Wednesday, 17 January 2018

A nagging doubt

A recent edition of Tales from the stave  that dealt with the Delius piece on On hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring reminded me of a possible musical influence I have long wondered about.  It not only addressed this nagging doubt, but also advanced the idea of a much more likely influence – not from folk music to art music composer, but from composer to composer. The story did however start with folk music; Delius was at the end of the chain.

The influence I mistakenly suspected was from an American folk song to Delius. Many years ago, when my ability to read music was even more hesitant than it is now, I found the score of Goodbye old paint in a collection  of American folk songs. It wasn't a melody I knew, but the book provided chord symbols and I eventually worked out A tune that fitted the harmonies. But my grasp of the actual notes petered out after the first phrase

When I later heard the Delius piece I thought  AHA. While Delius was living in Florida he must have been exposed to Goodbye Old Paint.

But the BBC has now disabused me of this. The Delius piece was not an original idea (although I've never been a stickler for originality – as I've said often enough in this blog,  here for example); he got it from Edvard Grieg who he was with in Leipzig in 1887:

Delius playing cards with Edvard and Nina Grieg; see more details here.
Grieg's source was the Norwegian folk song In Ola valley, which he included in a collection of piano transcriptions in 1896. But as that radio programme made clear, the atmosphere of the piece was very different. The story behind In Ola Valley is rather Scandi Noir
In Ola Valley
In Ola Lake
There Eli lost her boy.
They searched in the valley
They rung in the lake
But Eli never found her boy. 

The ending of the verb in the penultimate line isn't very clear in the radio recording, But why I heard /rʌŋ/ rather than /rʌn/ (both fairly improbable at first hearing) was the context: the falling third – Delius's eponymous cuckoo – is supposed to evoke the tolling of a bell (both as a tool in the search and prefiguring the ultimate [presumed] death of the lost child).

So the American folk song quite probably (if my hunch is right)  migrated to America in the folk-memory of Norwegian settlers. It's not a direct ancestor of the Delius piece, but a shared ancestor. Delius's inspiration was a borrowing from (or possibly hommage to Grieg [it was published shortly after his death]). But in either case it shows Delius to be, as one of the contributors says. "not just a kind of melancholy folklorist ... but ...much more as Elgar said 'a poet in sound'".  [That Elgar quote would no doubt be marked 'needs citation' by Wikipedia, but the Beeb's good enough for me.]


PS and a couple of clues:
  • Questionable Tory claim about NHS giving trouble and strife a shiner. (4, 2, 5, 5)
  • Brief affair about one aspect of office life. (6)

Friday, 5 January 2018

No "the" please

from Handel's autograph score
Like Pagliacci, Messiah frequently gets an undeserved definite article (although perhaps that undeserved is coming it a bit strong, for people who believe there was only one). Handel's, though, as his original title page showed, has none:

My choir's next offering will be this old favourite – which, like many choir members, I have sung many times before.

At last night's first rehearsal I noticed that my score was adorned with paperclips that marked the last performance's cuts. I couldn't, for a moment, recall the last time I had sung it. But this programme fell out.

And this brought to mind the strange experience of singing with a present-day chapel choir member on either side (as we old growlers were interspersed with Real Singers – who had graduated from choir schools, where the custom had been to admit to having made a mistake by "raising your hand, boy" [so that the choir master would know, and know as a result that that mistake would not be repeated]). So whenever they made a slip (usually one that I wouldn't have noticed anyway) they had this Pavlovian twitch of the arm.

<aha status="interesting but unproven">
The presence or absence of a definite article may, I have just thought, be the root of an affectation  that I have noticed among music lovers. It's Pagliacci, but Il Trovatore.  So rather than risk getting it wrong, they refer to the latter as Trovatore [tout sec – or should that be tutto secco?]
If lasts night's rehearsal was anything to go by, our Messiah should be well worth a night out on 24 March 2018:
Full detais of the concert here


Tuesday, 2 January 2018


Now the dust has begun to settle on another Christmas-tide [and oh yes, I'm not talking about a generic ecumenical Seasonal Festivities – after all it's Christmas Carols that have got the juices flowing]) I am writing again partly prompted by a question I've been asked about io as in io-io-io.

I  have written several times about carols and their opaque lyrics; I awarded a FOGgie to "Hinds o'er the pearly dewy lawn early" here (where I explain:

...the FOGgies are annual awards for outstandingly bad writing. The idea for the name derives from Robert Gunning's FOG index, although these awards don't restrict themselves only to obstacles to readability measured by that index.

) And elsewhere I wrote about those children crowned all in white, who wait around at the end of Adeste fidelis (or Hokum, all ye faithful as it's more commonly known). [That one's quite fun, I think, TISIAS; so much so that I tried to rekindle the flame here (failing, I think, although this snippet leaps out as fairly quotable:
To summarize [the "where like stars" verse] , the souls of the righteous, wearing haloes (in the manner of well-dressed saints everywhere, especially in Heaven) are positioned all around Himself, ready to jump to attention.

But Ding dong merrily on high has hitherto escaped my exegetical pen.

The first thing that strikes me is its structure – which is pretty neat. The first verse is about something happening in Heaven. The second verse draws a conclusion (E'en so) about what should, as a result, happen down here: let steeple bells be swungen. And the third verse goes into specifics, specifying what should happen at Prime...
I know, I know, this isn't a majority view. Still, it's what I think: Pray you Prime is a command about singing a particular office. An early editor, and ignoramus – a benighted heathen no doubt, who was not conversant with the format <utterance_word>+<office_name>, as in  for example "say Mass" – stuck a meaning-wrenching comma after you, making prime a ([n] improbable, it seems to me) verb.
... and at Matins; and then at the evetime song. In between. the praising etc. goes on, presumably.

But why sing io? There are people who sing /ɑɪ.əʊ/ (which led my correspondent to suspect a connection with Io). But the Oxford Book of Carols is insistent (to the extent of a footnote) that the pronunciation is "ee-oh"  (they don't trust readers with IPA symbols, but they must mean /i:.əʊ/).

Some years ago this question was raised in this forum,  As usual, comments should be weighed in the balance and some will be found wanting;  but they are fairly brief and not very numerous. There are many, often conflicting views:  
  1. "i-o" is a corruption of the Latin "in excelsis Deo"
  2. I-o is a contraction or corruption of "ideo," Latin for "therefore." The implied thought is "ideo... gloria in excelsis deo,".
  3. "io" is a Latin interjection (usually an exclamation of joy)
I imagine the truth is a mixture of the last two. (The first sounds to me like the distinctive blend of fanatically Christian sanctimoniousness and inventive improbability so familiar to survivors of a God-fearing education.) But monks in a scriptorium fought off RSI by abbreviating anything they could; and the pre-existing Latin interjection gave them an off-the-shelf solution.

So "io io io – hoorah" for the New Year.

  • Spooner‘s review of The Navy Lark: "acts without thinking". (6, 4, 3, 3)
  • And not herons either – je ne regrette rien (2. 7)
Update 2018. – Typo fix (peary => pearly) and fixed link.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Be'ind the harras

My attention to words that include the string *AR* has brought to my attention (not that it was ever totally unfocused, rather that I now have done a bit of relevant browsing  in dictionaries) a word (or group of associated words) that points to an ongoing change in pronunciation. And there is a coincidental surge in that word's frequency of use, starting with Harvey Weinstein  and ending (for the time being, though the boor is always with us) with Damian Green. No prizes for guessing that the mot du jour is  harass.

The dictionary I use for my daily grind (the Sisyphean sonorants book) is the Macmillan English Dictionary  (more by historical accident than for any actual preference. It is happy to recognize two stress patterns for this word, both with British English vowels and with American English vowels:

And the Cambridge English Dictionary is equally accommodating, although it gives only two audio examples:

And the two audio snippets are in line with the (mistaken)  view that stress on the second syllable is in some sense American: the "UK" one is is /'hærǝs/; the "US" one is /hǝ'ræs/.

The Oxford Dictionaries site goes one step further, favouring (in its order – which echoes the order that the Cambridge English Dictionary specifies for the US pronunciations) the version with iambic stress (dit-dah):

On the page that calls up a specifically US definition, the same site points to the move:

(Note that this is on the Amercan English site: the prejudice against the iambic stress is felt on both sides of the Atlantic.)

I remember a note in a VIth form text book that said that Shakespeare stressed the word aspect iambically.  I imagine this would be confirmed in David Crystal's The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation.

I wonder if that's the way harass is going (though in reverse: aspect => aspect, but harass => harass).

But we are in the twilight world in the midst of the change, so that in a single TV interview (which I can't track down right now, but which I heard yesterday, honest) the two stresses are both used: Kate Maltby says /'hærǝs/ while Laura Kuenssberg says /hǝ'ræs/.

But in the words of Tom Lehrer, Christmas time is here by golly. Gorra go.

PS: Some clues:
  • In disarray, she'll claim me a famous introduction. (4, 2, 7)
  • After Tom Jones, trifled (with emotions, perhaps). (7)

Monday, 11 December 2017

Far brighter than that gaudy...

LED luminaire. The little children's dower, in this case, is the traditional Christmas lights.

Traditional – there's a Christmassy word: trahe me post te, as the carol goes. I'm sure when people first used electric bulbs to light their trees, traditionalists mourned the gentler light of candles: to quote Gob (my one-time history master [introduced here] "semi-affectionately known as 'Gob' for reasons best known to his Maker (presumably not omniscient in matters of orthodontics)")
Be not the first
On whom the new is tried

Nor be the last
To cast the old aside

Maybe the quote isn't original, but I have always associated it with him.

Which is all very well. But LED lights, while environmentally more responsible than the incandescent Edisonian bulbs, and physically more efficient, are a bit too brash for my taste. I've lived with them for three days now, but I'm sure three weeks will test my patience to breaking point.

But my main focus at the moment – and the reason  for keeping this post shorter than usual – is Saturday's concert, which should be really good. At a time of year that's often characterized by wall-to-wall carols, a bit of Bach offers a welcome auditory oasis.

Music dotted with repeats, and with the normal two lines of text (one German and one English) becoming four (with the German even further from the notes than usual), though, calls for learning by heart  – which I must go and do now.

(Afterthought: And the text of the first line [when there's a repeat], is bound to become more familiar, through rehearsal, than the text of the second. So there's more than the usual risk of my resorting to mime. Here goes with that rote learning... :-)


Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Beating the retweet

A while ago I learnt an important lesson: Retweet in haste, repent at leisure.
When I was working as a research assistant on  the 3rd edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (or "ODQ3" as it was known to the cognoscenti), I found this oft-quoted tag [with "marry" as the first word, as here], with a typo in the Stevenson Home Book of <whatever>:  Marry in haste, repeat at leisure.
I blogged about it here. To give an idea of what I was regretting, here's the first para:
A few days ago, I saw and retweeted (from the hip – will I never learn?) this:

It's making a good point. Government priorities are wrong-headed in a way that in less socially pregnant contexts would be laughable.  Stopping tax avoidance and evasion is the LOW-HANGING FRUIT – easy wins for a Chancellor needing to save a billion or two.
But, although I approved of the message  I didn't endorse the medium – which used a misleading infographic.  That post examines how,

But freedom of speech does not imply the freedom to shout "Fire" in a crowded theatre (which was once illegal in the USA, but is now just wrong), or to spread fake news. Which leads me to the retweet [that's a rather long but well-researched BuzzFeed piece that goes into the Frankenstein's monster-like construction of a particularly noxious fiction] recently posted by Donald Oh-God-What-NOW? Trump. [Come to think of it, I should specify: he gave Britain First millions of dollars' worth of free publicity {he has 43.6 million Twitter followers} – on 29 November 2017;  by the time you read this, Heaven knows what else he may have done]. Here's a taste:
President Trump on Wednesday retweeted three anti-Muslim videos posted by the deputy leader of the far-right British political party Britain First — drawing criticism from Prime Minister Theresa May and dragging Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric back into the spotlight in the US.

At least one of the videos, which originated in the Netherlands, was debunked. It drew a rebuke from the embassy.

The videos, which Trump retweeted from Jayda Fransen, are captioned "Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!", "Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!", and "Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!"

"It is wrong for the president to have done this," a spokesperson for May said, amid universal condemnation from politicians and groups in both the UK and US.

Speaking of which I'm reminded of another notorious retweet, which started with a single instance of panic reflected in Olly Murs's tweet posted a few days before Trump's. The Daily Mirror reported it thus:

But the Mirror must have captured a tweet from that arch-spermologer ...
OK, this a rather creative reuse of a nearly-extinct word, once applied to that other spreader of news, St Paul.
....Olly Murs quite early in its life; it was retweeted nearly ten times that "507" (and while we're about it, you may feel a pang of regret at the decline of punctuation standards – as typed, that expletive greyed out by the Mirror has "everyone" as its direct object; not to mention the syntax-free (meaning-free?) "@Selfridges now gun shots".

L'Envoi [because I gotta go]

By retweeting something it seems to me that to some extent you are endorsing it. You are at least morally liable for any battle, murder, and sudden death arising.


PS And here are some clues:
  • Pale surround for good person – advocate. (9)
  • Minder with boundary issues commits libel (which can't be expunged). (9)

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Some thoughts

This rant has been bubbling away for a few weeks, ever since Priti Patel's "fulsome apology":

As so often after the breaking of an imagined "rule", this was followed by a Twitterstorm. These snapshots give a taste:

The BBC, to my relief, were a little more measured, allowing themselves a couple of diffident question marks.

(But they still used the loaded phrase "the official definition". For pity's sake, there ISN'T one )
In the #WATO programme that examined the issue  Martha Kearney exemplified this well-meaning misprision...
"Tee hee hee, doesn't he mean misapprehension?" hoot the monolexicopaths (OK, I did make that one up) "Misprision means 'wrong action, a failure on the part of authority, early 15c.' [Etymonline], and Ms Kearney certainly did nothing wrong." Well I have chosen to use it to mean failure to grasp (which, incidentally, I have just realized, may well underly Wilde's choice of name for Miss Prism).
 ... by saying that "you and I" as an object phrase is "incorrect" (and was quickly slapped down by Oliver Kamm). And Kamm, at  the beginning of the piece, responds to the ubiquitous official definition Shibboleth: "There is no central arbiter of what words mean, they are part of a social contract between the utterer and the hearer or the writer and the reader." Humpty-Dumpty was right (though on the extreme right, where misunderstandings are likely to occur).

One good thing that came out of the kerfuffle was this idea:

which was taken up the next day by Wayne Myers in this tweet (and youTube posting).

The British National Corpus, for what it's worth, records "fulsome apologies" as the 5th most common "fulsome + <noun>"  collocation; COCA has many more, but neither apology nor apologies. I wonder if this suggests that our Amerucan cousins are less tolerant of this usage....
Enough of the rant . Another thing that came of the Twitterstorm was my thinking more about -some words. Etymonline has this to say:

-some (1)

word-forming element used in making adjectives from nouns or adjectives (and sometimes verbs) and meaning "tending to; causing; to a considerable degree," from Old English -sum, identical with some, from PIE root *sem- (1) "one; as one, together with." Cognate with Old Frisian -sum, German -sam, Old Norse -samr; also related to same.

Nouns include these:
adventuresome, awesome, bothersome, burdensome, fearsome, frolicsome, handsome, mettlesome, nettlesome, noisome, quarrelsome, toothsome, troublesome, venturesome, winsome. 
The relationship between the noun and -some is not predictable (as often happens when words come together: crocodile shoes are made from part of a crocodile, but crocodile tears aren't). And the other thing that leaps out is that  they often hold fossils of words that no longer have a free-standing life in their own rite: what is a noi or a win? The Etymoline entries for noisome and winsome explain.

Adjectives include these:
darksome, fulsome, gladsome, lissome/lithesome,  lonesome, wearisome, wholesome/halesome
I put halesome on the end there as I first met this dialect word in a song I sang at primary school:

Buy ma caller herrin
They're bonny fish and halesome farin

Halesome is to wholesome as hale (now preserved chiefly in the phrase hale and hearty) is to whole. Health comes into it as well. Healing is making whole.
One site I visited to find this song introduces an interesting typo: halesome sarin . Sarin can be called many things, but halesome is not one of them.
I'm not sure why Etymonline includes verb as a parenthetical afterthought:  "element used in making adjectives from nouns or adjectives (and sometimes verbs)".
buxom, cumbersome, irksome, loathsome, meddlesome,  tiresome, worrisome
In any case "More or less any noun can be verbed" (as wossname said – Mark Twain?..); so my putting trouble-some among the nouns and worr[y]-some among the verbs is arbitrary.

Again, there are fossils: things don't cumber much nowadays (in fact I wasn't sure at first what part of speech it was). And in the case of buxom, some spelling changes have tried to cover its tracks. The first part of buxom shares its derivation with the bendy sort of bow; and indeed with elbow. It originally meant something like pliable. It would be neat to say that buxom simply means curvaceous, but that would be an oversimplification. To quote Etymonline:
The meaning progressed from "compliant, obliging," through "lively, jolly," "healthily plump, vigorous and attractive," to (in women, and perhaps influenced by lusty) "attractively plump, comely" (1580s). In Johnson [1755] the primary meaning still is "obedient, obsequious." It was used especially of women's figures from at least 1870s...
But enough of this. SOME things are beyond me.

PS: A couple of clues:
  • Top dog – a rapper detox, reformed. (4,8)
  • Measure up for inclusion in modification – tricky. (11)
Update: 2017.12.01 – Added PPS

Inspired by Etymonline's 'meaning "tending to; causing; to a considerable degree"' I started to make a Venn diagram showing overlapping shades of meaning (which could be seen as not fitting in with my opening rant –  only the meanings I'm toying with are more in a spirit of description rather than of proescription). But I'm not satisfied with the result: I ended up just chasing words from one category to another (and speculating on the usefulness or otherwise of a three-dimensional Venn diagram). Still, here it is:

Update: 2017.12.06 – Fixed typo (although proscription and prescription tend to go together in the same minds).