“Laudamus te”

from J.S. Bach’s B-minor Mass

This aria so beautifully sung,
Its obbligato part ethereal;
Such coloratura from one so young,
So evanescent, immaterial.
Her limpid voice would almost somersault,
While dancing back and forth in swift ascent
Until it seemed to reach the heavens’ vault
The very portals of the firmament.

But someone else was singing in the choir that day,
Our happiness Bach’s music might have sealed.
I cared for her far more than I could say,
With choral music our beloved field:
That lass at mass alas I said I’d wed,
She’d lief have read my requiem instead.

 

 

The Hebrides Overture

What Mendelssohn out of his head can wring
From nature’s chords, what crashing seas of sound!
With growling shag and rock-dove’s clopping wing,
The oystercatcher’s piping din. Thus bound
Transfixed did Ulysses hear sirens sing.
As Fingal’s Cave responds to laughing gull
So vast cathedral walls with echoes ring
To fill the vaulted cavern of his skull.

Can any artist’s medium acquaint
Us with those wild tempestuous seas so well?
Can written word evoke or seascape paint
The fury, find elsewhere some parallel?
He breathes with us the Hebridean air
And lingers, though his body isn’t there.

 

 

Handel’s Messiah: A Prayer

With “Soli Deo Gloria”, as found
Initialled on his score, does he restate
His pious self-effacement and relate
How zealous work will see His glory crowned.
Cathedral stalls and concert halls redound
To His acclaim, as Saul and Samson rate
With Solomon among the very great
To let an even greater work resound.

For God’s amanuensis was he sent,
This instrument of the Omnipotent.
His tympani, strings, hautboys and keyboard,
With clarions bright and solo voices scored,
His chorus praise Him in memoriam,
And Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.

 

 

Peter Hartley is a retired painting restorer. He was born in Liverpool and lives in Manchester, UK.


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29 Responses

  1. Leo Zoutewelle

    Peter, this was a major case of deep beauty – I can’t find enough words!
    I loved this. Thank you.
    Leo

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Leo – I really am pleased that you liked these little offerings. It helped me that I really liked what I was writing about. I hope to write a few more on a musical theme and will need to promise myself that they won’t all be about Handel.

      Reply
  2. Julian D. Woodruff

    Alas, excepting Messiah, cathedrals and smaller do not normally resound with the works of Handel, nor with those of his peers. Any Dufay, Josquin, even Bach (apart from certain organ works) has the air of a revival, while schlock from the 20th century, or sometimes the 19th, rules. (Any au contraires and signs of hope gladly received!)

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      All over Northern England of course even quite small churches still resound to Messiah and occasionally to some of the better known other oratorios (like Judas Maccabaeus, Samson and Israel in Egypt) from time to time, but Messiah is a perennial, usually around Christmas or Easter. I don’t know why. Many of his other oratorios are just as good, and Theodora was his own favourite. I have been able to sing the bass choral parts of the Creation, Elijah and three Elgar oratorios among others in a respectable choir without being able to read a line of music (the trick is to come in a picosecond after everyone else until you’ve learned it by heart). But you are right, earlier music (pre-Renaissance /early baroque) is difficult to come by in live performance, even by established greats like Palestrina and Monteverdi, outside London at least.

      Reply
  3. Margaret Coats

    Peter, three worthy contributions to the tradition of sonnets on music!

    Julian, my most recent sign of hope was June 11, 2020, Corpus Christi and First Communion Mass with Kyrie by Palestrina, Sanctus by Bach, and Agnus Dei adapted from Allegri, in addition to Gregorian chant. In the recent past, my choir has sung Ave Verum Corpus by Josquin. For what’s possible with online help, see ccwatershed.org The website is currently under reconstruction, but among rehearsal videos for each voice part in many polyphonic pieces, you’ll find Dufay’s Agnus Dei for Three Voices. And for good classical church music being composed right now, check out composer Kevin Allen. My favorite among his works is Ave Sacer Christi Sanguis. There is good news out there, but no easy way to find it until someone tips you off.

    Reply
  4. Joe Tessitore

    May I add my voice to those of Leo and Julian, and marvel at the line
    “That lass at mass alas I said I’d wed”?

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Joe – ingenious or a bit contrived? And has anything in the history of English literature since Beowulf ever compared with pudgy gluts or flabby babble? Nothing more in this world can ever be written.

      Reply
  5. James A. Tweedie

    I agree that Handel, being primarily a composer for the English court and secular audiences, is not often featured in church or cathedral performances (Messiah excepted). Although his organ works are occasionally included in recitals, and selected arias from oratorios often find their way into church concerts. He did compose a large selection of sacred anthems some of which are occasionally included in evensong services where there are choirs large enough to manage them. (His anthem from Zadok the Priest is sung at all British royal coronations, for example).

    Bach’s organ works are performed often in church settings, both postludes after worship and in concerts and recitals. His cantatas are more likely to be performed in churches on the Continent (particularly in Germany and the Netherlands) than in English ones. His b minor Mass and Christmas Cantata are rare treats and if any of you ever have a chance to attend one or the other (either in a church or concert hall) you must do so!

    The last time I was in Paris, I attended a concert in Notre Dame that featured, Charpentier, Josquin des Prez, Dufay, and other composers of the pre-Baroque French period.

    Mendelssohn composed a great deal of sacred Christian music (including a Te Deum and Gloria) and although his organ sonatas are a mainstay in church concerts and recitals I have not found his choral music to be performed much or if at all these days.

    Peter, I found your sonnets to be beautiful, captivating, and reflective of the experience I have also enjoyed in the music you describe. Just a year ago I was able to stand at the entrance to Fingal’s Cave on Staffa, the very place that inspired Mendelssohn to compose his Overture. As you say, his music captures his experience of that tour with vivid lyricism.

    Like yourself, I have sung in many choral concerts (but with the ability to read music perhaps a notch better than you!) but have never shared a love interest with another member of the choir! That certainly adds a new twist to the phrase, “Laudaumus Te” which means, of course, “We Adore You.” A sentiment that could, in a different context, be applied to the object of one’s affection as well as to the Lord!

    Thank you for inspiring me with your poems and by conjuring up so many treasured musical memories.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      James – The connection between the Laudamus te – We praise thee I think – and the (rather sinister, I believe now) soprano in the choir with me was intentional and, although a trifle profane in the context, was intended as a sharp dislocation, a jagged clash, an antithesis in the text of the poem after what has been said of that quite specific short passage of music in the octet, as this shadowy woman’s figure proved to be in real life. Ironic too for me for whom this mass is the best music Bach ever composed. Those composers whose works you heard in Paris ring loud (but sonorous) bells with me. 40 years ago when all the second-hand record shops were closing in Manchester I bought dozens and dozens of (mainly boxed) recordings of baroque, Renaissance and mediaeval music, all of which (bar a scratch in side 4 of Jephtha to match the rip in the side of Titanic) are in perfect condition, so I’ve got loads of music by Josquin des Pres, Machaut, Victoria, Charpentier, du Fay, Dunstaple, etc etc that I still listen to today. Oh, and btw, since my climbing accident all those years ago my singing voice sounds like a cross between those of a macaroni penguin and a whippet.

      Reply
      • James A. Tweedie

        Peter, As a bonus, I learned a new meaning for a familiar word, shag, insofar as it serves as a broad term for large, diving shorebirds. We have two species of cormorants where I live but as a USA West Coaster I have never heard the word “shag” used in this way before. Thanks for pulling me out of my bubble and expanding my vocabulary.

      • Peter Hartley

        James – Yes the shag is a very common bird in Scotland, far commoner than the cormorant to which it is closely related and to which it is almost identical and ( also a difference between a rook and a carrion crow) one has a green sheen and the other has a purple sheen. Their eggs are unique in Britain as far as I know for having a thick uneven chalky coating on the outside. I must say that neither the cormorant nor the shag is a very attractive bird but they are marginally more pulchritudinous than an Egyptian vulture.

      • Peter Hartley

        James – I forgot to thank you for the very kind remarks made about my three little poems. I am losing my manners I think. Beautiful, captivating, reflective of the experience you might say, and I will think, yes, that is EXACTLY what I am trying to do or to convey with those fewwords, they have said exactly what I wanted them to, and it is wonderful to receive affirmation or confirmation (or to occasionally have the brakes applied to one’s thinking) like this from kindred spirits: this is surely what the SCP is for. And people like you have taught me far more than you would know.

  6. C.B. Anderson

    Peter,

    All three sonnets were better than the comments on them, and some of the comments were quite good. So there!

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      CBA – comments on the comments on this site are likely to induce a positive maelstrom of pudgy gluts of the kind that had SJB carted off to the funny farm last Friday. The fulmar is often found in association with the shag in Scotland and it has the nasty habit of expectorating copiously over potentially acquisitive oologists. Fortunately another of its outstanding properties is its submersibility.

      Reply
  7. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Peter, what a tremendous trio of superlative sonnets with rich mellifluous language and not a pudgy glut of adjectives in sight! I particularly like “The Hebrides Overture” with its onomatopoeic crashing and clopping and all that wonderful imagery of the sea conjured up before me. I love the breathtakingly beautiful nod to Mendelssohn in the closing couplet.

    I first heard this piece of music as a seven year old at Mayplace County Primary School in Kent. The class sat with their arms folded on the desks and their heads resting on their arms listening to exactly what you have described. We then had to write about it. I couldn’t have given that magnificent piece the justice you have then, or now. Bravo, Mr. Hartley, bravo!

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Susan – Thank you for the kind remarks about my three little musical poems. I did try to send a poem about the mouth organ to Evan some time ago but I don’t think he considered that it fulfilled all the most exacti ng demands of philharmonic connoisseurship as, for example the Highland bagpipes would, and it was summarily rejected. The fascinating thing about the pudgy gluts is that neither word would induce a bilateral elevation of the suprapalpebral trichigerous integument, but taken together they just sound so completely improbable, as though they were both non-words…

      Reply
      • James A. Tweedie

        Peter, It is good to be acquainted with someone like yourself who never seems to be at a loss for words simply because he either makes them up as he goes along or because he has somehow managed to download the entire contents of the OED into the neuro-bio-mass ensconced in his cranial cavity.

        Sadly, your onslaught of loquacious verbosity has reduced me to writing limericks.

        There once was a suprapalpebral
        That trichigerously was in peril.
        Its integument drooped
        All because it was pooped
        From being struck by a Megabecquerel.

        I am hopeful that a good night’s sleep will help with my recovery. Ah . . . to sleep . . . perchance to dream . . .

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Peter, my eyebrows are in full elevation at the sad news of the rejection of your mouth organ offering. Although, in Evan’s defence, I would most certainly have chosen rats over the harmonica. Thank goodness you didn’t submit a pied piper verse – it may well have deprived your audience of your resplendent rendition on rodents.

  8. Peter Hartley

    James – I’ve addressed another comment to you further up this thread. I imagine a megabecquerel would be enough to give you a luminous nose – it sounds fairly big to me and I do like big words. I used to think a googol can’t be that big. After all it was only invented by a nine-year-old. It’s ten to the power of a hundred which again doesn’t sound that big until you’re told that the number of atoms in the known universe has been (roughly) worked out as ten to the eighty-three. And don’t get me going on googolplexes.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Susan – seriously, the “pudgy gluts” are one of the most felicitous pieces of assonance I have seen in a poem on this site, Both words so apposite in their context, so aphoristic, so apophthegmatic, so unusual with that rare “U” spelling for podgy. The combination is trenchant and succinct and full of pith.

      Reply
      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Peter, you certainly do have a wicked way with words. The way you elevate my “pudgy gluts” to realms beyond their worth would have any prideful poet swelling to the point of spontaneous ego combustion… but, methinks you are taking the pith. LOL

  9. Peter Hartley

    Susan, the two lines “With pudgy gluts of stodgy adjectives / in floods of flabby babble prone to drone” are quite enough to secure your place among the immortals, nay in the vanguard of the immortals. “To be or not to be”, the longest and greatest soliloquy in Shakespeare (so I’m assuming he was doing his best) is trite, trivial, commonplace, stale compared to this. I don’t care about him thinking of making his quietus with a bare bodkin, he could have injected at least a scintilla of humour into this parasuicidal rant. But no, totally humourless; we’ve had to wait another four hundred years (all due respect to Spenser, Ben Jonson, Donne, Milton and of course John Florio) before somebody comes along, a fully fledged genius with a brain like a Planck and the IQ of a John Stuart Mill – although genius doesn’t come anywhere near it. Not to put too fine a point on it, and trying to keep my language as firmly grounded as I can, your work is both earth-shattering and epoch-making, and in years to come collectors will be scouring the land for your juvenilia and paying megabucks for samples of your signature on school exercise books, wandering the groves of academe for echoes of your presence. I could go on. And on.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Peter, I am glowing with pride! Spontaneous ego combustion is strolling my swollen-headed way.

      Reply
  10. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    It’s all because I have a “brain like a Planck” – the wittiest simile I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading! I’m grinning so hard my cheeks hurt… your wit should come with a warning, Mr. Hartley.

    Reply
  11. Monty

    It was no surprise for me to find all three of your offerings to be beautifully written, Pete. What’s more: you certainly know and feel your subject, don’t you? Unlike you, I’m certainly no authority on classical music; but whilst reading your three pieces, I somehow felt like an aficionado just for a few minutes. I’m also indebted to you for introducing me to the word ‘oology’. When I first spotted it, I thought: ‘Surely he hasn’t forgot to put the ‘z’ at the beginning, has he?’ But, upon making further enquiries . . .

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Monty – Thank you for your kind comment which I’m afraid I hadn’t found until a few minutes ago. And yes, oology is an interesting word. The two Os are pronounced separately, a long O followed by a short o, viz O oll o gee. Unfortunately because most words containing two Os separately pronounced are literary words we never hear them spoken so we don’t know how to say them when we need to. Some time ago I heard a prominent member of the OED staff (frequently on the box pontificating) say “ZOO id” instead of “ZOH oid” for ZOOID, and she should certainly have known better, but then I also heard her say criteria as a singular noun. The battle has already been lost over “zoology” which is now universally pronounced as though it had three consecutive Os, ZOOology. Speaking of literary words I wonder how many people know that right up to the mid 70s the word vagary was pronounced to rhyme with canary. Again, though, the first is a literary word not often heard whereas the second is colloquial. Btw if you collect birds’ nests as opposed to birds’ eggs you are known as a caliologist – what a useless word to everybody who isn’t one. Thanks again, Monty, for your comment.

      Reply
  12. Monty

    So, let me get this right, Pete: with ‘oology’, the first ‘o’ is pronounced as we’d say ‘owe’; the second as the ‘o’ in ‘holiday’; and the third as ‘ugh’: thus owe-ogh-lugh-jee. Three o’s in a word: and each one pronounced differently. That’s quite a revelation. For anyone who’d never previously encountered that word, what chance would they stand of pronouncing it correctly? I know for a fact that I’d naturally pronounce it in a similar way that I would ‘eulogy’.

    Even the word ‘zoology’: if I’d never before seen that word, and tried to pronounce it as I saw it on the page, I’d naturally say ‘zoo-logy’. And I’m English! What chance does a foreigner stand who’s trying to learn our language?

    Yet more evidence of the deliciously-fascinating complexities of a language.

    Reply

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