Notes on the texts for the NCS concert in May 2010

Here, as semi-usual, are some remarks on the texts for our next concert, the idea being to clarify meanings and allusions and whatever else might be useful for singing the pieces.

Somewhat more than half of the music is in English, and therefore needs relatively little such clarification.

Much of what I have to say is either too obvious or too obscure to be interesting. However, what’s too obvious and what’s too obscure may vary from one person to another. Just ignore anything that isn’t useful to you.

It’s probably safe to assume in cases of doubt that everything in here is wrong. (Corrections are always welcome.) Translations are, without exception, written to shed light on the meaning of the original text and not to be singable or poetic English.

For the items we’re singing from M&P and ESM, the notes in the back are worth a look.

I’ve included all of the Parry Songs of Farewell, but in this concert we’re doing only numbers 1,3,4.

Thanks to Natalie Mayer-Hutchings for many improvements to the German translations. They’re probably still not very good, and the fault is entirely mine.

Bach: Komm, Jesu, komm

Komm, Jesu, komm, mein Leib ist müde,Come, Jesus, come; my body is weary,
die Kraft verschwindt je mehr und mehr,[my] strength vanishes more and more,
ich sehne mich nach deinem Friede;I yearn for your peace;
der saure Weg wird mir zu schwer!the bitter path is too hard for me!
Komm, komm, ich will mich dir ergeben;Come, come, I will give myself to you;
du bist der rechte Weg, die Wahrheit und das are the true way, the truth and the life.
Drum schliess ich mich in deine HändeI place myself in your hands
und sage, Welt, zu guter Nacht!and say: good night, O world!
Eilt gleich mein Lebenslauf zu Ende,Though my life’s journey is hurrying to its end,
ist doch der Geist wohl angebracht.even so my spirit is well prepared.
Er soll bei seinem Schöpfer schweben,It will soar with its creator,
weil Jesus ist und bleibtbecause Jesus is and remains
der wahre Weg zum Leben.the true way to life.

The text consists of the first and last verses of an 11-verse hymn by Paul Thymich, written for a funeral motet by Johann Schelle, one of Bach’s predecessors as cantor at the Thomasschule in Leipzig. It was written the year before Bach’s birth. It’s likely that Bach wrote his own setting of the text while at Leipzig.

müde: I think “weary” is a bit too mild; “exhausted” or “ready to drop” wouldn’t be far off the mark.

die saure Weg: you may notice that there are a lot of Wegen in this text. The path (Weg) of life is too difficult; Jesus is the way (Weg) to God and the way (Weg) to life. And of course there’s that Lebenslauf too. Lots of journeying. Anyway, this particular path is “bitter”, a curious term indeed. Perhaps we should think of a path littered with painfully sharp stones.

ergeben: I think (but may be wrong and am willing to be corrected) that this is deliberately ambiguous between “I offer myself to you” and (as the text says more literally later) “I place myself into your hands”. (Perhaps “I surrender myself to you” would be a good translation.) No doubt the author would say that, ultimately, the two are the same thing.

der ... Weg, die Wahrheit und das Leben: John 14:6. (Jesus’s disciples ask him to show them the way to the Father; he replies “I am the way, and the truth, and the life”. Appropriately given its use in this motet, this occurs very close to the end of Jesus’s own life.) This is the only Biblical quotation in this motet, and it takes up nearly half the piece.

rechte: this word is not found in John 14:6. The true way, as opposed to counterfeits; the correct way, as opposed to ones that don’t go to the right place; perhaps the straight way, as opposed to one that meanders about.

in deine Hände: There is of course an echo here of Jesus’s own final words in Luke’s gospel.

gleich ... doch: Although ... even so.

bei ... schweben: Not, contrary to what I wrote in an earlier version of these notes, ambiguous between “ascend to” and “soar with”; “bei” doesn’t have as many meanings as I’d thought.

der wahre Weg zum Leben: Deliberately, of course, recalling the way, the truth, and the life from the end of the first verse. In the 11-verse original, I think all verses other than the last end with “Du bist der rechte Weg, die Wahrheit und das Leben”.

Bach: Sei Lob und Preis

Sei Lob und Preis mit EhrenLet there be praise and honour with glory
Gott Vater, Sohn und Heil’gem Geist,[to] God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit!
Der woll in uns vermehren,May he in us increase
Was er uns aus Gnaden verheisst,what he out of mercy promises us,
Dass wir ihm fest vertrauen,that we may firmly put our faith in him,
Gänzlich verlass’n auf ihn,completely rely on him,
Von Herzen auf ihn bauen,trust in him sincerely,
Dass uns’r Herz, Mut und Sinnthat our heart, spirit and mind
Ihm tröstlich solln anhangen.may in comfort depend on him.
Drauf singen wir zu Stund:Therefore we sing now:
Amen, wir werd’ns erlangen,Amen, we shall achieve it,
Glaub’n wir aus we believe from the bottom of our hearts.

This piece is unusual among Bach’s works in having been composed not by Bach but by Georg Philipp Telemann. Or Bach and Johann Gottlob Harrer. Or just Bach. The history is rather obscure, but I think it goes something like this: Bach re-arranged some music of his own and some by Telemann to make a motet Jauchzet dem Herrn, alle Welt, to which Harrer later added a final movement also based on music by Telemann. This whole thing was for some time commonly treated simply as a work by Bach. Anyway, its second movement (Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren) is an adaptation of one movement of Bach’s cantata BWV 28 Gottlob! nun geht das Jahr zu Ende, and the adaptation itself appears to have been done by Bach, or possibly by Harrer. This movement was at one time numbered among Bach’s motets as BWV 231; it is now generally treated as a mere appendix to BWV 28 and called BWV 28/2a. Simple enough: One song to the tune of another, you could say.

verlass’n: curiously, while lassen is to abandon, verlassen is to rely or depend. Perhaps someone whose knowledge of German is less superficial than mine can explain why: is the idea, e.g., that relying on someone is abandoning oneself to them?

vertrauen: “trust him” would be a more natural translation of this, but that’s also the only sensible translation of “bauen” two lines down. Despite my use of the word “faith”, there’s nothing specifically religious about vertrauen.

von Herzen auf ihn bauen: literally “from our hearts build on him”.

erlangen: perhaps “achieve” suggests too much that the goal is to be achieved by our own efforts rather than the grace of God. “Get it” is probably pretty accurate, dreadful though it sounds.

Mendelssohn: Psalm 43

Richte mich, Gott,Judge me, God,
und führe meine Sache wider das unheilige Volk,and plead my cause against this ungodly nation,
und errette mich von den falschen unt bösen Leuten.and deliver me from dishonest and evil men.
Denn du bist der Gott meiner Stärke;For you are the God of my strength;
warum verstössest du mich?why do you reject me?
Warum lässest du mich so traurig geh’n,Why do you let me go about so sorrowfully,
wenn mein Feind mich drängt?when my enemy oppresses me?
Sende dein Licht und deine Wahrheit,Send your light and your truth,
dass sie mich leiten zu deinem heiligen Berge,that they may lead me to your holy mountain,
und zu deiner Wohnung.and to your dwelling-place.
Dass ich hinein gehe zum Altar Gottes, zu dem Gott,So I will go from here to the altar of God, to God,
der meine Freude und Wonne ist,who is my joy and gladness,
und dir, Gott, auf der Harfe danke, mein Gott.and on the harp I will thank you, God, my God.
Was betrübst du dich, meine Seele,Why are you troubled, my soul,
und bist so unruhig in mir?and [why] are you so restless within me?
Harre auf Gott!Wait for God!
denn ich werde ihm noch danken,For I will again thank him,
dass er meines Angesichts Hilfe, und mein Gott ist.who is the help of my countenance, and my God.

This psalm may well originally have been merely the last part of what’s now Psalm 42. As is very common in the psalms, the author complains bitterly about how unspecified evildoers are oppressing him in unspecified ways, and hopes that God will deliver him in some equally unspecified way.

Richte mich: the corresponding Hebrew can mean either “judge me” or “vindicate me”. I’m not sure whether that’s true of the German too.

das unheilige Volk: “ungodly” is usual in English translations of this psalm, but “unholy” would be a more literal rendering of the German. It’s not clear whether the psalmist really has a “nation” in view, and if so whether it’s his own or some other.

Stärke: the German here isn’t a very good translation of the Hebrew; “God of my stronghold” or “God of my refuge”, presumably meaning “God who is my stronghold/refuce”, would be better.

wenn: although I’ve rendered this as “when” here, note that it’s not quite equivalent to English “when”; it’s more like “if” or “since” or “on occasions when”. (More specifically temporal “when”s are “wann” in German.)

Feind ... drängt: somehow the psalmist’s enemies have become singular. Perhaps he is now thinking of a supernatural Enemy, but I doubt it since the now-familiar idea of a Devil who’s God’s archenemy wasn’t really around when the psalms were being written.

deinem heiligen Berge: Jerusalem.

deiner Wohnung: the temple at Jerusalem.

Was betrübst du dich...: I have no idea why Mendelssohn set these words to music so little suggestive of any sort of disquiet or depression. (The Hebrew rendered here as “betrübst” means literally “bow down” and presumably refers to depression or overwhelmedness rather than agitation; “betrüben” is literally to make unclear, but usually means to sadden.)

harre: it’s usual to render this as “hope in God” in English translations.

meines Angesichts Hilfe: presumably the meaning is something like “the one who rescues me from looking despondent” or simply “the one who helps me”. This puzzling phrase may well be the result of textual corruption in the Hebrew, which literally says something like “I will thank him [for] the saving acts of my face and my God”; it should perhaps be “... of the face of my God”.

Parry: Songs of Farewell

1. My soul, there is a country

My soul, there is a country
Far beyond the stars,
Where stands a winged sentry
All skilful in the wars:
There, above noise and danger,
Sweet Peace sits crowned with smiles,
And One born in a manger
Commands the beauteous files.
He is thy gracious friend,
And – O my soul awake! –
Did in pure love descend
To die here for thy sake.
If thou canst get but thither,
There grows the flow’r of Peace,
The Rose that cannot wither,
Thy fortress and thy ease.
Leave then thy foolish ranges,
For none can thee secure
But One who never changes,
Thy God, thy life, thy cure.

The text is Henry Vaughan’s poem “Peace”. Vaughan (1621-1695) was a Welsh poet of the so-called metaphysical school, acquainted with (and possibly converted by) George Herbert. His best known poem is probably “The World”, which begins “I saw eternity the other night / Like a great ring of pure and endless light”.

There’s a minor textual deviation, presumably for the sake of easier word-setting: Vaughan actually wrote “Afar beyond the stars” rather than “Far beyond the stars”.

The constant juxtaposition of martial and pacific themes is presumably deliberate.

a winged sentry / All skilful in the wars: the archangel Michael, perhaps? The beauteous files are surely the angelic armies of heaven.

the flow’r of Peace ... the Rose that cannot wither: I don’t know whether anything very specific is intended by these phrases (e.g., the Virgin Mary is commonly represented as a rose), but am inclined to think not.

ranges: wanderings, of the metaphorical sort (away from God, among worldly pleasures, etc.).

2. I know my soul hath power to know all things

I know my soul hath power to know all things,
Yet she is blind and ignorant in all:
I know I’m one of Nature’s little kings,
Yet to the least and vilest things am thrall.
I know my life’s a pain and but a span;
I know my sense is mocked in every thing;
And, to conclude, I know myself a Man,
Which is a proud and yet a wretched thing.

The text is by John Davies, a lawyer as well as a poet. His best known (which is not to say well known) work is a long, long poem – over a hundred pages long – about the immortality of the soul and its relationship to the body, called “Nosce Teipsum” (“Know thyself”). Our text here consists of the last two stanzas of its first, prefaratory, section, in which Davies argues that since human knowledge is fallible, human nature feeble, etc., etc., etc., we should retreat from the perils and deceptions of the external world and learn to know ourselves.

thrall: slave.

but a span: in length; compare “Thou hast made my days as it were a span long” in “Lord, let me know mine end”.

my sense is mocked in every thing: that is, my perceptions are very unreliable. (At least, I think that’s what’s meant; “sense” could alternatively mean something like “thinking” or “opinions”, but in the previous few pages Davies has used it more than once to refer to perceptions.)

3. Never weather-beaten sail

Never weather-beaten sail more willing bent to shore,
Never tired pilgrim’s limbs affected slumber more,
Than my weary sprite now longs to fly out of my troubled breast:
O come quickly, sweetest Lord, and take my soul to rest.
Ever-living are the joys of Heaven’s high Paradise,
Cold age deafs not there our ears nor vapour dims our eyes:
Glory there the sun outshines, whose beams the blessed only see:
O come quickly, sweetest Lord, and raise my sprite to Thee!

The words are by Thomas Campion, whose own setting of them is sung more often than Parry’s.

Never weather-beaten sail: Obviously there is no comma between “Never” and “weather-beaten”, even though the Cramer edition has inserted one in the title.

tired pilgrim’s limbs: presumably “tired” was disyllabic then.

affected: sought. (This meaning is earlier than the modern one of “feigned”.)

deafs: i.e., deafens (obviously).

Glory there the sun outshines: see Revelation 21:23, I guess.

sprite: spirit.

4. There is an old belief

There is an old belief
That on some solemn shore,
Beyond the sphere of grief,
Dear friends shall meet once more.
Beyond the sphere of Time and Sin,
    and Fate’s control,
Serene in changeless prime
    of body and of soul.
That creed I fain would keep,
That hope I’ll ne’er forgo:
Eternal be the sleep
If not to waken so.

The text is by John Gibson Lockhart, fortunately better known as the author of a biography of Walter Scott. It seems to me rather poor poetry. Presumably the gently skeptical tone (“there is an old belief”, “fain would keep”, “if not to waken so”) is deliberate; the author seems to be willing himself to maintain this belief for the comfort it offers, with something less than total success. Is it possible that the naïvely jingly rhymes are meant as a sort of wry self-mockery? I suspect I’m reading too much into it. Parry, at any rate, seems to have taken it quite seriously; this piece was sung at his funeral.

5. At the round earth’s imagined corners

At the round earth’s imagined corners, blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go;
All whom the flood did, and fire shall o’erthrow,
All whom war, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despair, law, chance hath slain, and you, whose eyes
Shall behold God, and never taste death’s woe.
But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space;
For if above all these my sins abound
’Tis late to ask abundance of Thy grace
When we are there. Here on this lowly ground,
Teach me how to repent, for that’s as good
As if Thou hadst seal’d my pardon with Thy blood.

The text, in my opinion the best poetry in the Songs of Farewell by a large margin, is one of John Donne’s Holy Sonnets.

trumpets: to announce the end of the (present) world and the Last Judgement. For full details, see the book of Revelation.

scattered bodies: it was widely believed that at the Last Judgement the bodies of all the dead would return to life to be judged. (In general, the writers of the New Testament envisage a bodily, physical resurrection; the idea that the “afterlife” consists of having your “soul” go to “heaven” is quite a modern one.) There is a logistical problem here – what to do if the bits of a person’s body are no longer together, or indeed if they subsequently went to make up bits of other people’s bodies – which seems to me like exactly the sort of thing Donne would have found interesting; I suspect that when he writes “scattered bodies” he is thinking not only of the fact that bodies may be found all over the world, but also of the possibility that individual bodies may be “scattered”. But I digress.

flood: Noah’s.

fire: which, according to 2 Peter 3:7, will destroy the heavens and the earth at the day of judgement. Paired with the flood because that’s what 2 Peter 3 does.

All whom ... hath slain: in case it’s not obvious, he’s just listing many possible causes of death.

agues: fevers. “Ague” rhymes with “plague you”.

you, whose eyes ... death’s woe: those who, according e.g. to 1 Corinthians 15:51ff, will (being alive at the time of the Second Coming of Christ) avoid the bother of having to die and be raised from death.

let them sleep: Donne opened the sonnet by calling for the Last Judgement. Now he’s decided he doesn’t want it to happen just yet, so he tells God to let it wait a bit. I don’t think he was ever accused of lacking ego.

if above all these my sins abound: why Donne thinks his sins should be worse or more numerous than everyone else’s, I don’t know, but it’s reasonable for them to be a more immediate concern for him.

’Tis late ... When we are there: that is, it would be inadvisable to wait until you’re taking your place in the dock at the Last Judgement before asking forgiveness.

this lowly ground: just means the earth, I think, rather than any especially lowly part of it.

as if ... blood: of course Donne, as a Christian, believes that in fact God has done exactly that.

6. Lord, let me know mine end

Lord, let me know mine end and the number of my days,
that I may be certified how long I have to live.
Thou hast made my days as it were a span long;
and mine age is as nothing in respect of Thee,
and verily every man living is altogether vanity.
For man walketh in a vain shadow
and disquieteth himself in vain,
he heapeth up riches and cannot tell who shall gather them.
And now, Lord, what is my hope?
Truly my hope is even in Thee.
Deliver me from all mine offences
and make me not a rebuke to the foolish.
I became dumb and opened not my mouth, for it was Thy doing.
Take Thy plague away from me:
I am even consumed by Thy heavy hand.
When Thou with rebukes dost chasten man for sin,
Thou makest his beauty to consume away,
like as it were a moth fretting a garment;
every man therefore is but vanity.
Hear my prayer, O Lord,
and with Thine ears consider my calling;
hold not Thy peace at my tears!
For I am a stranger with Thee and a sojourner,
as all my fathers were.
O spare me a little, that I may recover my strength,
before I go hence and be no more seen.

The text is from Psalm 39. We have of course sung another setting of (some of) this text before, the beautiful and much simpler one by Maurice Greene; another famous setting of some of this text is “Herr, lehre doch mich” from Brahms’s Deutsches Requiem.

the number of my days and how long I have to live: the point is of course to know that the answers are “not many” and “not long”, rather than to know the exact figures.

a span long: a hand’s breadth.

in respect of thee: from your perspective.

a rebuke to the foolish: the subject of mockery by fools.

for it was Thy doing: the opening verses of the psalm, not set here, don’t give any more indication of what “it” was; sorry. Perhaps some sort of illness, if Thy plague and Thou makest his beauty to consume away are to be understood literally.

like as it were a moth fretting a garment: this simile is about as uncomplimentary to God as anything in the Bible, but no matter.

consider my calling: hear my cry. (Not “calling” as in vocation.)

a stranger with Thee and a sojourner: the exact meaning here is not clear to me. It might be either of two opposite things: either that the psalmist is, as God sees (“with Thee”), a stranger and sojourner in the present world; or that, being a creature of this world, when he is in the presence of God it is only as a short-term guest. Neither seems to me to make perfect sense of the text.

before I go hence and be no more seen: before I die. (It may be worth noting that the notions of immortality and resurrection were not widespread in Hebrew thought when this psalm was written; the psalmist probably thought that his death would be the end of him, or at best that he could have no knowledge of what would come after it.)

Pearsall: Great god of love

Great God of love, some pity show,
On Amaryllis bend thy bow;
Do thou, we pray, her soul inspire,
And make her feel the self-same fire
That wastes her lover’s heart away.

I don’t know who wrote the text; perhaps it was Pearsall himself. The god is, of course, Cupid rather than YHWH; the love eros rather than agape.

Amaryllis: a conventional name for a shepherdess in pseudo-classical contexts; it comes from Virgil’s Eclogues.

On Amaryllis bend thy bow: shoot her with his (Cupid’s) love-inducing arrows.

Finzi: My spirit sang all day

My spirit sang all day
O my joy.
Nothing my tongue could say,
Only My joy!
My heart an echo caught:
O my joy!
And spake: Tell me thy thought,
Hide not thy joy.
My eyes ’gan peer around,
O my joy,
What beauty hast thou found?
Shew us thy joy.
My jealous ears grew whist;
O my joy
Music from heaven is’t,
Sent for our joy?
She also came and heard;
O my joy,
What, said she, is this word?
What is thy joy?
And I replied, O see,
O my joy,
’Tis thee, I cried, ’tis thee:
Thou art my joy.

The text is one of a set of seven poems by Robert Bridges set as partsongs by Finzi.

This little poem is really rather intricate; one can sing it quite well without following the details of the grammar, but here in any case is a paraphrase which may help clarify who’s saying what. The point is that the words “my joy” are used in a great many different ways. I am not certain that every detail of this paraphrase is correct. (I’ve also taken the eccentric measure of italicizing everything in the text that I think should be treated as reported speech of one sort or another.)

So, here goes, with apologies to Robert Bridges for turning his poem into something so prosaic: — All day, my spirit sang: “O my joy!”. My tongue could say nothing but “My joy!”. My heart heard an echo saying “O my joy!”, and said (to my spirit) “What are you thinking? Let me know what joy you’re talking about.” My eyes began to look around, asking “What beautiful thing have you found? Show it to us!” Then my ears began to listen curiously, asking “O, is my joy some music, sent from heaven to give us joy?” Then she (i.e., the poet’s beloved) came and heard me talking about joy, and asked “What’s this thing you’re talking about? What is this joy of yours?” Then I replied “See, O (you who are) my joy, it’s you: you are my joy.”

The one bit I am unable to make complete sense of is the “O my joy” after the poet’s eyes begin peering around; I think that’s because it doesn’t in fact make complete sense, but perhaps I’m missing something.

Incidentally, Finzi's wife was named Joy! (So far as I know, Bridges had no involvement with any woman of that name.)

Elgar: Three partsongs

(These were not grouped together by Elgar; they’re just three partsongs that happen to have been written by him.)

As torrents in summer

As torrents in summer,
Half dried in their channels,
Suddenly rise, though the
Sky is still cloudless,
For rain has been falling
Far off at their fountains;
So hearts that are fainting
Grow full to o’erflowing,
And they that behold it
Marvel, and know not
That God at their fountains
Far off has been raining!

The text is taken from Longfellow’s The Saga of King Olaf, a lengthy poem in 22 parts (itself part of a longer work loosely modelled on the Canterbury Tales) which, after some adaptation, Elgar used for his cantata Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf. This particular chorus occurs just after the death of King Olaf.

A few words about the context in Longfellow’s poem, not that it’ll help: a (previously and subsequently unmentioned) nun hears the voice of St John the Evangelist, replying to a mysterious (demonic?) personage who seems to have issued him with some sort of challenge to battle. St John defiantly responds that he will fight with love against hatred, with peace against war; that as torrents in summer ...; and that love and truth and God are stronger than anger and arrows and weapons. Perfectly clear? Good.

Otherwise, I don’t think there’s much to say.

After many a dusty mile

After many a dusty mile,
Wanderer, linger here awhile;
Stretch your limbs in this long grass;
Through these pines a wind shall pass
That shall cool you with its wing.
Grasshoppers shall shout and sing,
While the shepherd on the hill,
Near a fountain warbling still,
Modulates, when noon is mute,
Summer songs along his flute;
Underneath a spreading tree,
None so easy-limbed as he,
Sheltered from the dogstar’s heat.
Rest; and then, on freshened feet,
You shall pass the forest through.
It is Pan that counsels you.

The text is a translation by Edmund Gosse of an anonymous poem from the Greek Anthology.

dogstar: Sirius, a bright star which gives no heat at all to the earth. But for some reason the Greeks and Romans associated it with the hottest days of summer, which they called the dog days.

Pan: a Greek nature-god associated (among many other things) with shepherds and flutes.

My love dwelt in a Northern land

My love dwelt in a Northern land.My love dwelt in a Northern land.
A dim tower in a forest greenA grey tower in a forest green
Was his, and far away the sandWas hers, and far on either hand
And grey wash of the waves were seenThe long wash of the waves was seen,
 And leagues on leagues of yellow sand,
The woven forest boughs between!The woven forest boughs between!
And through the Northern summer nightAnd through the silver Northern night
The sunset slowly died away,The sunset slowly died away,
And herds of strange deer, silver white,And herds of strange deer, lily-white,
Came gleaming through the forest grey,Stole forth among the branches grey;
 About the coming of the light,
And fled like ghosts before the day.They fled like ghosts before the day!
And oft, that month, we watched the moon 
Wax great and white o’er wood and lawn, 
And wane with waning of the June, 
Till, like a brand for battle drawn, 
She fell, and flamed in a wild dawn. 
I know not if the forest greenI know not if the forest green
Still girdles round that castle grey;Still girdles round that castle grey;
I know not if the boughs betweenI know not if the boughs between
The white deer vanish ere the day;The white deer vanish ere the day;
Above my love the grass is green,Above my love the grass is green,
His heart is colder than the clay.My heart is colder than the clay!

The text is Andrew Lang’s poem “Romance”, with many changes, which so far as I know (not very far!) were made by Elgar himself; most curiously, the “love” in Lang’s poem is female, whereas Elgar’s is male; the cold heart at the end is the poet’s for Lang, and the beloved’s for Elgar. I don’t know why. Above, I’ve put Elgar’s version on the left, and Lang’s original on the right.

Apparently Lang was very unwilling to let Elgar use his words. I’m not sure whether to infer that the changes must actually have been Lang’s (because if he were unwilling anyway he certainly wouldn’t have let Elgar mangle his verse) or that it was because Elgar wanted to insert lines like “And wane with waning of the June” that Lang was so unwilling.

The woven forest boughs between: that is, between the woven forest boughs. (“Woven” only in the sense that the branches interlock.)

brand: literally a burning torch; metaphorically a sword; Lang-or-Elgar seems to want both meanings at once here.

She fell: it is the moon that is falling, not “my love”, though presumably there’s some connection here with the latter’s death. (Perhaps it was to avoid any hint of ambiguity here that Elgar made the beloved male rather than female. Or perhaps it was precisely for the sake of that hint of ambiguity that Lang made her female in the first place.)

if the boughs between / the white deer vanish ere the day: it is only because “boughs” happens not to rhyme with “green” that this doesn’t say “if between the boughs”, making the meaning perfectly clear instead of gratuitously obscure. For the avoidance of doubt, then, it is the deer and not the boughs that (perhaps) vanish. Whether the sopranos and altos should phrase accordingly in bars 53–55 is a question for our conductor.

Vaughan Williams: Bushes and briars

Through bushes and through briars,
Of late I took my way;
All for to hear the small birds sing,
And the lambs skip and play.
I overheard my true love,
Her voice it was so clear,
"Long time I have been waiting for
The coming of my dear.
Sometimes I am uneasy,
And troubled in my mind,
Sometimes I think I’ll go to my love
And tell to him my mind;
And if I should go to my love,
My love he will say nay;
If I show to him my boldness,
He’ll ne’er love me again."

The text, as our edition tells us, is a folk song.

Long time I have been waiting ... ne’er love me again: all of this is the “true love”’s speech. (It would be nice to know what happened next...)

Long time I have been waiting: I think that’s days (“he’s losing interest”) rather than months (“he’s lost at sea, or has gone off with someone else for ever”), since otherwise “Sometimes I think I’ll go to my love” doesn’t make any sense.

And tell to him my mind: presumably either marriage or sex is what’s on her mind.

If I show to him my boldness / He’ll ne’er love me again: many explanations seem possible, none of which gives one much sympathy for “him”.

Seiber: Three Hungarian folk-songs

It’s not clear to me whether the contribution of A L Lloyd, who supposedly provided the “English words”, was an English translation of three already-existing Hungarian texts, or entirely new English words to three Hungarian folk tunes.

The handsome butcher

Seven locks upon the red gate,
Seven gates about the red town.
In the town there lives a butcher
and his name is Handsome John Brown.
John Brown’s boots are polished so fine,
John Brown’s spurs, they jingle and shine.
On his coat a crimson flower,
In his hand a glass of red wine.
In the night the golden spurs ring,
In the dark the leather boots shine.
Don’t come tapping at my window,
Now your heart no longer is mine.

Don’t come tapping at my window: my reading is that this is addressed not to John Brown but to some other person, whose place in the singer’s affections has been supplanted by the glittering John Brown.

Apple, apple

By a river there’s a little orchard,
In the orchard stood the miller’s daughter.
Apple, apple, fallen in the water,
By the stream I kissed the miller’s daughter.

I take it the suggestion is that the kiss was as natural and inevitable as the fall of the apple. Perhaps also as irreversible in its consequences for the apple; who knows?

The old woman

In the window, out the front door,
Throw old nanny from the top floor.
Pack her head into a basket,
Let her sell it in the market.
Come on, children, welcome each one,
At our party we’ll have good fun.
Drink and eat and roister all day,
Farmer Johnny’s bullock will pay.
For a coachman we’ve a black dog,
For a footman we’ve a roast hog,
On his back a loaf of white bread,
And a bottle on his big head.
La la la la la la la la,
La la la la la la la la.

I would not recommend attempting to extract subtle meanings from this text.

Youmans/Gritton: Tea for two

The text is by Irving Caesar and comes from the musical No, No, Nanette. In the musical, it’s a duet sung by Nanette and Tom, but our version here appears to be entirely from the point of view of the man.

Picture you upon my knee,
Just tea for two and two for tea,
Just me for you and you for me alone.
Nobody near us to see us or hear us,
No friends and relations on weekend vacations.
We won’t have it known, dear, that we own a telephone.
Day will break and you’ll awake
And start to bake a sugar cake,
For me to take for all the boys to see.
We will raise a family,
A boy for you, a girl for me.
Can’t you see how happy we would be?

Perhaps I’m just suffering a sense-of-humour failure, but the smug conventionality of this text makes me feel like quoting Thomas Hardy in response.

Arlen/Turner: Somewhere over the rainbow

When all the world is a hopeless jumble
and the raindrops tumble all around,
Heaven opens a magic lane;
When all the clouds darken up the sky-way
there’s a rainbow highway to be found,
Leading from your windowpane
To a place behind the sun,
Just a step beyond the rain:
Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high,
There’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby.
Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue,
And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.
One day I’ll wish upon a star
and wake up when the stars are far behind me,
Where troubles melt like lemon drops
away above the chimney tops,
That’s where you’ll find me.
Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly:
Birds fly over the rainbow, why oh why can’t I?

The text is by E Y Harburg and comes from Dorothy in the Sky with Diamonds, also known as The Wizard of Oz. It is sung by Dorothy as she begins the first of her experiments with hallucinogenic drugs.

I can never hear this without thinking of Aus alten Märchen winkt es from Dichterliebe.

When all the world ... beyond the rain: I believe these words aren’t actually in the movie.

lemon drops: perhaps one should say acid drops, nudge nudge wink wink, know what I mean?

(OK, I admit it, none of the drug-related bits are true. Indeed, the song was first recorded about a month before the first synthesis of LSD, and six months before its hallucinogenic properties were discovered. – But they should be.)

Cole Porter: Too darn hot

It’s too darn hot.
I’d like to sup with my baby tonight,
and play the pup with my baby tonight,
but I ain’t up to my baby tonight
’cause it’s too darn hot.
I’d like to coo to my baby tonight,
and pitch the woo with my baby tonight,
but brother, you bite my baby tonight
’cause it’s too darn hot.
According to the Kinsey Report,
every average man you know
much prefers to play his favourite sport
when the temperature is low.
But when the thermometer goes way up
and the weather is sizzling hot,
Mister Adam for his madam is not,
’cause it’s too darn hot.
According to the Kinsey Report [...]
[...] and the weather is sizzling hot,
Mister Gob for his squab,
a marine for his queen,
a G.I. for his cutie-pie is not,
’cause it’s too darn hot.

The words as well as the music are by Cole Porter; the song comes from the musical Kiss me, Kate.

I expect you will be shocked, shocked to learn that this song is about sex. The complete lyrics include many more euphemisms just as silly as the ones here. I particularly like “I’d be a flop with my baby tonight”.

Kinsey Report: Alfred Kinsey’s groundbreaking Sexual behavior in the human male had just been published when Kiss me, Kate was first produced.

you know: I take it this means something more like “as you know” than “whom you know”.

Mister Adam for his madam is not: that is, not “hot”. “Madam, I’m Adam” is a palindrome.

Mister Gob for his squab: it turns out that “gob” is US slang for a sailor. Where “squab” comes from, I really have no idea. According to the OED, it can mean: an inexperienced person; a young pigeon; a young rabbit; a short, fat person; a sofa; or a kind of cushion. Perhaps Cole Porter was thinking of “squaw” (a wife, especially that of a Native American). Even less plausibly, a “squab chicken” is a very young chicken (for cooking; usually female).

a G.I.: Any member of the US armed forces. “Overpaid, oversexed, and over here”. Incidentally, it turns out that the name comes from the term “government issue”, applied to their equipment.

Mister Gob ... a marine ... a G.I.: pardon me for belabouring the obvious, but the point is that even these notoriously randy types would be put off their game by the sweltering weather.

Trad.: The battle of Jericho

Joshua fit the battle ob Jericho
An’ de walls come tumblin’ down.
Up to de walls ob Jericho
He marched with spear in han’:
“Go blow dem ram horns” Joshua cried,
“Cause de battle am in my han’.”
Den de lamb ram sheep horns begin to blow,
[An’ de] trumpets begin to sound:
Joshua commanded de children to shout
An’ de walls come tumblin’ down.

The story is of course that of Joshua 6, where Joshua and his army march around Jericho shouting and blowing trumpets and the walls collapse, letting them capture the city.

de walls come tumblin’ down: according to your level of skepticism, you may believe (1) that God worked a miracle and made the walls of Jericho collapse when Joshua’s army blew their trumpets, (2) that the trumpets were a signal to conspirators inside the city (to wreck the walls somehow, or to open the gates, or something), or (3) that the whole story is fiction. (I understand that the current consensus of historians is that Jericho was no longer inhabited at the time of the Israelites’ adventures in Canaan.) Regardless, sing it as if you believe it!

de battle am in my han’: our copies have “is” rather than “am”, but that seems obviously wrong.

lamb ram sheep horns: our text has “lam”, but “lamb” is obviously intended. Regrettably there is no connection with the Rambam.