Tuesday, January 31, 2006

No, it was Latin

I'm a fan of WCPE's "Great Sacred Music", hosted by a gently-spoken announcer, Ken Hoover. Considering how much music which is truly great was composed for religious purposes, I find it sadly indicative of the thinking of one part of the local audience that GSM gets strong criticism for its religious content. Hoover's on-air comments are always very broad and ecumenical, his programming has included selections for Jewish holidays as well as Christian, and I have to wonder if these listeners' censure would extend to keeping Bach, Palestrina, Vivaldi, and much of other composers off the air.

In fact, GSM has included some pieces which I'd only call "sacred" in the sense that the earth is the Lord's and all that it contains. A recent show opened with the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor; okay, Bach was a church composer, I guess that counts. A couple of works later, we got Karl Orff's opening to Carmina Burana, the same one popularized by Sean Hannity's opening theme. The only thing "sacred" I see there is the manuscripts which inspired Orff were found in a monastery. Maybe it represents the viewpoints of another "sacred" tradition peopled by worldly monks, I don't know -- the whole work is full of drinking songs, amour , gambling, and other subjects you don't expect among Dominicans or whatever they were. It's an explosive, belligerent piece of music, and takes lungs of leather whether you're in the choir or the orchestra.

I had two of the boys in the car and I was explaining that this movement was called "O Fortuna" (as bellowed by the chorus in the first measure) but I didn't elaborate on the title, going into the provenance of the work instead. After a time, Matthew, 10, started to giggle a bit. He said he didn't understand the title's significance, and I told him it was a lament about bad luck, something along the lines of "O Fortune! Variable as the moon …"

"Oh!" he said with relief, breaking up entirely. "I thought they were singing, 'Oh, for tuna!'" Apparently he had been trying without success to understand the connection between fish and this dramatic music …

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