Saturday 15 May 2010

A poem by Aage Berntsen, featured in Carl Nielsen's 'Funen Springtime'


Is there anything as hideous as a male voice choir? A question often asked me here in Denmark, mainly because it is difficult to assemble a choir of males capable of singing with any degree of professionalism. And I say this with a love of Danish amateur mixed choirs, which I have sung in for decades. We are thin on the ground – first tenors and second basses (the intrepid explorers of the vocal spectrum) are worth their weight in gold.

So when Carl Nielsen, among the other gems included in his ‘Funen Springtime’ – a wonderful composition that would fare much better if there were a good translation of the songs into a world language – included a short four-part male song to be sung by old men with rheumatics, rejoicing at the return of the Danish spring, there was an obvious potential hit in there somewhere.

And, in a sense, a hit it has become. ‘Nu lægger vi piben...’, one of the Aage Berntsen poems used by Nielsen in his work, is a twelve-liner that nearly every Dane would recognise within a couple of seconds.

So here it is, in a world language. And while pondering on its subtleties, try listening to the recording of it by the Studenter-Sangforening, recorded on Helikon HCD 1027. If you can't get hold of this, there is a youtube version sung by silkeborg choirs, though this is mechanical and uninspiring - here.
Alas, it also proves exactly why male choirs are so dreaded – a disaster in terms of pulse, turgid and without flow. But the music is great.

Så sætter vi piben i ovnens krog

Så sætter vi piben i ovnens krog
og lukker den skindklædte bibelbog,
det er den velsignede forårstid,
og gigten er bleven lidt mere blid.

Vi tager hinanden i trofast hånd,
hver finger er krum som en kroget vånd,
langs haverne puster den milde vind,
der luner det kuldskære, gamle skind.

Men når vi har rokket en lille tur,
så længes vi efter en lille lur,
for gammelfolk hælder mod støvet ned
og længes mod hvilen i evighed.

We lay down our pipe in the stove’s far nook

We lay down our pipe in the stove’s far nook
and close now our leather-bound Holy Book,
the sweet blessèd springtime is here once more,
each twinge of rheumatics not quite so raw.

We firmly shake hands in a trusting bond
with fingers as bent as a crookèd wand,
each garden’s caressed by a gentle breeze
that warms our old hide that is quick to freeze.

But when we have shaken our limbs a bit.
we long for a nap and a place to sit,
for old folks know well that to dust they wend
and long for a rest that will never end.

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