Monday, January 28, 2013

Townsend: Songs from the Poets 3

The next song from my cycle Songs from the Poets is on a poem by Philip Larkin (1922 - 1985) who was something of a scourge of post-WWII British society. His poem "Annus Mirabilis" describes when "sexual intercourse" was invented: between the end of the banning of D. H. Lawrence's erotic novel Lady Chatterley's Lover in 1960 and the Beatles' first LP, Please Please Me in 1963. Here is the full text of the poem:

Annus Mirabilis

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the "Chatterley" ban
And the Beatles' first LP.

Up to then there'd only been
A sort of bargaining,
A wrangle for the ring,
A shame that started at sixteen
And spread to everything.

Then all at once the quarrel sank:
Everyone felt the same,
And every life became
A brilliant breaking of the bank,
A quite unlosable game.

So life was never better than
In nineteen sixty-three
(Though just too late for me) -
Between the end of the "Chatterley" ban
And the Beatles' first LP.

As soon as I read it, I wanted to set those words. Of course I wove into the texture references to some songs on the Beatles' first LP, namely "I Saw Her Standing There", "Love Me Do" and "Twist and Shout". I have accompanied the recording with photos of Philip Larkin and the covers of Lady Chatterley's Lover and Please Please Me, the Beatles' first LP:


RG said...

So sophisticated, to mention s.i.!

Its invention, I suppose, was the marketing in June 1960 of The Pill. And now, rather late for you, you join the august company of Loretta Lynn (1975) by celebrating the event musically.

Bryan Townsend said...

Always alert to the possibility of irony and sarcasm, the management of The Music Salon cautiously ventures out into the savannah and sniffs the air cautiously...

Believe me, as I explained to the audience at the premiere, it is always fun to make the soprano shout out "sexual intercourse!" But I am quite sure that Philip Larkin is, as I am, being anything but celebratory.

One clue is that the title he chose, "Annus Mirabilis" had been previously used as the title of a poem in English. Wikipedia says:

"Annus Mirabilis is a poem written by John Dryden published in 1667. It commemorated 1665–1666, the "year of miracles" of London. Despite the poem's name, the year had been one of great tragedy, including the Great Fire of London."

I think that Larkin is being quite sardonic.