31 October 2010

Autumn songs

I found a translation of the 8th Century T'ang era poem by Zhang Ji that Mahler's second song Der Einsame im Herbst ("Autumn Loneliness") of Das Lied Von Der Erde is based on:

Autumn sky, jade-like frost drifting
Northerly wind carries lotus fragrance
With love, weaving till the lonely lamp fades
Wipe tears, fond memory, long cold night
Eaves edge, blue clouds pure like water
Rising moon, roosting birds caw; geese soar.
Whose young wife is weaving love birds on her loom?
Deeply concealed by silk curtain and inlaid screen
Listening to falling leaves by the white jade window
Pity the woman, chilled and alone without company.

The fashion for Chinese poetry in Paris that prompted Pound to invent Imagism and get parataxis into Anglo poetry had spread to Vienna by 1907, where Hans Bethge had popularized reworkings of translations that had previously been published in German, which were, in turn, based on two translations into French. All the Europeanized versions of Zhang Ji's Long Autumn Night seemed to be somewhat similar, beginning with Judith Gautier's French version, but they all differed significantly from the original Chinese version in two ways:

1. The original T'ang version makes reference to scent (line 2), sight (line 3), tears and memory (line 4), hearing (line 9), and the body's reaction to cold (lines 4 and 7). Gautier's version and the subsequent French and German versions notes only tears (les larmes) and all sensory provocations have expired or been covered by frost, wind, or darkness.
2. Zhang Ji is thinking about a "young wife" "chilled and alone" while all references to such an object of thought are struck from the European versions.

T'ang poets were highly attentive and deliberate about line arrangements, and Long Autumn Night features 1. Nature (lines one and two), 3. a visual representation of love relating to the visual experience of night, 4. tears and memory coupled with the experience of cold, 5. Nature again, lines 5 and 6, both the visual and aural experience of birds, Line 7, the "love birds on her loom," 8. the image of line 7 "concealed," 9. her aural experience of nature, 10. commentary on subject of poem. Zhang Ji doesn't note the action of his own senses but rather what is perceived, while the woman's perception of the leaves listened to, the temperature, and the birds on the loom is stated. As Taoism has used the image of weaving to demonstrate the unification of life and death, the exact same symbol recurring in the Upanishads and Plato, "love" weaves in line 3 and is woven in line 7.

The parataxic structure of Chinese poetry was conducive to Mahler's creation of the first-ever symphony composed entirely of separate songs. Mahler never heard it performed and much has been written about his having just been diagnosed with heart disease after his daughter had died in accordance with his earlier premonitions and he had been forced out as the music director in Vienna due, in part, to anti-Semitism, an event which marked the decline of the artistic golden age of Vienna. Adorno attributed the use of Chinese forms to Mahler's move to New York: "The inauthentic Chinese element, sketched with extreme discretion, plays a similar part to that of the folk song earlier: a pseudomorph that does not take itself literally but grows eloquent through inauthenticity. But by replacing the Austrian folk song by the remote, an Orient approved as a stylistic means, he divests himself of the hope for a collective cover for what is his own…Mahler’s exoticism was a prelude to emigration." (Mahler: a Musical Physiognomy) Where Debussy had recently been influenced by Javanese gamelan, Mahler uses a continuous, spiraling string melody onto which fragmentary motifs are added, including the vocals:



(Jessye Norman mezzo, Simon Rattle conductor)

While certain types of Hindustani raags are performed in autumn while others are for monsoon season to bring the rain, Tom Jobim's bossa nova classic Waters of March uses ascending and descending scales to depict the rainy season in the Southern Hemisphere's autumn. Jobim, quite the student of literature as many Brazilian songwriters are, endeavored to write an English language version which referenced Spring and didn't include any Latin roots, an Oulipoesque move which perhaps sought to give the song a North Pole free from Romance languages, although some of the words did have Latin roots. As with Mahler's Der Einsame im Herbst, the raga-like continuous motif supports fragmentary lyrics in which the "waters," the rains, unify the fragments of the season. Instead of Wallace Stevens thinking on a Sunday morning "Death is the mother of beauty," for Jobim all things like deaths, hopes, traps, voids, sunsets, emotions, sicknesses, body parts, animals, plants, mud, broken down cars, comprise the object being described simultaneously in a synesthesiatic pattern, making up one of the best lyrical pop songs ever. Supposedly Elis Regina disliked Jobim's intellectualism but decided she needed the song as much as the song needed her.

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