I go to the Swanee Shore!

Swanee, Swanee, I am coming back to Swanee!
Mammy, Mammy, I love the old folks at home!

Swanee eseguito dal Banjo-Orchestra, uno strumento meccanico recentemente prodotto dalla D. C. Ramey Piano Company di Marysville, Ohio, sulla base del pressoché omonimo Banjorchestra, realizzato nel 1914 dalla Connorized Music Company, che aveva sedi a New York, a Chicago e a Saint Louis.