23 November 2008

European symphony vs. Andalusian muwashshah


(Excerpt from 'Lamma Bada Yatathanna/ Symphony No. 40'. This 50-second clip is only intended as demonstration, not meant to infringe copyright.)

A couple of weeks ago I found Mozart In Egypt, a 1997 Virgin Classics album, created by the French musician Hughes De Courson, fusing Mozart's classical work and Arabic tradition in Egypt into an interesting auditory compound.

The album gained a mixed reception.

Contributing to Customer Review on amazon.com, a doctoral student in composition from Oxford University argues that Mozart In Egypt is just an exquisite example of the omnipresent postmodern phenomenon, that is, 'blurred realities and imposed mixtures of different cultural aesthetics'.

In this reviewer's opinion, De Courson's intention to marry Western functional tonality and diatonic harmonies with Arabic extemporaneous ornamentation and linear flows based on the maqam system represents 'mass-produced and degraded trivialisations of true artistic and cultural statements'.

Contrastingly, on the same Customer Review page, a linguistics professor from Université Paris Panthéon Sorbonne acclaims the album as 'sound-senstional' and commented that Mozart's music is successfully blended with Egyptian music. Traditional Arab instruments offer those from the western classical tradition a new depth, and through the voice of the Orient 'Mozart's music is regenerated and ressuscitated out of its classic texture and harmony.'

I don't really want to comment on, or review, what I have heard. After all, an experimental or fusion album of this kind tends to elicit criticism, in which deprecators condemn the oversimplification and dumbing down of two musical cultures, as well as invites praise, in which advocates applaud for the merge of two different worlds and new aural experience it generates.

What captivates me in this album is the third track, which neatly brings together Mozart's 'Symphony No. 40' and 'When She Begins To Sway' (لما بدا يتثنى Lamma bada yatathanna), an old famous Arab song from Moorish Spain.

Listen to the audio excerpt above and pay close attention to how a European symphony turns into an Andalusian Muwashshah. It's entertaining.

13 November 2008

'Man On The Flying Trapeze' vs. 'On The Swing'

(It Happened One Night, 1934)

Following the previous post on 'Build Up A Home', here comes another case: Li Jinhui's 'On The Swing' (鞦韆架上 Qiuqianjia shang) and the nineteenth-century popular song 'The Man On The Flying Trapeze'.

'The Man On The Flying Trapeze', also known as 'The Daring Young Man On The Flying Trapeze', is a song about a real figure, the French acrobat and flying trapeze performer Jules Léotard. It was composed by Gaston Lyle, with lyrics by the English music hall singer George Leybourne.

For some historical accounts of this song, please visit The Word on the Street from National Library of Scotland, by which an original copy of the broadsheet is collected. Click the picture on the right to read lyrics, or rather the story of Jules Léotard.

Now listen to the Chinese 'On The Trapeze' by Ying Yin (英茵), a singer-actress from the 1930s, and follow the lyrics if by any chance you read Chinese. I believe 'On The Swing' was obviously adapted from 'The Man On The Flying Trapeze'.



你先別管誰麻煩後兒愛梳 (not sure about this line)


他飄在天堂X樂洋洋 (one character unintelligible)

08 November 2008

'Build A Little Home' with Chinese lyrics

(Eddie Cantor, Roman Scandals, 1933)

Build A Little Home
Lyrics: Al Dubin
Music: Harry Warren

We'll always have a roof above us as long as there's a sky.
And if we have someone to love us, we're sure of getting by.
We don't need a lot of log and stone.
Build a home on happiness alone.

With a million little stars, we can decorate the ceiling
With an optimistic feeling when we build a little home.
Ev'ry single little dream is a shingle or a rafter.
We can paint the house with laughter when we build a little home.
It's not a palace nor a poor house, but the rent is absolutely free.
This is my house, but it's your house if you'll come and live with me.
With a carpet on the floor made of buttercups and clover,
All our troubles will be over when we build a little home.

*     *     *

Due to the word or page limit for the thesis, or the time limit for the presentation of the thesis, PhD students sometimes may have to edit out several sections, or even chapters, to observe the size restriction, or leave unsolved issues in abeyance in order to submit in time. However, sometimes they may wish they had discovered something and wrote it down in the theses.

I have been misled by old Shanghai songbooks and magazines for umpteen years to believe that the old Shanghai song 'A Little Family' (小小家庭 Xiaoxiao jiating) is an original tune composed by Li Jinhui (黎錦暉), the so-called progenitor of Chinese pop music in modern times.

Thanks to Davide, who showed me some recordings and their paper labels, I learnt that the lovely tune was actually adapted from an American song 'Build A Little Home' written by Harry Warren for the musical comedy Roman Scandals in 1933.

There are actually more cases in which American songs were claimed to be written by Li Jinhui, either mistakenly or intentionally, for example, Stephen Foster's 'Oh! Susanna' to be 'Don't Cry, Susan' (蘇三不要哭 Susan buyao ku) and Sammy Fain's 'By A Waterfall' to be 'Narcissus Girl' (水仙花小姐 Shuixianhua guniang).

It's a pity that I didn't find this out before the thesis was submitted, otherwise I could have added in my thesis one more section about how songwriters in 1930s Shanghai set Chinese lyrics to foreign tunes and claimed those pieces their own works in published songbooks.

Anyway, listen to a clip from 'A Little Family' in Chinese by a girl member, Zhang Jing (張靜), from Li Jinhui's dance-and-song troupe. It sounds cute. Readers who read Chinese may want to follow the lyrics below.