Thursday 18 November 2021

Evensong: L'Oiseau Bleu


The Blue Bird, by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852 1924)
sung by The Tenebrae Choir conducted by Nigel Short. The Tenebrae Choir is a London-based professional vocal ensemble founded and directed by former King's Singer Nigel Short. It was
recorded in St Augustine, Kilburn.
The text is a poem by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge, 1861- 1924

The lake lay blue below the hill.
O'er it, as I looked, there flew
Across the waters, cold and still,
A bird whose wings were palest blue.

The sky above was blue at last,
The sky beneath me blue in blue.
A moment, ere the bird had passed,
It caught his image as he flew.


Mike said...

I admit I'm not a literary genius, but this poem troubles me. This line:

"The sky beneath me blue in blue."

The first verse is someone telling a story. Then the line above implies some out of body experience. The final line:

"It caught his image as he flew"

The "his" now implies a third person doing the observation.

I'm confused.

Anonymous said...

Probably meant to mean blue sky reflected on (in) blue water, mr mike, and the "his" is the bird's.

I used to hate stuff like this when expected to explain/enjoy etc at school. "Dunno, and don't care" would be a reasonable response when asked for analysis but you had to play the game.

What does the blue symbolise, Molesworth?
Headmaster's cane up Fotherington-Thomas' bum, miss, hem hem. And the birdie is uterly wet and a weed.

How dare there be poets, as mr smith used to say hereabouts.


Johnny said...

One of my favourite compositions: known it for 50 years. And the Tenebrae performance is wonderful.

mrs ishmael said...

Thank you, ishmaelites, for taking the time to think about this little, and, to my mind, exquisite, offering - a perfect blend of text and music, interpreted by Tenebrae, who are, as we say in the vernacular, the dog's bollocks.
You may be interested in this exposition by musician and writer Walter Bitner:

"Coleridge’s poem captures a single moment in two quatrains, in the manner of a Japanese haiku. There is nothing extraneous; the poem’s great beauty lies in its direct expression of natural beauty and its power to evoke a strong impression in the imagination of the reader (and for the song of course, the singers and listeners). The poet carefully identifies the subject of the poem as “I” so that as each of us reads or hears it, we see this image in our mind’s eye as if we ourselves are the witness of the event.

In Stanford’s setting, the choir’s opening chords provide a cool description of the poem’s setting: The lake lay blue below the hill, and over this, the soprano soloist flies in pianissimo with the single word blue. For a scarce four minutes, this bird flies by: the soprano’s melody swoops gracefully, rising and falling above the choir, sometimes blending with what her peers are singing, sometimes distinctly climbing high above. Blue in blue. There is no final cadence: this bird simply flies off into the distance on the fifth of a minor seventh chord, leaving the scene without resolving."

Johnny said...

Another offering by Tenebrae (if I can fathom out how to post it).
If not search for "Stainer: God so loved the world Tenebrae).
When I was a youngster I used to scoff at Stainer (without ever hearing him, of course!). Now I love this particular piece so much, even though I now longer believe. The climax is absolutely sublime in my opinion.

The mutt's gonads, indeed!

Bungalow Bill said...

S'what can be done with talent and sweat. All that went into that, Mrs I and Mr Johnny.

Stanford's Magnificat in C and Nunc Dimittis in G are superb too, if you get proper soloists.

Nunc Dimittis; that's the text, I suspect.

Bungalow Bill said...

Magnificat in G for the solo, sorry. Time, indeed, for the old and weary to depart.

mrs ishmael said...

mr johnny - no need to believe the story to appreciate a good myth and fine music. I daresay many career religionists find themselves in morally compromised territory - started out fine, with a child's touching belief in the stories and in love with the beauty of the liturgy, the clothes, the smells and bells, and, over the years, the beliefs fell away until one Christmas they sang "two thousand years of wrong" (It Came upon a Midnight Clear - carol) and thought, shit, that's true. By then, of course, middle aged and unfitted for normal life, the choice of an alternative way to make an honest living was somewhat restricted. I came across several when I worked for the Probation Service - whisky priests, priests anxious to shuck off celibacy and have sex with a clear conscience, and priests who just couldn't stand up there every Sunday and give out the old spiel that they had finally seen through. Faith is just that - faith, and when it goes, you shake your head in amazement that you could ever have been so gullible.
Back to musical appreciation. God so Loved the World by Stainer (who also brought us all our popular settings of christmas carols - think - God rest ye merry gentlemen), interpreted by Tenebrae. The dog's bollocks.
The link worked fine, by the way.

mrs ishmael said...

Dear mr bb, there's no allowing you to depart in peace, just yet awhile. Here's a link to Alexander Armstrong giving it all that in the Nunc Dimittis:

And here's a choir making a helluva noise in the Magnificat (especially at 4.47 into the video):

Johnny said...

Many years ago, when I was a student, I teamed up with 3 others to give a Victorian Evening at Alston Hall, Lancs (now unfortunately ravaged by fire). I remember one song very well: "Father's a drunkard and mother is dead!". The audience tittered & guffawed endlessly at the first verse but, by the third they were in floods of tears.
If you take the piss, then the audience laughs remorslessly, but if you sing (or play) with obvious & complete sincerity then Victorian music & culture can be seen as one of the most wonderful experiences in the world.