Sunday, August 19, 2012

Music and "Fifty Shades of Grey"

I frequently criticize the quality of writing on music in the mainstream media. Why? Because it usually deserves it. But very rarely I run across something worth reading. Oddly enough, today it was in the Globe and Mail, a newspaper usually notable only for its predictable and shallow opinions and coverage. Here is the link to an essay about eroticism in music and the recent best-seller Fifty Shades of Grey.

The author, hiding behind the initials J. D., obviously knows something about music, which sets him or her apart from most of those writing in the mainstream media. If you want to write about eroticism in music, you obviously have to know your suggestive Monteverdi madrigals! This reminds me of an analysis I did years ago of the text to a lute song by Thomas Morley. Elizabethan slang and sexual reference was both remarkably bawdy (nearly everything the Nurse says in Romeo and Juliet is a dirty pun) and difficult for us to sort out as some of it depends on things like the symbolism of plants and flowers. In any case, the more I looked into the text of the song, the more I realized the whole subtext was sexual! Oh yes, and the lute song by John Dowland titled "Come Again, Sweet Love Doth Now Invite" means exactly what you suspect. Here is the text to the song by Morley:

 Thirsis and Milla, arme in arme together,
       In meri may to the greene garden walked,
       Where all the way they wanton ridle talked,
       The youthfull boye, kissing her cheekes all rosie,
       Beseecht her there to gather him a posye.
Shee straight her light greene silken cotes vp tucked
       And May for Mill and Time for Thersis plucked,
       Which when she broght hee clasp't her by the middle,
       And kist her sweete but could not read her riddle,
       Ah, foole with that the Nimph set vp a laughter,
       And blusht, and ran away and hee ran after.
Wanton riddles indeed--and quite subtle. Alas and ohime, YouTube fails us as there does not
seem to be a performance of "Thirsis and Milla" anywhere. However, there are a couple of
performances of a rather less subtle song from Morley's First Booke of Ayres (1600) called
"Will ye buy a fine Dogge?" which is all about the dildo. This was a new term at the time.
Wikipedia says:
According to the OED, the word's first appearance in English was in Thomas Nashe's Choise of Valentines or the Merie Ballad of Nash his Dildo (c. 1593). The word also appears in Ben Jonson's 1610 play, The AlchemistWilliam Shakespeare used the term once in The Winter's Tale, believed to be from 1610 or 1611, but not printed until the First Folio of 1623.
Now, let's hear that song!

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