Hot Summer Days and Nights: Evocative Music and Perfume
It's the third week in July and here in central Oklahoma we've got the 100+ temperatures to prove it. I've been thinking about some of the richly evocative works in our programming this week here at KCSC and I thought I'd offer some thoughts about the pairing of some of these works with (in my imagination,) ideal scents.
On Wednesday in the noon hour, I offered the Undine Sonata for flute and piano by Carl Reinecke (1824-1910), one of the most influential and versatile musicians of his time. The conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra and professor of piano and composition at the Leipzig conservatory for many years, his students included Edvard Grieg, Christian Sinding, Leoš Janáček, Isaac Albéniz, Johan Svendsen, Richard Franck, Max Bruch and George W. Chadwick. His Undine Sonata for flute and piano is one of the few works regularly performed today, and is also one of the few Romantic repertoire pieces for flute. Inspired by the 19th century novel Undine written by Friedrich de la Motte Fouque in 1811, the German romantic tale inspired music, ballets, plays art and poetry. The tale centers around the water spirit Undine, daughter of the King of the Sea. Sea maidens are lovelier and longer-lived than their mortal counterparts, living peacefully in crystal palaces deep beneath the waves. Undine leaves the water Kingdom in search for love with a mortal man and is discovered as a child on the seashore by a fisherman and his wife. The loving couple raises Undine as a much-loved daughter, though puzzled by her inexplicable behavior and naughtiness.
In thinking about perfume, this story summons to my mind oakmoss, which is one of the most commonly used raw materials, especially in chypre and fougère types of perfumes. Often used as a fixative, it not only improves the longevity of the composition, but also lends a delicate forest-like, rich and earthy aroma to the fragrant composition, leaving a natural, damp and creamy soft trail. One of the great perfumes using oakmoss as a base note was Parure, created by Jean-Paul Guerlain in 1975 for a woman who loved jewelry but could not find a scent she liked. Sensual and elegant, Parure opens up on the dark richness of plum and rose, accented with bergamot. The musky jasmine fills out the heart of Parure, while the bittersweet moss and spicy woods form a plush base.
The recording of Undine featured flutist James Galway and pianist Philip Moll, available on the RCA label. Also on that disc are recordings of the Franck and Prokofiev Sonatas with pianist Martha Argerich.
And speaking of Argerich, did you hear her beautiful performance of Noches en los Jardines de España with Daniel Barenboim and the Orchestre de Paris on the Erato label offered in the 2pm hour on Tuesday? The perfect piece for our steamy Oklahoma summer nights filled with the sounds of cicadas and crickets. Manuel de Falla is representative of a group of Spanish composers who won international recognition in the early 20th century. Born in 1876 in Cádiz, where he first studied, he moved later to Madrid and then in 1907 to Paris to expand his musical horizons. It was in Paris that De Falla first began writing his Nights in the Gardens of Spain, inspired by his reading of books about his native country. But the composer completed the work only after his return to Madrid in 1914 when war broke out. The nocturne expresses de Falla’s impressions of three gardens in a musical language which combines French impressionism and Spanish impulses. The first is the Generalife, the jasmine-scented gardens surrounding the Alhambra in Granada. The second is a distant, unidentified garden that the composer invites you to envision and the third is in the Sierra de Córdoba, evoked by music with a pronounced gypsy flavor.
Ramon Monegal comes from a long and distinquished line of the most important perfumers in Barcelona and Spain. He represents the fourth generation of the founders of the House of Myrurgia, which was the official purveyor of the Spanish Royal Family, and the most important international perfumists in Spain. For a night in a Spanish garden I might turn to his Ambra di Luna "...the magic of jasmine wrapped in sandalwood dust, capable of bringing one’s most hidden feelings into the moonlight..."
In the 2pm hour today (Thursday) I offered Sir Edward Elgar’s Falstaff, A Symphonic Study in c Op 68, the work, Elgar's most distinctly English piece and the only big work inspired by his lifelong admiration for Shakespeare. He had wanted to write something about Falstaff for a number of years, but it was a commission for a new orchestral work from the Leeds Festival in 1912 that made his dream a reality. The study works both as a portrait of a larger-than-life character and as an evocation of the colorful and confident England of Shakespeare’s Henry IV and V.
In noble households of 15th century Europe, urns of water were often scented with rose petals or other fragrant herbs which were set aside for this purpose. Perfumes were fairly simple, consisting of crushed blends of flowers and spices. Some people carried small metal pomanders that were filled with crushed flowers or herbs to wave in front of their noses throughout the day.
Stretching out from the Sénanque Abbey buildings near the village of Gordes in the Provence is a valley of lavender fields which are in full flower and fragrance right at this time of the summer. Native to the Southern Alps lavender grows best at higher elevations and thrives in the chalky soils and hot dry climate of Provence. This lavender is harvested by hand and after drying for two or three days, is sent to a distillery. One hundred kilos of lavender blossoms are needed to produce one liter of essence. Lavender's associations with holiness, insomnia and love abound throughout history and it is one of the most widely used ingredients to create middle and high notes in perfume. But you may want to know that Hildegard of Bingen used lavender "water," a decoction of vodka, gin, or brandy mixed with lavender as an antidote for migraine headaches!