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Yellow rose - M. Caram
 

There is this recurring question in roses’ and gardening forums: "Where could I find black roses?" And the answer is: "Nowhere". Black roses do not exist. There are some varieties which include the word "black" in their name, but they're dark red; The day a rose grower gets the desired hybrid, they’ll make their fortune! I would say that black roses are so wanted because they don't exist in our gardens, but they do in our imaginary, always related to mystery, occultism, tragedy, sorrow...

In the song that I’m suggesting today, black roses symbolize an inner torment. The description is really vivid: the pain is a rose tree growing in the heart; Their stems covered with thorns cause an insufferable pain. We often come across poems which tell us of such intense emotional distress that those who suffer from it want to die, but I don't think that's the case this time: the poet says, "I believe I will perish", not that he wishes to die. Maybe that's why the image of this torn heart is so dramatic. The roses of this rose tree are black, and we might think it's because this relationship between black and mourning, but that's not the point this time; my friend C gave me the key to the poem, a key that, not knowing Swedish, I overlooked. The last verse of each of the three verses says: ty sorgen har nattsvarta rosor. Literally, "For grief has roses black as night." It turns out, however, that in Swedish, nattsvarta is also used as a synonym for hopeless. That is, we can understand that the grief grows and becomes unbearable because who suffers from it, has lost all hope.

I already mentioned the vivid description. The author of this song’s poem, Svarta Rosor, is the Swedish painter Ernst Josephson; It's not the first time we meet a painter and poet, and, coincidence or not, their poems can be clearly visualized (I'm thinking, for example, on Dante Gabriel Rosetti and his images in Silent noon). Josephson published his collection Svarta rosor in 1888; In 1896, he published Gula rosor (Yellow Roses) and years later, Svarta rosor och gula, appeared that is, Black and Yellow Roses, which includes the first collection and a selection of the second one. I should thank again my friend, because the information I found was a little confusing and the years didn't match with the song’s composition year, 1899.

Svarta Rosor is, no doubt, the best-known song by Jean Sibelius; It's the first one from Opus 36 that, along with Opus 37 and Opus 38, are the three late romantic cycles of the composer and also, the most commonly sung in concert halls (Marssön, a song we heard some time ago, also belongs to Opus 36). Those years when the composer wrote them were hard for him: he had serious problems with alcohol and, and to make matters worse, his little daughter died in 1900; In turn, Ernst Josephson had a mental illness that made him suffer terribly, somehow black roses besieged them.

If the poem is dramatic, Sibelius didn't fall behind and created a song that catches you since the first stanza. He accomplishes that, for example, with the piano accompaniment, with those arpeggios that go through the first four verses. They are like alerting waves that anticipate the anxiety of the poetic voice before the singer tells us. The singing line is also catching, with a varied melody which is repeated twice. And he does it, above all, with the last verse of the stanza: suddenly, the waves stop, and after a long silence (which would be as a dramatic pause in theater), the voice goes an octave lower, the time changes to lento and the verse that marks the poem is sung in pianissimo. A long chord enhances the first words, but the arpeggios return before the end of the verse, with the word rosor. It is an unexpected effect that you won’t miss.

Svarta Rosor is a good example of how sometimes the composers are deceiving and make us believe that we hear a strophic song when it isn't really strophic; They lead us to focus and wait for some melodies while they're changing others. In this instance, we hear in the second stanza the opening melody in the first two verses, but we don't hear it at the two next; instead, we hear a long, dramatic phrase that varies very slowly; it varies only in the last measure, to finish at the same point where the first stanza did, so the voice keeps singing the last verse an octave lower.

The third stanza repeats the second one with some variations that intensify the dramatic effect. The second musical phrase is no longer sung with the arpeggios and is a bit more varied; The most important change, however, is the last verse, it still has the same melody we are waiting for, but now it's sung an octave higher (that is, continuing at the point where the penultimate verse ends) and in fortissimo, this time emphasized by five chords with a very clear ending, that conveys what the words don't say.

Next Monday, it's Saint George's Day and, as every year, we're celebrating the day on Liederabend with musical roses. Some days in advance, these are my roses for you; Simon Keenlyside and Malcolm Martineau bring them, it’s a rare version of a song usually sung by tenors and sopranos. Svarta Rosor is a great song; it's difficult to get rid of its drama and its beauty. I hope you like it.

Have a nice Saint George's Day!

 
Svarta rosor
 

Säg varför är du så ledsen i dag,
du, som alltid är så lustig och glad?
Och inte är jag mera ledsen i dag
än när jag tyckes dig lustig och glad;
ty sorgen har nattsvarta rosor.

I mitt hjärta där växer ett rosendeträd
som aldrig nånsin vill lämna mig fred.
Och på stjälkarne sitter det tagg vid tagg,
och det vållar mig ständigt sveda och agg;
ty sorgen har nattsvarta rosor.

Men av rosor blir det en hel klenod,
än vita som döden, än röda som blod.
Det växer och växer. Jag tror jag förgår,
i hjärtträdets rötter det rycker och slår;
Ty sorgen har nattsvarta rosor.

Tell me, why are you so sad today,
You, who are always so cheerful and happy?
And I am no more sad today
As when I appear to you cheerful and happy;
For grief has roses black as night.

In my heart a rose tree grows
That will never leave me in peace.
And on its branches sit thorn upon thorn,
And it causes me constant pain and bitterness;
For grief has roses black as night.

But from roses come a whole treasure,
White as death, red as blood.
It grows and grows. I believe I will perish,
My heart-tree’s roots wrench and beat;
For grief has roses black as night.

(translated by Anna Hersey)

 
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