Hallo again to all.
Here we are, stumbling, striding, wandering idly, or otherwise making our way through the 40 days of Lent. It's the Fourth Sunday in Lent, generally a Sunday for a little lightening-up (Rose Sunday, Refreshment Sunday, Laetare Sunday are some of its aliases). The church has defined 'lightening-up' in all manner of ways, from simnel cakes to vestments of a less-sombre hue. With no particular connexion we can find — other than the letter 'L' — a few lines of the very very Victorian queen of all parlour songs, The Lost Chord, came stealing into our head today.
Surely there can be no-one reading who hasn't heard — or heard some reference to — the Lost Chord. From 1960s psychedelic rock by the Moody Blues to Jimmy Durante (I'm the Guy Who Found the Lost Chord), it has been and still is, if more faintly, a sort of cultural cliché.
The Lost Chord, a poem written by Adelaide Anne Procter, became swiftly popular. But it reached meteoric heights when Arthur Sullivan (that Sullivan, of 'Gilbert and'), grieved by the death of his brother, determined to set the text to music. The pairing of his sonorous and evocative melody with Miss Procter's touching if slightly soppy words created a sheet-music sensation in 1877.
Adelaide Procter is not much known beyond this poem now. Her quite vast corpus of poetry is firmly Victorian — not surprisingly, she was said to be Queen Victoria's favourite poet — and a random selection of titles suggest the range of her poetic expression:
Lots and lots of death here. But the subject matter of death — in poetry, music, art — was alluring to far more people than Adelaide Procter in the nineteenth century. Whilst we modern folk avoid it, sanitising and separating it from our lives, our ancestors explored it, sang about it, wrote about it, and, one can fairly say, almost revelled in it.
Adelaide Procter's achievement was to capture in six short verses the 'best of death'. It encompasses everything from the deep grief of a surviving sister (in this case, happily also an organist) who properly seeks solace in a church to the assurance to a divinely vouchsafed chord that brings to momentary life a vision of heaven, where all will be well and every tear wiped away. Because the organist keeps trying to 'find' the chord again, one's human sympathy is evoked. And the spiritual acceptance at the end — echoed in the great resolution of the dominant seventh of the chord — suggests the triumph of a resolute faith and an ultimately unwavering belief*.
Some weeks ago, we heard in concert, for the first time in our life, The Lost Chord performed in an arrangement for boy trebles by John Scott. The result could be fairly described as florid and feverish (in a good way). Hearing that text brought to lush life in 2011, in a gothic church no less, was wonderfully odd. Altogether it worked in a way we'd have thought unimaginable. We admit it's quite easy to cavil and carp at 'The Chord':
Dame Clara Butt described “The lost chord” as “a truly great song with echoes of Beethoven” — her interpretation is truly a mighty thing. What matter if the words turn out to be nonsense? How could one chord of music spell out the polysyllable “Amen”? And what about the “noisy keys”? Noisy? Did they need oiling?
But yet, but yet . . . there's still something there in that movie-trailer of a poem and mourning brooch of a melody.
Strangely, perhaps that old musty parlour song holds everything that the Fourth Sunday of Lent should convey to us. It's gloomy and dim just now. There's deep sorrow and stillness all round. We're focussed on sin and the wrongdoings in our lives and are struggling to turn all that round. The promise of light and life and Easter seems far away — and we know there's much more darkness and death to confront before we get there. But on this lighter, brighter Sunday, we're told to cheer up. We've heard that chord. And we know it wasn't just our imagination.
See you next week.
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