Musical Detection

I’ve recently discovered some fascinating connections between songs, and I can’t help sharing them with you. This post will probably be as esoteric as that series about The American Songbag. Hooray!

First, I was introduced to Thomas Morley’s “Sing We and Chant It” thanks to Rachel Hartman’s blog. Listening to this English madrigal, I was struck by how much it resembled a hymn tune whose name I always forget. I poked around and found the hymn I was thinking of: In Dir Ist Freude (In Thee Is Joy, or, as the English text goes, “In thee is gladness”). I first remember coming across this tune when I was studying abroad in France and attending the Eglise Réformée de Grenoble. (Aside: It seemed like half the hymns we sang there were from the Genevan Psalter, and they all sounded alike and were kind of boring…) One day, back in the States, the music director of my church played this hymn as an organ postlude. I recognized the melody and asked her what it was, and she told me it was In Dir Ist Freude. You can listen to a brass ensemble version of the tune here. Its resemblance to “Sing We and Chant It” is pretty easy to hear. 

Apparently, this tune was first published by Italian Renaissance composer Giovanni Giacomo Gastoldi in 1591 with the title “L’innamorato” and a secular text about love (“A lieta vita / Amor ci invita…”). However, Gastoldi’s melody may have been inspired by German sources. The tune was then printed by Johannes Lindemann in 1594 with the sacred “In dir ist Freude” text. It seems “Sing We and Chant It” is an arrangement and embellishment of Gastoldi’s song. Also, J. S. Bach composed an organ chorale prelude for In Dir Ist Freude (BWV 615).  

Second, I discovered the wonderful song “Friendship” on Tim Eriksen’s album Every Sound Below. The title sounded like that of a shape note tune. (There is a tune in The Sacred Harp called “Friendship,” but that one is entirely different.) Anyway, the tune of “Friendship” seemed very familiar to me, and I couldn’t rest until I figured out why. I thought it was a melody I myself had played on the piano, and not that long ago. Given that my repertoire of piano pieces is very small, there weren’t that many possibilities.

I did some research on the tune “Friendship” to try to find out why it might sound familiar to me. From various sources, I learned that the lovely text Tim Eriksen sings (“Friendship, to ev’ry willing mind, / Opens a heavenly treasure”) is attributed to a Mr. Bidwell of Connecticut and was published in the Philadelphia Songster in 1789. The tune is attributed to one G. Cook. “Friendship” was a popular 18th century song that found its way into shape note books in the early 19th century and was published, among other places, in The Hesperian Harp (1848).

The melody is in the tenor line, the third one down

The melody is in the tenor line, the third one down

So, back to my suspicions that I had played this tune on the piano. The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that the piece I was remembering was the very first one in a collection of easy Handel works my mother had given me for Christmas. I asked her to photograph the music for me, and as it turned out, this Gavotte in C major was the one I had been thinking of. If you read music, you can see for yourself that the melody is very close to that of “Friendship,” and you can also listen to someone playing it on the piano here.

I was very pleased with myself for having discovered this connection. But then I found this post by Rachel Wells Hall, a Philadelphia Sacred Harp singer and one of the authors of the new Shenandoah Harmony, and I realized someone else had already written all about it. It turns out the gavotte above is the same as the chorus “Viva la face, viva l’amor” from Handel’s 1736 opera Atalanta. And what’s more, “Friendship” is in The Shenandoah Harmony, so I have the music!

Third, I heard the song “La solette et le limandin” by the Breton band Tri Yann on Pandora. I noticed that it sounded rather like a song I’d learned in elementary school, whose tune I vaguely remembered was the same as the Israeli national anthem. I looked up the national anthem, which is called “Hatikvah,” and sure enough, it was the tune I was thinking of. The words I learned in school began “Autour de la flamme quand le jour se meurt / Nos chants proclament un monde meilleur” (“Around the flame as the day dies / Our singing proclaims a better world”–apologies for the clunky translation). Funnily enough, Googling these lyrics reveals that this is a song from Lac du Bois, the French summer camp in northern Minnesota I attended once, but I definitely learned it at school, not at camp.

In any case, I tried to unearth some background on the Tri Yann song to see if any connection to “Hatikvah” was acknowledged, but instead I read that “La solette et le limandin” bore a close resemblance to a 16th century Italian song called “Il Ballo di Mantova”! Not what I was expecting. The Italian song was composed by Giuseppino del Biado, and its original text begins “Fuggi, fuggi, fuggi da questo cielo”. As it turns out, though, “Il Ballo di Mantova” has quite the legacy. It was quoted in Bedřich Smetana’s symphonic poem Die Moldau (Vltava), which I have played, and it inspired “Hatikvah” (possibly through the intermediary of a Romanian folksong–it sounds like the Italian tune spread throughout Europe during the Renaissance). A version of it is even in John Playford’s The Dancing Master (1657), under the title “An Italian Rant,” so one could do an English country dance to this tune!

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