Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Plegaria a un labrador (Víctor Jara)

Plegaria a un labrador is literally prayer to a worker, but when Victor Jara first performed this song in the late 1960s he said it was was specifically a call to the peasants who cultivated the land with their hands, to join with their brothers in the struggle for a fairer society. Check Wikipedia for the tragic and inspirational story of Victor Jara.

Levántate y mira la montañaArise and behold the mountain
de donde viene el viento, el sol y el agua.from whence come (the) wind, (the) sun and (the) water.
Tú que manejas el curso de los ríos,You who drive the course of (the) rivers,
tú que sembraste el vuelo de tu alma.You who beget the flight of your soul.
Levántate y mírate las manosArise and behold (the=)your hands
para crecer estréchala a tu hermano.to grow embrace your brother.
Juntos iremos unidos en la sangreTogether we will go, united in (the) blood
hoy es el tiempo que puede ser mañana.now is the time that can be tomorrow.
Líbranos de aquel que nos dominaDeliver us from that which us dominates
en la miseria.in (the) misery.
Tráenos tu reino de justiciaBring your kingdom of justice
e igualdad.and equality.
Sopla como el viento la florBlow like the wind the flower
de la quebrada.of the ravine.
Limpia como el fuegoClean like (the) fire
el cañón de mi fusil.the barrel of my gun.
Hágase por fin tu voluntadHave at last thy will
aquí en la tierra.here on (the) earth.
Danos tu fuerza y tu valorGive your strength and your courage
al combatir.to fight.
Levántate y mírate las manosArise and behold (the=)your hands
para crecer estréchala a tu hermano.to grow embrace your brother.
Juntos iremos unidos en la sangreTogether we will go, united in (the) blood
ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte.now and in the hour of our death.

Levántate y mira. I usually avoid self-consciously poetic translations like arise and behold, but in this case echoes of the biblical language of the Lord's Prayer are important. Though because tu isn't archaic in Spanish I've mostly avoided thou and thy.
El viento, el sol y el agua. I've put the in brackets if we'd drop it in English.
Estréchala has many other meanings, including accept and honour.
Sopla como el viento la flor de la quebrada. Second edit: I wasn't happy with my translation, so I referred it to a WordReference forum. Bandama suggests Blow on the valley flower, as the wind does, which makes a lot more sense than what I'd originally come up with. (For the purpose of the song, let's not get too hung up on the difference between a mountain valley and a ravine.) And Adolfo Afogutu points out a secondary meaning of flor: cream, or best of; just as several english knights were described as being the “flower of chivalry”, perhaps the flowers of the valley/ravine are the guerillas from that area. This could be Jara's poetic way of telling the guerillas to blow like the wind.

click for biggerI found what I think may be the original lyrics on the official website maintained by Joan Turner Jara, Victor's wife; the image just appears with no explanation. Click it to see it slightly larger.

I'm not aware of any recordings of the choral version, but you can hear Victor himself sing the song with his group Quilapayún on YouTube.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Eternal Light (Howard Goodall)

Howard Goodall intends his 2008 requiem Eternal Light to give solace to the grieving. Like other modern requiems it includes passages in English; but it also includes a Latin passage not found in traditional requiems. Most of this post translates what is effectively chapter eight of the revelation to St John, originally written in Greek but sung here in a non-standard Latin version. For the standard Latin movements (Kyrie, Agnus Die, In Paradisum), see my post for Gabriel Fauré’s requiem.

Factum est silentium in coelo Made was silence in heaven
et vidi septem illos angelos qui adstant in conspectu deiand I saw seven of those messengers which stood in the sight of God
quibus datae sunt septem tubae. and to them given were seven trumpets.
Et septem angeli qui habebant septem tubas And the seven angels which had seven trumpets
preparaverunt se ut clangerent. prepared themselves in order to sound.
Primus igitur angelus clanxitThe first therefore angel sounded
et facta est grando et ignis mista sanguineand made was hail and fire mingled with blood
projectaque sunt in terram and they thrown were upon the earth
et tertia pars arborum exusta estand the third part of trees burnt up was
et omne gramen viride exustum. and all grass green burnt up.
Deinde secundus angelus clanxitNext the second angel sounded
et quasi mons magnus, igne ardens, projectus est in mare and a sort-of mountain great, with fire burning, thrown was into the sea
factaque est tertia pars maris sanguisand made was the third part of the sea blood
et mortua est tertia pars creaturum quae erant in mari animantia, dico and dead was the third part of the creatures which were in the sea alive, I say
et tertia pars navium periit. and the third part of the ships perished.
Tum angelus tertius clanxitThen the third angel sounded
et cecidit e coelo stella magna and fell from heaven a star great
ardens velut lampasburning just like a lamp
ceciditque in tertiam partem fluminum,and it fell upon the third part of the rivers
et in fontes aquarum. and upon the fountains of waters.
Nomen autem stellae dicitur AbsinthiumThe name however of the star was called Wormwood
versa est igitur tertia pars aquarum in absinthiumchanged was therefore the third part of the waters into wormwood
et multi homines mortiu sunt ex aquis, and many men died from the waters
quod amarae factae essent. which bitter made were.
Deinde quartus angelus clanxitNext the fourth messenger sounded
et percussa est tertia pars solis and struck was the third part of the sun
et tertia pars lunae et tertia pars stellarum and the third part of the moon and the third part of the stars
ita ut obscuraretur tertia pars eorum so that darkened was the third part of them
et diei non luceret pars tertia et noctis similiter. and the day did not shine for part one-third and the night likewise.
Et vidi et audivi unum angelum And I saw and I heard one messenger
volantem per medium coeli, dicentem voce magnaflying through the midst of heaven, saying with a voice great
‘Vae, vae, vae incolis terrae a reliquis ‘Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabitants of the earth remaining
sonis tubae trium illorum angelorum qui clangenti.’from the sounds of the trumpets of the three of those messengers which will sound!’
Recordare Jesu pie, Remember Jesus merciful
quod sum causa tuae viae, that I am the reason for your journey
ne me perdas illa die. do not me forsake on day that.

Est is literally is; but the next line has vidi of veni vidi vici (I came, I saw, I conquered) fame. Latin mixes tenses in a way we find confusing, so I've put all the present tenses into the past and translated est as was.
Et septem. Latin is one of many languages that avoid articles like the or a(n). I've added them where needed to keep the sense in English, so And the seven instead of the literal And seven.
Projectaque sunt. Projecta means thrown when talking about ‘them’, que is just tagged on to mean and, and sunt means were.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Cantabile minor

Okay, so that's not a good name, give me time. Some Cantabile people wanted a bit more singing over the summer. I couldn't join Amy, Rosemary, Anne and David last week; but I could tonight and I had a great evening.

All renaissance music and all new to me apart from the Byrd (sort-of: somebody put some words to the E of S’s Pavane which doesn't make for a very singerly result but is a chance to sing some gorgeous harmonies). Sight-singing one to a part is challenging but very rewarding.

It would be invidious to pick favourites on a first acquaintance although I'm almost ashamed that I'd never previously heard of Arcadelt, Manchicourt or Verdelot. For the record –

Jacques ArcadeltAve Maria
Il blanco e dolce cigno;
William ByrdThe Earl of Salisbury’s Carol
Orlando di LassusBonjour mon coeur
Pierre de ManchicourtUng doulx regard
Josquin des PrésIn te domini speravi
Phillipe VerdelotCon lagrime e sospir
Fuggi, fuggi, cor mio
Quanto sia liet’ il giorno
Tomás Luis de VictoriaNe timeas, Maria

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Spooky Men

Hm, no posts since April. That'll be because I've not started any new songs since then. A shame when singing gives me so much pleasure. So let's re-purpose the blog, let's turn it into a singing diary so I don't forget all those magic moments.

Everybody I sing with is having a summer break right now, but that didn't stop me having a great time last week when the Spooky Men's Chorale came to Leeds. These guys can sing all right, beautifully, but they come across as just straightforward straight comfortable unstagey friendly blokes. No divas, no flourishes, no barbershop glitz. Just something rather special when a shuffling throng of surly behatted men in black grimly clear their throats and launch into the tragedy of Kasey Chambers’ Am I not pretty enough.

I was lucky enough to join in their workshop before the concert. We heard a couple of songs and then learnt a couple from the easier end of their repertoire; three-part, quite simple and repetitive but with some Georgian (Caucasian) cadences that sounded to my unattuned ears a bit like Trio Bulgarka. Oh, and sung in Georgian to keep us on our toes.

Interesting technique too; the starting point was that we weren't going to do anything we didn't already do with our voices, and then we started deconstructing what happened when we cried and laughed. A great way to handle the larynx. I was very gently chided for trying too hard and sounding too singer-y, and quite right too.

Highlights of the concert, or to be more precise what I can still remember a week later: the Spooky Theme, Don't stand between a man and his tool, And I love her, Ghost riders in the sky, Lightpole (about the existential angst of what we Brits call a lamppost, with the distorted pathetic voice of it has to be said a rather cute soloist), Dancing queen, and some break-your-heart Georgian songs.

Catch them if you can.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Forêts Paisibles (Jean-Philippe Rameau)

Louis Fuzelier wrote the lyrics for Rameau's ballet-opera Les Indes Galantes. In 1736 they added a fourth part Les Sauvages; in North America, a Spaniard and a Frenchman compete for the love of Zima, daughter of a native chief. She prefers one of her own people, so everybody joins in the Dance of the Peace Pipe to music which Rameau was recycling for at least the third time. And then they sing this song to the same music. Hey, it's a great tune.

Forêts paisibles,Peaceful forests
Jamais un vain désir ne trouble ici nos coeurs.Never (may) a vain desire trouble here our hearts.
S'ils sont sensibles,If they are sensitive,
Fortune, ce n'est pas au prix de tes faveurs.Fortune, it is not at the price of your favours.
Dans nos retraites,In our retreats,
Grandeur, ne viens jamais offrir tes faux attraits!Greatness, never come to offer your false attractions!
Ciel, tu les as faitesHeaven, you have made them
Pour l'innocence et pour la paix.For innocence and for peace.
Jouissons dans nos asiles,Let’s enjoy our refuges,
Jouissons des biens tranquilles!Let’s enjoy peaceful things.
Ah! peut-on être heureux,Ah! Can one be happy
Quand on forme d'autres voeux?When one has other wishes?

Jamais actually means always, but when it's associated with a ne then the two together mean never.

This short extract is a sort of rondeau. Two soloists sing the first verse as a duet, and the same material is then expanded to four parts by the chorus. The soloists sing the second and third verses to variations on the original music, but after each verse the chorus repeats its treatment of the first verse.

I mention all this because I am/was one of the soloists when Gay Abandon sing/sang this in London (4 May 2009) and Leeds (13 June).