Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Chesney Henry “Chet” Baker, Jr. (December 23, 1929 – May 13, 1988)




















September Song




Summer is slowing down and easing its way into fall, though the dates on the calender don’t seem to be in synch with the world outside. The time seems right for a little time with the icon of West Coast Cool, Chet Baker. There is nothing fussy or over-done in Chet’s music, and always one finds an inwardness, and a communication with the real feelings at the heart of each song. There is a wholeness and integrity of expression and delivery, rarely found elsewhere, even with the best musicians. This is where Chet’s  unique genius is most evident, and it is what makes him unforgettable for me.

And here is the late, great Chet Baker at his best, with an extravaganza of cool, moody standards, in a recording made on October 24, 1955 at the Pathé-Magellan studio in Paris.







This comment accompanied the original Youtube upload:

This was a re-scheduled recording, as the original pianist (and also Chet’s best friend and mentor) Dick Twardzick died in his hotel room from a drug overdose as Chet and the rest of the quartet waited for him at the studio. Chet then fell out with his drummer, and two little-known European musicians were hastily recruited for the re-scheduled session three days later.
This beautifully crafted recording reveals a depth of emotion and character that had not previously existed in his playing.

The other musicians in the quartet are Gérard Gustin -piano, Jimmy Bond -bass and  Bert Dahlander-drums.









Musicians like Chet Baker are miracles of their own genre, in Chet’s case, Cool Jazz, and no one can express a moods embedded in these rich compositions quite like he can. He crafts and composes each phrase, each line, each note, connecting them seamlessly, with just the right length of a pause to permit the ear to absorb and the mind to integrate the sounds and feeling. It really feels like pure magic to me. I feel the ethos of his era, and movies languidly spool out their visual accompaniment in my compliant imagination.

It is a spell, an enchantment to which surrender is the best response – where sounds and images and only a mere smattering of almost unneeded words serve to  effect the communication. The result is a feeling of internal fullness, of spilling and swimming in a re-emergence of impressions, dreams and daydreams, of filtered sunlight, print dresses,  absorbing novels, cold beer, the smell and feel of summer, sidewalks damp from watering, rustling leaves, stillness, blue sky….

It is well known that Chet, like many of his fellow musicians like Bill Evans, used drugs, and it is likely that drugs were a part of their creative process. The ordinary consciousness with which we go about our daily business is not usually supportive of the creative process, which requires inwardness, and freedom from business and routine. Our daily tasks are firmly rooted in the domain of unconsciousness and distraction, and in the capable hands of what Colin Wilson referred to as our robot consciousness.

Musicians in particular know this, and since the creative state cannot easily be entered ‘at-will’, it must often be induced, and this is something drugs are known to facilitate. There is a balancing point to be found between the outright endorsement of drug-use and the moral judgements passed by society on addicts. I think it is important to find this place, and to try and understand perhaps why so many musicians and performers use drugs. Performers do not have the luxury of scheduling gigs and performances when they are in an optimum creative state. It is imperative that they be able to switch it on in time for a performance or a recording session, and drugs may provide an easy short-cut.

I am not a musician, but I know that the wonderful music I often hear in my dreams, comes from a part of me I am unable to access when I am awake. Even when music does come to me, I am only able to ‘go along’ with it while it is actually unfolding, and I can never recall it, though I know it to have been unique and wonderful, and a true expression of my own inaccessible creativity.

Chet paid an enormous price for his creativity, and his music. Addiction can be brutal, and Chet lost his front teeth and his embouchure when he was assaulted by thugs. One of his girlfriends, the singer Ruth Young, implies that Baker might have brought this misfortune on himself by antagonising someone who then hired people to rough him up, but we will never know  the truth with any degree of certainty, in part because of Young’s own reason for  believing such a story, and in part because of Chet’s own tendency to embellish incidents in his life so as to present the kind of image he wished to project.

Nevertheless, the assault was followed by a very dark period in Chet’s life. Unable to play the trumpet, he spent five years between the time of his assault, and his next gig  (which lasted for two weeks and was set up for him by Dizzy Gillespie) pumping gas and doing other menial jobs. Eventually Chet re-emerged from his fog, and taught himself  to play again, and eventually to recover his sound.
To my ear, at least, the appeal of Chet’s unique sound, is due in part to how beautifully he sustains his phrases. Even his speech was slow and measured. The sound is unforced, perhaps because it is so much like breathing. The romantic fluency and flowing lyricism with which he imprints his music, and the style referred to as West Coast jazz or ‘Cool Jazz, is at the heart of this genre,  ‘Cool’ has the mood of warm beaches and breeze, and the moods they induce, but of course much more than the lazy carefree feeling of ease and openness. There is the slow savouring of thoughts and emotions, dictated by a pace which matches that of unhurried reflection. Cool gives our feelings their due. Chet’s music had a universal appeal.

Chet’s music was loved and admired in Europe, even though a supposed drug-bust in Italy resulted in a 16-month jail term, (its never a good thing to run afoul of the authourities in Italy) and being treated persona non grata in several European countries.  Chet spoke French and Italian with a remarkable degree of fluency. He sand in Italian, and starred in a movie Hell’s Horizon.

Shortly before Chet’s death Brice Weber was making a semi-documentary film of Chets life called Let’s Get Lost. By that time, Chet had begun to resemble a beautiful ruin, his movie-star good looks long since having given way to a face on which his difficult history was uncompromisingly recorded. Still, he never lost his touch, and continued to sing and play right to the end of his life.

In May of 1988, Chet was found dead outside his hotel room in the Netherlands. The autopsy revealed traces of drugs in his system. The death was ruled accidental, the official view was that he fell out of his second storey window. A friend who checked the room after the ‘accident’ remarked that the window was old, and did not open far enough to allow someone to fall out of it.

Weber’s film was completed shorty after Chet died. It is an astonishingly beautiful movie, filmed in lush black and white, and featuring recreated scenes, as well as scenes from Chet’s movies, in-depth interviews with Chet’s friends, associates, fellow-musicians, girlfriends, ex-wife Carol Baker, his mother and his children. It is worth watching, for anyone who would wish to know more about the life of this very human and very flawed man, who was despite all his tragedies and set-backs, nevertheless an astonishingly wonderful musician.

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The words to the original version of this classic “Les feuilles mortes” (the dead leaves) were written by the wonderful French poet Jacques Prévert. This is only a partial version of his poem, in fact only the refrain, but the complete version, performed by Juliette Greco can be found on Youtube and the complete text can be found on the web.

Joseph Kosma composed the melody forever associated with all versions of this song.

The English lyrics “Autumn Leaves,” was written by Johnny Mercer in 1947.


















Autumn Leaves

Jo Stafford

The falling leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold
I see your lips, the summer kisses
The sun-burned hands I used to hold





Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song
But I miss you most of all my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall







Autumn Leaves

Bill Evans


















Las hojas muertas

Andrea Bocelli and Christina Aguilera

Esta canción se nos parece,  
me amaste tú y yo te amé,
la vida así, la compartimos
me amaste tú y yo te amé



Mas la vida al fin nos separa
sin más rumor con suavidad,
y la mar borrará de la arena
los pasos que dió nuestro amor



Mais la vie sépare ceux qui s’aiment
(la vida al fin…)
Tout doucement, sans faire de bruit
(nos separará…)
Et la mer efface sur le sable
(yo también te amé…)
Les pas des amants désunis
(con suavidad)



Mas la vida al fin nos separá
sin más rumor con suavidad,
y la mar borrará de la arena
los pasos que dió nuestro amor.















This song seems like us                                         
I who was loved by you, and I who loved you
that love we shared
I who was loved by you, and I who loved you
but in the end life separated us
without a sound and with sweetness
and the sea will erase on the sand
the footprints taken by our love.




Spanish translation Dia Tsung


















Patricia Barber


















Bill Evans


















Yves Montand







Les feuilles mortes

C’est une chanson qui nous ressemble
Toi, tu m’aimais et je t’aimais
Et nous vivions tous deux ensemble
Toi qui m’aimais, moi qui t’aimais
Mais la vie sépare ceux qui s’aiment
Tout doucement, sans faire de bruit
Et la mer efface sur le sable
Les pas des amants désunis.







This is a song that seems like us
You, you were loving me, and I was loving you
And we were living, both of us together
You who were loving me, and I who was loving you
But life separates those who love each other
Completely sweetly, without making any sound
And the sea erases on the sand
The footprints of lovers no longer together.


French translation Bev Noia


















Autumn Leaves

Oscar Peterson



















Autumn Leaves

Nat King Cole


















Autumn Leaves

Stéphane Grappelli












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These Foolish Things
Eric Maschwitz Lyrics
Jack Strachey Music



















Ella Fitzgerald

Pia Beck

Chet Baker

Nat King Cole

Oscar Peterson

Frank Sinatra















These Foolish Things      


A cigarette that bears a lipstick’s traces,
An airline ticket to romantic places,
And still my heart has wings…
These foolish things remind me of you.








A tinkling piano in the next apartment,
Those stumbling words that told you what my heart meant,
A fairground’s painted swings…
These foolish things remind me of you.





You came, you saw,
You conquered me.
When you did that to me,
I knew somehow this had to be.







The winds of march that made my heart a dancer,
A telephone that rings,
And who’s to answer?
Oh, how the ghost of you clings…
These foolish things remind me of you.






First daffodils and long excited cables,
And candle light on little corner tables,
And still my heart has wings…
These foolish things remind me of you.









The park at evening when the bell has sounded,
The ‘Ile de France’ with all the gulls around it,
The beauty that is spring’s…
These foolish things remind me of you.





How strange, how sweet
To find you still,
These things are dear to me,
They seem to bring you near to me.









The sigh of midnight trains in empty stations,
Silk stockings tossed aside, dance invitations.
Oh, how the ghost of you clings!
These foolish things remind me of you…









These foolish things remind me of you.








Eric Maschwitz Lyrics
Jack Strachey Music

















The story goes that Eric Maschwitz wrote the lyrics to this classic when he was parted from Anna May Wong, the glamorous American movie star (Maschwitz was British.) Whether the story is true or not is impossible to establish with any degree of certainty. Wong had a long career in Hollywood despite the caustic racism and blatant discrimination of the day. She never married, and is rumoured to have had affairs with Alla Nazimova and  Marlene Dietrich.

Whether or not Wong was involved with Eric Maschwitz, she was the worthy muse of his inspiration. His plaintive lyrics found their perfect match in Jack Strachy’s music, and they collaborated to put the two together in the space of a single day.

I have included six versions of the song in this post, including Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition, which, as always is remarkable for its unlaboured clarity and unforced emotion.

I love Pia Beck’s playing for many reasons, but particularly I think because I grew up listening to recordings of Erroll Garner’s music, and her style reminds me of his. Not that Pia isn’t great in her own right – she is – and the sound of applause you hear could be from the patrons of her own piano-bar in Churriana, Spain, where she and her partner Marga lived since 1965. They died within five months of each other in 2009.

The other four artists featured here, Chet Baker, Oscar Peterson, Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra,


need no introduction. They each infuse this song with their own individual spirit and character, but I think Chet Baker stays the truest to the original sentiment suggested by the lyrics.

I first heard this tune in the late ’50’s, when I was about 5 years old. I lived with my grandparents in Kandy (Ceylon) and my parents would come up from Colombo for the occasional weekend visit. Both my parents played this song on the old black-varnished the piano with the brass candlesticks and ivory keys, in my grandparents’ living-room, but I preferred my father’s treatment of the tune. I would make him play it on every visit. Sometimes I would sit on his lap and place my hands lightly on his, while he played.

I have no exact recollection of how I learned the lyrics of this song, but they always created familiar images in my mind – as if the words came out of my own memory. Tinkling pianos and lipstick-stained cigarettes were familiar to me since both my parents smoked, and both played the piano.

When I listen to this song  now, it evokes a time that slipped outside time for me. The ghost of the ’50’s lives in me somewhere, and when I hear these familiar notes, it comes to stand close behind me, to share the moment.



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María Elena Walsh (1 February 1930 – 10 January 2011)


















El 45

Te acordás hermana qué tiempos aquellos,
la vida nos daba la misma lección.
En la primavera del 45
tenias quince años lo mismo que yo.

Te acordás hermana de aquellos cadetes,
del primer bolero y el té en El Galeon
cuando los domingos la lluvia traía
la voz de Bing Crosby y un verso de amor.

Te acordás de la Plaza de Mayo
cuando «el que te dije» salía al balcón.
Tanto cambió todo que el sol de la infancia
de golpe y porrazo se nos alunó.



Te acordás hermana qué tiempos de seca
cuando un pobre peso daba un estirón
y al pagarnos toda una edad de rabonas  
valia más vida que un millón de hoy.

Te acordás hermana que desde muy lejos
un olor a espanto nos enloqueció:
era de Hiroshima donde tantas chicas
tenían quince años como vos y yo.

Te acordás que más tarde la vida
vino en tacos altos y nos separó.
Ya no compartimos el mismo tranvía,
sólo nos reúne la buena de Dios.



















In Nineteen Forty-five

Do you remember, Dear, those far-off days,      
When we learned life’s lessons the same way ?
It was during the spring of nineteen forty-five
When you were just fifteen, and so was I.

Do you remember, Dear, the cadets?
The first bolero? And our tea at ‘El Galeon’?
Sunday when the rain contrived to bring us
The voice of Bing Crosby and a verse of love.

Do you remember the day at Plaza de Mayo
When “The one I told you of” came to the balcony?
So much was changed of our sunny childhood,
And suddenly it was graduation day.

Do you remember those hard-up times,                 
When one little peso could be stretched,
And pay us for an age of playing hooky?
Life then was worth more than a million todays.

Do you remember, Dear, from far away,
That distant scent that made us mad with fear?
Hiroshima was a place where many girls
Were fifteen years-old like you and me.

Do you remember how later on in life,
High heels came along to separate you and me?
Now we no longer take the same tram together –
Now life brings us both together only haphazardly.















Barco quieto

No te vayas, te lo pido,                                     
de esta casa nuestra donde hemos vivido.
Qué nostalgia te puedes llevar
si de la ventana no vemos el mar.
Y afuera llora la ciudad
tanta soledad.

Todo cansa, todo pasa,
y uno se arrepiente de estar en su casa,
y de pronto se asoma a un rincón
a mirar con lástima su corazón.
Y afuera llora la ciudad
tanta soledad.

No te vayas,
que ya estamos de vuelta de todo
y esta casa es nuestro modo
de ser.

Tantas charlas, tanta vida,                      
tanto anochecer con olor a comida
son una eternidad familiar
que en un solo día no puede cambiar.
Y afuera llora la ciudad
tanta soledad.

Estos muros, estas puertas,
no son de mentiras, son el alma nuestra,
barco quieto, morada interior
que viviendo hicimos, igual que el amor.
Y afuera llora la ciudad
tanta soledad













Quiet Boat

Don’t go away, don’t leave, I beg of you,                           
from this our home, where we have lived.
What nostalgia you can bring about,
If from the window
We don’t look out at the sea –
And outside the city cries
So desolately.

Everything tires, everything passes,
So that one feels a pang to be at home,
And suddenly turns away to face a corner,
To gaze with pity at one’s heart,
And outside the city cries
So desolately.


So many talks, so much of life…                                       
There were so many evenings, with the scent of food,
For a familiar eternity…
That can’t be changed in a single day –
And outside the city cries
So desolately.

These very walls, these very doors,
They do not lie, they are our souls,
A silent boat, an inner abode,
Where we have lived, as love has lived –
And outside the city cries
So desolately.

Translation Dia Tsung.














María Elena Walsh was a Argentinian writer, who was known and loved for her books, poetry, drama and music.

These songs reveal her singing at its best, her  warm, mellow, expressive voice, revealing the depth of intensity and emotion of her lyrics. She was one of those rarities, someone who writes her own lyrics, composes her own music, and performs it as it was intended.

She was a very popular writer of children’s literature, but under the playful lyrics of her songs, ran a subversive message discernible to adults, which was critical and disparaging of the military dictatorship and excess of the government of Juan Perón.

Walsh was of mixed British, Irish and Spanish descent, and spent part of her life in  Paris, Spain, England and the U.S.
During her self-imposed exile in the ’50s, she and her girlfriend  at the time Leda Valladares made their living singing in clubs in Paris.

She returned to Argentina after the revolution which ousted Perón, and continued singing, composing, writing and performing. She  also made a film called “Let’s Play in the World” in partnership with Maria Herminia Avellaneda.

María Elena Walsh won many honors from her country for her art, and was loved and appreciated for being a voice that never fell silent as long as one was needed to speak out on behalf of her fellow-citizens. Argentinians  recognised and understood her message, even when it came to them under cover of ‘nonsense’ rhymes and children’s songs.

The last 31 years of her life were spent with her partner, photographer Sara Facio.  Walsh died of bone-cancer in January of 2011.


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Just because we sometimes fall short of our ideals it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have them.

Happy 136th Birthday America, and Many Happy Returns of the Day.










These words were written by our wonderful lesbian fore-mother Katherine Lee Bates. She was inspired to write them when she stood at the top of Pike’s Peak, right here in Colorado.   Many Americans would choose “America the Beautiful”  as our our national anthem in favour of the more bellicose “Star Spangled Banner.” It is not in the least bit jingoistic, and this is how most of us feel about our country.

This  should have been our national anthem, and for me it is.










“America the Beautiful” complete text.

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassion’d stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness
America! America!
God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.
O beautiful for heroes prov’d
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country lov’d,
And mercy more than life.
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev’ry gain divine.
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears.
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.




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Charles François Gounod (June 17 1818 – 17 October 17 1893)


















De mon coeur une partie
Vient au loin de s’envoler,
Et depuis qu’elle est partie
Rien ne peut me consoler!

Ce qui mettait l’allégresse
Dans mon âme et dans mes yeux
M’a laissé dans la tristesse
En s’éloignant de ces lieux!


Tant que les âmes aimées
Ne viendront rouvrir mon coeur,
Les sources seront fermées
Où je puisais le bonheur!

Je refleurirrai quand l’heure
Du revoir aura sonné.
Jusque à j’attends et pleure
Sous mon toit abandonné!

De mon coeur une partie
Vient au loin de s’envoler,
Et depuis qu’elle est partie
Rien ne peut me consoler!
















Lyrics Marquis Anatole de Ségur

Music Charles Gounod

Sung by David Daniels











One part of my heart
has just flown far away
and since it has gone away
naught can console me.



She who put happiness
in my soul and in my eyes
has left me in sadness
by removing herself from here      



As long as the beloved souls
do not return to reopen my heart
the wells are now closed
from where I drew my pleasure.



I shall bloom again when the hour
of reunion has sounded.
Until then I wait and weep
beneath my abandoned roof.
















L’ Absent    




Ô silence des nuits dont la voix seule est douce,
Quand je n’ai plus sa voix,
Mystérieux rayons, qui glissez sur la mousse
Dans l’ombre de ses bois,



Dites-moi si ses yeux, à l’heure où tout sommeille
Se rouvrent doucement
Et si ma bien-aimée, alors quemoi je veille,
Se souvient de l’absent.



Quand la lune est aux cieux, baignant de sa lumière
Les grands bois et l’azur;
Quand des cloches du soir qui tintent la prière
Vibre l’écho si pur,



Dites-moi si son âme, un instant recueillie,
S’élève avec leur chant,
Et si de leurs accords la paisible harmonie
Lui rappelle l’absent!



















The Absent One           


O silence of the nights whose voice alone is sweet
when I have her voice no more,
mysterious rays that glide on the moss
in the shadows of these woods,


tell me, if her eyes, at this time when all is asleep,
gently open by themselves again,
and if my darling then, while I keep vigil,
remembers the one who is absent.




When the moon is in the heavens, bathing with her light
the great woods and the azure sky,
when the bells of the evening ring out the prayer,
vibrating with a pure echo,


tell me, if their soulful sound, for an instant gathers
and uplifts her with their song,
and if their accord, their peaceful harmony,
remind her of the absent one.











Music and lyrics by Charles Gounod.

Sung by David Daniels

Translation Dia Tsung

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Music and Lyrics by Nino Oliviero and Vincenzo De Crescenzo

(Neapolitan lyrics)



tu me sai dà
quanno me vase
me fai sunnà
me fai restà
cu l’uocchie chiuse
Dint’e vvene
a poco a poco
me saglie ‘o bbene
saglie ‘o ffuoco
nun resisto chiù



tu me sai dà
quanno me vase
me fai sunnà
me fai restà
cu l’uocchie chiuse
e je dico ancora sì
fa chello ca vuò tu
pecché l’ammore mio
sì solamente tu






















(Italian translation)


tu mi sai dare
quando mi baci,



Mi fai sognar,
mi fai restare
con gli occhi chiusi
Nelle vene,
a poco a poco,
mi sale il benessere,
mi sale il fuoco,
non resisto più.
tu mi sai dare
quando mi baci,
mi fai sognar,
mi fai restar
con gli occhi chiusi.
E io dico ancora sì,
fa quello che vuoi tu,
perché l’amore mio
sei solamente tu.



Translation to standard Italian spmela


















Joy and bliss
you know you give me such bliss
when I feel your kiss
you make me dream
And my eyelids just close.
In my veins
by small degrees
a lovely sense of ease
begins to climb
within me the fire grows
and I want to surrender
for I can no longer resist.
you know just how to give it
when you give me your kiss
I fall into a dream                
and my eyelids just close
and again I just say ‘yes’
do whatever you wish
because my love,
my love is only you.





Translation from the Italian Dia Tsung

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So el encina:             

So el encina, encina,
so el encina.

Yo me iba, mi madre,
a la romería;
por ir más devota
fui sin compañía;
so el encina.

Por ir más devota
fin sin compañía;
tomé otro camino,
dejé el que tenía;
so el encina.

Halléme perdida
en una montiña,
echéme a dormir
al pie del encina,
so el encina.

A la media noche
recordé, mezquina;
halléme en los brazos
del que más quería,
so el encina.

Pesóme, cuitada
de que amanecía
porque yo gozaba
del que más quería,
so el encina.

Muy biendita sía
la tal romería;
so el encina.







Under the Ilex

Beneath the ilex, the ilex
beneath the ilex

I was going, Mother,
on a pilgrimage
so as to be more devout
I was without companions.

So as to be more devout
I was without companions
I took another road
I left the one I was on
under the ilex.

I found myself lost     
on a mountain
I prepared to sleep
at the foot of the ilex

At midnight
I remember – woe is me –
I found myself in the arms
of the one I love best
under the ilex

To my chagrin, I was left
at the break of dawn,
for I had been delighting
in the one I love best
under the ilex

Most blessed be
such a pilgrimage
under the ilex.

Translation Dia Tsung






















Quercus ilex is the Mediterranean Oak, also called the Holm Oak, Holly Oak, Ilex, Evergreen Oak, Scarlet Oak, Bloody Oak and Prickly Oak.  It shares the name ‘Ilex’ with Holly, probably because like the Holly, it is evergreen. How the same tree could be referred to as ‘evergreen’ and ‘scarlet’ is a minor mystery, but solved by the entomologists, who tell us that the scarlet berries, which give the oak its name, are made by an insect – the kerm beetle – who feeds on the oak leaves and produces a scarlet ‘berry,’ which is the source of a scarlet dye highly prized by the ancients and used for royal robes and  buskins. The berries themselves were said to possess aphrodisiac properties, and perhaps this could have been intended by the anonymous poet as another oblique suggestion pertaining to the midnight tryst.  Coincidentally, one of the most famous XV century composers of villancicos was Juan Encina – and I wonder if  it is possible that it was he who wrote the poem.

When I first read this poem, I immediately felt that the Ilex tree held a significance beyond its being merely a convenient shelter for a young girl on a pilgrimage, who had lost her way.  Two references jumped out at me, the first by Ovid, and the second by Robert Graves. According to Graves, the Holm Oak stands for the eighth month of the druid calendar and the letter ‘T’ in the druidic tree alphabet. The letter ‘T’ signifies the cross, or the gibbet and has connotations of human sacrifice in the old religion, although here, happily it is only her virginity – and not the virgin herself – which is ‘sacrificed.’

These things suggest to me that our girl set off on her romantic adventure around midsummer – a warm time of year, perfect for a ‘pilgrimage’ in the mountains, particularly if one also has to sleep outdoors.

Ovid tells us that Artemis the wild huntress and her virgin band of hamdryades cooled themselves  at midday in a pool hidden by a thicket of Ilex. When the women disrobed before entering the water, one of the Goddess’s companions, Callisto the princess of Arcadia, was seen to be pregnant. She was expelled from the group for her indiscretion, and was later turned into a bear by Hera. She can be seen in the night sky as one of the stars in the always bright constellation of Ursa Major.

Acorns were also thought to be the food of the Arcadians (who were the descendants of Callisto’s son Arkas) – and bears.  Callisto was of course seduced by Zeus, and she may not have been completely willing, since there is little to suggest that the women Zeus ravished consented in any way, and not surprisingly these seductions had little to do with either love or romance.

I felt intuitively that the poem was about a virgin with her first lover – which the Arcadian episode appeared to support. The young girl in the villancico, under the pretext of going on a pilgrimage, appears to have turned in a different direction, with the intention of keeping an assignation with her lover. But even if the meeting had not been planned (improbable but possible,) her apparently religious motivation turns out to have  had a decidedly secular outcome.

The girl has  contrived a good  cover story for her sly ‘accidentally on purpose’ rendezvous,  and is careful to appear blameless when she  returns home and recounts the details of her ‘pilgrimage’ to her mother. She couches  it in terms of a ‘mishap,’ which, is designed to preserve her innocence, if not her modesty.

It seems evident to me she is an adventuresome girl – intelligent, enterprising – and bold enough to wish to travel alone.  She experiences her life in  concrete terms – of  external events, circumstances and she gives us no advance notice of her own intentions. She expresses no doubts or fears or speculations, and this absence of interiority gives the poem  much of its straightforwardness, clarity and honesty.

The girl seems to have planned her journey so as to reach the Ilex tree at dusk, and was prepared to wait there alone in the thickening darkness  until her lover came to meet her.

In older times, Midsummer was after all, the time for romantic revelry and magical evocations. Even Shakespeare capitalised on the associations of this uncanny season to provide the context of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Even the word ‘midsummer’ has something quite magical about it, and saying the words ‘summer night’ alone can cast the first tinge of a spell upon a previously clear mind.

I wondered about the landscape of this poem – and the image that formed in my mind was of a scrubby hillside dotted with clumps of Ilex, with one tree that stood apart from the others. This was the place chosen by our girl for her assignation. Was there a moon? Was the night dark? could she see the sky through the branches and watch as the summer constellations  wheeled their arcs across the heavens?  She must have had a simple supper – probably consisting of bread and olives and perhaps some cheese. Was there a stream nearby where she could refresh herself and take a drink?  She must have sat there quietly in the darkness, with her cloak drawn close about her, listening to the insects and waiting until midnight.

Though the Italian translation of this poem suggests a male paramour, the Spanish does not. Accustomed habits of interpretation would have her lover be a male – but I do not feel constrained by habitual interpretations, and in my mind, she waits for another girl. She must have strained her ears listening for a footfall, and then a voice.

The meeting is described as a fiat – at midnight she suddenly finds herself in the arms of ‘the one she loves best.’ Everything just ‘happened,’ with no apparent agency on her part. But Summer nights are brief, and when dawn comes lovers, despite their reluctance to do so, must separate. When the sky begins to colour she is alone again – the pilgrimage is finished, and she must go back home.

What were her thoughts on the way home? Was this her only encounter? We hope not, because she is still a young girl when she tells her mother about the pilgrimage, being careful to not incriminate herself, and yet unable to suppress her sense of joy and exultation. Not all love-stories have happy endings, but somehow the sheer effrontery that went into the planning and execution of this meeting lets me believe that there were other meetings – other pilgrimages – and that in this way at least, her hopes and aspirations for love found their fulfillment.
















Italian Translation

Sotto il leccio, leccio     
sotto il leccio

Andavo, madre,
in pellegrinaggio:
per andare più devota
andai senza compagnia,
sotto il leccio.


Per andare più devota
andai senza compagnia,
presi un’altra strada
lasciai il percorso che fui.

Mi smarrii ai piedi
di una montagna,
mi misi a dormire
ai piedi del leccio.

A mezzanotte
mi svegliai,
misera, mi trovai
tra le braccia
di chi amavo di più,
sotto il leccio.


Mi dispiacque, misera,
che albeggiava,
perché godevo
di chi amavo di più,
sotto il leccio.

Benedetto sia
questo pellegrinaggio,
sotto il leccio.



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“Estate,” by Bruno Brighetti  (lyrics) and Bruno Martino (music) is an Italian classic, but it has been sung in English and Spanish as well, and there is even a French version, with remarkably inept lyrics which have nothing  at all to do with the original feeling of the composition.

Listening to this small piece of perfection, so introspective, evocative and mood-suffused, becomes a meditation  – a remembrance of things past.

It captures  completely the feeling of beautiful summer and lost love, when a season of opulence and brilliance becomes a lingering ghost, and when poetry and music come together as if they were in love with each other
In my search for this post, I came across a bewildering number of versions to choose from. I picked the ones which appealed to me the most. My feeling is that it is criminal to take liberties with this song – but there are so many musicians who do: they give in to the temptation to use it as a showcase for their skills, in ways that are less than appropriate and roll over it like a steamroller, with complete disregard for the integrity of the poetry and sentiment at its heart.

This is a song which demands to be performed in a natural and heart-felt manner. Not all the versions here are perfect – but they are the best I could find.

I wish that Chet Baker had been able to collaborate with Bill Evans on this one.

This is a piece of music for which less is always more.























Sei calda come i baci che ho perduto 
Sei piena di un amore che è passato
Che il cuore mio vorrebbe cancellare

Il sole che ogni giorno ci scaldava
Che splendidi tramonti dipingeva
Adesso brucia solo con furore

Tornerà un altro inverno
Cadranno mille pètali di rose
La neve coprirà tutte le cose
E forse un po’ di pace tornerà

Che ha dato il suo profumo ad ogni fiore
L’ estate che ha creato il nostro amore
Per farmi poi morire di dolore


















(English translation)
You are warm like the kisses I have lost
You’re full of a love that has passed
That my heart would wish to erase

The sun that warmed us each day
What splendid sunsets it painted
Now burns only with fury

Another winter will return
And the roses shed a thousand petals
The snow will cover everything
And perhaps a little peace will return.

Which imparted perfume to each flower
The summer that created our love
To make me then die of grief




















(English lyrics)

You bathe me in the glow of your caresses
You’ve turned my timid no to eager yeses
You sweep away my sorrow with your sigh

Oh how the golden sunlight bends the willow
Your perfume sends the blossoms to my pillow
Oh who could know you half as well as I

I always feel you near me
In every song the morning breeze composes
In all the tender wonder of the roses
Each time the setting sun shines on the sea

And when you sleep beneath a snowy cover
I’ll keep you in my heart just like a lover
And wait until you come again to me – Estate






















(Spanish lyrics)

Verano ardiente como el
beso que he perdido
Recuerdos de un amor que ha pasado
Y que me corazón no ha de borrar

Odio el verano
El sol y su calor nos abrazaban
Que esplendidos ocasos nos pintaba
Ahora sólo quema con réncor

volverá un nuevo invierno
y caerán mil pétalos de rosas
la nieve cubrirá todas las cosas        
quizás algo de paz retornará

Odio el verano
que ha dado su perfume a las flores
verano que has creado las pasiones
nacer para morirme de dolor

volverá un nuevo invierno
y caerán mil pétalos de rosas
la nieve cubrirá todas las cosas
quizás algo de paz retornará

Odio el verano
odio el verano
odio el verano
odio el verano
















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“And now (as they say in Monty Python’s Flying Circus) for something completely different.”

Carnatic music is the classical music of South India. It has several things in common with North Indian or Hindustani music in that both musical systems are strictly modal and share the 22 note microtonal scale. Both Carnatic and Hindustani music have some Ragas or modes in common, as well as some ‘talas’ or rhythm cycles, but they are now widely divergent in style, their differences having begun to emerge about 800 years ago when North India became susceptible to Persian influences by way of the Moghuls.

Carnatic music rests firmly on a devotional foundation. The compositions are predominantly vocal rather than instrumental and are vehicles of devotional fervour, expressing love, respect, familiarity, passion, friendship, playfulness and admiration for the divine in the context of the familiar relationship cultivated by devotional Hindus, between human beings and the divine. The attitude towards the divine can be plaintive, joyous, teasing, praising, indulgent, philosophical or complaining – and much more.

The vast majority of Carnatic compositions are ‘krithis,’ or devotional songs  are based on established structures, but some forms such as ‘thillanas’ are purely rhythmic, with no lyrical content. They are usually played at the conclusion of evening recitals in order to leave the listener in a state of  joyous upliftment and exhilaration.

I have chosen several popular ragas/modes, in the assumption that they will sound less strange and foreign (than some others) to the western ear, but I have also included a couple of slightly atonal ragas, because of their cleansing astringent quality, and their tendency to induce a more active attitude of listing. The raga in the mode of Revati is one of my favourites, because Revati is the name of the lunar asterism in my horoscope, and it refers to the constellation of the Pleiades.

Typically ragas are thought to correspond to and  induce moods and conditions  – even to influence the weather – and are specific to certain seasons and times of day and night. All these factors of course lead to innumerable permutations and combinations dear to the taxonomically inclined mind typical of South Indian thinking and philosophy.

I have included here krithis – with one exception – which are addressed to the divine in the form of the Goddess, invoking and evoking several of her aspects and manifestations. The exception is “Theertha Vilayatu Pillai”, meaning something like “incorrigibly playful boy”, which is addressed to Krishna. I include this as an example of how krithis sometimes express complex religious and philosophical beliefs and attitudes in deceptively simple ways. The composer frames the song in the context of a girl complaining to her friend about Krishna’s  playful and annoying antics. This places all three –  god in human form, devotee and her friend –  in relation to each other as playmates.

The first ‘verse’ of this particular krithi (the anupallavi)  expresses a particularly profound concept, wrapped up in a sweet and playful incident – when Krisna offers a fruit to a girl, snatches it back when it is half eaten, and bites it himself, and then returns it.

Traditionally food which is offered to god (before it is ever tasted) is called ‘prasad’, and is believed to be imbued and infused with divine qualities, so that partaking of such food is a powerful blessing. When Krishna takes a bite, the fruit becomes ‘prasad’, which is a sort of transubstantiation.  When he takes back the fruit after the girl has begun to eat it and takes another bite, he ignores and violates  the strong food taboos against eating food tasted by others. Only intimate familiars such as mothers and children or lovers or spouses share food in this way. By this simple act Krishna shows himself to be the intimate darling of his devotees, and he erases and ignores all that separates himself as a divinity and his beloved human friend. He shows himself to be humble and loving, while at the same time conferring his  divine blessing in a covert unpretentious way.

I might be excused if I  indulge in an interesting digression, in order to  include a little information about the composer of this Krithi, the renowned Tamil poet Subramaniya Bharathi who is one of my favourites. His poems are extremely fresh and naturalistic, free of artifice and unnecessary cleverness, yet – or perhaps therefore –  deep, evocative and powerful. Bharathi came from a Bhramin family, but he firmly rejected caste distinctions. He agitated against the British and had to spend some time in remand due to his nationalistic sentiments. In the significantly, I think, posed photograph shown here, he stands beside his seated wife (very uncharacteristic for an Indian man of his era) and his youngest daughter (a proud and dignified looking little girl!)  is seated while the older sons and daughter stand behind, with both boys standing the furthest back.

If we were to conclude by this that Bharathi cherished feminist sentiments, we would be quite right. He was a fervent believer in women’s rights, particularly the right of women to have an education, and to treated as equals. His misfortune was that he remained poor for most of his peripatetic life, and had great difficulty supporting his family. Bharathi left home shortly after his marriage  to begin his wanderings and his young wife (she was seven and he fourteen when they were married) spent most of her life with her parents.

I decided against including transliterations and translations of the lyrics for the rest of the krithis here because of the depth and extent of explanation that would be involve in order to make them comprehensible. Krithis are very densely allusive, and to understand them one has to know the stories behind them about their subject – the incidents, names, attributes, significance,  etc.,  of the god or goddess, and all the subtle conceptual play that goes into the composer’s creation. Carnatic composers create both music and lyrics, and choose the appropriate ‘tala’ to accompany the composition.

Krithis are usually composed in the South Indian languages of Tamil and Telugu, but also in Sanskrit, and less often in Malayalam.  This post contains Tamil and Sanskrit krithis.When you hear the line of a song repeated, it is in order to demonstrate the variations permitted in the protocol of raga, and therefore the singers and the composer’s virtuosity.

Likewise when you hear the syllable Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni sung in various combinations, (for instance in “Mamavathu Sri Saraswathi”)  you are hearing Carnatic ‘solfeggi’ – which serves to show the groups of notes which bring out the character of a particular raga. Sometimes these notes are combined to form words, which then have the effect of puns. For those who wish to explore this complex subject, there are several resources available on the internet. Unfortunately I know no intelligible English language books on the subject.

The singers featured here, Sowmya and Sudha Raghunathan, are two of my particular favourites, and they have very different and individual styles voices, but both are very traditional, and both are elite and expert Carnatic singers. The style of singing is one that originates in the throat rather than the chest or diaphragm or head, as we are used to hearing in western music, and it can take a little getting used to.

If readers wish to enlarge upon this very brief and sketchy introduction to Carnatic music, they are welcome to do so in the comments.




Mamavathu Sri Saraswathi

Raga Hindolam














Devi Neeye Thunai

Raga Keeravani












Himagiri Thanaye

Raga Suddha Dhanyasi
















Raga Sama,












Sumanasa Vanditha

Raga Revathi













Pahimam Parvathi

Raga Mohanam (said to be the most ancient of all Ragas)














Sri Chakra Raja

(Multiple Ragas referred to as ‘Ragamalika’ or Garland of Ragas)














Raga Sama















Unnai Allaal

Raga Kalyani















Pahi Nikhila Janani

Raga Naata












Anandamrutha  Karshini

Raga Amrutha Varshini















Raga Gowdamalhar
















Theeratha Vilayattu Pillai

By Subramaniya Bharathi

Chinnaswami Subramaniya Bharathi (December 11, 1882 – September 11, 1921)


















( Raga Sindhu Bhairavi)                           
Theeratha vilayatu pillai , Kannan,
Theruvile pengalukku oyatha thollai

Thinna pazham kondu tharuvan-pathi
Thingindra pothinile thatti parippan,
Yennappan yennayyan yendral athanai,
Echir paduthi kadithu koduppan.


(Raga Khamas)

1.Azhagulla malar kondu vande –yennai,
Azha azha cheythu pin , kannai moodi kol,
Kuzhalile chootuven , yenban, Yennai ,
Kurudaki malarinai thozhikku vaipan,

(Raga Shanmugapriya)
2.Pinnalai pinnindru izhuppan-thalai,
Pinne thirumbu munne chendru maraivan,
Vanna puthu chelai thanile –puzhuthi ,
Vari chorinthe varuthi kulaippan.

(Raga Maand)
3.Pullanguzhal kondu varuvan-amudhu,
Pongi thathumbum geetham padippan,
Kallal mayanguvathu pole adai,
Kan moodi vay thirandhe ketpom.




P.R. Ramachander’s  English translation, with some minor adaptations.

Pallavi (opening stanza,)
Krishna is an ever playful boy,
And girls in the streets are in endless trouble

Anupallavi (theme)
He would give fruits to eat but then
When half-eaten, he would snatch them away.
If we say my lord and my darling, then he would,                       
Bite them himself and give them back.

Charanam (unifying composition)
1. He would bring very pretty flowers,
And after making me weep and then cry,
He’d say “close your eyes, I’ll set them in your hair”
And once my eyes were shut he’d give them to my friend.

2. He would pull my braid from behind,
And before I turn, he would hide in front of me.
In the new bright coloured sari that I wear,
He would raise dust on it and spoil it.

3. He would bring a flute and play,
A song dripping with nectar,
Which would make us close our eyes, and open our mouths
And seem as if we had passed out drunk with wine.


Raga Hamsadhwani











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