It’s Complicated: All about Love on the American Sound, 6pm Saturday and 7pm Tuesday
Albert Einstein, that great scientist of the human heart, is credited with having once said that gravitation cannot be blamed for people falling in love. It’s a cute line, and certainly true enough. Beyond that, it subtly points up the clumsy recklessness and the potentially harmful implications of the metaphor of “falling” in love. As we all know, there’s much more to love than a rapid pulse, and that’s why, as the Gen-Xers and younger like to say, it’s complicated.
For the season of love that goes, if you will, hand in hand with Valentine’s Day, The American Sound will offer up musical works that show love’s true colors – not just the red-hot flame of newborn passion, but also the gray fog of doubt and confusion, and even the umbrous pain of parting. George Antheil’s Valentine Waltzes will whirl us around a dance floor of elation, melancholy and dashed hopes. We’ll indulge in melodies fit for crooning in Howard Hanson’s “Romantic Symphony.” And we’ll hear how the music of a famous love song from West Side Story is so wrong that it’s oh, so right.
Tune in for complicated love on The American Sound, 6 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Tuesday on Classical 101.
Of course, it’s no new thing that love is complicated. The ancient Greeks had four different words for love, each getting at a unique type of love relationship. They also had enough impulsive gods, demigods and mortals running around to generate volumes of deathless legends that, if they do anything, warn of the havoc unchecked passions, including love, potentially wreak. The ancient Romans had none other than Cupid flitting about lobbing arrows willy-nilly. We know how that worked out.
In addition to the many types of love, the many different stages of a love relationship also keep us guessing. Something attracts you, you bite, you get reeled in. Maybe the fisherman or -woman takes you off the hook and puts you in the boat with him/her. Or maybe you get tossed back into the lake. You certainly know it’s over when you wind up in the freezer.
And how we experience love also depends on, well, how we experience love. Love leaves its mark on us differently at different stages of our lives. If you’ve ever been or known a teenage girl in love, then you know that it’s possible to be a child and a sort of gangly femme fatale at the same time. I, for one, think it’s not the best idea for a girl’s heart and brain to live in a woman’s body, but that’s the system we have. It makes for more than a little confusion, more than a little heartache, more than a little teenage angst, more than a little drama. Fast forward two or three decades and you have an adult who has loved and lost, maybe married, maybe watched her spouse die, maybe divorced.
How many different costumes does love wear on the stage of a lifetime? How many different autographs does love etch into our hearts and souls?
But if we are to be fully human, if we are to distinguish ourselves from the machines around us that would lure us siren-like into LED-induced shipwreck on the shores of stunted lives, we really have no choice but to gamble on love. At times that will mean floating like Glenda the Good Witch in a bubble of unadulterated happiness, and at other times it will mean taking up residence in the Heartbreak Hotel. Unless some other metaphor offers up less risky wisdom, these are our only options.
And you certainly know you’ve lived when you’ve experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of love. Two musical performances of the Rodgers and Hart song My Funny Valentine illustrate how our understanding of love changes over time, and changes us over time. In this performance from 1954, the then-30-year-old jazz singer Sarah Vaughan’s voice is velvet, her bearing on the text classic and light. It’s a pretty song sung more or less as though each day really were, as the text says, Valentine’s Day, heart-shaped box of chocolates and all:
But the performance below, given nearly 20 years later, is an entirely different story. From the 1973 recording Sarah Vaughan Live in Tokyo, this performance aches from a world-weary heart with too many cracks. Vaughan has made the text absolutely her own, and she sings most of it sotto voce, with more than a hint of resignation. She gives full voice to love’s pain and confusion when she opens her sound both times the words “Is your mouth a little weak/when you open it to speak” appear, especially at 3:34. The depth of feeling – of confusion, of pain, of wishing that this Valentine really were funny and really had stayed – comes out in full force with Vaughan’s plunge to the depth of her vocal range on the final words – “Valentine’s Day” – over an unstable harmony in the piano. Pianist Carl Schroeder’s remarkable accompaniment becomes the poetic speaker’s beloved receded into the background, a shadow lingering in the memory like phantom pains:
Maybe every day shouldn’t be Christmas. Instead, maybe every day should be Valentine’s Day, a day to love and see what happens, a day to feel, yes, the sting of Cupid’s arrow, but also the warmth of love seeping into our souls. Maybe every day should be a day to feel love. A day to feel. A day to be alive.
It’s all about love on The American Sound, 6 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Tuesday on Classical 101.