Today’s post is a bit late, mostly because I’ve been on leave and got engrossed in another project until very late last night… and then woke up late and headachey moving in slow motion this morning. Since part of this project has involved trolling through ten years of online journal posts, and I did turn up one or two amusing posts about music during my travels, and since I’m still feeling a bit under the weather today, I’m departing from my usual interpretation of the Friday theme, and posting something I wrote about six years ago about a piece of music we sang in choir which, shall we say, did not entirely meet with my approval. I hope you find it amusing.
…So, we are singing an anthem that we like to call The Mathias. Its actual name is “Let all the people praise you, O God”, and it was written for the wedding of Charles and Diana, back in 1981.
Frankly, I think this piece of alleged music explains a lot about what went wrong in that marriage. Don’t let the harmonious part at the beginning fool you. It’s all downhill from there.
The piece is… atonal. Though calling it atonal really fails to express the delights of a split alto-line that spends its entire time singing a tone or a semi-tone apart, generally with both of these tones in a different chord to everyone else. Ha! Everyone else indeed. While the other parts are less diabolical than this, the piece reminds me of that remark of Tom Lehrer’s about people singing school songs ‘each in his own key, of course’. According to Mathias, any chord that doesn’t contain at least 4 adjacent notes just isn’t a chord at all. The basic effect is that we’ve all learned that if our note actually harmonises with someone, it’s probably wrong.
We have learned to just sing whatever note you think it might be as confidently as you can, going up or down a semitone if you are actually in harmony with anyone. The audience will never know if we are wrong anyway.
In case I have been unclear, this piece of music is horrendous. Vile. Insane. An assault on the ears. An utter swine to sing.
It’s so bad that my Inner Perverse Alto loves it to bits and wants to inflict it on everybody out of sheer spite.
My original theory was that Matthias had just broken up with his girlfriend when he wrote this, and that she was an alto (the evidence suggests she was a second alto, in fact, since the first alto line is merely piglike whereas the second alto is a whole herd of swine). Then I heard the soprano line, and concluded that he was just feeling generally misogynistic. Hearing the tenor and bass parts, however, left me with the conclusion that he was just generally misanthropic that week. Maybe his girlfriend and his boyfriend found out about each other, and then ran off together?
That, or someone complained to him the week before about ‘one note alto lines’ and he snapped.
Or maybe he went deaf, like Beethoven, only with more crankiness (which I gather would be difficult, but there you have it)? I can just imagine him writing this, thinking “If I can’t hear anything, I’ll make everyone else *wish* they couldn’t!”
Or maybe he had been forced to play / listen to the bagpipes at an early age and it permanently warped his character?
There is definite evidence of pathology here, I’m sure of it. And now, we get to share in the madness…