Musical memories

As Christmas rolls upon us and I’m resurrecting memories of food in the Boston area in 1962-65 (here and here), I’ve come up with musical memories of the period, starting with the Christmas music of Noah Greenberg and the New York Pro Musica (“Noah Greenberg thump”, as a friend referred to it), notably “Nova, Nova, Ave Fit Ex Eva” (‘Ave is made from Eva’: Ave ‘hail’, as in Ave, Maria, is an anagram of Eva ‘Eve’) and the equally rousing “Riu, Riu, Chiu”. And then on to Handel’s oratorio Acis and Galatea and a difference with a friend as to who introduced who to it. And then, non-musically, to a similar difference between Haj Ross and me as to who invented the playful technical term scanting out.

Noah Greenberg’s life history is fascinating. From Wikipedia:

Noah Greenberg (1919, Bronx – 9 January 1966, New York City) was an American choral conductor.

In 1937, aged 18, Greenberg joined the Socialist Workers Party of Max Schachtman, and worked as a lathe operator and party activist. He lost work-related draft deferment in 1944 and joined the U.S. Merchant Marine till 1949. By this time he had lost interest in formal politics.

Greenberg, although self taught, had been conducting amateur choruses such as that of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union, and by 1950 was known as a choral conductor. Greenberg founded New York Pro Musica in 1952, signing with Esoteric Records of Greenwich Village, and recorded the first of 28 LP albums over the next 14 years.

He died at University Hospital, Manhattan, after an apparent heart attack, on January 9, 1966.

(The Pro Musica was a force in the revival of medieval and Renaissance music in the mid-20th century. A “greatest works” album is available.)

There’s more than one setting of “Nova, Nova” available, but the setting that Greenberg used is especially stirring (I also have this setting in a more recent recording by Joel Cohen and the Boston Camerata).

From the same period in my life, the discovery of Handel’s wonderful Acis and Galatea, with text by John Gay (of Beggar’s Opera fame). Here comes the first trick of memory.

Back in June, my friend Tim Scanlon (the Harvard philosopher) wrote to me about a cello recital in which one of the students played a Vivaldi cello sonata,

the first movement of which was, unmistakably, the melody of “The Flocks shall leave the mountains …” [from Acis and Galatea]. So when I got home I couldn’t get the latter out of my mind and had to look it up on Youtube. We’ve been listening to it almost every day, and thinking of you, who first called Acis & Galatea to our attention

I replied:

Oh my, this is funny. I remember A & G as something Ann and I got from you and Lucy!

But Tim countered:

I am certain that it came from you and Ann, who also said that you at first thought that Polyphemus, in his first aria, was addressing his dog: “O, Ruddy! Go land the cherry!”

The line is “O ruddier than the cherry”. The full song:

O ruddier than the cherry!
O sweeter than the berry!
— O nymph more bright
— Than moonshine night,
Like kidlings blithe and merry!
Ripe as the melting cluster!
No lily has such lustre;
— Yet hard to tame
— As raging flame,
And fierce as storms that bluster!

[“Ruddier than the cherry” made one of my great triumphs over British “cryptic”, or puns and anagrams, crossword puzzles. The clue was “More like a fish than a cherry”, for a word in 7 letters. Yes, RUDDIER. The rudd is a European fish.]

In any case, memory is fallible and undependable.

One more from the same period in my life, during my time at the Mitre Corp. in Bedford MA, working with a group of interns that included Haj Ross. What I said on Language Log in 2005 was that

Some forty years ago Haj Ross coined the term scanting out for the paralytic bafflement that afflicts many people when they try to say how they use some relatively infrequent expression [like the adjective scant].

Haj then wrote to dispute my recollection. We both remembered the setting, in some detail, but Haj was sure that the invention was mine, not his. Who knows?

Still, the term is useful, and Acis and Galatea is delightful.

One Response to “Musical memories”

  1. More memories « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] the tradition of my Chicken Verdicchio, Peking on Mystic, and musical memories postings, more recollections of the Boston area in the early 60s. Something of a focus on food and […]

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