Sunday, December 9, 2012

4. “Singing Aboard Ship (Laivassa lauletaan)”

Composed by Veljo Tormis (1983); as performed on
Tõnu Kaljuste/Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir:

Veljo Tormis - Litany To Thunder (ECM New Series 1999)

There is music that wishes war away in the subjunctive (“would it were not so”), while other music does not even warn of a hard rain so much as it says the rain it do fall, precisely how it falls, and upon whom. Apart from being an Estonian music student in the 1940s, I cannot imagine what Tormis experienced, but this a capella setting of an Ingrian-Finnish folk song for alto soloist and mixed chorus reminds me more than a bit of Maria Irene Fornes’s The Danube, in which she constructed an entire post-nuclear non-future from a discarded Magyar language record. This is a traditional song of ethnic Finnish women from the Neva river valley singing about and to men who have been impressed into the Russian military, awaiting transport aboard ships anchored offshore. The original song is the women’s lament, but in Tormis’s adaptation, the men answer – in the wordless tightly-harmonized choral mass that underpins the whole, beginning the piece as a low growl that rises to a sardonic roar as it joins with the women ringing over the water: “When the boys sang on the ship, / the girls thought it was an organ playing.”
Note: 25 secular essays about 25 songs, each one exactly 200 words long, appearing one per day during Advent from Dec. 1 through Dec. 25. Or, most likely, later.

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