Thursday, March 12, 2009

Musical Interpetations of Love

Being associated with powerful emotions, love has long been a playground for poets, novelists, playwrights, songwriters, and the composers of operas. The stories are sometimes appalling. I'll let a few of the musical examples (links to YouTube) speak for themselves.

First, a few humorous specimens. If you are a Really Serious Person you may want to skip these.

Frankie and Johnny

Frank Mills

Always True to You

Good Golly Miss Molly

Opera consists of a frequently tragic libretto infused with some serious music and vocal arias. Given the nature of the librettos, the music can be extremely passionate. Puccini is one of the great masters of this type of composition. Here we see the joy of new love.

O Suave Fanciulla

More Puccini, the hopeless devotion of Madama Butterfly:

Un Bel Di Vedremo

There is a classic representation of love betrayed in I Pagliacci.

Vesti la Giubba

Occasionally, things work out well for the lovers.

Sephardic wedding song

Black is the Color

Here is a Celtic version of the song.

More Black

A loving goodbye.

Goodbye Old Girl

Another two happy songs.

Blue Moon

The Way You Look Tonight

I wish Billie's life had been like that but it wasn't. It seems that there are far too many ways for things to go sour. Here are three examples of sad songs. Billie is famous for her unique vocal style and the musicians accompanying her are superb.

I can't get started

Billie's Blues

Travelin' Light

There are many other songs of bad luck or heartbreak. Here's a traditional song that came to America and met Bluegrass.

Fair and Tender Ladies

Here's a lovely celtic song.

Chi M'in Geamhradh

Now hear a formerly popular latino bolero.


We've got a Cajun classic also.

Jolie Blon

Harry Belafonte has a complaint for us.

Waly Waly

I consider "She Moved Through the Fair" to be an exceptional representation of love and bereavement. It gains its poetic affect through understatement. Love is portrayed by ordinary things, for example, "Fondly I watched her move here and move there," and there is an explicit mention of her death in only some versions. Seeing his love in a dream is the code for it in others. The sense of profound loss is amplified by the beautiful, haunting melody and by the singer's interpretation. I have included performances in three distinct voices and in drums with one piper.

He Moved Through the Fair

She Moved Through the Fair

She Moves Through the Fair

She Moves Through the Fair

There are many songs of love and courtship. Here are a few.

Eriskay Love Lilt

Cucurucucu Paloma

Besame Mucho

Is This Love?

O Sole Mio

My selection of examples has been very sparse but it is sufficient to hint at the considerable role played by language and music in our cultures. What, now is the bottom line?

Something very interesting has happened during the past very few million years. Our proto-human ancestors developed language and then songs. This represented a profound evolutionary change. They not only felt specific emotions that were triggered by events, they were then able to talk about them and to sing about them. More than that, we are now able to evoke strong emotions without the normal triggering events, we need only sing an appropriate song. This can clearly be seen in the arts, in commerce, in religions and in other public affairs. Songs can be used in selling products and in conducting wars.

We are emotional animals and songs can play upon our emotions. We also have, in varying degree, the capacity for rational problem solving. It will be helpful for us to know whether emotion or rationality is in control at any given time and to make it the appropriate one. Unfortunately, consciousness knows very little about what goes on in the brain and science cannot yet tell us adequately what we are. This above all, remember that nature is unforgiving and that you are frequently on your own.

Have some fun.



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