Notes on the texts for the NCS concert in November 2010

Here once again are some notes on the texts for our next concert. The main intended readership is members of NCS; I hope to clarify meanings and allusions and so forth.

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. (If you identify any specific errors, I am always happy to be corrected.) 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.

If some parts of this look familiar, it’s because for texts we’ve sung before I’ve generally just copied what I wrote last time, including the jokes. Sorry.

Many thanks to Natalie Mayer-Hutchings and Colin Bell for many helpful comments on an earlier version of this. All remaining errors are of course my own, and in particular neither Natalie nor Colin should be assumed to agree with everything here.

Bach: Fürchte dich nicht

Fürchte dich nicht, ich bin bei dir,Fear not; I am with you,
weiche nicht, denn ich bin dein not give way, for I am your God.
Ich stärke dich, ich helfe dir auch,I strengthen you, I help you too,
ich erhalte dich durch die rechte Hand meiner Gerechtigkeit.I sustain you with the right hand of my righteousness.
Fürchte dich nicht, denn ich habe dich erlöset,Fear not, for I have freed you,
ich habe dich bei deinem Namen gerufen,I have called you by your name,
du bist are mine.
Herr, mein Hirt, Brunn aller Freuden,Lord, my shepherd, fount of all joys,
du bist mein, ich bin dein,you are mine, I am yours,
niemand kann uns one can separate us.
Ich bin dein, weil du dein LebenI am yours, because you your life
und dein Blut mir zu gutand your blood – to my benefit –
in den Tod gegeben.gave in death.
Du bist mein, weil ich dich fasseYou are mine, because I clutch you
und dich nicht, O mein Licht,and [you] do not, O my light,
aus dem Herzen lasse.let slip from my heart.
Lass mich, lass mich hingelangen,Let me, let me arrive there,
da du mich und ich dichwhere you me, and I you,
lieblich werd umfangen.lovingly will embrace.

Everything before “Herr, mein Hirt” above is from the book of Isaiah: the first part is Isaiah 41:10, the second is a portion of Isaiah 43:1. The chorale text (sung by the sopranos only, above the second Isaiah passage) is two verses of a hymn by Paul Gerhardt; you can read a somewhat abridged version (which includes our verses) at the so-called Cyber Hymnal (warning: I think that page plays music at you if you let it).

The common theme of these texts is that of possession (perhaps it would be better to say belonging): ich bin dein Gott in the first passage from Isaiah, du bist mein in the second, and both du bist mein and ich bin dein in the chorale.

weiche nicht: if English translations are to be trusted, the underlying Hebrew means something more like “do not be dismayed”. The German is nearer to “do not weaken”. (Colin Bell, who knows several orders of magnitude more Hebrew than I do, tells me that the actual Hebrew probably means something like “look around”; it seems, though, that there’s some scope for doubt about the word in question, and something like “do not be dismayed” may be right after all...)

die rechte Hand meiner Gerechtigkeit: the meaning here is surely “with my righteous right hand”.

erlöset: this simply means “freed”; the main meaning of the underlying Hebrew is “ransomed” or “redeemed”; the term could also be used for any sort of deliverance from trouble or bondage, and that was probably Isaiah’s intention (the deliverance in question being from captivity in Babylon); but Christian readers, certainly including Bach, have always applied this verse (along with much else in the later parts of Isaiah) also to deliverance from sin and death as a result of Jesus’s sacrifice. Take your pick.

weil du dein Leben … gegeben: the syntax is a bit tortured here (though not as badly as some in the next verse) so here’s a paraphrase into more normal English: “because you gave your life and your blood in death for my sake.”

fasse: an undignified word, I think; other translations of it are things like “clutch” and “grab”. (But it can also simply mean “grasp”.) Desperation or passion or something of the kind may be suggested.

und dich nicht … lasse: another bit of awkward word order, at least in English. “I hold on to you and do not (O my light) let go of you from my heart.”

lasse: abandon, drop, let go, release.

hin: heaven, though the poet may also have in mind some more metaphorical state of grace attainable on earth.

da du mich … umfangen: “where you will lovingly embrace me, and I will lovingly embrace you”.

Iliff: The queen of air and darkness

Her strong enchantments fading,
Her towers of fear in wreck,
Her limbecks dried of poisons,
And the knife at her neck,
The Queen of air and darkness
Begins to shrill and cry:
“O young man, O my slayer,
Tomorrow you shall die.”
O Queen of air and darkness,
I think ’tis truth you say,
And I shall die tomorrow;
But you will die today.

The poem is by A E Housman. The Queen of Air and Darkness seems to signify the young man’s fear; it is because he has overcome, or at least frankly faced, that fear that her enchantments are fading, her limbecks dried up, and her life about to end. Fear of what, we aren’t told: perhaps literal death, perhaps some sort of humiliating rejection or exposure. (It may or may not be relevant that Housman was homosexual at a time when homosexuality was a cause for public shaming, loss of one’s job, and possible criminal proceedings.) Whatever it is, he has decided to face it unflinchingly.

Allegedly, Housman stated that the title “queen of air and darkness” comes from a line of Coventry Patmore about “the powers of darkness and the air”, which in turn is derived from “the prince of the power of the air” in the Letter to the Ephesians, and that “the meaning is Evil”. That’s approximately St Paul’s meaning, and Patmore’s (though both of them seem to me to have something more specifically supernatural in mind), but I beg leave to doubt that it was really Housman’s. Supposedly his nephew Clement Symons took the poem (as I do) to be “the portrayal of conflict in which cowardly fear was vanquished”. Unfortunately, my only source for all this has both of these at second hand and I can’t check up on any of it.

limbecks: = alembics, a sort of alchemical retort. Used for distilling things.

But you will die today: “Yes, what I’m facing is unpleasant, but what happens will happen and I am not going to make matters worse by cowering in terror before it does happen.”

Schumann: An die Sterne

Sterne, in des Himmels Ferne!Stars, far off in the heavens!
die mit Strahlen bessrer Weltwho with your beams from a better world
ihr die Erdendämmrung hellt;brighten earth’s twilight;
(Sterne, in des Himmels Ferne!)(Stars, far off in the heavens!)
schau’n nicht GeisteraugenDo not ghostly eyes look (down)
von euch erdenwärts,from you towards the earth
dass sie Frieden hauchen in’s umwölkte Herz?to breathe peace into the clouded heart?
Sterne, in des Himmels Ferne!Stars, far off in the heavens!
träumt sich auch in jenem Raumdoes there dream even in that place
eines Lebens flücht’ger Traum?a life’s fleeting dream?
(Sterne, in des Himmels Ferne!)(Stars, far off in the heavens!)
Hebt Entzücken, Wonne,Do delight, joy,
Trauer, Wehmuth, Schmerz,sorrow, melancholy, anguish,
jenseit unsrer Sonnebeyond our sun
auch ein fuhlend Herz?also [raise up] a feeling heart?
Sterne, in des Himmels Ferne!Stars, far off in the heavens!
Winkt ihr nicht schon Himmelsruh’Are you not already signalling heavenly peace
mir aus euren Fernen zu?to me from your far-off place?
Wird nicht einst dem MüdenWill you not one day for the weary one
auf den goldnen Au’nin golden meadows
ungetrübter Friedenuntroubled peace
in die Seele thau’n?melt into [his] soul?
Sterne, Sterne,Stars, stars,
bis mein Geist den Fittig hebt,until my spirit lifts its wing,
und zu eurem Frieden schwebt,and flies up to your peace,
hang’ an euch mein Sehnen,my longing hangs on you,
hoffend, glaubevoll!hoping, full of faith!
O ihr holden, schönen,O you lovely, beautiful ones,
könnt ihr täuschen wohl?Could you possibly deceive me?

The text is a poem by Friedrich Rückert. Schumann has taken a few liberties, adding in a couple of extra iterations of “Sterne, in des Himmels Ferne!” and replacing one with “Sterne, Sterne!”. There are also many differences in punctuation between the original poem and the text as we have it, but I don’t know whether they’re Schumann’s doing or an editor’s.

Schau’n nicht ...: the first of many rhetorical questions in the poem. Our text contains no question marks, which in some cases makes it exactly reverse the poet’s meaning! For the avoidance of doubt, the poet intends that the Geisteraugen do in fact schauen erdenwärts.

Geisteraugen: might be “ghostly eyes” (meaning either the stars themselves, thought of as looking ghost-like, or the eyes of human spirits who have ascended to the heavens) or “spiritual eyes” (meaning the eyes of either the stars themselves, thought of as heavenly beings, or of angels or some other such spiritual beings).

umwölkte: full of clouds (confused)? surrounded by cloud (lost, unable to see clearly)? underneath clouds (gloomy)? Dunno. (Natalie, whose German is much better than mine, thinks “gloomy” most likely.) One email correspondent suggests “beclouded” which may be a little better than “clouded” since it leans a bit more towards its metaphorical meanings.

träumt sich ... Traum?: the meaning is plain enough (is there someone out there living a fleeting life like ours?), but the point isn’t clear to me. The most likely interpretation, odd though it may sound, seems to me that Rückert is speculating on the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe (beyond our sun): Perhaps our dreams and joys and sorrows are not ours alone, but shared by countless others in worlds beyond our ken.

Hebt ... Herz: The German language has a reputation for monstrous sentences with all the verbs withheld until the end. Here is a monstrous sentence with the verb at the beginning, which isn’t much easier. In my generally-literal translation, Hebt has had to be displaced three lines downwards to make comprehensible English.

fühlend Herz: a heart capable of feelings like ours, rather than an unfeeling inhuman one. These days the usual question is whether there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe; but this was the Romantic era, and Rückert was more interested in whether there was emotional life elsewhere, life that shares our feelings.

Winkt: literally “waves”, slightly less literally “signals”. I can’t help feeling that there’s a much better translation to be had here.

Wird nicht ... thau’n?: For the avoidance of doubt, again, this is a rhetorical question, not a denial. And this time, true to stereotype, the verb is at the end; a less literal but less incomprehensible translation would be “Will you not one day drop untroubled peace into the soul of the weary one in the golden meadows?”. I do not know what golden meadows Rückert has in mind, nor whether they are supposed to exist on earth or elsewhere, nor whether they have any non-obvious symbolic meaning. The weary one is almost certainly the poet himself. I will hazard a guess that “tauen” isn’t normally a verb but that the poet has exercised his prerogative of verbing nouns.

thau’n: The mental image here isn’t clear to me. Thau is dew and I’ve seen one translation (on the web and therefore highly unreliable) along the lines of “drop like dew”; I have no idea whether that’s actually a possible meaning.

Sterne, Sterne: Rückert simply wrote “Sterne, in des Himmels Ferne!” again here.

holden, schönen: Our edition is missing the comma here. I suppose it makes reasonable sense either way.

könnt ihr täuschen wohl?: Is this just another rhetorical question, or is the poet introducing a hint of cynicism and doubt, as if to say that perhaps the foregoing is all a bit too good to be true? If the poem were by, say, Heine, it would be the latter for sure, but as it is I’m unsure.

Bruckner: Locus iste

Locus iste a Deo factus est.This place has been made by God.
Inaestimabile sacramentum,A priceless mystery,
irreprehensibilis is irreproachable.

This is the prescribed gradual from the Roman Catholic Church’s Mass for the Dedication of a Church. (This setting was written by Bruckner for the dedication of a chapel at Linz Cathedral.) The opening words “Locus iste” echo the introit from the same Mass, taken from Genesis 18 where Jacob has dreamed of his famous ladder: “Terribilis est locus iste”, how fearsome is this place. (Jacob goes on to dedicate the place of his vision to God, which is presumably why that text is used.)

sacramentum: could also mean “sacrament”, of course, but note that it isn’t referring to any of the usual sacraments: baptism, the eucharist, etc.

Grieg: Ave maris stella

Ave maris stella,Hail, star of the sea,
Dei Mater alma,Bountiful Mother of God,
Atque semper virgo,And [yet] for ever a virgin,
Felix coeli porta.Blessed gate of heaven.
Solve vincla reis,Loose the bonds of the guilty,
Profer lumen caecis,Bring forth light to the blind,
Mala nostra pelle,Dispel our evils,
Bona cuncta posce.Ask [for us] all good things.
Vitam praesta puram,Keep our life pure,
Iter para tutum:And make our way safe,
Ut videntes Jesum,That seeing Jesus
Semper collaetemur.We may for ever rejoice together.
Sit laus Deo Patri,Praise be to God the Father,
Summo Christo decus,Honour to Christ the Most High,
Spiritui Sancto,[And] to the Holy Spirit,
Trinus honor unus.One threefold honour.

The text is a Latin hymn to the Virgin Mary, of unknown origin but no later than the 9th century. Grieg has set only about half of it.

maris stella: so, why is the Virgin Mary “the star of the sea”? No one knows for sure, but St Jerome is known to have suggested that Mary’s name in Hebrew means a drop of water from the sea, stilla maris, so most likely a copyist’s error is responsible for stella maris.

Schumann: Talismane

Gottes ist der Orient! Gottes ist der Okzident!God’s is the east! God’s is the west!
Nord und südliches GeländeNorthern and southern lands
Ruht im frieden seiner Hände.Rest in the peace of his hands.
Er, der einzige Gerechte,He, the only righteous one,
Will für jedermann das Rechte.desires what is right for everyone.
Sei von seinen hundert NamenMay (he), by his hundred names,
Dieser hochgelobet! Amen.this One be highly praised! Amen.
Mich verwirren will das Irren,Error seeks to confuse me,
Doch du weisst mich zu entwirren,but you know how to disentangle me,
Wenn ich handle, wenn ich dichte,When I work, when I write poetry,
Gieb du meinen Weg die Richte!give to my path the right direction!

The text is the first three stanzas of a poem by Goethe (from his West-östlicher Divan, appropriately enough given the first line). Incidentally, “Divan” here has nothing to do with furniture; it means a collection of poems. The two meanings are actually related: a diwan is a collection of writing, hence (1) a collection of poems and (2) a bundle of government papers, hence the body of civil servants who handle them, hence the room they work in, hence the couch commonly found in such a room. I kid you not.

Gottes ist: in case there should be any doubt, this means “God’s is”, not “God is”.

Gerechte, Rechte: These words carry a variety of meanings: righteous(ness), judgement, just(ice). In particular, das Rechte could as easily be “righteousness” as “what is right”.

Irren: I think this is Wrongness personified (in roughly the same way as Sin sometimes is in Jewish and Christian writings), but it might alternatively mean something like “my wrongness” or “my errors”. (In which case, simply “will confuse me” rather than “seeks to confuse me”.)

verwirren ... entwirren: tangle/untangle, confuse/un-confuse. What a tangled web we weave...

handle: Perhaps something more specific like “do business” would be a better translation?

Richte: I think this means both “rightness” and “direction”, so my translation is a bit of fudge.

Parry: 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. “Dearth” presumably means famine and starvation. “Agues” are fevers (and rhyme with “plague yews”). Being slain by “despair” presumably means committing suicide, something Donne controversially defended. The pairing of “law” and “chance” suggests to a modern reader something like the laws of physics; I don’t know whether Donne was thinking of this sort of natural law, or of human law, or of divine law, or what.

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.

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: verlassen is to abandon, and accordingly sich verlassen auf is to abandon oneself to, hence to rely upon. There isn’t actually a reflexive pronoun in the text, but presumably there’s an implicit “uns”.

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. “Reach it” is a more normal translation for “erlangen” but the previous text doesn’t provide any suitable antecedent to be reached.

Barber: Agnus Dei

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.Lamb of God, [you] who take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.Lamb of God, [you] who take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.Lamb of God, [you] who take away the sins of the world, give us peace.

The text is of course from the Latin mass, and is familiar enough that there’s not much more to be said. (Perhaps it’s worth remarking that the pacem being requested is surely inner peace and being-at-peace-with-God rather than anything to do with war.)

Ravel: Trois chansons

1. Nicolette

Nicolette, à la vesprée,Nicolette, at eventide,
s’allait promener au pré,went for a walk in the fields,
cueillir la pâquerette,to pick daisies,
la jonquille et le muguet.daffodils and lily-of-the-valley.
Toute sautillante, toute guillerette,skipping cheerfully,
lorgnant, ci, là, de tous les côtes.looking around here, there and everywhere.
Rencontra vieux loup grognant,She met a growling wolf,
tout hérissé, l’oeil brillant:bristling, with shining eyes:
“Hé là! ma Nicolette,Hey there, my Nicolette,
viens tu pas chez Mère Grand?”won’t you come to Grandma’s house?
A perte d’haleine s’enfuit Nicolette,Breathlessly Nicolette ran away,
laissant la cornette et socques blancs.leaving behind her wimple and white shoes.
Rencontra page joli,She met a handsome page,
chausses bleues et pourpoint gris:with blue stockings and grey doublet:
“Hé là! ma Nicolette,Hey there, my Nicolette,
veux-tu pas d’un doux ami?”wouldn’t you like a sweetheart?
Sage, s’en retourna, pauvre Nicolette,Sensibly, poor Nicolette returned,
très lentement, le coeur bien marri.very slowly and with a heavy heart.
Rencontra seigneur chenu,She met a white-haired lord,
tors, laid, puant et ventru:twisted, ugly, stinking and pot-bellied:
“Hé là! ma Nicolette,Hey there, my Nicolette,
veux tu pas tous ces écus?”wouldn’t you like all this money?
Vite fut en ses bras, bonne Nicolette,Quickly good Nicolette was in his arms,
jamais au pré n’est revenue.never to return.

The text, like that of the other two Ravel songs, is by Ravel himself. I’m no expert, but the style seems to me to be deliberately archaic. The story itself surely is; leaving aside other indications, it’s a long time since anyone was likely to be wearing a cornette or a pourpoint.

vesprée: an archaic spelling of vêprée. Late afternoon, evening, twilight.

muguet: can refer to a number of flowers; bluebells are another possibility.

toute: here and elsewhere, means something more like “very” or “altogether” than “all”. Compare English phrases like “all wet”.

guillerette: cheerful, vivacious, lively.

lorgnant: suggests looking out of the corner of one’s eye. This seems rather at odds with the carefree atmosphere of the previous line, but perhaps I’m missing something.

ma Nicolette: a more idiomatic translation would be something like “Nicolette my dear”.

Mère Grand: Why yes, they do have the story of Little Red Riding-Hood in France. The earliest written version known in any language is Charles Perrault’s Le petit chaperon rouge and it does indeed call the old lady in question “Mère-grand”. Perrault’s version comes with an explicitly stated Moral which makes it plain (as if it weren’t already) that the wolf stands in for sexual predators as well as other sorts.

cornette: actually, I could have translated it as cornette, but I for one had never heard of cornettes before. I don’t think there’s any suggestion that Nicolette is actually a nun (cornettes were worn by ordinary women long before they were specifically associated with nuns), though it strikes me that the term vesprée isn’t the usual translation for evening (soir) or twilight (crépuscule) but does have echoes of vespers...

socques: does not mean “socks”! (Originally “sock” didn’t mean sock either; its original meaning was the same as that of socque, a sort of low-heeled shoe.

pourpoint: another word that could have been left untranslated but while that page seems to imply that the pourpoint was specifically an element of knightly costume, I think it was also (later?) worn by others. The Académie Française’s dictionary defines pourpoint as “part of the old French costume, which covered the body from the neck to just below the belt”.

doux ami: Literally “sweet friend”. Definitely refers to a boyfriend, not just a good friend.

Sage, bonne: of course there is a heavy dose of irony here.

le coeur bien marri: “marri” is another distinctly archaic term (17th century at the latest). marrir is to afflict; to be marri is to be penitent, regretful, or mournful.

seigneur: more general than the literal translation “lord”, but definitely signifies something a bit more exalted than, say, “gentleman”.

écus: literally an écu is a particular sort of silver coin, but écus almost always means “lots of money” rather than anything more literal.

2. Trois beaux oiseaux du Paradis

Trois beaux oiseaux du ParadisThree beautiful birds of Paradise
(Mon ami z’il est à la guerre)(My love is gone to the wars)
Trois beaux oiseaux du ParadisThree beautiful birds of Paradise
Ont passé par ici.Passed by this way.
Le premier était plus bleu que ciel,The first was bluer than the sky,
(Mon ami z’il est à la guerre)(My love is gone to the wars)
Le second était couleur de neige,The second was the colour of snow,
Le troisième rouge vermeil.The third vermilion red.
“Beaux oiselets du Paradis,Beautiful little birds of Paradise
(Mon ami z’il est à la guerre)(My love is gone to the wars)
Beaux oiselets du Paradis,Beautiful little birds of Paradise,
Qu’apportez par ici?”What are you bringing here?
“J’apporte un regard couleur d’azurI bring an azure-coloured look
(Ton ami z’il est à la guerre).”(Your love is gone to the wars)
“Et moi, sur beau front couleur de neige,And I, on a beautiful snow-coloured brow,
Un baiser doit mettre, encor plus pur.”must place a kiss, even more pure.
“Oiseau vermeil du Paradis,Vermilion bird of Paradise,
(Mon ami z’il est à la guerre)(My love is gone to the wars)
Oiseau vermeil du Paradis,Vermilion bird of Paradise,
Que portez-vous ainsi?”What then do you bring?
“Un joli coeur tout cramoisiA lovely heart, blushing all crimson.
(Ton ami z’il est à la guerre).”(Your love is gone to the wars.)
“Ah! je sens mon coeur qui froidit...Ah! I feel my own heart growing cold...
Emportez-le aussi.”Take that as well.

The text is by Ravel himself.

oiseau[x] du Paradis: could mean either “bird-of-paradise”, a kind of brightly coloured bird found in Australasia, or “bird from Paradise”, with the ominous suggestion that the singer’s beloved has died and gone there. The construction oiseau vermeil du Paradis seems to me to suggest the latter, but I’m not sure that wouldn’t also be how you’d write “vermilion bird-of-paradise”.

z’il: I think the infix -z- is another deliberate archaism by Ravel, but I’m well out of my depth here. It certainly wouldn’t be correct in modern French.

oiselets: Why the diminutive? Perhaps the singer has perceived that the birds are somehow associated with her lover.

azur ... couleur de neige ... rouge vermeil: the colours of the French flag (and for that matter of many others).

un regard couleur d’azur: Presumably her lover has blue eyes.

cramoisi: This could just mean “crimson” rather than “blushing crimson”, which to my mind would suggest a more gruesome interpretation.

froidit: Why? I suggest four unsatisfactory explanations. (1a) She interprets the bright-red bird of paradise, as I tentatively did before, as symbolic of her lover's death in the wars. Or, a more dramatic variation on this theme: (1b) The bird is bringing not her lover’s metaphorical heart blushing romantically, but his not-so-metaphorical heart dripping with crimson blood, and she feels a chill of horror. (In which case perhaps the final request is for her own death.) (2) Her ardour is cooling because she hasn’t seen her lover for so long. (In which case her final request is for her heart to be brought to be with him as his has been brought to her.) (3) The crimson heart is metaphorical and romantic after all, but the singer feels the pangs of love as a sudden chill for some reason. If #2 is correct, I am unsure whether je sens mon coeur... means “I feel my heart growing cold” or “I feel my heart, which had been growing cold”.

3. Ronde

Les vieilles:The old women:
N’allez pas au bois d’Ormonde,Do not go to the woods of Ormonde,
jeunes filles, n’allez pas au bois:young girls, do not go to the woods:
Il y a plein de satyres, de centaures, de malins sorciers,They are full of satyrs, centaurs, evil sorcerers,
des farfadets et des incubes,leprechauns and incubi,
des ogres, des lutins,ogres, imps,
des faunes, des follets, des lamies,fauns, sprites, lamias,
diables, diablots, diablotins,devils, big devils, little devils,
des chèvre-pieds, des gnomes, des démons,goatsfeet, gnomes, demons,
des loups-garous, des elfes, des myrmidons,werewolves, elves, Myrmidons,
des enchanteurs et des mages,enchanters and mages,
des stryges, des sylphes, des moines-bourrus,vampires, sylphs, bogeymen,
des cyclopes, des djinns, gobelins,cyclopes, djinns, goblins,
korrigans, nécromants, kobolds.korrigans, necromancers, kobolds.
N’allez pas au bois d’Ormonde.Do not go to the woods of Ormonde.
Les vieux:The old men:
N’allez pas au bois d’Ormonde,Do not go to the woods of Ormonde,
jeunes garçons, n’allez pas au bois:young boys, do not go to the woods:
Il y a plein de faunesses, de bacchantes et de males fées,They are full of faunesses, Bacchantes, evil fairies,
des satyresses, des ogresses et de babaïagas,satyresses, ogresses and witches,
des centauresses et des diablesses,centauresses and she-devils,
goules sortant du sabbat,ghouls coming from their sabbat,
des farfadettes et des démones,leprechauns and demons,
des larves, des nymphes, des myrmidones,ghosts, nymphs, Myrmidons,
hamadryades, dryades, naïades, ménades, thyades,hamadryads, dryads, naiads, Maenads, Thyiades,
follettes, lémures, gnomides,sprites, shades, she-gnomes,
succubes, gorgones, gobelines.succubi, Gorgons, goblins.
N’allez pas au bois d’Ormonde.Do not go to the woods of Ormonde!
Les filles et les garçons:The girls and the boys:
N’irons plus au bois d’Ormonde,We will no longer go to the woods of Ormonde,
Hélas! plus jamais n’irons au bois.alas! we will no longer go to the woods.
Il n’y a plus de satyres, plus de nymphes ni de males fées,There are no more satyrs, no more nymphs or evil fairies,
plus de farfadets, plus d’incubes,no more leprechauns, no more incubi,
plus d’ogres, de lutins,no more ogres, imps,
de faunes, de follets, de lamies,fauns, sprites, lamias,
diables, diablots, diablotins,devils, big devils, little devils,
de chèvre-pieds, de gnomes, de démons,goatsfeet, gnomes, demons,
de loups-garous, ni d’elfes, de myrmidons,werewolves, elfs, Myrmidons,
plus d’enchanteurs ni des mages,no more enchanters nor mages,
de stryges, de sylphes, de moines-bourrus,vampires, sylphs, bogeymen,
de cyclopes, de djinns,cyclopes, djinns,
de diabloteaux, d’efrits, d’aegypans,archdevils, ifrit, trolls,
de sylvains, gobelins,woodland spirits, goblins,
korrigans, nécromants, kobolds.korrigans, necromancers, kobolds.
N’allez pas au bois d’Ormonde.Do not go to the woods of Ormonde.
Les malavisées vieilles,The foolish old women,
les malavisés vieuxthe foolish old men,
les ont effarouchés. Ah!have frightened them off. Ah!

The text is by Ravel himself. It’s scarcely possible to translate really accurately because no two cultures have exactly the same superstitions or exactly the same words for them; I’ve done my best.

Lest there be any doubt, here is a rough paraphrase with the mythological symbolism stripped away. “Do not go into the woods, girls; they are full of sexual predators. Do not go into the woods, boys; they are full of temptresses.” “Alas, we will no longer go into the woods, because all the predators and temptresses have been scared away.” And yes, the satyrs and centaurs are the boys, and the faunesses and Bacchantes are the girls; that’s the point. To be even more explicit: The old men and women are trying to stop the lads and lasses going off into the woods and having sex with one another; they therefore issue dire warnings about sexual predators; this successfully scares off most of the lads and lasses, and the remaining ones bewail the fact that there’s no longer anyone to have sex with in the woods. If you think I’m sounding too much like your secondary-school English teacher, please feel free to present a better explanation for (1) the fact that the girls are warned about male (and, in several cases, notoriously randy) creatures, and the boys are warned about female ones and (2) the last few lines.

Almost all the creatures about which the girls are warned are male. Almost all the creatures about which the boys are warned are female. In many cases the girls have the masculine form, and the boys the feminine form, of the same word; I haven’t made that explicit in most of the translations; I hope it’s generally obvious.

Some of the mythological beasties and suchlike may be unfamiliar; the details don’t really matter, but here are some links, mostly to Wikipedia. (All hail Wikipedia!) In some cases (e.g., babaïaga, stryge) the modern meaning (witch, vampire) is not the same as that of the older mythic being (Baba Yaga, strix) I’ve given a pointer to. Baba Yaga (whence babaïagas), dryad, farfadet, Gorgon, hamadryad, ifrit, incubus, kobold, korrigan, lamia, larva and lemure, Maenad (also Bacchantes), moine bourru, Myrmidons, naiad, sabbat, strix (whence stryges), succubus, Thyia (whence Thyiades).

bois d’Ormonde: I regret that I don’t know where Ormonde is, if indeed it’s a real place.

jeunes garçons/filles: given the general nature of this, I’m fairly sure they aren’t all that young.

farfadets/farfadettes: “leprechaun” isn’t an exact translation; there is none. “Pixie” wouldn’t be a bad alternative.

lutins: can refer to any small fairy folk. Geeky readers may be amused to know that in computer graphics this is the French equivalent of “sprite” in English.

follets: pretty much synonymous with farfadets. A feu follet is a will-o’-the-wisp.

lamies: these, unlike just about everything else in the list, are female.

diables, diablots, diablotins ... diabloteaux: I believe -ot indicates bigness, -tin indicates smallness, and -eau indicates bigness, in which case a diablot is a big devil, a diablotin is a little big devil (just as a violoncello is a viol + -on + -cello, a little big fiddle), and a diabloteau is a big big devil. Whether those suffixes have any demonological significance, I don’t know.

chèvre-pieds: really this is just another word for a satyr, and so far as I know there is no actual English term “goatsfoot”. Too bad.

loups-garous: the -garou is equivalent to were in the English “werewolf”; in old French it was warous whose kinship to were is more obvious. Both are derived from the Latin vir meaning a man.

moines-bourrus: so far as I know there’s no English equivalent. A moine-bourru is a sort of malign ghost, seen especially around Advent. I’ve translated it “bogeyman” because it seems as if tales of moines-bourrus were used deliberately to frighten children. The term literally means “angry monk”.

farfadettes, démones, myrmidones, follettes, gnomides, gobelines: feminine versions of farfadets, démons, myrmidons, follets, gnomes, gobelins.

larves ... lémures: in Latin, both larvae and lemures were varieties of ghost. Both were coopted for biological use by Linnaeus: apparently a larva is ghostly because of its paleness, and a lemur because of its staring eyes and nocturnal lifestyle. Really.

aegypans: despite my translation this in fact seems to be yet another term for a faun or satyr.

Marshall: Five West Country folk songs

The texts for all of these are, I think (but haven’t checked), taken from Folk songs of the West Country by Baring-Gould and Hitchcock.

1. The forsaken maiden

A maiden sat a-weeping down by the sea-shore.
What ails my pretty Sally, and makes her heart sore?
Because I am a-weary, a-weary in my mind,
No comfort and no pleasure henceforth can I find.
I’ll spread my sail of silver,
I’ll loose my rope of silk.
My mast is of the cypress tree,
My track is white as milk.
I’ll spread my sail of silver,
I’ll steer toward the sun,
And thou, false love, will weep for me,
For me when I’m gone.

This seems to be related to the better known “As Sylvie was walking”, in which it’s explicit that the girl’s despondency is because her lover has abandoned her. Not that there’s very much doubt here.

loose my rope of silk: Presumably there’s some symbolism going on here, but I don’t know what. (There’s some Chinese mythology in which couples destined for one another are united with a silken rope, but I doubt this has anything to do with it.) I suspect that the silver sail and milky track have some significance too (both seem suggestive of purity and innocence, for instance) but again I don’t know what.

cypress tree: Traditionally a symbol of death, which may or may not indicate that the sailing trip Sally is about to take is a metaphor for something more irreversible.

toward the sun: If Sally is really talking about suicide then presumably sunset is meant here.

2. The owl

Of all the birds that ever I see,
The owl is the fairest in her degree,
For all the day long she sits in a tree,
And when the night cometh away flies she.
    To-whit! To-who! says she, To-who!
    Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves,
    And brandy gave me my jolly red nose.
The lark in the morn ascendeth on high
And leaves the poor owl to sob and to sigh;
And all the day long the owl is asleep,
While little birds blithely are singing Cheep! Cheep!
    To-whit! To-who! says she, To-who!
    Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves,
    And brandy gave me my jolly red nose.
There’s many a brave bird that boasteth awhile,
And proves himself great, let providence smile,
Be hills and be valleys all covered with snow,
The poor owl will shiver and mock with Ho! Ho!
    To-whit! To-who! says she, To-who!
    Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves,
    And brandy gave me my jolly red nose.

I think this, or some ancestor of it, was originally a drinking song: the singer praises the owl who, like him, is idle by day and active by night. The business about the jolly red nose would then be put in the mouth of the roisterer rather than of the owl, which would make a great deal more sense. A song collected by Thomas Ravenscroft offers some evidence for this theory.

degree: place in the natural order. Or perhaps “in her degree” might mean something like “to the extent that is proper for her”. Not that either makes very much sense.

... and brandy gave me ...: of course it’s the whole list, from cinnamon to brandy, that’s jointly responsible for the jolly red nose.

morn: our copies have “moon” printed instead of “morn”, but this is definitely a mistake. In case it’s not obvious, “in the morn” qualifies “ascendeth on high” rather than “the lark”.

proves himself great: you’d think from the context that this actually means something like “pretends to be great”, but so far as I can tell the word “prove” has never had such a meaning. Could be ironic, of course. Alternatively, the writer may just not have been over-careful of the precise meaning of the words.

let providence smile: with amusement, at the boasting of many a brave bird. The owl, on the other hand, doesn’t boast.

mock: the meaning is presumably that the owl is untroubled by the cold and makes a joke of it, but then why does she shiver? Again I suspect mere carelessness by the author.

3. The sweet streams of Nancy

O the sweet streams of Nancy, they divide in two parts,
Where the young men in dancing they do meet their sweethearts.
There in drinking strong liquor it makes my heart sing,
And the sound of the viol it does make my heart ring.
On yonder tall mountain a castle does stand,
It is built of white ivory all above the black sand,
All of ivory builded and of diamonds bright,
All with gold it is gilded, and it shines in the night.
On yonder high moorland the wildfowl do fly,
There is one fair among them soars than others more high:
My heart is an eagle with wings wide outspread,
It soareth and flieth in pursuit of my maid.

Although this is an English folk song, I am fairly sure that it’s about the city of Nancy in France, which does indeed lie at the intersection of two rivers.

two parts: the Meurthe and the Moselle, if I’m right about which Nancy is intended.

mountain ... castle ... moorland: No idea, sorry. May well be pure invention.

one fair among them: I take it this is the singer’s “maid” rather than his own heart.

eagle: Taken at face value, the metaphor here suggests that the singer proposes to capture his beloved, kill her, and eat her. I don’t imagine that’s actually the intention.

4. Evening Prayer

Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and John,
Bless the bed that I lie on.
Four angels to my bed,
Two to pillow, two to head.
Two to hear me when I pray,
Two to bear my soul away.
Monday morn the week begin,
Christ deliver our souls from sin.
Tuesday morn nor curse nor swear,
Christès body that will tear.
Wednesday, middle of the week,
Woe to the soul Christ does not seek.
Thursday morn, Saint Peter wrote,
Joy to the soul that heaven hath bote.
Friday Christ died on the tree
To save other men as well as me.
Saturday, sure, the evening dead,
Sunday morn the book’s outspread.
God is the branch and I the flower,
Pray God send me a blessed hour.
I go to bed, some sleep to take,
The Lord, he knows if I shall wake.
Sleep I ever, sleep I never,
God receive my soul for ever.

Four angels ... two ... two ... two ... two: There are some arithmetical difficulties here, but no matter. (Perhaps all the angels listed are different, for a total of twelve?)

to bear my soul away: if I die, that is.

Christès body that will tear: this could mean either (or both) of “that will intensify the sufferings of Christ, who suffered on the cross for my sins” or “that will tear apart the church, the body of Christ”.

the soul Christ does not seek: ambiguous, perhaps deliberately, between “the soul whom Christ does not seek” (Calvinist?) and “the soul that does not seek Christ” (Arminian?). I think the latter is more likely despite the weird word ordering. Another tenor, who shall remain nameless, has pointed out to me that if we punctuate the line differently (“woe to the soul! Christ does not seek”) it becomes a declaration of atheism or something like it.

bote: bid for, according to a footnote in our edition, but I wonder whether it actually means “bought”. (OED doesn’t seem to know “bote” as a spelling for either.)

Saturday, sure, the evening dead: I think the Easter story is still in view; Holy Saturday is perhaps the gloomiest day in the Christian calendar, with Christ still dead and buried and nothing apparently happening.

the book’s outspread: we’re back from our excursion to the first century; the meaning is simply that on Sunday the Bible is prominently displayed in church.

Sleep I ever, sleep I never: “whether I fall asleep and never wake up, or fail to get to sleep at all”.

5. The saucy sailor

Come my fairest, come my dearest love, with me,
Come and you shall wed a sailor from the sea.
Faith I want none of your sailors, she did say:
So be gone, you saucy creature,
So be gone from me, I pray.
You are ragged, you are dirty, smell of tar.
Get you gone to foreign countries from me far.
If I’m ragged, if I’m dirty, of tar I smell,
Yet there’s silver in my pocket,
And of gold a store as well.
When she saw the shining silver, saw the gold,
Down she kneeled and very humbly hands did fold.
Staying, she did hear these words, on her knees she fell,
Saying, O forgive me, love,
For I like a sailor well.

“... jamais au pré n’est revenue.” What nasty cynical stuff we do have to sing, to be sure.

these words: I suppose this refers back to the sailor’s words about gold and silver in the previous verse.

Kosma/Carter: Autumn leaves

Autumn leaves fall and are swept out of sight,
The words that you said have come true,
Autumn leaves fall and are swept out of sight,
So are the memories of love that we knew.
The wind of forgetfulness blows them
Into the night of regret,
The song you would so often sing
Is echoing yet.
The falling leaves
Drift by the window,
The autumn leaves of red and gold;
I see your lips,
The summer kisses,
The sunburned hands I used to hold.
You went away, the days grow long,
And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song;
But I miss you most [of all], my darling,
When autumn leaves start to fall.

I haven’t anything much to say about this; it’s pretty much self-explanatory. I will remark that, just as Somewhere over the rainbow always puts me in mind of Aus alten Märchen winkt es from Dichterliebe, so “The song you would so often sing / Is echoing yet” itself echoes Hör’ ich das Liedchen klingen from the same work.

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.)

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.