Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Lady Mondegreen & the Buttocks-Pressing Song

Okay, it's been a tough couple of months, so perhaps something on the lighter side, this time.

Sometimes we only half-hear things or perhaps half-remember them... They can be embarrassing, when you’re thinking of one word and something that only sounds like it comes out of your mouth: if nothing else, it can take the brain in a whole different direction.

I remember someone who, for some reason or other, had mentioned a new diet plan – the “South Park” Diet. I was trying to imagine how the characters on South Park could actually promote a diet plan: perhaps that was what killed Kenny?

Years ago, when I lived in New York City, I was shopping at Patelson’s Music Store buying some orchestral scores (it’s a shop I referred to as “The Best Little Score-House in Town,” now alas a victim of the present-day economy). Next to me, a harried clerk had taken a phone call from someone looking for the Kodaly “Buttocks-Pressing Song.”

Kodaly – pronounced KOH-dai – was a Hungarian composer (see photo, left) who collected a lot of folk songs across Eastern Europe.

The clerk muttered something about odd folk customs one might find in Eastern Europe (immediately, the whole Monty Python “Fish-Slapping Dance” ran through my mind).

No, no “Buttocks-Pressing Song” by Zoltan Kodaly in stock. He even checked under Kodaly’s colleague Bela Bartok, who also published arrangements of hundreds of folk songs, and found nothing there, either.

Then he asked whether it was part of a set or an individual piece.

“An old English dance hall song?” he said in disbelief.

It turns out she was looking for “Could I but Express in Song.”

Having “googled” this more recently, I found it’s actually a frequently committed occurance, one that’s been around a while – and it’s not an English dance hall song but a sentimental ballad by the Russian composer, Leonid Malashkin.

That doesn’t mean the harried clerk hadn’t heard what he thought he heard.

Over the years, spending much time at a radio station, a colleague was asked about “The Errant Hornpipe” which we finally figured out must be by Handel: two sections of his famous Water Music, the “Air and Hornpipe.”

These are known as Mondegreens – something you hear that’s close but not close enough to win you a cigar.

“They have slain the Earl of Moray / And Lady Mondegreen,”  as a famous Scottish ballad goes.

How romantic, you might think.

Except the correct last line is “and laid him on the green”.

It's like wondering who Round John Virgin is in “Silent Night” or why the song called "Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear" isn't really about a bear at all.

And why is "Shirley, Good Mrs. Murphy" following you all the days of your life?

A friend of mine when she was 5 would sing “We shall come rejoicing, singing in the trees,” apparently because she had no idea what “bringing in the sheaves” meant.

Or another friend who enlivened childhood renderings of “Jingle Bells” by singing about “one whore, soap and sleigh” whether he knew what it meant or not.

A link I keep in my computer for a moment when I need a laugh was inspired by a Mondegreen from Verdi’s opera, Rigoletto, compounded of course by being in Italian but sounding like the tenor (here sung by Pavarotti) has a thing for elephants.

The original Italian is “e di pensier,” which basically means “and her thoughts” at the end of the Duke’s famous aria, “La donna é mobile” (which might come out “ La donna immobile” if it refers to the soprano Jess Enormous).

Now whenever I hear this aria, I can’t get “elephants, yeah” out of my mind!

Dr. Dick

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