Sunday, August 26, 2012

"Alla fåglar kommit ren" - Swedish children's song to celebrate the birds in springtime

Heard on a CD of Swedish children's songs Nu ska vi sjunga (now we will sing) I picked up yesterday in the Colony Store at Bishop Hill. The melody is very familiar - but where have I heard it?

So today I've been Googling around ... still haven't figured out where I know it from ... but I've learned "Alla fåglar kommit ren" (all the birds come clean) is the Swedish translation of a German children's song Alle Vögel sind schon da (all the birds are pretty). It's widely known in northern and central Europe, and in addition to Sweden, it shows up in Norway as "Alle fugler små de er" (all the birds are small). The different lyrics in the first line appear to be for the sake of rhyme and meter in different languages - the gist of it is that it's spring and the birds have come back.

According to Wikipedia, Alle Vögel sind schon da is one of Germany's best-known children's songs celebrating spring. Lyrics in a poem by Hoffmann von Fallersleben (1798–1874), published in 1835. Since 1884 it has been sung to a traditional melody that has been traced to the 1500s. Judging by what's available on YouTube, the Germans consider it primarily a children's song.

But in Sweden, it is also associated with with May Day, or a spring celebration the night of April 30 and morning of May 1 called Walpurgisnacht in German and Valborgsmässoafton in Swedish. In much of northern Europe, this celebration derives from a very old spring ritual, and it is marked by bonfires, dancing and a lot of partying. Very similar to the traditional May Day celebrations in English-speaking countries. In Sweden, it also coincides with school graduation - an occasion for more partying as well as choral singing in university towns. There are a couple of lovely choral arrangements on YouTube.

Stämningsfull Valborgseld med Körsång i Hagaberg (a Walpurgis' fire with choral singing at Hagaberg). Stämningsfull, according to the translator, can mean atmospheric or well-tuned in English, and this clip qualifies on both counts.

Some more YouTube clips:

Monday, August 20, 2012

British poet analyzes, translates Pussy Riot's 'Punk Prayer' as The Guardian's poem of the week

Pussy Riot, the Russian punk rock performance artists whose members were jailed recently for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred," have found a literary defender in Carol Rumen, professor in creative writing at Great Britain's Bangor University and poetry columnist for the Guardian. "Pussy Riot's Punk Prayer is pure protest poetry," she said in naming the lyric outburst the Guardian's "Poem of the Week," an accolade that more typically goes to writers like Whitman, Dryden, Christina Rossetti or high-minded, belle lettristic contemporary poets.

"The performance was mildly shocking, at least for any believer unused to trendy vicars putting on rock concerts," said Rumen, who clearly has heard worse in the UK. "Loud, rude, up-yours protest is what punk is all about. But the lyrics are not all raw obscenity: they have something significant to say, which the careless translations slopping around the internet tend to obscure."

Here's a YouTube video:

Pussy Riot-Punk Prayer.mp4

So, in solidarity with the Russian punkers, Rumen offers her translation. But first she offers this precis:

Punk poetry without performance is an oxymoron. Still, it was an interesting challenge to try and inject a little of Pussy Riot's performance-style into the words. The song brings together two different musical genres. It has a hymn-like opening chorus, very melodic and redolent of traditional Russian Orthodox chanting. The mood soon changes, though, and everything erupts into punk rant, a slam of hard-hitting images connected by minimal syntax. The chorus returns, exhorting the Virgin Mary to become a feminist, and finally, with its original plea for Putin's banishment, it concludes the song.
Rumen's translation begins:
Virgin Mary, Mother of God, banish Putin, banish Putin,
Virgin Mary, Mother of God, banish him, we pray thee!
I probably shouldn't admit this, but I like the Orthodox harmonies of the chorus better than the power chords and screaming that follow. (But I've never warmed up to punk.) Anyway, they power chords follow very quickly.
Congregations genuflect,
Black robes brag gilt epaulettes,
Freedom's phantom's gone to heaven,
Gay Pride's chained and in detention.
KGB's chief saint descends
To guide the punks to prison vans.
And so on ... it isn't subtle. The song continues:
Bless our festering bastard-boss.
Let black cars parade the Cross.
The Missionary's in class for cash.
Meet him there, and pay his stash.
Patriarch Gundy believes in Putin.
Better believe in God, you vermin!
A few words of explanation and/or translation are in order. "Gundy" is Kirill Gundyayev, patriarch of Moscow and primate, or spiritual leader, of the Russian Orthodox hierarchy. Putin, the "KGB's chief saint," well, everybody knows who Putin is - even if we might forget his early career in the KGB, the old name for the Soviet security apparatus. Writing in Financial Times, columnist Gideon Rachman's evaluation is typical of reaction in the West:
Pussy Riot ... has courage and a gift for performance art. Its name deftly combines two of the major preoccupations of teenage boys. And, as outspoken women, its members embody the idea of “girl power” – as lauded by the Spice Girls. The band’s trademark balaclavas also provide an easily imitated “look” that has already been emulated in demonstrations from Berlin to New York.

Yet those tempted to dismiss the three imprisoned members of Pussy Riot as simply clever marketeers should read their statements from the dock, which are intelligent, articulate and moving.

Members of the collective typically are in their 20s and graduates in literature and the arts of prestigious Russian universities. Their statements, which were read in court before sentence was pronounced, make it clear the women are not teeny-boppers. They are lengthy, fully as nuanced and thoughtful as Rachman of the Financial Times suggests, and they have gone viral. Rachman continued:
There are signs that the Kremlin realises it has made a mistake with Pussy Riot – and may seek to get the band released early. However, the damage to the president’s standing is done. Pussy Riot is going to prison. But the band still has the power to rock the Kremlin.
In the Christian Science Monitor, a thoughtful and informative profile of the band (actually more like an artists' collective) by staff writer and playwright Mark Guarino notes that Pussy Riot was influenced by American feminist punk bands of the 1990s like Riot Grrrl. "We somehow developed what they did in the 1990s, although in an absolutely different context and with an exaggerated political stance, which leads to all of our performances being illegal. We’ll never give a gig in a club or in any special musical space,” one member, only known as Garadzha, told the Monitor.

And a profile in the Guardian by Moscow correspondent Miriam Elder, the Guardian's Moscow correspondent, offers a different take, quoting a Russian critic, that somehow ends up being essentially the same:

"For all the radicalism of their actions, Pussy Riot are basically a pop crossover," said Michael Idov, the editor of Russian GQ. "They are a brilliant brand – they have a very compelling story and easily reproducible look and, let's face it, a great band name."
A great brand name, too.