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Wednesday, 17 February 2021

The New World and Spin-Offs

I think the largo, (second movement), of Dvorak's New World Symphony is one of the most beautiful and memorable melodies in the classical repertoire. Apparently other's have felt this way too, as I demonstrate below. Dvorak completed the work in the United States in 1893. It's formal title is Symphony No. 9 in E minor, "From the New World", Op. 95, B. 178.

Firstly you can listen to an extract from second movement played by the Dublin Philharmonic here.

Then, my very favourite, the spiritual song "Going Home", which borrows the melody, sung here by the stunning Norwegian soprano Sissel.

Now a song from 1968 by the Scottish group A New Generation (who later became The Sullivan Brothers). Their song, which faithfully reproduces the opening chords from Dvorak is called "Smokey Blues Away". Click here to listen.

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Peter Gabriel's Solsbury Hill

Peter Gabriel was, along with Mike Rutherford and others, one of the founders of Genesis, the British progressive rock group. Later they were joined by Phil Collins, who took over vocals after Peter Gabriel left to go solo. I was never especially keen on their music but Peter's solo output was much more interesting to me. Solsbury Hill was, in my opinion, his very best creation. Here's the story. The song is about a spiritual experience that Peter had on Little Solsbury Hill in Somerset, England. Gabriel has said that the song is "about being prepared to lose what you have for what you might get, or what you are for what you might be. It's about letting go", not just the leaving of Genesis but of letting go in general. The opening lyric perfectly sets the scene for the story: 

Climbing up on Solsbury Hill

I could see the city light

Wind was blowing, time stood still 

Eagle flew out of the night

He was something to observe

Came in close, I heard a voice

Standing stretching every nerve

I had to listen, had no choice

But the song is also very interesting musically. It is in 7/4 time, which is very rare in popular music and a difficult tempo which helps to convey the idea of 'struggle' within the song. There is the sense that a beat is missing at the end of every bar. When the song has been covered by other artists, for instance Erasure, they have recorded it in the easier 4/4 time thus losing something essential from the song.

The pulse of the song is the constant drumbeat which is like a heartbeat. The sound is actually made by a single drumstick beating on a telephone book! The time-signature works because of the acoustic guitar riffs played by Lou Reed and Steve Hunter, the guitarist from Alice Cooper's band. The four notes played on flute just before the opening lyrics are played by Peter Gabriel himself.

There's not really a chorus in the song but the last line of each of the three refrains is the nearest thing to it. It's always a variation of "My heart going boom, boom, boom. Son, he said, grab your things I've come to take you home."

It's a song that demands to be listened to. Watch this YouTube video which is a joyful montage of different live recordings over the years showing his consistent high quality of work.

If you would like to listen to the original recording, it's HERE