No theorbo–wake up the dawn!

Theorbo-ref
A theorbo. Picture source: “Given by Cezar MAteus (the author of the instrument) expressly for Wiki”

I learnt a great expression from the Coffee Break French podcast once upon a time. Rester cloîtré means something like “to stay holed up”—you might recognize the English cognate cloister, a place where nuns or monks stay in isolation. As I’ve said, it is mostly dark in Paris in the wintertime, and without some incentive to leave the house, I can spend an entire weekend en restant cloîtré dans mon appartement—holed up in my apartment–reading, hanging up laundry to dry, and napping (minus the obligatory weekly shopping trip on Saturday morning).

I’m hoping to avoid that this winter–starting with this weekend–so, I blew about $50 US on tickets to the Paris Philharmonic for Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday. I didn’t even look to see what was being played—I just knew that I needed to “get out of the house,” as we say in my native language. It mostly turned out OK. Saturday night is Louis XIV et ses musiques—Louis the Fourteenth and his musics. I like motets, so that should be cool. Sunday night is Le bourgeois gentilhomme. I’m not that into Strauss, but they’ll also do the Lully version, and that should be cool. Friday night, though—tonight was another story. Tonight was…an educational experience.

I rushed in the door late, having no idea what I had bought tickets to. Showing up late for a concert in France turns out to be a more linguistically intensive experience than one would think, as I was handed off to a succession of ushers hissing, in rapid French, things like this way, please, sir! No, don’t follow me—follow him! You have to wait a minute before I can seat you. There’s a seat open at that end that I can get you to easily, or do you want to stay here? (I think that’s what they were saying, anyway—it could have been who the fuck do you think you are, showing up late?  My French isn’t actually that great.)

I’ve spent much of my adult listening life assiduously avoiding modern classical music. My tastes run more to a theorbo/harpsichord duet, perhaps with a nice soloist singing in Italian that I don’t understand. I never really got atonality, arhythmicity, discordance. Wasn’t I surprised to discover that I had just taken the metro all the way across town on a Friday night to listen to a full evening of the stuff.

I loved it! I learnt something: you have to hear that kind of music live. I never understood before that there is a rhythm to that stuff—you just have to be able to watch the conductor’s body move in order to be able to understand it. Those seemly random bangs, clashes, and screeches? They’re an incredibly carefully orchestrated (sorry) sequence of tightly timed interactions between musicians who have none of the structural or melodic cues that you get in a normal musical piece for a group (orchestral music, sorry—I couldn’t bring myself to use the word again) that let you anticipate where you’ll come in and drop out.  There’s a feeling in the air when a group of musicians finish playing something fun.  I felt it in the concert hall tonight.

One of the pieces (Calmo, by Luciano Berio) involved a mezzo-soprano singing. The lyrics were a pastiche of different poetic pieces. For some of the Zipfian obscure vocabulary items that I had to look up today, I’ll give you the first verse, because it’s actually a nice tie-in to the darkness of the Parisian winter and the joy that I feel when I see the sun rise in the morning here:

Mon cœur est affermi My heart is strengthened
Mon âme chante My soul sings
Réveillez vous, mon luth et ma harpe! Wake up, my lute and my harp!
Je veux éveiller l’aurore I want to awaken the dawn
Cantique des cantiques, par Salomon Song of Songs, by Solomon

The translation is by me, so take this with a bit of salt, but: my recollection is that the Hebrew words are “I will see the morning.” I think I like this version better–the idea of waking up the sun is very powerful.

  • affermir: to consolidate, to strengthen; to firm up
  • éveiller: to arouse, to awaken

Definitions from the Collins French-English dictionary, Kindle edition.

2 thoughts on “No theorbo–wake up the dawn!”

  1. In many concert halls, they wouldn’t have let you in till the interval 🙂 I agree about not being into modern classical music, and discovering that I was listening wrong. I’ll take it a step further: even if it’s not live, if a composer gives you a CD and you just have to listen to it to make some kind polite comment next time you see him, as happened to me lately: do some real 100% listening in a quiet moment with nothing else in your mind and possibly in a room with low lighting. It starts to make sense and a bizarre sort of beauty!

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  2. Indeed, it was the interval–it was an evening of 15-minute pieces. Good advice about getting CDs from random composers–I’ll keep it in mind the next time a random composer hands me some of their work. 🙂 (This actually happened to me once–an undergraduate summer intern, though.)

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