Friday, June 05, 2015


Be obsessive compulsive or just vanish


Alfred Deller is no longer a young man. I remember him in concert in Bordeaux Grand Théâtre in 1963 or so, but he has not aged when he sings Shakespeare since Shakespeare’s plays contain a lot of music, dancing and singing and since in his time women could not get on the stage the singing was performed by male voices only, hence the need to render that music the way it was actually composed and performed and instead of a very traditional modern soprano we have to have a countertenor. Alfred Deller was one of the first to do that pilgrimage to Shakespeare the way he was sung when he was alive. And it will then take nearly a century for women to be allowed on stage with Purcell and Handel.

The originality of this recording is the voice of Alfred Deller himself. He is not any countertenor and he favors the sad, nostalgic, or mournful tone that fits his voice perfectly. We could think he has only one tone. It is true in this recording. And I must say he does it so beautifully, with so much emotion and heartfelt truth that we feel as if Shakespeare was always using that painful and awesome tone. It is true Romeo and Juliet is a drama and that color fits it. But Shakespeare in his music, along with William Byrd, Francis Cutting, Robert Johnson, Thomas Morley, Thomas Weelkes and John Wilson, is also the dark mirror of a period deeply marked by the English Reformation and the extreme bloody violence of Mary I and the everyday cruelty of a time when the most important fair, both commercial and fun, Bartholomew Fair just north outside London walls, was preceded by some striking entertaining death penalty performed in public on the day before and the norm was for the main performer of the show, the death row “artist,” to be drawn from the Tower to the Fair ground by and behind some horse, then hanged and un-hanged, if so the authorities deemed it necessary or enjoyable, to be eventually drawn, meaning eviscerated, in that in-between semi-conscious state, and then eventually quartered, all that still alive, to finally be beheaded and the head that could see for about eight seconds after losing its attachment to its body to be raised so that it could see the cheering crowd, because they had to be cheering.

That’s the tone Alfred Deller brings up marvelously and the Deller Consort is up to it too.

In a time when Marlowe was stabbed to death in some public house one night by some people who did not like his caustic humor, and that was only one that has come up to us because he was not a non-entity, how could people be really joyful, except here and there with a farcical scene in the most somber tragic drama. Even the lightest comedies are not deprived of such dark facets.

A must in your library and enjoy it over and over, in an endless loop of repeating successive readings. Just stop when you feel the tone becomes an obsessive compulsive desire to end it all in a final jump into a lake of fire.


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