When a singer welcomes a child into the family, there are many nights of baby-rocking that put to practical use the collection of lullabies learned for the recital stage. De Falla’s “Nana” was a song I had performed only once as a student at Tanglewood Music Center, but it reemerged from my long-term memory early on in the sleep-deprived search for good lullabies for our daughter. Unlike some songs that come and go, “Nana” has stuck around for nine years as a staple of the bedtime routine. My daughter now can sing it to me, with an uber-Spanish flair. De los Angeles floors me with her singing of this simple-sounding but devilishly difficult little song every time.
Repost from July 15, 2015
Yes, I’m well aware that no sound can be heard in the vacuum of space. Still, I am rather taken by the theory of Pythagoras known as the Harmony of the Spheres, in which he postulated that the sun, moon, and planets all emit their own unique hum based on their orbital revolution. If I could indeed hear the music of those spheres as they move through the heavens, for me it would be the celestial hum at the end of the first section of the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 by Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), Brazil’s preeminent composer of the 20th century. Although the Moon is the major actor at the heart of the Portuguese lyrics, it’s the hum at the end that transports me.
Performed by an ensemble of eight cellos and soprano, there are many interesting recordings to explore, starting with the first: recorded in 1945 (first section only), shortly after that section was written, with the composer as conductor accompanying Bidu Sayão. I’m partial to versions sung by, seemingly surprisingly (but perhaps not), Joan Baez (conducted by Maurice Abravanel) and Marni Nixon (conducted by Felix Slatkin). But the first version I heard many years ago remains the one I hear when I gaze heavenward: also with Villa-Lobos conducting, it features the radiant voice of Victoria de los Angeles. Critics may quibble about the conducting, but all agree that her singing is sublime. This recording, found below, includes both sections:  Ária (Cantilena) and  Dança (Martelo).
As for that heavenly hum, listen for it starting at about 4:55, continuing through 6:11. Pay special attention (and perhaps boost your volume just a tad) as it floats even higher into the heavens at 6:03.
Today’s pairing: two lullabies.
Sinead O’Connor: My Darling Child
All the dark and stormy Sinead stories aside, her voice is something exquisite—and I think never more so than on the album Universal Mother. This was her fourth album, and she dedicated it to her son who was 6 or 7 at the time. The album as a whole hit me hard when it came out more than 20 years ago—it’s an almost painfully beautiful account of motherhood (I remember giving it to my own mother, who had it on rotation in her car for years). Sinead’s voice is at its most bare and exposed, her Irish accent on display with those breathy t’s and r’s (how can a “t” be breathy? with Sinead they are). Rolling Stone described her voice on this album as “tissue-fragile.” Some songs have the famous Sinead rage, but most of all she whisper-sings her love for her child, and really for all children as they face growing up. The song “My Darling Child” is the most tender lullaby I’ve heard.
Traditional: El cant dels ocells
When I was a kid there were big FM radio stations that basically played rock, but gave their hosts a free rein to play long album cuts, obscurities, and even things that were definitely not rock. My local outlet was WMMS in Cleveland. One night, among the crickets of Cuyahoga Falls, I heard the strangest song, sung by the most beautiful voice. Full of mystery and longing, it spoke a language I did not know, and while I could not make out a word of it, it lingered in the memory. Then I heard the same tune sung by Joan Baez in a different, less alluring arrangement. Searches of record store bins yielded nothing, and eventually I gave up hope of ever finding the song.
Years later, I picked up a box set of CDs called The Fabulous Victoria de los Angeles, primarily for the exquisite Ravel and Debussy selections. I wasn’t so much interested in the Montsalvatge and Mompou, but on disk 2, among Three Traditional Folksongs, I found my treasure: “El cant dels ocells”. Little did I know this was a famous song, beloved of Pablo Casals, who played his version of it at the beginning of every recital after his exile. I had no idea that it was known by every Catalan or, for that matter, that it was a Christmas lullaby (otherwise I might have checked out the Joan Baez Christmas album!) But there it was, every bit as wonderful as I had remembered. One mystery remained: whose gorgeous arrangement was this? It is the work of Antonio Ros-Marba, who on this recording conducts the Patronato Orquestra Ciudad de Barcelona.
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