Hello everyone,


Not a tremendous bit of news around here aside from yard work – seven 30-gallon yard trash cans since last Monday.  Also, it finally came to me that the reason that I was having so much cramping in my hands might just be that I’m not playing the piano for a couple of hours most days.  Imagine!  So, since Martha thought of working on Plasir d’Amour, I’ve started practicing the accompaniment.  It’s one of the needlessly complicated Parisotti ones, or maybe I shouldn’t blame poor old Parisotti for this.  I looked up when Martini wrote the song, and it’s late enough (1784) that songs with keyboard accompaniments were quite common.  Y’all know about Parisotti, right?  You know that you are doomed to more musicology if you don’t.

Sometime along in the 1870’s a minor Italian composer, Alessandro Parisotti decided to cash in on the 19th century’s interest in music earlier than Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven.  The vogue for old music had started in 1829 in Berlin when Felix Mendelssohn conducted the first performance of J. S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion to be performed since the composer himself had conducted it in Leipzig.  Much of the music of the baroque era, the 16th and early 17th centuries, had fallen out of use because the piano had become basic equipment for all homes with any feeling for music.  The earlier songs were mostly written to be performed with a group of strings and continuo, often two violins and harpsichord or violin, cello, and harpsichord or any number of variations.  The difficulty was with the baroque era’s shorthand writing of a figured bass line with strings and voice, kind of like a jazz chart or a fake book.  With a piano, two people could do all the parts, instead of three to five people.  Making life better with technology 18th century style.

In the older style the basso continuo, as it was known, was the bass line with some numbers written underneath.  The person who played the harpsichord was supposed to improvise the harmony from that line, and music students to this day are tortured with what’s known as “realizing the figured bass”.  I do have some friends who can do that at sight.  Some even think it's fun.  Well, piano parts were written out, and all one had to do was to read it and play it – enormous labor saving improvement.  So Parisotti, well trained in realizing the figured bass, explored some of the libraries and found music that we all might not know had he not published it with piano parts rather than strings and continuo.  This was his three-volume Arie antiche: ad una voce per canto e pianoforte, published in Milan, 1885–1888.

Of course, there being no copyright laws at the time, his work was stolen all over Europe.  I have a German and a Czech edition, and a much later Danish edition called La Floria.  There were many others, including in this country G. Shirmer’s 24 Italian Songs and Arias, known fondly as the yellow book.  In the 1970’s a voice teacher named John Glenn Paton re-edited it to create “more authentic” piano parts, since Parisotti’s were in the height of 1870’s late Romantic style, and this was the 26 Italian Songs and Arias, which since the high voice was purple and the low voice blue were so distinguished.  By now more than a century had gone by with every singing student learning these songs.  High school students today audition for All-State Chorus with some of these songs year after year.

It was lovely Dr. Paton, with whom I got to have lunch with at a NATS convention probably 20 years ago now, who added all the bells and whistles that are now considered standard in student song books.  Parisotti provided no translations, pronunciation guides, or background on the sources of the songs, so nobody who stole his work did either.  Voice students of ancient times like me, had to go look up all that stuff.  So we praise Dr. Paton even while saying that his accompaniments were kind of bald compared with Parisotti’s.  One thing that we all learned from Dr. Paton was that Parisotti probably slipped one of his own songs into the book and said it was by Pergolesi.  That attribution was continued by Stravinsky in his Pulchinella ballet when Se tu m’ami is quoted along with actual works by Pergolesi.  Whoops!

So THEN, Hal Leonard having bought up nearly every music publisher in the US, their editor decided to republish Parisotti, now in five keys instead of just two, and with all the bells and whistles.  Let there be rejoicing in voice student land!  We now refer to the 24/26/28 Italian Songs and Arias.  Yes, both Dr. Paton and Hal Leonard each added two more songs, none of which were the Martini Plasir d’Amour, to which I say, “Razzelfragit!”  All these years I thought that Martini was Italian--and he was French, and that the song in the Parisotti in Italian was the original, but it’s not!  To quote our friends at Wikapedia: 

"Plaisir d'amour" (literally "Pleasure of love") is a classical French love song written in 1784 by Jean-Paul-Égide Martini (1741–1816); it took its text from a poem by Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian (1755–1794), which appears in his novel Célestine.

All right, then!  If you want to listen to this lovely song, there are lots of versions on You Tube.  I recommend Joan Baez https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cbTDwHZC_I who has quite nice French and then comes back in English. If it sounds familiar you might be thinking of the movie An Affair to Remember when Deborah Kerr sang it to Cary Grant (or Love Affair when Irene Dunne sang it to Charles Boyer, but you’d be dating yourself).  A complete performance in French and gorgeous is by Kathleen Battle https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMxkLWBx3RMI think that may be a harp that she is singing with or possibly an old-fashioned pianoforte; this song has been arranged for anything you can name.

The other reason that it is so familiar is that there is a section of an Elvis Presley song, “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” that is very similar:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGJTaP6anOU  The way I’ve heard it, Elvis loved the 24 Italian Songs and Arias and kept it on his piano.  Who knows?

Have a good week,