Monday, 29 June 2015

Go outside and look now

Look towards the sunset right now and just above the roofline of a house as far away as the other side of a car park there are Venus (big) and Jupiter very close together (small, higher, to the left - or lower and to the right, if you are in the Southern Hemisphere - no, wait - it seems like that should work but I am not sure there is anywhere you could actually see them from). My binoculars are not achromatic, and my eyes are not perfect either, but in the twilight I can see one, maybe two moons of Jupiter; and convince myself that Venus is a fat crescent, like the lady in Midsummer Night's Dream, with her belly toward the Sun.


    Set your heart at rest:
    The fairy land buys not the child of me.
    His mother was a votaress of my order:
    And, in the spiced Indian air, by night,
    Full often hath she gossip'd by my side,
    And sat with me on Neptune's yellow sands,
    Marking the embarked traders on the flood,
    When we have laugh'd to see the sails conceive
    And grow big-bellied with the wanton wind;
    Which she, with pretty and with swimming gait
    Following,--her womb then rich with my young squire,--
    Would imitate, and sail upon the land,
    To fetch me trifles, and return again,
    As from a voyage, rich with merchandise.
    But she, being mortal, of that boy did die;
    And for her sake do I rear up her boy,
    And for her sake I will not part with him.

A passage the context of which had made little impression on me as a youngster. The speech was much stronger when I looked it up just now, compared to what I remembered.

Update: most readers will have missed that because it took me so long to fix the formatting, but the bright thing at at 3 o'clock from the Moon right now (or 9 o'clock if you are the other way up) is Saturn, and in my binoculars it is an oval blob, not a circular blob like Jupiter is.

Monday, 22 June 2015

58, crore, and 27

This is brilliant. I've known about crores and lakhs since about 2001, although I always have to look up what they are (one lakh is a hundred thousand, written "1,00,000"; one crore is a hundred hundred thousand - or ten thousand thousand, or ten million, written "1,00,00,000"). If you don't know them already, you will meet them a lot if you start reading articles about bribery and corruption in cricket. But this video gets way better than that. My favourite part:

"and I think that's one of the best things about linguistics, about being human, about all of this, someone on the other side of the world, something that they will consider absolutely normal, will completely blow your mind".

Sunday, 7 June 2015

The Travels of Tuneage - Dark Eyes

It appears that the words of the song known as "Dark Eyes" were written by a Ukranian poet called Yevhen Pavlovych Hrebinka, who published a Russian version in 1843, possibly as a compliment to the woman he later married. It was then set - it doesn't seem clear by whom or when - to a waltz written, probably in Russia, perhaps as early as the 1810s, by a German (or possibly French) composer called Florian or Feodor Hermann.

First, here's the playlist link for this post, in case you want to open it in another window and just let it play.

The title of this waltz is given by Wikipedia and others in French as "valse hommage", but this pianist, Alexander Zlatkovski of Alaska,  calls it "Recollection", which seems to me like a reasonable translation. His research has found one account saying it started out as a march and was changed to a waltz by the composer, which is interesting in relation to what happens later, although he's not at all convinced.

The result - perhaps with a minor rewrite adding some gloomier words, since Hrebinka and the young lady seem to have got on fine - was the song popularised by the Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin. The title Очи чёрные is written in several ways in Roman letters, but most often as "ochi chornye". A similar version is played by violinist Albert Sandler in this Pathé clip (not on the Youtube playlist).

At about the same time - 1915 to 1920 - it seems to have been rewritten with English words by an British Italian composer, Adalgiso Ferraris. He made one big change; the rhythm. Here's Al Bowlly singing. Rhythmically and melodically, and minus the over-drastic changes of speed towards the end, this would be a sweet tango, a bit like Rafael Canaro's French ones. It doesn't have enough oomph for me, and it's too dominated by the vocalist, but it's quite nice.

Ferraris is also the credited on this '78 by Harry Parry and his radio sextet; but they're taking it in a totally different direction, dancewise.

Toto, I don't think we are waltzing any more.

Nor, apparently, did Louis Armstrong, or his percussionist:

That's the one that started me making this little collection, when Deborah Segantini posted it on Facebook.

 So, we get lots of different versions, each artist adding their own riffs to complement the simple and memorable tune.

Django Reinhardt called it "Les Yeux Noirs".

This French movie version of Les Yeux Noirs, is a waltz again, with accordion. But only until the end of the vocal line. Then it changes at 1:50 and goes for the 'gypsy' sound.

This bombastic performance by the Red Army Choir does the same thing. Eventually.

There's also a German waltz version which seems to be just a translation - Schwartze Augen - of Chaliapin's hit, and, in my opinion, need not detain us, not even on the playlist. I far prefer the drunk-sounding jazz one from the soundtrack of Das Boot.

Chet Atkins' version follows Les Yeux Noirs in starting out as a waltz and then changing after the first minute and doing something else.

I can't really compare all these very different styles of music. But of all the ways this melody gets extended and enhanced, I think Francisco Canaro's B-tune in Ojos Negros is exceptionally good. Instead of brilliant variations on the tune and rhythm, this beautiful tango - with Roberto Maida singing the Spanish words - adds a second melody the equal of the first. As far as I know, the second melody is original to this piece - if anyone knows otherwise, do put it in the comments.

Now, let's meet a totally different sound world. This one was written in Sundanese (the language of the western part of Java) by an Indonesian composer Ismael Marzuki in honour of his wife, who was from round there.

It actually reminds me, a bit, of the more lyrical kizombas (kizomba is the "angolan tango" that I sometimes play at work to drown my colleagues' wittering - check it out on YouTube. It varies a lot).

 Panon Hideung comes in a Karaoke version, with dancing. Go on, click.

You may already be wondering what this song is called in Japanese.

It's called Dark Eyes. The title is written 黒い瞳 and pronounced Kuroi Hitomi. Embedding is disabled on this version by popular 50's crooner Frank Nagai, whose singing I must say is lovely. I thought I had the wrong thing at first, but then realised it does the reverse of what Canaro does: the words have their own, different melody, and Dark Eyes doesn't come in till 1:38, with the instrumental section. There's a very regular ballroom tango beat.

Once you know how to copy/paste the title, you can quickly find versions with the "Dark Eyes" melody sung. Here's a Karaoke one. I notice "J. Iglesias" is mentioned in the opening credits. Investigating Julio Iglesias' involvement with this particular tune is left as an exercise for the reader. there are probably lots more directions we could go in.

I will sign off for the night, however, with this indescribably sweet Japanese choral take. It's a waltz to begin with, then changes, like Les Yeux Noirs. It seems a lot of mid-twentieth-century French songs have versions in Japanese, and that may well be where this came from.

Special thanks go to Deborah Segantini for the idea and to Hidemi Asano for her Japanese research.