On 8 September 2022, the world learned of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest ruling monarch. As one of any number of public displays of gratitude to her seven decades of service, communities across the globe, large and small, sang God save the Queen, the first song in the world to serve in the function of a nation’s anthem. A kind of prayer en-masse, the singing of the text is an expression of national devotion.
Christopher (Kit) Kelen, in his article “‘And ever give us cause’: Understanding the investments of the Ur-anthem God save the King/Queen” (National identities: Critical inquiries into nationhood, politics, and culture XVII/1  45–61; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2015-86813), explores the kind of work the anthem’s text does to construct a sense of nationalism and national commitment, in a British context and beyond. A glance at the abstract brings the essay’s scope and goals into focus:
This close analytical reading of the lyrics of God save the King/Queen seeks to understand what the functional survival of this song reveals about the rhetorical-affective investments of national devotion in the British sense; it examines the lyrics’ meaning in the context of the general definition of anthem and the generic classification of anthems worldwide. Because of the song’s international distribution, and status as Ur-anthem, it provides insight into the nature of the speech act entailed in the prayer-type of anthem and the nature of anthem quality (defined as that soul-stirring effect which certain combinations of music and lyrics achieve, most typically in the service of national affiliation) more generally. Theories of nation and nationalism serve to frame affective relations between nation, state, and citizenry as implied by, fostered by, and used in anthems.
The three public performances of God save the Queen below vary in terms of setting, historical moment, and function. But each one reveals, in its own way, the anthem effect about which Kelen writes. They produce a sense of national closeness and identity, reverence, and pride, demonstrating how lyrics and music can be combined to stir the soul.
Introduced to England by the German violinist Thomas Baltzar, the genre was adopted by John Jenkins, whose ten fantasia-suites for three violins, bass viol, and continuo, together with five sonatas for the same group of instruments by Gottfried Finger (above), constitute the bulk of this volume.
Below, Finger’s Sonata in D major, op. 1, no. 9, one of the works included in the collection.
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Manuel de Falla first visited the U.K. in May 1911, when he participated in a concert of Spanish music given by the pianist Franz Liebich. (The concert received tepid reviews and was little noticed.)
In 1919 the composer spent a month in London to prepare with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes for the premiere of his ballet El sombrero de tres picos; the performance took place to great acclaim on 22 July 1919. Unfortunately Falla had had to leave Britain the day before due to family matters, but several of the friendships formed during that sojourn were long-lasting, notably with his hostess, the Swedish soprano Louise Alvar, and with the composer and conductor Eugène Goossens.
In 1921 Falla stayed with Alvar and her husband again to play the piano in the British premiere of Noches en los jardines de España. He was back in London for a week in June 1927 for the U.K. premiere of his harpsichord concerto and to conduct the London Chamber Orchestra in El amor brujo and the London premiere of El retablo de maese Pedro. His last visit, in 1931, was for a BBC concert program of his music. The composer saw little of Britain outside London and had no English, but he enjoyed the British enthusiasm for his music.
Sharp did not begin his folk song collecting until four years later, and in 1905 Mary Neal, an organizer at the Espérance Club for girls, asked Sharp if there were any dances to go with the tunes he had collected. Sharp referred her to Kimber, who traveled to the club to teach the dances, thus beginning the revival of traditional dance in England.
This according to “Absolutely classic” by Derek Schofield (English dance and song LXI/2 [summer 1999] pp. 8–9). Above, the Headington Quarry Morris Dancers in 1916, With Kimber and his concertina front and center. Below, Kimber plays Getting upstairs in 1946.
The group New Order’s World in motion, commissioned by the British Football Association to mark the 1990 World Cup soccer finals, “is probably the least likely official football theme song ever recorded: Denying its own status as a football song, introducing elements of subcultural love lyrics, and becoming a gay club hit, but also assuming the burden of combating football’s major peripheral problem, hooliganism, the song is ultimately unheimlich, even despite its closing chorus that speaks of ‘playing for England; playing this song.’”
This according to “Playing for England” by Paul Smith (South Atlantic quarterly 90/4 [fall 1991] pp. 737–752). Smith goes on to note that “both the BBC and the independent television companies forewent the pleasure of having ‘Love’s got the world in motion’ going across the airwaves every night, and the BBC used as their World Cup theme another piece of music that quickly became a number one hit: Luciano Pavarotti singing his version of the Nessun dorma aria from Turandot.”
Today would have been Pavarotti’s 80th birthday! Below, singing Nessun dorma in 1994.
On this day in 1864 all of the children in the parish schools marched in procession with flowers and wreaths, along with the Cheshire Rifle Volunteers Band and a cart carrying the May Queen and her ladies-in-waiting. Then, as now, the procession ended on the Heath in the center of town, where the Queen was crowned.
Today the tradition is augmented with several dances, both as part of the procession and as displays before and after the crowning; morris, hornpipe, and sword dances are among the perennial favorites. Maypole dances round out the proceedings.
This according to “Royal May Day!” by Derek Schofield (English dance and song LXXVI/1 [spring 2014] pp. 32–35). Below, selections from the 145th celebration.
In 18th-century East Anglia, agricultural workers often performed in the streets disguised in blackface and women’s clothing in exchange for largesse; this practice became known as Molly dancing. The dancers, who were often drunk, disreputable, and destructive, were regarded as degenerate by preservationists, and the practice died out in the 1930s.
Four decades later an expansion of the English folk revival fostered an interest in obscure traditions, and a resurrection of Molly dancing ensued. Its new incarnation is marked by a completely different cultural context, improved status of the dancers, and an emphasis on creativity.
While the popular carol The twelve days of Christmas is well known for its unusual cumulative structure, few carollers know that the lyrics’ original meaning involves an elaborate symbolic code.
The encoding of political messages in songs was frequent in Protestant England: examples include Rock-a-bye, baby, on the demise of King Henry VIII, and Ring around a rosy, on the plague of 1665. From at least the 1600s, Catholics in England disseminated their faith and politics in similarly encrypted form in catechism songs such as Green grow the rushes, O, and Go where I send thee.
Though first published only in 1909, The twelve days of Christmas is such a catechism song, and likely originated much earlier. The “true love” of the song is God, who bestows cumulative gifts. Each of the twelve gifts represents a particular image of Catholic faith. The ever-repeating “partridge in a pear tree” is Jesus: In English folklore the partridge feigns injury to lure predators from its young, and is thus willing to sacrifice itself to save those for whom it is responsible.
This according to “The twelve days of Christmas” by Hugh D. McKellar (The hymn: A journal of congregational song XLV/4 [October 1994] pp. 30–32). Below, a performance by the University of Washington Choral Program (with a little help from their friends).
Each of the archives has been completely catalogued and digitized. Most of the documents are songs and tunes, but other manuscript items, such as dances or correspondence, are also included. Many thanks to Tim Radford for bringing this resource to our attention!
Over the centuries craftspeople have restored damaged windows, and, lacking the requisite musical training, they often left replacement staves blank; but in two cases nonsense neumes were devised, supplying consistent-looking décor that most observers would never suspect was counterfeit.
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From 4 to 8 October 2021, The Barry S. Brook Center for Music Research and Documentation hosts the virtual conference Responses in Music to Climate Change. The event brings together scholars, performers, composers, and activists, with the goal of exchanging … Continue reading →
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For it [the Walkman] permits the possibility…of imposing your soundscape on the surrounding aural environment and thereby domesticating the external world: for a moment, it can all be brought under the STOP/START, FAST FOWARD, PAUSE and REWIND buttons. –Iain Chambers, “The … Continue reading →