Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Music question

I just uploaded a movie clip on YouTube from 'The Queen of Spades' (1949). It's one of my favourite movies, and this is one of my favourite scenes. The plot follows the short story by Pushkin: a poor but ambitious young officer named Guermann (sometimes Hermann) Suvorin becomes obsessed with obtaining the secret of winning at cards, supposedly possessed by the aged Countess Ranevskaya. He threatens her with a pistol to get her to reveal the secret, and she dies of fright. Believing that "the dead will give up their secrets" Suvorin brazenly goes to her funeral.

Can anyone tell me what is the choral music being sung during the funeral? I've heard it since first seeing this movie - the anglo-catholic church we used to attend sang it once during All Souls, but it was in the English hymn book, not the Canadian one. I think it was called 'Kontakion', but I've tried to find it on recordings since and that's not very useful as a title. It's like saying 'Requiem' - whose Requiem? Verdi's? Mozart's? Beethoven's? Everyone wrote a requiem, and there are as many "Kontakions" in orthodox music, so I need to know which one, and where I could buy a copy.

By the way, if you follow the English tradition of enjoying ghost stories at Christmas, 'The Queen of Spades' is an excellent one for a winter's evening. Emma and I watched 'A Christmas Carol' (the Alastair Sim version, of course) a few days ago, and I think we'll watch "The Queen of Spades" this weekend. It's unjustly neglected, and has a GREAT performance by Anton Walbrook as Suvorin. He was good in 'The Red Shoes' too, but I think he's even better in this one.


Blogger Daniel Muller said...

That is a toughie, for me anyway. I do have an Englished znamennyj kontakion in The Summit Choirbook, but it is, well, not the Russian one. Following your mention of an English hymnal, I checked The English Hymnal and even Hymns Ancient and Modern, but nothing there.

It does seem to be the same as the one in Dr. Zhivago.

I do know a kind gentleman, a professional Catholic musician, who can answer this question immediately. I will ask him if no one else replies.

3:48 am  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

I don't know if I still have a copy of the English hymnal (the green book, we used to call it, because of its cover). I think this was near the back, with the chants, rather than among the actual hymns. It was only the choir that sang it, nobody in the congregation knew it. So that's TWO Russian-theme movies that have used it!

7:08 am  
Blogger Daniel Muller said...

I am reminded of the dear lady who wrote our diocesan rag some twenty-odd years ago: "If I say something is white and the Pope says it is black, when I go back to look at it, I will see that it is in fact black!"

So did I go back to The English Hymnal and found according to instructions at the very end of the crypto-Roman crypto-gradual, "Introits and Anthems," on pages 898-900, one single example of Eastern chant, to wit:

[Russian incipit]
[Greek incipit]

The words translated by W.J. BIRKBECK; the music edited by SIR WALTER PARRATT.

Give rest, O Christ, to thy servant with thy Saints:
where sorrow and pain are no more;
neither sighing, but life everlasting.

Thou only art immortal,
the Creator and Maker of man:
and we are mortal, formed of the earth,
and unto earth shall we return:
for so thou didst ordain, when thou createdst me, saying,
Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
All we go down to the dust;
and, weepĂ­ng o'er the grave, we make our song:
alleluya, alleluya, alleluya.

[Copyright. 1902, by Novello & Co., Ltd.]

7:58 pm  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

Well, there you go! I've always known that I have a fair degree of undiagnosed Asperger's Syndrome, just like Dean, and one of the characteristics can be a tendency to think in pictures. So I could see the book, and feel the scanty number of pages at the back of the book, and know just WHERE the page was, but not what was on it! Thanks very much for the info - I'm sure now I'll be able to track it down.

9:38 pm  
Blogger Perpetua said...

Hi Dr. Mabuse,

Billy Ockham "tagged me" and now I am tagging you.

10:43 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazing the places that this blog takes me and what I learn. Tonight, its Walter Parratt, Dr. Zhivago, Ivor Novello and W.J. Birbeck who translated the words tonight.

Thus he (Birbeck)mastered
the intricate rules of early musical notation, when as
yet it was written without lines. Later on he continued
this same study in Russia, working at the ancient
Russian music with the aid of Professor Smolenski at
Moscow, who has written a great deal about the early
notation. He brought home many old Russian and
Slavonic musical manuscripts, and well understood the
mysterious-looking red lines and dots and signs above
the black lettering. In 1891 he lectured to the Musical
Association, with these MSS. for illustration, a lecture
which was published in the periodical account of their
proceedings, and which is the only publication at present
in the English language that gives any information on
the subject.^ He also translated the Contakion for the
dead, * Give rest, O God,' and, with the help of Sir Walter
Parratt, corrected the harmonies, and to them fitted
the words of this beautiful hymn, which were sung by
Queen Victoria's request at the memorial service of the
Emperor Alexander III of Russia and also at that of the
Duke of Clarence. It now has a place in the hymn-
book of the Royal Chapel at Windsor, and in the ' English Hymnal,* and brings comfort to many sorrowing souls of the English Communion.

11:56 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many years ago I attended an Anglican church where the Contakion (with words and music adapted from the Green Book) was regularly sung on All Souls and at requiems. At the end of the service, the catafalque, surrounded by six candles, was incensed and sprinkled with holy water as the choir sang the Contakion.

1:38 pm  

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