#nowlistening: Baltimore Oriole by Hoagy Carmichael.

Hoagy_Carmichael_-_1947As she tucked into her delicious eggs benedict, Lilian wasn’t just being serenaded by relentless, saccharine compliments from Justin in the tea room on Wednesday night. Continuing this weeks’ ornithological musical theme was Hoagy Carmichael chirping away under the hubbub of the tea room with his ode to a particularly colourful migratory breeding bird, the Baltimore Oriole.

Common to the USA, this little warbler is cousin to the UK’s native blackbird — whose song we regularly hear in the Am Vale — indeed, the same could be said of Fag Ash Lil’s ubiquitous gin-soaked cackles. A little lyric analysis leaves little doubt that this little bird is indeed, representative of Lilian. This is all about her historically flighty love life (Oh how I miss those Tiger and Puss Cat days…) and her current predicament as mistress-turned-homewrecker-turned-significant other of Justin Elliott.

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This version of ‘Baltimore Oriole’ is performed in the key of D minor, a key described by Schubert as possessing ‘melancholy womanliness, the spleen and humours brood’. Indeed, while co-writer Paul Webster’s lyrics seem to be voiced as Justin‘s arrogant desire to ‘rescue’ Lilian by making their relationship official, the musical environment of D minor keeps our focus on Lilian’s take on how the relationship is developing and changing.

images.jpegAs an aside, the music functions away from the Justilian connection too with the
sombre, yet sashaying ditty cutting across other themes and narratives currently at play in the village. Flurries from the flute section are particularly noticeable in this arrangement, a tried and tested orchestration technique to evoke birdsong and a neat touch to introduce avid twitcher Robert Snell into the scene just as Carmichael sings the word ‘bird’. This is either a result of cleverly synchronised editing or serendipitous timing but either way it’s not just any bird, but a ‘two-timing jay bird’ and so our attention is brought back to the Bellamy-Elliott tangle.

p04j8850.jpgThese tensions are emphasised again at 2mins 19secs when the lyric : ‘…to make a lonely man happy’ (in fact this is the most discernible lyric in the whole scene) when Justin asks Lilian out for a post-brunch promenade around the lake. But Lilian calls the activity into question, reiterating her ongoing rejection of domesticity and asserting her delight in the wildness of their previously unconventional affair. Ultimately ‘Baltimore Oriole’ functions as a bold and empowered statement for Lilian who continues to demand free-spirited autonomy from her own nest.


download.jpegThere are pleasing intertextual resonances with the songs’ history too: Hoagy
Carmichael performed ‘Baltimore Oriole’ in the screen adaptation of Ernest Hemmingway’s To Have and Have Not (1944), a film that first brought together Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Baccall who immediately embarked on their own passionate affair. Their on-screen chemistry is immortalised in the ‘whistle’ scene where Baccall asserts a specific brand of smoky-voiced, powerful femininity over Bogart. While Fag Ash might not have the sultry delivery of Bacall, the ‘Baltimore Oriole’ helps in demonstrating Lilian’s desire to continue her bold, bohemian chitter-chatter over and around Justin.

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‘You know how to whistle don’t you Justin?….’

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#nowlistening: Cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm

fffffThere’s a reason the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is one of the best-known fragments of his work. It’s one of the most famous fragments of classical music at all, and in it, Beethoven straddles the listening centuries, a compositional giant. These four notes stand in for everything we think we know about Beethoven: fierce, dark, aggressive, mysterious, irascible. It is the canonical work from the ultimate canonical composer. What is less well-known is that it premiered the same night as his Sixth Symphony. In many ways, the two works could not be more different: the Sixth is not called the ‘Pastoral’ for nothing. And it was the Sixth that Lilian and Justin enjoyed on Sunday night after their first weekend of freedom from Miranda.

Its full title is ‘Pastoral Symphony, or Recollections of Country Life’, and it’s apt indeed, as the work portrays the idealized countryside of Romantic thought. The five movements have names themselves: ‘Scene by the brook’, the second movement,e4a7d3cdae887e8fa06ec3e74d6a9c0c closes with a woodwind section imitating bird calls crudely enough even for Robert Snell to identify; ‘Merry gathering of country folk’ would be well-placed to accompany a maypole choreography by Linda Snell. Coming immediately after ‘Thunder. Storm’, it was the fifth movement to which the young lovers relaxed: ‘Cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm’. Surely Miranda is that storm, and so we might assume that life at the Dower House will be full of Happy Ever Afters, the sort of ending found in the cleaned-up versions of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, themselves first published in 1812—contemporary to Beethoven’s symphony. But, as ever, there are clues at play if
we scratch beneath the surface.

Beethoven is known for a kind of cellular compositional style, in which a small fragment (like the opening notes of the Fifth) grows almost organically, and weave through the entire work. The Sixth is no exception, but here we can read the cells as a biological metaphor: Yvonne Frindle writes of “the infinite repetition of pattern in nature” to be found in the rhythmic cells. Nature is indeed nothing if not repetitive: the rising and setting of the sun; the turn of the seasons; the cycle of the weather, of rising and falling pressure, of evaporation and rain and evaporation again. So these lovers, with their newfound bliss, may well enjoy these “cheerful and thankful feelings” for now, but there is no maxim about the calm after the storm, is there? Are we to expect more turbulence for Justillian, perhaps a drawn-out and expensive divorce? And might it all draw out the darker side of Justin, whose own dyspeptic nature we have seen on more than one occasion? Perhaps we’ll be hearing the ominous opening of the Fifth before long after all….

#notlistening: flibbertigibbet!

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A most unusual and wonderful word set the Ambridge-related twittersphere ablaze this week. No sooner had Peggy Woolley whipped out her second-best (*gasp*) china , she directed her deep disappointment at daughter Lilian for being, a ‘flibbertigibbet’. Peggy must’ve been the last to hear about Lilian and Justin’s raucous ‘going’s-on’ and so, Peggy was cross. In response, gin-soaked Lil’ was a little crestfallen and very hungover and so, quietly took her mother’s admonishment with a solemnity that she is rarely required to lean on.

Tomorrow morning, scriptwriter @keridavies goes on the Today programme to talk about ‘flibbertigibbet’. Of course he is. Brilliant. But among us mere mortals there have been some wonderful observations of the use of the word, not least @sallyannely ’s during this week’s tweetalong that the word would probably have trended if we had known how to spell it! Others have written beautifully on this scene (and beyond) but what I’d like to suggest is that Peggy’s use of the word functions as a musical spoiler of what lies ahead; she tells us that Lilian will get her man and, yet she does so without any music actually underscoring the scene.

‘A flibbertigibbet, a willo-the-wisp, a clown…’maria.jpg

The joy of Ambridge FM is that we get to learn about amazing music through the strangely addictive mundanity of The Archers. But in this moment, like many others, I recalled The Sound Of Music as the most memorable use of ‘flibbertigibbet’ and so the song played away in my background to the rest of the scene. Such is the power of these intertextual moments that a word like ‘flibbertigibbet’ prods the action with its unusualness, takes us elsewhere in that second and encourages us to sing along. Background music becomes superfluous as we all become Ambridge FM. Altogether now…

How do we solve a problem like Lilian Bellamy?

SOM how do you solveA process of recasting, where Lilian becomes Maria, and Peggy takes on the all-seeing surveilling eye of Mother Abbess. With this in mind then, of course Fag Ash would get her man – because big-boss Justin Elliot ends up being coded as Captain Von Trapp! Given Lilian’s disquiet on Justin’s decision to choose her over Miranda, I wonder if he’ll be out telling stories about Edelweiss any time soon?..