The Friend and his Beloved

When a close friend talks to me about love in their lives, the world is suspended, and for a while nothing else matters.

Pantelis often talks to me with melodic tenderness about the woman of his dreams. He describes her walk, her clothes, her eyes, and above all her transparent skin. She is probably not the woman with whom he is in love right now but the one who is coming to meet him, his “soul mate” – unless, of course, they are one and the same person! After describing her, he asks me: “She is still coming, isn’t she?”

There is an addictive Greek song, “Morning or evening serenade” (1982), that always makes me think of the ethereal Beloved that Pantelis, my “other self,” is contemplating. Its narrator is addressing himself to such a woman, wishing that, instead of being “rain,” “fire,” and “life,” all of them in “incessant flow,” she would be something he can catch and make his own, a stable part of his life.

What I find irresistible in this song is how the tension of its lyrics is reinforced, without being duplicated, by its dual musical structure: As the original recording (and live performances by its singer) make clear, this is a waltz that aspires to become a gavotte, without ever succeeding or failing in its effort. It hovers between Baroque stylization and Romantic expression. Let’s say that it is a waltz with many light neo-baroque features, from its harmony to the timbre of the instrumentation (defined by that harmologic harpsichord!), which invoke a gavotte.

It is unfortunate that subsequent performances of the song (with the obvious blessing of the composer who is often at the piano) resolve the tension between the two constitutive forms by giving in to a thoroughly sentimental approach that abandons the tempo of the courtly dance

for a slow, emotional chanson:

The song ends up sounding only like a Manos Hadjidakis waltz rather than a Bach gavotte.

The original recording reminds me of Pantelis Polychronidis walking next to me, looking at the stars, and asking me about his girlfriend: “What if she is the one?” I can’t help but love these moonstruck moments though next time I may cite to him the mood of a very different gavotte, the famous aria from Massenet’s Manon (1884), “Obeissons quand leur voix appelle“, where the heroine admonishes: “Obey when their voices are /calling, beckoning us to tender / loves, always, always, always; / as long as you are beautiful, / use up your days without  / counting them, all of your days!”  I believe that Pantelis will gladly obey.

September 16, 2017

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