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.)

Advertisements

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

organ

organ
1. Also called pipe organ. a musical instrument …
4. Biology. a grouping of tissues  …
5. penis.

Church musicians with a certain sense of humour, or people with a certain sense of humour who know church musicians, are prone to making jokes about organs. At one time it was possible to buy t-shirts or windcheaters with the words ‘Bach’s organ works’ on the front and ‘and so does mine’ on the back. (Note: JS Bach and his two successive wives produced 20 children between them.)

It is possible for writers from earlier times to make innocent innuendo. During his visits to England, Felix Mendelssohn met and became quite friendly with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. On one visit, Mendelssohn wrote (in a diary or letter):

Joking apart, Prince Albert asked me to go to him on Saturday at two o’clock so that I may try his organ.

ed Derek Watson, The Wordsworth Dictionary of Musical Quotations