In my next blogs I will be writing about some of my favorite books, starting with Edwin Stringham and Barbara Tuchman (“The March of Folly: from Troy to Viet Nam”).
For music appreciation the best book I know of is Edwin Stringham’s 1959 “Listening to Music Creatively.” Stringham’s summary of the famous sextet in Lucia di Lammermoor is typical of his clear, incisive writing.
Here’s what he writes:
“Although the broadly flowing melody is known to all the world, it requires some knowledge of the opera to realize how well the music expresses the dramatic situation of the play, and how adroitly each of the six voices reveals the conflicting emotions of each character. The sextet is sung in the second act, when Edgar returns to the castle of his enemy, Lord Henry, to find that his beloved Lucy (sister of Lord Henry) has just married another. Edgar is swept by rage and hatred of Henry yet realizes that he still loves Lucy. Henry, who has engineered the marriage for his own (financial) ends, fears for the success of his project; Lucy, who was led to believe by her brother that Edgar was faithless, is overcome with grief and shame when she realizes that she has wronged her lover; Raymond, the kindly chaplain, prays that Heaven will protect Lucy; Lord Arthur, the man whom Lucy has just married, is utterly bewildered; and Alice, Lucy’s companion, shares her mistress’s sorrow. The individual voices soar and intermingle in a rich harmonic pattern that constitutes one of the great moments in opera. (p. 162, 3rd printing)
You can listen to the music as you follow the lines below. Google “youtube and the sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor. Split your screen and put this blog on the left side and watch/listen to the recording on the right side.
Follow the words as you listen to them sung. What a great way to learn some Italian!
Here are the lines of the first three of the six: Edgardo, Enrico and Lucia.
1 Chi mi frena in tal momento?
Who can stop me at such a moment?
2 Chi troncò. dell’ira il corso?
Who has cut off the flow of my anger?
- Il suo duolo, il suo spavento
Her grief, her fear
- Son(o) la prova, son la prova d’un rimorso!
Are proof, are proof that she feels remorse!
- Ma, qual’ rosa inaridita
But, like a dried up rose
- Ella sta tra morte e vita.
She hovers between death and life.
- Io son(o) vinto, son(o) commosso!
I am conquered, I am moved!
- T’amo, ingrata, t’amo ingrata ancor!
I love you, ungrateful one, I still love you!
- Chi mi frena il mio furore
Who is going to stop my fury
- E la man’ che al brando corse?
And my hand which rushed to get a sword?
- Della misera in favore
Of the wretch in favor
- Nel mio petto un grido sorse!
In my breast a cry welled up.
(In my breast a cry welled up in favor of the poor girl.)
- E (è) mio sangue! L’ho tradita!
She is my blood relation! I have betrayed her!
- Ella sta tra morte e vita …
She hovers between death and life…
- Ah, che spegnere non posso
Oh, why can’t I extinguish
- I rimorsi del mio cor’!?
My heart’s remorse?
- Io sperai che a me la vita
I hoped that (for me) life
- Tronca(to) avesse il mio spavento!
Might have ended my fear!
(I hoped that my fear might have cut short my life for me.)
- Ma la morte non m’aita (aiuta)!
But death does not help me!
- Vivo ancor’ per il mio tormento!
I am still alive, for my torment!
- Da miei lumi cadde il velo!
From my eyes fell off the veil!
The veil fell off my eyes!
- Mi tradi la terra e il cielo!
Earth and heaven have betrayed me!
- Vorrei pianger’, rna non posso.
I would like to weep but I cannot.
- M’abbandona il pianto ancor’!
I still can’t cry.
For anyone teaching Italian the sextet abounds in verbs, especially the historic past tense (il passato remoto in Italian).
- frena (present of frenare, to stop, ‘put the brake on’). 2. troncò (simple past of troncare, to cut off). 4. sono (present, 3rd person plural, of essere, to be). 6, sta (present of stare, to be).7. sono (present, 1st person singular, of essere, to be). 8. amo (present of amare).
- frena (present of frenare, to stop, etc.). 10. corse (simple past of correre, to run). 11. sorse (simple past of sorgere, to rise). 13. È (present of essere, to be); ho tradita (compound past of tradire, to betray). 15. sta (present of stare, to be); spegnere (to put out, estinguish), infinitive; posso (present of potere, to be able, etc.).
- sperai (simple past of sperare, to hope). 18. avesse troncato (imperfect subjunctive of avere plus the past participle of troncare, to cut off. A compound tense: the pluperfect subjunctive. Rather rare. 19. aita (aiuta in modem Italian). Present of aiutare, to help. 20. vivo (present of vivere, to live). 21. cadde (simple past of cadere, to fall). 22. tradì (simple past of tradire, to betray). 23. vorrei piangere (conditional of volere, to wish, plus the infinitive, piangere, to cry i. e. to shed tears.); posso (present of potere, to be able, etc.). 24. abbandona (present of abbandonare).
Notice how the concision of the preterites and the abundance of verbs adds to the forcefulness of this passage.
I never tire of this passage and I think I have heard it at least 150 times. Thank you, Lord, for Donizetti. R.I.P.