Friday, 27 August 2010

Merrie England

Good Queen Bess !

Merrie England ; that improbable musical romp through life in Robin Hood's England! It is a light opera by Edward German written in 1902, which is a kind of aspirant Gilbert and Sullivan show. It has some very funny moments, and some really delightful music, but unlike G&S, it is about 3 hours long, and one has to plough through much mediocre stuff to get to the gems.

I have taught all the 'pot boilers' from it in my career, and some are very very good. 'The Letter Song', is one of those sparkly numbers, and just perfect for a young soprano, and the quartet, 'Love is meant to make us glad' is another, which is a great audience puller with all it's myriad of Hey Nonnies ! Then of course there is Good Queen Bess and her lovely alto solo, 'O Peaceful England' broad and very Last Night of the Proms-ish ! But the gem of gems is Sir Walter Raleigh's tenor aria 'The English Rose'. It is a perfect little moment which has a luscious creamy melody, some very tasteful rubato and sung well, it melts ones heart.

The English Rose

Dan Cupid hath a garden
Where women are the flow'rs,
And lovers' laughs and lovers' tears
The sunshine and the show'rs.
And oh! the sweetest blossom
That in the garden grows,
The fairest queen, it is , I ween,
The perfect English rose,
The fairest queen, it is , I ween,
The perfect, the perfect English rose.

Let others make a garland
Of ev'ry flow'r that blows!
But I will wait till I may pluck
My dainty English rose.
In perfume, grace, and beauty,
The rose doth stand apart,
God grant that I, before I die,
May wear one on my heart!
God grant that I, before I die,
May wear one, may wear one on my heart

I heard it sung last night at an evening of food and song, sung by one of my past, and sometimes present pupils whom I started teaching when he was 13 years old and a choral scholar at the school where I was Head of Music. He is now a man with a partner and baby and we have 'travelled' far together over the years!

What made his singing so telling was the light and soft tone quality which is just perfect for this oh so English style of music. It is tenor music without the 'Italian sob', or the German 'edge'. It is just utterly lyrical, and has much akin to the English style of ballet. Fluid and understated. Not, you understand that I am in anyway knowledgeable about the finer points of ballet! I do love it though, and am aware that there are as many different styles of dance, as there are of singing.

Eastern European voices have bite, brightness and a dark red dramatic quality, and the Italian vocal quality is expansive and generous with lots of rubato, but the British quality is whiter, more lyrical and with a lightness which makes the minds eye see green fields and wild flowers.

Let's not forget Merrie England, the great moments are worth our memory!

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