Thursday, 9 December 2010

My love is like a malady, correction melody

There, that's No. 14 done. It's my ambition to set every lyric in every Shakespeare play to music for four-part choir (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) and piano. There must be about 60 of them altogether. Some of the verses are dreadful, others are very fine. I've long had a deep affection for this poem, at the end of Love's Labour's Lost:

When icicles hang by the wall
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail
And Tom bears logs into the hall
And milk comes frozen home in pail,

When blood is nipp'd and ways be foul -

- Then nightly sings the staring owl
Tu whit! Tu whoo! A merry note

While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doth blow

And coughing drowns the parson's saw,
When birds sit brooding in the snow
And Marian's nose looks red and raw,

When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl -
- Then nightly sings the staring owl
Tu whit! Tu whoo! A merry note
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

[Glossary: keel = skim the fat off. Doth = does. Saw = wise saying, i.e. sermon. Crabs = small, hard, sharp-flavoured apples.]

So this one's No. 14 of my collection. I introduced it to my small choir, most of whom are French, the other evening. 'Icicles' was unfamiliar to them, though their general standard of English is good. Did I by any chance mean 'bicycles'?

I gave the tune to the two altos, on the grounds that their English pronunciation is best and this is a poem worth hearing. It's a bleak, wintry tune, surrounded by the other voices humming bleak, wintry phrases like eddies of the north wind, while the piano accompaniment has high notes dropping like snowflakes at dusk.

Then I took a great musical risk: everything cheers up for the refrain Then nightly sings etc. , so the music takes an unexpected swerve into a kind of Brazilian samba that had my hips wriggling as I sat at the piano working it out. A few musical owl-hoots, and it's the end.

I wish I knew how to transfer it to something you could click on to hear it. We're due to perform it, along with the other 13, in Ullapool, in NW Scotland, of all places, next May. Maybe I'll have learnt how to do it by then.


Vicus Scurra said...

I suspected that greasy Joan would have trouble with crabs.

I am unfamiliar with this work of Shakespeare. Do you intend to do a musical version of King Lear?

english inukshuk said...

lovely icicles!

english inukshuk said...

(I'm sure everything else is lovely too, but I really like icicles)

Dave said...

I learned thos poem at school. I thought Bill was being ironic with his 'A merry note'.

Sah said...

You could get yourself on skype, then we could all watch you LIVE !

Spadoman said...

I'd love to hear it! record it and put it on an MP3.
Is it okay if I say something about the girls? Marvelous outfits! I love Latin rhythms, this looks like it is right out of Rio, (or the Rio casino in Las Vegas)
Great stuff Mr. Christopher. Carry on.

Pax Domini

Rog said...

I'd like to hear it - try

You could dish parts out to the funniest person - "Tu Wit".

Christopher said...

Vicus: Dear chap. No.

I: Beautiful icicles, tho' I understand they may not quite as lovely as they look in that they've been used as murder weapons in some detective fiction. After fatal stabbings they melt, of course, leaving no trace of themselves, and Insp. Lestrade is totally baffled until S. Holmes comes along.

Dave: Didn't you quote it once yourself, in your Wednesday poem days?

Sah: Must be better than watching me DIE

It's perfectly OK for you say whatever you like about my girls, Spadoman. Three of them are my lovely sisters Tibì, Tabì and Tobì and the other two are guys dressed up.

Rog, I agree, but Tu Whoom should I give it?

Christopher said...

Rog: Just looked at Audioboo, and there might be possibilities there. I'll try in a few days' time. Thanks for the link!

letouttoplay said...

I'm really enjoying the idea of greasy Joan swaying to a Samba as she keels the pot. (Might shake up Dick and Tom a bit though) And I really hope you can get it recorded to play online. I would love to hear some of your music!

Christopher said...

So kind, Mig. That pot-keeling can be very rhythmic. And why should it stop at that? Potato peeling rhumba? Bottle-opening twist? Lav. brush lambada? O brave new world...I'll have to see what can be done.

Z said...

When I was twelve or so, several of us had to learn and recite it in harmony - well, not together - we were each given lines according to the pitch of our voices. I remember being given the "greasy Joan" line, having a deeper voice than anyone else. I'm not sure that I naturally did, but I growled out my lines more reluctantly each time, and didn't care to have a high-pitched 'girly' voice. It must have sounded extremely odd.

Spadoman said...

You wrote: "It's perfectly OK for you say whatever you like about my girls, Spadoman. Three of them are my lovely sisters Tibì, Tabì and Tobì and the other two are guys dressed up."

If you think I'd be embarrassed by the fact that two of them were men, you are mistaken. (goes back to photo, puts high powered reading glasses on, turns on all the lights in the room and looks again).


Anonymous said...

"Keeling"? Except a boat keel weightily skims through the salt sea supplying the boat balance...which...if attuned to Greasy Joan's action means she is 'stirring' rather than 'skimming' the pot by running a (wooden) spoon like a blade, oar or cut of a boat keel through her simmering pottage?

(Who decides the finality of these Shakespearean and other ancient literary interpretations any way?)

Rosie said...

Presumably you have recorded it? There's a site called "Acidplanet" by Sony where you can create a profile and upload your own music so others can hear it. Please let me know if you do it.I would love to hear it.

letouttoplay said...

Stirring Salsa.
Hope all's well Christopher? Not that I'd admit to missing your hoots but it seems to have been a while since the last post.