Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Waly Waly arranged by the one and only Benjamin Britten

There are folk out there who think that a folksong is quite as beautiful as it will ever be, simply sung, and with no embellishments or accompaniments needed. I am a true devotee of the unaccompanied traditional song, whether it be from Scotland, England, Latvia, or Timbuktu.

Once in a while however, there is an 'artish' song arrangement of a folk song, by a great composer, which manages to add another and wonderfully new dimension to the original. Benjamin Britten was such a genius. I love his volumes of arranged traditional songs, all of which have some glorious moments, and which paint the musical landscape of the song even more successfully than a simplistic version.

The two which spring into my mind are of that top notch calibre, and both make my skin tingle with pleasure when I hear or teach them. The first is Down by the Salley Gardens, which I sang throughout my entire career. It is so moving in it's simplicity, and creates a truly deep atmosphere of magical mysticism for the performer and the listener. The original melody is haunting as a stand alone piece, and the hypnotic piano accompaniment which Britten so cleverly weaves around that melody is thoroughly weepable, if there is such a word!

The second arrangement I gave to young N this evening. It is, of course, Waly Waly, so well known in many and varied versions from all four corners of the British Isles.

Once more, it is full of lulling and positively hypnotic repeating chords in the piano, seemingly so simple and so predictable. For me, Britten's genius lies in the way he keeps the deeply traditional integrity of the folk melody, never 'messing around' with it's beauty, whilst managing to create harmonies underneath the song which are bewitching and beguiling, drawing one into a more sparkling world.

These songs seem simplicity personified on the surface, but are deceptively difficult to bring off if they are oversung, or over analysed. The most beautiful performances I have ever heard of these arrangements have been by very talented youngsters, completely in charge of their youthful voices, yet able to sing with a painful innocence, thus never losing the plain and uncomplicated centre of the song. Hence my giving it to one of the most talented teens I have ever taught. At 15 she simply understands the song, the setting and the style.

Find a really good recording of these gems and close your eyes. You will, I promise find yourself in your own 'beautiful place' !

That sounds like counsellor speak !
Sorry !

'A ship there is, and she sails the sea,
She's loaded deep as deep can be,
But not so deep as the love I'm in,
I know not if I sink or swim. '

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