My postings this week have all been so serious; since it’s the weekend and we’re all presumably kicking back, I thought you might enjoy hearing some old fashioned love songs by someone other than Three Dog Night.
I’ve been having quite a lot of fun lately collecting classical vocal music over the Internet. For a while I focused on choral music which ran the gamut from boys’ school choirs to the Red Army Chorus, and then became intrigued with particular songs and how they are treated differently by various ensembles and soloists.
My latest discovery is that you can enter an MP3 download search into Amazon’s system and automatically sample a playlist of the same selection by different artists and performers. It’s a fantastic music self-education tool. It is amazing all of the new things you can learn by looking at the same thing in different ways.
This last week I learned through my research the stories of two wedding feasts where guests other than the bridegroom fall madly in love with the bride; one is a story of unrequited love, and the other is a story of scandalous passion. Both weddings resulted in love songs which are among the most beautiful written, and sung by two of the greatest tenors in the history of the musical world.
The first story begins in 1636 in Prussia at the wedding of a 17-year-old girl named Anna Neander. She was married there to a minister named Johannes Partatius (who really doesn’t figure into this story except to explain the “unrequited love” bit). You see, one of the wedding guests was a 31-year-old poet from Memel named Simon Dach, and he fell head over heels in love with the bride. He was so taken by her that it is said he wrote a seventeen-stanza love poem about her when he returned to his lodgings that night. (The long-lived Anna took two other husbands after that, but sadly the lovelorn Simon Dach never had a chance.)
Dach’s poem declaring his love for Anna later became a much loved and performed German folk song titled “Ännchen von Tharau.” (The words to the song in German and English appear as a comment to this post.)
I found many performances of the song, but my favorite is a 1960s recording by the lyric tenor Fritz Wunderlich, who died of an accidental fall when he was only in his 30s and who, according to one respected music magazine, is the fourth-greatest tenor of all time:
The second wedding story begins 108 years later at the Theatre Royale in Covent Garden in London, with the first performance of George Friderick Handel’s oratorio Semele. It was a wedding staged in mythic Roman times in the city of Thebes. The bride was Semele and the groom was to have been Athamas.
However, one of the wedding guests was the god Jupiter and, like poor Simon Dach, he fell madly in love with the bride. Yet unlike Dach—and as only pagan gods and Dustin Hoffmann are wont to do—Jupiter abducted Semele from the wedding ceremony and took her off to a palace at Cithaeron where they indulged in wild erotic exploits that enraged Jupiter’s wife Juno and drove the story to a dramatic conclusion resulting in the birth of the god Bacchus (whose name is rightly associated with the concept of debauchery).
Because Handel had scheduled his premiere during Lent and the audience had been expecting something of a more Biblical and uplifting nature, the performance caused a scandal and the show was shut down after only four performances. Yet this love song, sung by a smitten Jupiter to Semele, became one of the most beloved English-language love arias of all time.
I downloaded several modern performances of the song, but could not find one to top a 1936 recording by the great Irish tenor John McCormack, who (you couldn’t prove it by me) is said to have been past his prime when this recording was made:
Listen to “Where’ere You Walk” performed by John McCormick
As an old guy who regularly falls in love with young girls from afar, I can personally attest to the danger of attending weddings. Even the homeliest girl can appear radiant on her wedding day and reduce poor fools like me to jelly.