December 20, 2004

More Cold Cul-Chah Blogging

Crikey, it's 3:00 P.M. and it's still only about 20 degrees outside here in Dee Cee, with wind whipping along as hard as ever. I'd really like to nip up to Starbucks and grab a latte, but by the time I got it back, it would be stone cold.

Speaking of which, I finally remembered what was hovering around the back of my mind all day - a gratuitious musickal posting (TM) notion relevant to this weather.

The great English composer Henry Purcell wrote a semi-opera called King Arthur, or The British Worthy, with a libretto by the also-great John Dryden. The opera has little to do with the Arthur we think of in connection with the Grail and the Round Table and instead follows a complicated plot involving the kidnapping of a maiden named Emmeline by the evil Saxon Oswald and Arthur's attempt to rescue her. The musical interludes, in turn, are sometimes directly related to the action and sometimes not, instead going off into various allegorical subjects such as Love and Virtue.

Anyway, Act 3, Scene 2 of the piece opens with what is known as the "Frost Scene". In it, Cupid wakes up the Cold Genius and challenges him for dominion over Britain. The Cold Genius has a particularly bone-chilling song as he awakes, sung in a slow staccato with many repeated syllables and accompanied by scraping "shiverings" on the violin:

What power art thou, who from below,
Hast made me rise, unwilling and slow,
From beds of everlasting snow?
See'st thou not how stiff, and wondrous old,
Far unfit to bear the bitter cold?
I can scarcely move or draw my breath,
Let me, let me, freeze again to death!

The passage builds up to an anguished climax in the last line before dying out on "death", which is sung softly and with an extra hissing expiration at the end on the "tttthhhh".

You can get a taste of the Cold Genius' lament here. It's just the thing for this kind of weather. (I had a girl friend in college -granted, she turned out to be a psycho- who was so terrified of this song that she absolutely forbade me to sing it anywhere within her hearing.)

And if you are interested in exploring Purcell's music further, I'd heartily recommend picking up the recording I linked above. You'll find a little of everything in this particular opera, from a very seductive duet by a pair of sirens ("Two daughters of This Aged Stream"), to the sublime "Fairest Isle", to a very British anthem ("St. George - Our Natives Not Alone Appear"), complete with trumpets and drums.

Posted by Robert at December 20, 2004 03:07 PM
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