I must go down to the sea again

John Ireland was born 140 years ago today.


Sea Fever

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

— John Masefield


Angular Jig

We think of a fast Irish dance, with music in two triplet beats.  The tradition in Bach’s era was to compose a jig as the last movement of a suite or, in this case, a partita.   Bach may have composed it originally in 6, but decided there was more potential for rhythmic interest in duple meter.

If we expected a jig, we’re getting way more than we bargained for.  The piece is written as two fugues, the subject of the first half inverted to create the theme for the second half.  (The original, un-inverted form comes back just before the end of the second half, in stretto now against itself, or something reminiscent of itself.)

The theme feels angular and jagged.  Why?  It contains big leaps that simultaneously imply changes in harmony.  If the theme leaps an octave, that’s not disturbing to the ear, but the it’s hard for us to hear a single melody when it modulates and jumps at the same time, and does this more than once.  To our 20th century ears, it hangs together, but I wonder how Bach’s contemporaries might have heard it.

This is how he might have written it originally, reconstructed in 6:


Time stands still

Time stands still with gazing on her face,
stand still and gaze for minutes, houres and yeares, to her give place:
All other things shall change, but shee remaines the same,

till heavens changed have their course & time hath lost his name.
Cupid doth hover up and downe blinded with her faire eyes,
and fortune captive at her feete contem’d and conquerd lies.

When fortune, love, and time attend on
Her with my fortunes, love, and time, I honour will alone,
If bloudlesse envie say, dutie hath no desert.
Dutie replies that envie knowes her selfe his faithfull heart,
My setled vowes and spotlesse faith no fortune can remove,
Courage shall shew my inward faith, and faith shall trie my love.

An der musik

At about the age of six or seven, I realized that of all the invisible powers the one I was destined to be most strongly affected and dominated by was music. From that moment on I had a world of my own, a sanctuary and a heaven that no one could take away from me. Oh, music! A melody occurs to you; you sing it silently, inwardly only; you steep your being in it;it takes possession of all your strength and emotions, and during the time it lives in you, it effaces all that is fortuitous, evil, coarse and sad in you; it brings the world into harmony with you, it makes burdens light and gives wings to to depressed spirits.

— Herman Hesse, born this day in 1877

That is where my dearest and brightest dreams have ranged — to hear for the duration of a heartbeat the universe and the totality of life in its mysterious, innate harmony.