Love Song - Some Beautiful Love Songs
There is all the difference in the world between the love poem and the love song. The latter, strictly speaking, is as spontaneous and unself-conscious as a bird's note, springing from the heart, at the touch of joy or grief, as naturally as tears from the eyes. It is composed, indeed, of laughter and tears, which, because they must somehow find expression, have turned to Words. It does not demand an audience, as usually understood, but a sympathetic listener to whom confidences can be made. It is written primarily as a relief from certain consuming emotions, without any regard to effect or for the sake of producing a poem.
The love poem, on the contrary, is deliberate; it uses certain words consciously, as best expressing its meaning. It may be as sincere, as spontaneous as the love song, but it springs from a different root.
So vast, however, is the subject that here it is possible to consider love songs only, although there are many songs which might come under either heading, such, for instance, as the exquisite and subtle songs of the Elizabethan poets. To write concerning the love poetry of the world would be like embarking on a sea to which there is no apparent shore - a fascinating sea, from whose foam Aphrodite was fashioned, full of strange colours and alluring lights.
The Modern Love Song
The deplorable condition of the modern love song is difficult to explain. In fact, it is practically non-existent, for love poems - of which there are so many and of such great beauty - set to music are not at all the same thing. A certain elemental quality was lost, banished, I suppose, when singing became a drawing-room accomplishment. After all, it is not to drawing-rooms that one goes for elemental emotion, any more than one expects to find wild flowers in a conservatory - which is as it should be, since both the drawing-room and the conservatory have their own peculiar gifts.
The initial mistake lay with the audacious early Victorians, who thought that music could be rendered tame, civilised, and urbane, and yet remain music. Of course, the curious lisping thing which Was the result of their painstaking efforts, which they dressed in evening clothes, patronised, and brought down to entertain them after dinner, was not music at all. Music was still wandering free through the world with the wind in her hair, scorning all efforts to trap her, as she has done since the beginning of the world. At that period love songs became so banal that they were not even artificial. The charming artificiality which created for itself a world so well ordered that one could wander through it with powdered hair and high, red-heeled shoes had passed away for ever. That world may have had the unreality of a fairy tale, but this later one, Where even love was genteel, bad the unreality of "Sandford and Merton." One Was an imaginative, somewhat impertinent, protest against the "stodginess" of life; the other reduced life to the consistency of a rice pudding!
Fear of True Emotion
The lover of that period would have resented the simplicity and passion of the early love songs, as he would have resented a storm on a pleasure trip. It is amusing to see how unfailingly this instinct Worked when, by any chance, some old song was caught, pinioned, and rendered polished enough for polite society. Without the slightest hesitation whatever, all that made the song vital and glowing was thrown aside; it was banalised with a certainty which amounted almost to genius.
I remember two versions of "Annie Laurie" - one plaintive and sweet, as though the heart cried out at some sudden blow, almost against its will; and the other, made by Lady Nairne, with all the tears wrung out of it, and made fit to appear in company.
This terror of true emotion, which marked a period when fanatical domesticity reigned drearily from a horsehair arm-chair over so many English homes, has vanished now, and a reaction has set in.
But the note struck so far as love songs are concerned is not much truer. Emotion is no longer concealed - it has grown plentiful and cheap, but it can no more claim to call itself passion by losing self-control and behaving badly, than a person can claim to be artistic because they live untidily and forget to do their hair.
There is certainly an improvement in technique since the days of Moore, but an hour spent in listening to average English love songs leaves one with the slight feeling of fatigue one has after watching a play which quite frankly subordinates life to certain conventions. There are, of course, exceptions, but if one turns suddenly from "The Rosary," for instance, to a Somersetshire ballad, one is as refreshed and satisfied as one talking to an intimate friend after a tea-party.
And yet "The Rosary" is not insincere; it has a certain real beauty, but it leaves
Love an impression as of something manufactured. There are many other songs of the same kind, and much music which resembles it in form and feature; but it resembles good material turned out mechanically at so much a yard. It is emotion which knows exactly what it is going to say, which is never unexpected or tremulous, and which would lose its self-respect for ever did it break down even a little. It is love who has been sent to a boarding-school in youth who speaks thus, whereas unsophisticated love falters and breaks and weeps, and has no doubt that others will Weep with it.
And so it should be with the music, but in "The Rosary" it fits the words perfectly, as though it were a gown made by a good dressmaker, who spared no pains; but it is outside them, it can be taken on and off at pleasure. In the other they are one growth, and cannot be separated, the music turns to words, the words to music - it is impossible to mark clearly where one begins and the other ends, or which is the outcome of which. One presupposes the other; they are inseparable as soul and body.
Yet there are many songs, the result of an acutely conscious art, which possess this quality of instinctive Tightness. The Elizabethan love songs are among the freshest and most spontaneous ever written; they are like spray scattered by a laughing stream into the hot face of the world. But it is better for the moment to confine oneself to essential songs whose authors are many generations of country folk, and which have ripened slowly through the centuries. Such are the Somersetshire songs, but, delightful as they are, they are difficult to quote. To be appreciated fully they must be sung.
Several are faint echoes of the Scotch ballads, which contain some of the most terrible and direct poetry in the world. They are full of haunting lilts, which sob like the wind, and remain in the memory like the cries of . sea-birds heard on some still autumn evening. One can quote " Barbara Allen," which, even without its melody, conveys something of its charm, so simple is it and tender; but sung, its. sadness grows almost too acute. It was taken down direct by Mr. Cecil Sharp from the lips of a Somersetshire peasant.