Christmas hymns

Two of the most popular Christmas hymns are Hark, the herald angels sing and Joy to the world. We sang both on Tuesday morning, which sparked this post.

Hark, the herald angels sing is usually sung to the tune MENDELSSOHN, which is usually credited as, eg, “From a chorus by Felix Mendeslssohn-Bartholdy 1809-47 adapted by William Hayman Cummings 1831-1915” (The Australian Hymn Book). So which work of Mendelssohn is this adapted from? Something pretty obscure. The website Hymnary.org states:

The tune is from the second chorus of Felix Mendelssohn’s Festgesang (Op. 68) for male voices and brass; it was first performed in 1840 at the Gutenberg Festival in Leipzig, a festival celebrating the anniversary of Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press.

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Another rabbit hole confounds me

Another day, another linguistic rabbit-hole.

On Sunday, we sang Universi qui te expectant by Michael Haydn, which I had not previously known. The Latin of the two verses (Psalm 25:3-4) is:

Universi qui te expectant non confundentur, Domine
Vias tuas Domine notas fac mihi et semitas tuas edoce me.

No English translation is given in the score, but at the rehearsal one of the choir members quickly found:

Let none that wait on thee be ashamed
Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths. [KJV]

Hang on, though. A little bit of Latin shows that Universi is everyone/all, and that non confundentur is will not be confounded, so the verse should be translated:

Everyone who waits for you will not be confounded.

(The more common Latin word for everyone/all is omnes, which can be followed by a noun: omnes gentes or omnes generationes.) Continue reading

Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story

In the play and movie Amadeus, Antonio Salieri is insanely jealous of Mozart, actively thwarts his musical opportunities in Vienna and encourages him to work to nervous exhaustion on his Requiem.

In real life, in his last (surviving) letter, Mozart wrote:

… at 6 o’clock I fetched Salieri and Madame [Catarina] Cavalieri with a carriage and took them to my box [in the theatre where The Magic Flute was being performed] … Salieri listened and watched with great attention, and from the overture all the way through to the final chorus there was not a single number that did not elicit from him a “bravo” or “bello”. He and Cavalieri went on and on thanking me for doing them such a great favour. [Robert Spaethling  (trans and ed), Mozart’s Letters, Mozart’s Life, (2000)]

Of course, he just might have been faking it!

Wikipedia calls the play “a highly fictionalised account” and says that Peter Shaffer ”used artistic licence in his portrayals”. I haven’t found anything from Shaffer himself on the topic. (See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amadeus#Historical_accuracy.)

O great mystery

One of the choirs I’m singing in is rehearsing the motet O magnum mysterium by Tomas Luis da Victoria.

The text is:

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
iacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Iesum Christum.
Alleluia!

One more-or-less standard English translation is:

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
the Lord, Jesus Christ.
Alleluia!

Every time I’ve sung it, I’ve been struck by how many of the Latin words have engendered English words. English is officially classified as a Germanic language, but many of its advanced words are derived from Latin. In fact, two of the words are Greek and two are Hebrew through Greek. Some words came into English via French rather than directly from Latin. Continue reading

‘The Little Piano Piece’ by Debussy

Wikipedia informed me that today is the birthday of the French composer Claude Debussy (the hundredth anniversary of his death in March this year seems to have passed without too much observance in the music world).

The first piano piece of his I played was titled by him The Little Nigar (performance). I remember that the book I used placed the last word in inverted commas. Debussy wrote it in 1909 for a piano tuition book. In 1934, it was published as an individual piece, now titled The Little Negro and subtitled Le petit nègre. (strong language warning) Continue reading

‘The Bells’

In 1849, the American poet Edgar Allan Poe died and his poem ‘The Bells’ was published.

Sometime around the turn of the 20th century, the Russian poet and translator Konstantin Balmont “very freely” translated it into Russian.

In 1913, the Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff wrote a setting for soprano, tenor and baritone soloists, choir and orchestra, originally titled (in Russian) Колокола, Kolokola (Russian WikipediaEnglish Wikipedia).

Some years ago (first guess 2001-2003) I bought a CD of this work. The booklet calls Balmont’s translation “more precisely, a re-interpretation” and includes his text transliterated into the Latin/‘English’ alphabet and translated into German, English and French. Whether the unnamed translator was equally free in translating Balmont’s Russian back into English or not, the result is very different from Poe’s original. Continue reading

Benedetto Ingombranteinfornata

Various articles (for example) have been written as to why the name Benedict Cumberbatch can survive being transformed into Bandersnatch Cummerbund, Bandycoot Cumbersnatch, Bendandsnap Candycrush and more.

Recently, a Facebook friend posted a link to a series of photos rendering famous actors’ names into (supposed) Italian, sometimes based on sound and sometimes on meaning (which I didn’t bookmark, so I can’t link to. Seek and you will find). Among them is Benedetto Ingombranteinfornata. Say what? Google Translate doesn’t recognise Ingombranteinfornata, instead suggesting Ingombrante infornata, which it translates as bulky goods. Ingombrante by itself is cumbersome and infornata is batch. Continue reading