Cole Porter – So In Love by Michael Patterson
Being both lyricist and composer is a unique quality that Cole Porter shares with
a handful of other songwriters. Irving Berlin and Jimmy Webb, Paul Simon and Stephen Sondheim, are other singular talents that belong to this literary/musical society.
Porter’s lyrics are brilliant to be sure. At times they can favor a sophisticated “Eastside” sensibility of politeness and wit, which, during that period, was much in vogue with his crowd. Adopting this less direct approach his lyrics deflect over sentimentality. However Porter can also be quite straightforward and emotional when he wants to be. Consider the lyric of “So In Love” from the musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of The Shrew,
“Kiss Me Kate.”
The opening lyric is poetic, thoughtful and dreamy at first:
Strange dear, but true, dear
When I’m close to you, dear
The stars fill the sky
So in love with you am I
but later, and surprisingly so,the final verse becomes immediately direct, and even strident. It is the mark of a well constructed musical theater song that Porter saves the intense emotion for the final verse bringing the musico-dramatic development to its highest point. Porter, simply put, gives the song somewhere to go by saving this for the end.
So taunt me and hurt me
Deceive me, desert me
I’m yours ’til I die
So in love
So in love
So in love with you, my love, am I
To exhibit real control over lyric content is to show sheer mastery in the art song form. This is an example of Porter’s extraordinary lyrical intelligence being used in
artful service to music, thought and emotion.
The method or word painting techniques used, or “how” both elements,
music and lyric, are integrated and support each other, is also worth a look.
What occurs when the listener finds himself in Porter’s world, sometimes through a magical turn of phrase is something the singer will always consider when interpreting the lyric. In Porter’s case, choice is everything. And musical thought and imagery always seem to line up and, being carefully combined, create a unique musical expression.
One brief example which illustrates this premise, is how the opening lyric of the
song Night and Day, “Night And Day,” is sung in ,using musical -theoretical
terms, the region of the dominant, flat VI to V7. And then when the music is resolved to the tonic I chord an answering phrase is sung, in affirmation, “You Are The One.”
This delay on the dominant region and resolution to the tonic illustrates, with
a extreme level of skill and artfulness, the basic compositional principle of tension and release.
Alec Wilder’s succinct and thoughtful twenty-nine pages in the book, ”American Popular Song The Great Innovators 1900-1950”, a truly distinctive book, is possibly the only resource an inquisitive reader would need to procure passage into the stylized, and sophisticated world of Cole Porter. Using a composer’s instinct and analytical skills, Wilder’s short essay illuminates Porter’s harmonic and melodic innovations,
and provides insight into his lyrical genius.
To quote Wilder,” The story goes that when Porter played this song for Max Dreyfus
of Harms Music, he received an unenthusiastic reaction due to the bass notes beneath the melody at its opening. The resulting dissonance convinced Dreyfus that it would prejudice the audience. These bass notes are daring and highly unusual, but if you look at the closing measures of the verse, (read intro), you can see how the c flat in the bass against the melody was inevitable.”
Another way of looking at the overall effect achieved through word painting, one could suggest that the lyric “Day” resolves twice- once from flat VI and once again on the dominant. Both can be considered brief harmonic stopping points, or temporary way stations. It is interesting and important to note both chords and words occur in the dominant region. This is, to use an older term, word painting at its apex. A simple lyric set in a subtle and musically ingenious manner has become suggestive, provocative and romantic. Both have achieved that rare quality of becoming inseparable.
In closing I would like to defer to Alec Wilder’s collection of essays: “ …no one can deny that Porter added a certain theatrical elegance, as well as interest and sophistication, wit and musical complexity to the popular song form. And for this we are deeply indebted.” And I might add, so very grateful!
Michael Patterson – Nov. 25, 2016
You might find this essay interesting. It is from George Rochberg’s The Aesthetics of Survival-A Composers View of Twentieth Century Music.
“A long time ago I wrote about what I called “moral presence”. Moral in the sense I mean it is the true, that which is incontrovertibly the hidden reality of all that is, the essence and suchness of things. Moral presence is hard won in modern art- though it is there before us in every flower, in every animal (the gentle and ferocious), in every tree and blade of grass. It literally saturates the universe. Human consciousness is too distracted to be aware of it. That’s why … The Buddihists speak of quieting the mind. Only by the effort of inner seeing and inner hearing does moral presence bloom into consciousness. It is almost impossible to discover in this age; though it is there in a Bartok and ocassionally flashes through a Schoenberg, but rarely-in fact almost never- in my contemporaries. They are too distracted with superfluities and superficialities. (1985)
“Through color sensation alone, virtually without the agency of shape we become absorbed into the experience of vision.”- Feldman
The statement above, made by E.Burke Feldman in reference to an abstract painting by Mark Rothko titled Earth and Green, could be analogous to the listeners aural experience when listening to Schoenberg’s “Summer Morning By A Lake”, (Farben), from The Five Pieces for Orchestra, op.16.
In the case of the Rothko painting the eye tends to go with sensation of intensely defined and undefined colors accompanied with blurred, burnished, lines of forgiving demarcation. In the Schoenberg composition the ear follows the subtle orchestral shifts in color handled masterfully by Schoenberg. His choices draw our ears to the colors. The colors open and breathe. They are both intense, and subtle. Defined and undefined. There is a perceivable rhythmic pulse supporting these subtle shifts in color. This rhythmic feature adds stability. The colors blend, separate, recombine and emerge anew. Klangfarbenmelodie in this sense can be perceived as being, aurally, similar to gradations of color that we notice in the Rothko. We become absorbed into the color and the sound. The subtlety intrigues and teases. And it is sustainable.
In composing a piece based on color we could approach it in many ways:
treat color as a process
create special timbral combinations
Are these all approaches to composing using color..
Where is the strength of melody..and how do you create contrast if everything is fused, is it not making something too amorphous, can there be unifying definition through orchestral color that takes on the role formerly reserved for melody
“Quality is acheiving or reaching for the highest standard as against being satisfied with the sloppy or fraudulent. It is honesty of purpose as against catering to cheap or sensational sentiment. it does not allow compromise with the second rate”.
This quote is from The Decline of Quality, by author Barbara W. Tuchman (from an article from NY Times Magazine, Nov.2,1980)
“The arts are not simply skills: Their concern is the intellectual, and spiritual maturity of human life…the arts have become the custodians of those values which most worthily define humanity…” Robert Shaw, conductor
I often reflect that discipline does not, in itself, change us. However I believe it can be said that it does provide a behavioral frame inside of which we can make critical and significant changes in our thoughts and ideas. If we are sensitive to, and act on, our best impulses. DIscipline=limits=clarity=focus on specifics=challange to create within a structure=ability to think in detail. And within a frame, or gestalt, through disciplied thought and action we can encourage or enable and watch the best ideas grow and take organic “qualities’ or properties.They become more multi-dimensional/ layered. They can become real ideas. Here is a quote from composer George Rochberg which adresses the issue of refining and distilling our thoughts and creative ideas -“grapple with the elements in a meaningful manner, then it,(the composition), will have force and spirit”. – Rochberg
More on Tempering the Work…
Composing at its best is a judicious blend of instinct and intellect. Emotion tempered with reason. A great work, I believe, is made out of a combination of obedience and liberty. Such a work satisfies the mind, together with that curious thing which is the artistic emotion. Stravinsky said,”if I were permitted everything, I would be lost in the abyss of liberty”. On the one hand he knew his limits, on the other he ceaselessly extended them. – Nadia Boulanger
And Then on Process…
“There are two modes of acquiring knowledge, namely by reasoning and experience. Reasoning draws a conclusion and makes us grant the conclusion, but does not make the conclusion certain, nor does it remove the doubt so that the mind may rest on the intuition of truth, unless the mind discovers it by the path of experience” Roger Bacon-1526-1626 English Philosopher
Perhaps the composers frame or sequence of creative thought, as he chases the elusive muse, could go something like this: Imagine, Reason, Calculate, Execute and Evaluate: repeat- buy coffee- repeat.
paragraph from a ND article titled “How To Write”
The written object comes under the laws of all created things involving a choice and once a choice has been made there must be an exercise of the will to back it.One goes forward carefully. But the first step must not be to make what has been written under a quasi-hallucinatory state conform to the rules. What rules? Rather the writing should be carefully examined for the new and the extraordinary and nothing rejected without clear reason. For in this way the intelligence itself is corrected.
Labels: If you wish to understand the invisible look carefully at the visible. from the Talmud
The image that Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra (1954) evokes in my mind, as I listen, is similar to one I envison when I listen to Bartok’s heartfelt and powerful Concerto (1944). Inspired and somehow cut of the same cloth, which is my immediate impression, they both communicate something primary to the human condition. Home, heart, memory and the passage of time, love, learning, loss and longing, friendships, and family. Those things paradoxically certain and also inexpressible are in the psyce of everyman. They color the memory of a time now past. A way of thinking once forgotten but now remembered through sound.-MP
“I AM OFTEN INCLUDED AMONG THE AVANT-GARDE AND THIS GIVES ME PLEASURE. BUT ON REFLECTION THE PLEASURE IS SOMEWHAT SUPERFICIAL” -Lutoslawski
While Lutoslawski has made important contributions to the development of modern music, particularly in the domains of post-tonal, twelve-note sonorities and rhythmic textures based on “limited aleatorism”, he has consistently looked to the masters of the symphonic era, such as Haydn, Beethoven and Brahms, for his understanding of large-scale closed forms.
(from “Considerations of Symphonic Form in the Music of Lutoslawski” by James Harley)
“Throughout the Stalinist period, as he occupied himself with functional music, Lutoslawski made frequent use of Polish folk music. Such modally rooted material is featured prominently throughout the Concerto. In addition, the relatively simple harmonic language and the restricted density of contrapuntal textures ensures widespread accessibility”.
(from “Considerations of Symphonic Form in the Music of Lutoslawski” by James Harley)