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Thread: Song of Songs

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    Default Song of Songs

    I'm interested in knowing which composers have set the Bible's own erotic poem, and in what ways.

    Monteverdi set some of its lines in his Marian Vespers, because of their traditional symbolic association with her.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUoCDUZCTtw

    Stravinsky, on the opposite side of the spectrum, used words from the same source for his first piece using a 12-tone row. Not terribly erotic...
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YeNiiPzJZs0

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    There's a great gospel setting of chapter 2 (?) called "The Rain Is Over and Gone." I forget the composer, alas. That one isn't as much about sex, but about standing together with one's partner in hope for a better world. I like it very much.
    Heather W. Reichgott, piano
    http://heatherwreichgott.blogspot.com

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    Palestrina set 29 of them for his Canticum Canticorum Salomonis, but I think he may have avoided the overly erotic ones.

    Some notes and listening samples here:

    http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/al.asp?al=CDH55095

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    What a timely thread—I was looking for some fresh compositional inspiration, and I think I found it! Something avante-garde would do nicely.

    I can see it now, fresh off the press..."Your Breasts Are Like Two Fawns" for sprechstimme, ondes Martenot, and tam-tam. I'll get to work right away!
    "Perhaps only genius really understand genius."
    – Robert Schumann

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    See this thread for some more by Tomás Luis de Victoria including Vadam et circuibo civitatem. There's a documentary on his work (thanks to @Winterreisender ) which includes some references to his use of the Song of Songs.
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Taggart View Post
    See this thread for some more by Tomás Luis de Victoria including Vadam et circuibo civitatem.
    Can't believe it! I just listened to Vadam et circuito civitatem and three other motets on the Herreweghe album, finished ten minutes ago! And I hardly ever listen to Victoria.


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    Quite a few groups have produced Song of Songs themed albums:

    Stile Antico - Song of Songs
    Les Voix Baroques - Canticum Canticorum
    Singer Pur - Das Hohelied der Liebe
    Laudibus Ensemble - Song of Songs
    Movimento - Lied der Liebe: The Song of Songs in German Baroque
    Orchestra of the Renaissance - Canticum Canticorum: Spanish polyphonic settings from the song of songs

    It's interesting how popular the text was with musicians in the renaissance and baroque but how it seemed to fall out of fashion after that only to have a revival amongst modern composers. A few big name composers to use some of the text include: Bruckner's motet Tota pulchra es, Vaughan Williams' suite for viola and wordless choir Flos Campi and Penderecki's disquieting Canticum Canticorum Salomonis.
    The soft complaining flute in dying notes discovers the woes of hopeless lovers.

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    In the Middle Ages, it was 'read' as a trope for Christ's Love for His Church (the Bride of Christ), so it's easy to see why it would last into the Renaissance and beyond, then fade as new ways of interpreting the Bible took hold, then re-emerge with a modern attitude to erotic art.
    ~ Mollie ~
    My fiddle my joy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mahlerian View Post
    I'm interested in knowing which composers have set the Bible's own erotic poem, and in what ways.
    http://www.grabinski-online.de/div/hoheslied.html

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ingenue View Post
    In the Middle Ages, it was 'read' as a trope for Christ's Love for His Church (the Bride of Christ), so it's easy to see why it would last into the Renaissance and beyond, then fade as new ways of interpreting the Bible took hold, then re-emerge with a modern attitude to erotic art.
    To be fair it usually works better as an allegory to the church. If you've ever thought to compare your loved one's hair to goats you'll probably realise that kind of thing doesn't go down so well.

    Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn,
    which came up from the washing;
    whereof every one bear twins,
    and none is barren among them.
    Here's another modern composer's take on the Song of Solomon, well kind of:

    The soft complaining flute in dying notes discovers the woes of hopeless lovers.

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    Someone already mentioned it, but Stile Antico's album "Song of Songs" is a collection of various renaissance composers' settings of the Song of Songs, and the album is very good.

    I agree that at some levels it works as an allegory of Christ's love for his church. But at some points, that allegory turns creepy when the author gets a little too excited about breast sizes. I don't know how it is handled in other churches, but in mine, there are not a great deal of scriptures cited from this book (actually, I have never heard it cited).

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    Senior Member Ingélou's Avatar
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    I know what you mean. In our church an antiphon makes its appearance at some point (Lent? Advent? - Taggart will tell me) and as it refers to imbibing the milk of consolation from Jerusalem's what-nots, you can see why it often gets missed out!
    Last edited by Ingélou; Oct-16-2013 at 15:20.
    ~ Mollie ~
    My fiddle my joy.

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    It's Laetare Sunday - fourth in Lent. It's called this after the Introit - "Laetare Jerusalem" ("O be joyful, Jerusalem"), (from Isaiah 66:10, masoretic text) . The full text is

    Laetare Jerusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam: gaudete cum laetitia, qui in tristitia fuistis: ut exsultetis,et satiemini ab uberibus consolationis vestrae. Laetatus sum in his quae dicta sunt mihi: in domum Domini ibimus.

    The modern Catholic liturgy no longer uses this an introit and the verse is used an an entrance antiphon - or rather not used (to avoid embarrassment).
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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    Krzysztof Penderecki wrote a Canticum Canticorum for chorus and orchestra.

    Also, don't forget Flos Campi by Vaughan Williams. One of his best compositions, I might add.

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    I'm partial to John Dunstable's setting:




    As tame as the music may sound, Dunstable seems to have been much more interested in the human rather than the divine interpretations of the text. Unlike other motets, Dunstable does not use arcane isorhythmic relationships as secret metaphors of the divine. Instead, he uses realistic rhythms (i.e. mimicking the correct pronunciation of human speech) on the humanist words: "dearest," "breasts," "come, my beloved," etc.

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