Growing Old with Long Gray Hair

ELDER MUSIC: Centuries

PeterTibbles75x75This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

You’ll probably think I’ve finally gone completely round the twist and I must say that I’d agree with you. I have written columns on hours, days of the week, months, years and decades.

I won’t link to the years as there are too many of them, however, if you’re interested, they consist of nearly half of the columns from 2011. The next logical step is to do songs from various centuries.

My choices today aren’t necessarily indicative of the times; I’ve just chosen something, pretty much at random, from the particular era. Don’t read anything into it.

I’ll work backwards, starting from where we are in the 21st century and this could be difficult as I pretty much stopped listening to new music around about 1975, so this is not as easy as it seems. But I’ll manage somehow as I seem to trip over some interesting performers now and then.

One of the really interesting singers I’ve discovered is MARIAN CALL.

Marian Call

Marian lives in Alaska these days for some reason best known to herself. However, she tours now and then and I imagine it’s to escape the cold. Here she performs It was Good for You Too.

♫ Marian Call - It was Good for You Too

The 20th century is more than a bit problematic, as you can imagine. What single tune could I select?

After a bit of thought, I decided to go for something around about the middle of the century, an artist whose roots lie in the music of the early years but whose style presaged the rest of the century. The one who fits that bill is T-BONE WALKER.

T-Bone Walker

T-Bone could play jazz guitar with the best of them; he was a blues player and his music has distinct rock overtones, years early.

Chuck Berry said he was his main influence and pretty much every rock guitarist, whether they acknowledge it or not, owes a great debt to T-Bone. Not just rock musicians either; jazz and blues guitarists too. Probably some classical ones as well.

The track I’ve chosen is I Wish You Were Mine and I think it encapsulates what I want. This is an alternate track to the official one and at the end, T-Bone says that he messed it up.

It sounds all right to me and I prefer it to the officially released version.

♫ T-Bone Walker - I Wish You Were Mine

The 19th century had too many bombastic composers for my taste. Fortunately, there were others who didn’t follow that trend so I’ll be able to come up with something I like and I hope you’ll like as well.

I originally thought of Scott Joplin, but his best works were from the next century, so he missed out unfortunately.

One composer who was mostly on the other end of the bombastic scale is FRÉDÉRIC CHOPIN or Fryderyk Chopin to give him his Polish birth name.

Frederic Chopin

Fred’s dad was French and he moved to Poland. Fred reversed that trend and spent the second half of his (rather short) life in Paris. He was only 39 when he died; he’d always been a sickly lad.

He was a child prodigy on the piano and most of his compositions involve that instrument, the vast majority for solo piano. This is one of them, the Mazurka, Op. 24, No. 1 in G minor.

♫ Chopin - Mazurka Op. 24 - No. 1

The 18th century is certainly my favorite musically, although I sure wouldn’t want to live there or then.

Considering that at the start, there’s J.S. Bach, Vivaldi, Mr Handel and Telemann. Then later there’s Haydn, Mozart, Johann Christian Bach and the young Beethoven towards the end. Lawdy mama, what an array of talent.

It reminds me of the music of the sixties (that’s the 1960s). There was Bob

Dylan and The Beatles and all the rest were in their shadows. However, it meant that all the rest were aspiring to improve their music because of those towering figures.

The Beach Boys were an example of this and they had a bit of a rivalry going on with The Beatles. John Lennon said that he was looking at what Bob was doing and trying to beat him.

Back in to 18th century I can see the same thing happening. There are many composers who, it strikes me, were influenced by the greats of the time and produced works that they might not have under different circumstances. I’m thinking of Dittersdorf, Pleyel, Boccherini, Saint George and many others whose work I love.

I’m going for one of the biggies though, my main man, JOSEPH HAYDN.

Joseph Haydn

Papa Jo bestrode the century, being born 18 years before J.S. Bach died and living into the 19th century, befriending Mozart and teaching Beethoven along the way.

He was one of the most prolific composers who ever lived and all of his compositions are really fine and some the work of genius. He had a sense of humor that often showed up in his compositions, particularly the symphonies (the “Surprise,” the “Farewell,” the “Palindrome” and others).

I’ll play something from a type of composition he pretty much invented, the string quartet. Okay, nitpickers will aver that this was around before him but he pretty much made it his own and created something that composers still use as a model to this day.

Here is the third movement from the String Quartet in C Major, Op. 1 No. 6.

♫ Haydn - String Quartet Op 1 No 6 (3)

CLAUDIO MONTEVERDI was the link between the music of the Renaissance and the development of the Baroque. He was probably the most important composer of the 17th century.

Claudio Monteverdi

Like Haydn in the next century, he took a rather undeveloped type of music, the madrigal, and created a full-blown style. Until he was 40, he worked on nothing else.

Later in his life he composed other forms including a number of operas. He was certainly the first major opera composer. Notwithstanding all that, I’m going to play a duet sung by Emma Kirkby and Evelyn Tubb called Chiome d'oro.

♫ Monteverdi - Chiome d'oro

The 16th century is rife with composers. There were Thomas Tallis, William Mundy, Christopher Tye, Orlando di Lasso (generally known as Lassus) and a considerable number of others. However, I’ll eschew those big names and go for CIPRIANO DE RORE.

Cipriano de Rore

Cipriano was probably born in a small town in Flanders. It’s not known where he received his musical education but it is known that he had a long term thing going on with Margaret of Parma, the illegitimate daughter of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor at the time.

She married into the Medici family and he decided it was best if he went elsewhere. That elsewhere was Ferrara where he spent some considerable time composing and performing.

He returned to his homeland a couple of times but revolution was in the air so he returned to (what we now know as) Italy, settling eventually in Parma. He was influential in the early development of madrigals. This is one of his, Musica dulci sono.

♫ Rore - Madrigali, Musica dulci sono

GUILLAUME DUFAY was born near Brussels around about 1397, so he spent pretty much all his life in the 15th century.

Guillaume Dufay

Some say that Willy was the son of a priest and Marie du Fayt. She took him to Cambrai where she had relatives and his musical talents showed themselves very early on. While still a teenager he had several positions in the local cathedral.

Later he lived in several cities in Italy and eventually became a priest. He was the main musical man for a couple of popes, Martin V and Eugene IV. There was some considerable turmoil at the time so he and Gene got around a bit.

Popes and anti-popes were coming and going and Willy decided to head for Turin where he completed a law degree so he could become a canon. He later went to Burgundy and ended his days back in Cambrai.

Here is an actual recording of his from the time (just kidding), La dolce vista.

♫ Dufay - La dolce vista

GUILLAUME DE MACHAUT was a French poet and composer who was generally held to be the most important composer of the 14th century. He is also one of the first composers about whom we know quite a bit.

Guillaume de Machaut

He was a poet of considerable skill and greatly admired by Geoffrey Chaucer.

Willy attached himself to King John of Bohemia and travelled around with him for a while until John got himself killed in some war or other. By then, Willy was famous and many nobles and popes and other such big-noters vied for his services.

Several of those died in the Black Death but he survived and spent his final years in Rheims composing and writing his life story.

This is a musical setting of part of one of his poems, Le Livre dou Voir Dit, a piece of work that goes on for 9,094 lines arranged in octosyllabic rhyming couplets. Yikes.

I got that information from the booklet that came with the CD. I haven’t read all of the poem (only the bits in the booklet). The hunk of it I’ve chosen is Sans cuer dolens.

♫ Machaut - Sans cuer dolens

The 13th century gave us, among others, COLIN MUSET who was from Lorraine in what is now France.

Colin Muset

He lived around about either 1210 to 1250 or 1230 to 1270, no one is quite sure. He was a bit of a troubadour and wandered around Champagne (well, who wouldn’t?) singing and playing the vielle.

That instrument is like a violin but bigger and fatter and has five strings. It looks a bit like one of Bo Diddley’s guitars.

He wrote a bunch of songs about love and life on the road. Nothing has changed in 800 years. Surprisingly, quite a number of his songs have survived.

This is one of them, Trop volentiers chanteroie, sung by Margaret Philpot.

♫ Margaret Philpot - Trop volentiers chanteroie

There’s no one other than HILDEGARD OF BINGEN that I considered for the 12th century.

Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard was an author, counsellor, linguist, naturalist, scientist, philosopher, physician, herbalist, poet and all-round polymath. She was the head nun at the nun shop where she worked. She also wrote music, quite a lot of it.

Mostly, her compositions are for voices but here is a rare instrumental track called Instrumental Piece (snappy title). It sounds to me as if Hildegard also invented bluegrass music.

♫ Hildegard - Instrumental Piece

And finally to 1066 and all that. Well, maybe not that specific year but sometime in the 11th century.

Music from this time is a bit thin on the ground in my collection but I found a couple of options. One piece was by Pierre Abélard, he of Héloïse and Abélard fame. Pierre also lost a piece of his anatomy when Héloïse’s uncle Fulbert found out about their affair (all the males reading have just crossed their legs).

Pierre’s music, unfortunately, is far too long for a column such as this so I’ll go with the other one. This is by that most famous of composers, Anonymous, and it’s a French carol from about 1090 called Planctus Guillelmus.

♫ Anonymous - Planctus Guillelmus


1975 was the year for me, too. But I wound up working in radio for all of the eighties in Germany and Panama (American Forces Network), so I have a lot of that music in my head (to include 99 Luftballons in German).

I really enjoy reading your columns and listening to the music. Thanks.

I just got a new mapping (I call it programming) of my Cochlear Implant and had hoped it would help me with music. I guess it's not to be. As I told the audiologist, "Remember, you are dealing with 88 year old equipment (nearly that) and it is worn out.

If I am familiar with the piece my brain fills in the missing notes, but today's selections were not familiar to me so I know I was not hearing them correctly. It was good exercise for me at any rate and I did enjoy the Chopin Mazurka and the Dufay piece.

The "Trop voluntiers chanteroie" just sounded like the same stanza being repeated endlessly. It was very boring the way I was hearing it. Of course, if some of the notes are missing that means I am not hearing the melody.

It is amazing to hear this music through the centuries and realize that the sound track from my little life (primarily 50's through the 90's) is just a tiny rock from a massive, musical mountain; a legacy channeled into being by these artists. Thanks again for your generosity in sharing your musical knowledge! (I raise a light above me in honor of Hildegard of Bingen-the-most-awesome-woman-of-ALL-time!)

A tour down the centuries: a very good idea.
They must have had really good recording equipment in the 15th century. The music was as plain as day.
The carol by Anonymous was beautiful.

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