Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Music That Says "Farewell"

There are four pieces in music history that say "farewell" that I can think of. The oldest one is a rondeau from around 1426 by Guillaume DuFay titled "Adieu ces bons vins de Lannoys":
Adieu ces bons vins de Lannoys,
Adieu dames, adieu borgois,
Adieu celle que tant amoye,
Adieu toute playssante joye,
Adieu tous compaignons galois.
(Farewell to the fine wines of the Laonnais,
farewell ladies, farewell townsmen,
farewell to her I loved so much,
farewell to all joy and pleasure,
farewell all boon companions.)
Je m'en vois tout arquant des nois,
Car je ne truis feve ne pois,
Dont bien souvent [au cu] er m'ennoye
(Off I go cracking nuts,
for I can find no beans or peas,
which often makes my heart grieve.)
Adieu ces bons vins de Lannoys,
Adieu dames, adieu borgois,
Adieu celle que tant amoye.
De moy serés par plusiers fois
Regrets par dedans les bois,
Ou il n'y a sentier ne voye;
Puis ne scaray que faire doye
Se je ne crie a haute vois:
(Farewell good wines of Lannoys,
farewell ladies, farewell citizens,
farewell to the one I so much loved)
(I will often miss you
out in the woods
where there is no path or track;
I do not know what else to do
but cry aloud:)
Adieu ces bons vins de Lannoys,
Adieu dames, adieu borgois,
Adieu celle que tant amoye,
Adieu toute playssante joye,
Adieu tous compaignons galois.
(Farewell to the fine wines of the Laonnais,
farewell ladies, farewell townsmen,
farewell to her I loved so much,
farewell to all joy and pleasure,
farewell all boon companions.)

DuFay was born in the region of Brussels but spent much of his life in the south and Italy. This song is a tribute to his homeland and the prevailing mood is nostalgia.

Another famous farewell is by Heinrich Isaac: "Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen":
Innsbruck, ich muß dich laßen
ich far dohin mein straßen,
in fremde land dohin,
mein freud ist mir genomen,
die ich nit weiß bekomen,
wo ich im elend bin.

Groß leid muß ich jetzt tragen,
das ich allein tu klagen
dem liebsten bulen mein.
ach lieb, nun laß mich armen
im herzen dein erbarmen,
daß ich muß von dannen sein.

Mein trost ob allen weiben,
dein tu ich ewig bleiben,
stet, treu, der eren frum.
nun muß dich Got bewaren,
in aller tugent sparen,
biß daß ich wider kum.
Innsbruck, I must leave you;
I will go my way
to foreign land(s).
My joy has been taken away from me,
that I cannot achieve
where I am in misery.

I must now bear great sorrow
that I can only share
with my dearest.
Oh love, hold poor me
(and) in your heart compassion
that I must part from you.

My consolation: above all other women,
I will forever be yours,
always faithful, in true honor.
And now, may God protect you,
keep you in perfect virtue,
until I shall return.

 This is a sorrowful plaint over losing a post and consoling himself with his dearest.

A modern example is "Farewell to Stromness" by Peter Maxwell Davies that I put up the other day. Stromness is a town in the Orkney Islands where Davies spent much of his life. This piece is an interlude from a longer piece written to protest a plan to open a uranium mine in the area. So the mood is perhaps "regret recollected in tranquillity" except for the middle section which is a bit more active.

The last example is quite different. Rather than merely expressing regret or sorrow over having to leave a place or a job or having one's home perhaps affected in some way, this piece is a farewell in itself expressed by both the music and the musicians. Can you guess what piece I mean? It is, of course, the "Farewell" Symphony by Joseph Haydn (also known as the Symphony No. 45 in F# minor). Wikipedia has the story behind the work:
When the symphony was written, Haydn's patron Prince Nikolaus Esterházy was resident, together with all his musicians and retinue, at his favorite summer palace at Eszterháza in rural Hungary. The stay there had been longer than expected, and most of the musicians had been forced to leave their wives back at home in Eisenstadt, about a day's journey away. Longing to return, the musicians appealed to their Kapellmeister for help. The diplomatic Haydn, instead of making a direct appeal, put his request into the music of the symphony: during the final adagio each musician stops playing, snuffs out the candle on his music stand, and leaves in turn, so that at the end, there are just two muted violins left (played by Haydn himself and his concertmaster, Luigi Tomasini). Esterházy seems to have understood the message: the court returned to Eisenstadt the day following the performance.

The Haydn offers some interesting aesthetic puzzles. For one thing, a piece that begins as a typical presto last movement of a symphony for orchestra becomes, incrementally, an adagio piece of chamber music. But even more interesting is how the piece is concretely a farewell, not an emotional expression of how a farewell feels, but an actual farewell. They really leave! This is interesting I think because art, music anyway, is usually an abstract recollection or sketch of our moods. But this is a concrete representation of an action: leaving.

There is an interest in this sort of thing these days: making the abstract concrete. One example that comes immediately to mind is Steve Reich's WTC 9/11 which uses audio recordings from NORAD and the New York Fire Department made on the day of the attack. He then transforms these into the melodic materials of the piece. Another example might be some of the work of Josh Whedon who, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in many different ways turned the anxieties and fears of high school and university into actual concrete monsters. Again, a case of making the abstract concrete. Just one example from the series, when Buffy is brought back from what was thought to be a demon dimension, another character says "the jet lag from Hell must be, uh, the jet lag from Hell!"

You bet.


David said...

Bryan, I read this entire post with trepidation that the ending would be your farewell to readers of TMS. I was boundlessly relieved (as I am sure was your entire readership) to see that was not the case.

You may have unintentionally commenced a challenge to identify additional musical farewells. I offer up two, perhaps less historically significant than your examples:

The Angel's Farewell (from the Dream of Gerontius by Elgar) contains these words:
Softly and gently, dearly-ransomed soul,
In my most loving arms I now enfold thee,
And o'er the penal waters, as they roll,
I poise thee, and I lower thee, and hold thee.
And carefully I dip thee in the lake,
And thou, without a sob or a resistance,
Dost through the flood thy rapid passage take,
Sinking deep, deeper, into the dim distance.
Angels to whom the willing task is given,
Shall tend, and nurse, and lull thee, as liest;
And Masses on the earth, and payers in heaven,
Shall aid thee at the Throne of the Most Highest.
Farewell, but not for ever! brother dear
Be brave and patient on thy bed of sorrow;
Swiftly shall pass thy night of trial here,
And I will come and wake thee on the morrow.
Farewell! Farewell!

I just heard it yesterday in a recital by mezzo Laura McAlpine with David Briggs on the organ of St. James Cathedral in Toronto.

And on a lighter note and in a more "Stromness-ian vein, there is "Farewell to Nova Scotia (and her seabound coast).

Of course, it will be nigh unto impossible to trump Papa Haydn's statement of the theme.

Here's hoping it is a long while before we hear you say "Farewell".

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks so much, David. With wonderful support from readers like you, how could I say farewell?

And thanks for the additional examples!

Christine Lacroix said...

David I had the exact same reaction! I quickly skimmed the article to find out before reading. Oufff! Bryan were you just trying to do the opposite of Adele? Scared us!

Bryan Townsend said...

Well, with support and encouragement like this, I am likely to keep writing for a long, long time!

Thanks to you both!

Marc Puckett said...

I see David mentioned Elgar's Dream of Gerontius already-- the entire action after all is a farewell to this life with its necessary consequent, entry into the next; I believe I recall, Bryan, however, that Elgar is not high on your list. :-)

One can rummage about in operas and find a few farewells but at the moment the tune stuck in my head is from The Sound of Music... so long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, adieu....

Anonymous said...

i'm a regular reader of your blog; it seems you are a big fan of the critic Charles Rosen. i've enjoyed the excerpts that you posted from his book The Classical Style.i would love to read& learn more about western art music and its aesthetics,but i dont have any background in formal music theory.Would you recommend this book or is there something else you would suggest?


Bryan Townsend said...

Hi John, welcome to the Music Salon! I am embarrassed to admit that I don't have an quick answer to your question. A good introductory book for readers without a music theory background should be something I would have at my fingertips! But it is not so easy. A lot of the books for non-musicians are quite bad. Charles Rosen, even though he writes for musicians and includes lengthy musical examples, would be an excellent choice as he is so much better a writer (and thinker) than the other guys. He writes about the Classical era and the Romantic era and all those books are worth reading. Alex Ross wrote a pretty good book on the 20th century: The Rest Is Noise and there are good books on Bach by Christoph Wolff and on Mozart by Paul Johnson. For an insight into the life and career of one composer, there is a new memoir by Philip Glass titled Words Without Music that I quite enjoyed. That should get you started!!