Though with all that said, I have to say that music as an art form is thoroughly the equal of literature or visual arts. Further more there is such a close connection with so many concepts that dominate the heart of all of these works. I’ve talked a lot (probably too much) about Northrop Frye’s theories in our thread about “Book of Mercy” and I’ll refer to it here as well.
The whole texture of music so lends itself to the notion of levels of reality that one can’t help but notice how artists use these concepts to script and illustrate their particular visions. With music, one has the musical scale ranging from high to low, the instruments give their particular coloration to a work, the pace and rhythmic structure place the work in time and space and indicate a sort of placement that fixes a work and gives it a particularity with which one can, hopefully, identify.
Glass’s “Book of Longing” (BoL) begins with the prologue and it seems to me that it contains most of the themes both musically and poetically that are explored throughout this work.
Glass establishes a musical figure that is really not a true arpeggio but is a two note alternating theme. It is, like almost all of the work, in duple or 4/4 time-sort of like a march or a long walk. This is distinguished from much of Leonard’s work which is in triple time or 3/4 or some variation. Duple time seems much more like a progression-one can almost decern footfall after footfall leading from one point to another. Perhaps a bit like Monks marching as we’ve seen in some movies from Mount Baldy. And, indeed, Leonard’s opening poem seems to suggest a lifelong journey. One of the more curious aspects of Leonard’s poem is the transistion to female gender:
I’m not sure if the female gender refers to the animal, the angel, or some third entity. All this is portrayed in a minor key, with rapid accompaniment-that sounds portentous, establishing serious notes that would signal a major work.My animal howls
My angels upset
But I’m not allowed
A trace of regret
For someone will use
What I couldn’t be
My heart will be hers
She’ll step on the path
She’ll see what I mean
My will cut in half
And freedom between.
The next work, “I Came Down From The Mountain” starts, of course, with a line that establishes a serious Biblical reference that echoes Moses coming down from the mountain with the law. The line is delivered by the baritone/bass voice that I suspect is most associated with Leonard’s own voice. It also pauses to re-introduce a variation of the musical figure that sounds appropriately like a person descending down an incline. Then, at about the time that the lines:
A bell is introduced. This one is probably electronic from one of the keyboards but as the song progresses, a triangle is struck which recurs frequently. It reminds me of the bell struck that we hear in either one of the Stina interviews or the Armelle Brusq movie that calls the monks. We will hear this frequently in many parts of the work and it remains a strong part of the overall musical theme. I think we will also find the notion of sleep repeated often-probably as a symbol of changing realms.in the old cabin
where I had sat so long
and slept so little,
The next song, “A Sip of Wine” starts out in the same portenous manner, with the alto, Tara Hugo taking the lead. The opening words to this song are perhaps the most unpoetic, jarring lines that Leonard has ever written. And to hear a trained voice singing, “I tidied up the kitchenette...I’m back on boogie street” so adds to the contrast that if one wasn’t Leonard Cohen or Philip Glass who chose this particular poem one would question the credentials that placed them as lyricist and composer! I suspect that when the vocalists were practising, that these lines were used as a joke to poke fun at themselves and the work. Add to this that it is a very long song and one wonders how so much space could be used up by this. But gradually Tara sings, “Bewildered by your beauty there I kneeled to dry your feet” and the language begins to rise up out of this morass. Then suddenly, the most crucial moment of the first part takes place and the whole ensemble sings:
At this point the music soars, As a quick aside, when “Ten New Songs” came out, Marie used these lines in her email annnoucing the work because they are so beautiful and they speak so directly to what is at the heart of Leonard’s work. The early parts of the song resonate in the bass range with contra bass and English horn. It would be impossible to talk about the music without acknowledging the greatness of the poems. These lines, which introduce the theme of death or more properly disapperance, focus around the tale from Exodus how God “passed over” the homes of the Israelites who marked their doors with blood from the sacrificed lamb. Musically, at this point there is movement toward the treble clef by the chorus that seems to indicate a move from one realm to another. But the underlying bass is still present and predominent throughout the song. There is a musical interlude that changes the musical figure from a basic duple time structure to a synchopated phrase. This is a close as it gets to the 3/4 time signature that characterizes Leonard’s songs like “Dance Me To The End of Love” or “Take This Waltz.”So come my friends, be not afraid.
We are so lightly here.
It is in love that we are made;
in love we disappear.
Tho’ all the maps of blood and flesh
are posted on the door,
there’s no one who has told us yet
what Boogie Street is for.
Right after this song, Glass gives us the first extended instrumental break done in this case by the cellist, Wendy Sutter. The cello bridges the gap between the low range and the high range and the first part of the piece examines the lower registers. However, it ends with the cello reaching its highest range and just before the end, there is a distinctive dissonant note. (Another aside here-the visual aspects of Leonard’s drawings were, of course a very prominent part of the whole production-Lizzytych recounted how someone she spoke with remembered that there was a nude in a mastabatory posture during this interlude that would add additional meaning to this phase).
After this interlude, we get Leonard’s first light poem:
This reading, done in Leonard’s voice, serves as a bridge to those higher transcendental realms, but includes the elements of comedy that so often characterize Leonard’s work.The Paris sky is
blue and bright
I want to fly
with all my might
Her legs are long
Her heart is high
The chains are strong
but so am I
This is followed by “The Light Came Through The Window” which in many ways is the first dramatic climax of the work. We have certainly reached the upper levels symbolized by the use of the higher range instruments like the flute. The first introduction of the key phrase,
is sung by the soprano, Dominique Plaisant. It is then echoed, later in the piece by the bass/baritorne, Daniel Keeling. The music is ethereal and signals a breakthrough from the narrative voice of the poet. The poem is so key to an understanding of Leonard’s work that I would like to add something that I’ve recently read that I think says in a different way, what Leonard is saying in this great poem. It is from “Returning to Earth,” a novel by Jim Harrison about the protagonist, Donald, who is part Indian and part Finnish descent, and is dying of Lou Gerhig’s disease; it is written in Donald’s voice:I’ll try to say a little more
Love went on and on
Until it reached an open door
Then love itself was gone
So Leonard the poet, tries to tell us a little more about these so private experiences that one needs to go to the mountain to learn about. And the music is appropriately ambiguous, mixed with luscious overtones and atonal dissonance.I could hold a ninety pound corner block out straight and now I can scarcely hold my arm out. These things happen to people but some days it can be hard to handle. So this morning my reality broke down and I wasn’t sure of anything. Just before I got sick I finally made a three day fast, which I’d failed to do four times before I succeeded. What you do is go up into Ontario to a certain mountainside and spend three days without food, shelter or water. I’m not going to talk about my religion because it’s too private. Maybe a little. There’s another hillside from which you can see Lake Superior where I’m going to be buried. You can’t think of a thing that lives that’s not going to die. I had hoped in these three days to find out how I was going to get rid of my fears and how to grow older with grace. I found out in a hurry! Here I am on my way.
Next comes a complete divergence in both rhythm, tone and philosophy-”Puppet Time.” After the transcendental passages of the last piece, this song shocks us back to another realm. With heavy percussion, strident tempo and interludes that re-enforce the strong arpeggio structure of the song, “Puppet Time” serves as a sonic wake up call in the midst of this work. Despite its powerful delivery, it seems to somehow let eveyone off the hook. “Puppet Germans, puppet Jews” and its reference to the Holocaust seems to reduce the sense of personal responsibility. The last two stanzas:
is delivered in a slower more sedate voice by the tenor, Will Erat. Taking the wife to bed might be the antidote and the epilogue to puppet day.Puppet reader
shakes his head
takes his puppet
wife to bed
comes down to say
the epilogue to
The next song, “G-d Opened My Eyes” has become my favorite song on the first cd. The lovely music of the strings with the English horn playing counterpoint along with the light hearted but insightful lyrics is wonderful. The imagery reverts back to so much of Leonard’s earlier work-most especially the line “and the merest foothills of her small breasts” to his line from Spice Box of Earth: "Beneath my hands / your small breasts / are the upturned bellies / of breathing fallen sparrows" but seen repeated in multiple image in the mirrors of the restaurant. All of the imagery is spacial and the line “turned me like a spindle” along with the music is extraordinary. I love the culmination of the association of the ruler of the world (G-d, perhaps) and the waitress who calls him, “Honey..”
Then there is the brief spoken word piece:
which we are not sure to whom it is addressed and it is this peculiar ambiguity that lends it its charm.You go your way
I’ll go your way too
This is followed by another tour de force poem, “I Was Doing Something.” The song is divided musically into three parts-the first part is done as a choral with the soprano, tenor and bass singing mostly about an uncertainty that the narrator can’t quite place:
This dramatic narration that moves indistinctly toward fear and grief and mentions a vast memorial mirrors the fears that live in the hearts of the human race. As this section ends, there is a musical interlude that includes beautiful string sections with an underlying structure that at one point includes three beats, then four.I was doing something
I don’t remember what
I was standing in a place
I don’t remember where
I was waiting for someone
but I don’t remember who
it was before or it was after
I don’t remember when
And suddenly or gradually
I was removed. I was taken
to this place of reversal
and I was separated
and in the place of every part
there was the name of fear
and for a vast memorial
there was the name of grief
The next section is sung by the soprano in a very beautiful fashion:
I don’t know a lot about Kabbalism but I suspect that Doron could highlight some of these passages. My only comments aside from the lushness of the musical arrangement at this point, is that the antidote to fear and grief seems to come with the prayer that needs to be spoken in a particular manner-and firmly. I don’t know what is meant by an “orchard of return” but it seems a beautiful concept.If you know the prayer
for one who has been so dislocated
please say it or sing it
and if there is among the words
an empty space or among the letters
an orchard of return
please say my name firmly there
with a voice or hand
which only you command
you righteous ones
who are concerned with such matters
There is then another musical interlude with a strong bass line and the return of another variation of the predominant musical figure that seems to charge now rather than simply walk.
When the soprano sings “where the angels stand upside down and everything is covered with dust” there is a beautiful mix of dissonance and melody. I’m sure that it is classic Glass moment. And look how this harkens back to “The light came through the window” where even the dust is busy in the sunlight. But the poet adds those last two lines about shame and the permission to cry out that returns us again to this world, this realm. The bass is very strong in this section.But hurry please
for all the parts of me
that gathered briefly around this plea
are dispersed again
and scattered on the Other Side
where the angels stand upside down
and everything is covered with dust
and everyone burns with shame
and no one is allowed to cry out
I’m going to stop here for now and I’ll continue within a few days.