Sunday, 27 September 2015

Vivienne and Pamina's Lament - with apologies to Mozart

My apologies to Herr Mozart for meddling with his masterpiece. From The Magic Flute comes the aria 'Pamina's Lament'...but this time with a difference.
Pamina sings sadly about the love she thinks she's just lost. But she doesn't have to weep - Mozart masterfully ensures that the music does most of the weeping on her behalf. All she has to do is sing the notes he wrote.
But as I listened I began hearing counter-melodies in my head, so rashly decided to add a second voice, an alto, so Pamina wouldn't feel quite so alone and abandoned out there on stage. Her alto-ego, maybe?

Connect your device to a decent sound system or enclosed headphones, get a Kleenex, then click the orange PLAY button...

Yes, there are words - in English (my own adaption from the German). But you won't hear them on the recording bcoz Sibelius music software doesn't yet allow word recognition, only 'vocalise'. If you'd like to follow the words on the printed score , you can scroll through in this link, which will open conveniently in a new window. You can also download it free if you wish.

Everything in the music is pretty much as per Mozart's original, except of course for the Alto voice, so don't expect it to sound quite the same as your favourite Mozart CD. There are a couple of tiny inconsequential tweaks to the instruments. Oh yes, and I transposed it all down from g-minor to f-minor to help Pamina cope with that screechy high B-flat. Now it's a more manageable A-flat, still appropriately high as a scream of frustration and sadness. Yeah yeah, I know that Laments back in Mozart's day were supposed to be in g-minor, and that f-minor was traditionally a nasty key (slightly 'out-of-tune' to twenty-first century ears) which was generally reserved for heralding the imminent onstage appearance of witches and demons, not nice princesses and heroines like Pamina... But hey, we have to use Sibelius's default of equal temperament (even when using voices!), so the old conventional assumptions around mean-tone 'key-colour' don't really apply here. It's 2015.

With that in mind, I've slightly stretched Wolfgang's dissonance limits as well, but always in the interests of the music's pathos.  In bars 21, 25, and 30, the Alto's Ab intentionally strains against the G of the prevailing harmony. Its resolution is teasingly delayed - a perfect mini-metaphor for what the music is all about.

One comment on the many performances of this aria which I have heard. Most allow a broad vibrato to destroy the sensitivity of Mozart's harmonies. Sometimes the vibrato is so wide that it effectively negates the harmony - I'm never sure which note the performer is actually trying to sing. As the saying goes, "there is delight in singing, but none heareth besides the singer". Respect the harmony above all, and prefer to reserve vibrato mainly as an ornament towards the end of a note's envelope.

PS I had fun with another Lament, too. Have a listen to Vivienne and Dido's Lament (in a new window) and you'll also find out what happened to my poor old grandmama Vivienne, and why she teamed up with Ms. Dido. (Again, my apologies to Mr Purcell :) ...but he's like deadybones too, so he can't fight back, ho ho.

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