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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versão On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versão impressa ISSN 0041-4751


OOSTHUIZEN, Magdalena  e  LUDEMANN, Winfried. Carmine Petronii by Arnold van Wyk (1916-1983). Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2022, vol.62, n.3, pp.568-587. ISSN 2224-7912.

Arnold van Wyk's reputation as a composer of art songs rests on his two song cycles Vier weemoedige liedjies and Van liefde en verlatenheid as well as several single songs. The Petronius songs, a cycle of five songs for baritone and small instrumental ensemble (flute, viola, cello, horn, percussion, harp and piano), are still unpublished and thus unknown to the wider public. The songs offer rich research material and deserve to be published and performed. The texts of these songs, in Latin, are taken from the Satyricon by Petronius Arbiter (c. 27-66 CE), a member of the inner court of the Roman emperor Nero around 62 CE. Petronius describes Roman life of that era in a simple but colourful way. The mood of the chosen five poems is nocturnal and, in some cases, borders on the melancholic. The topics do not shy away from the occasional eroticism or even homoeroticism. Van Wyk began working on the song cycle during 1957-1959 but, following an interruption, only completed it in 1964. Factors that contributed to the slow compositional progress included the composer's heavy workload at the College of Music, Cape Town, his preoccupation with other compositional projects, such as the orchestral work Primavera, and his unstable health, depression and periodic compositional droughts. During February 1960 Van Wyk resigned as senior lecturer at the College of Music and in October that year became a lecturer at Stellenbosch University's Department of Music. Like Van liefde en verlatenheid, the Petronius cycle is cast in a symmetric form: the first and fifth songs balance each other in respect of sentiment and style, as do the second and fourth, while the third song displays a character of its own. The first and last songs (Qualis nox and Sit nox) are lyrical, while the second and fourth ones (Lecto compositus and Somnia quae mentes ludunt) represent a more narrative approach. For the third song, Foeda est, the accompaniment was restricted to piano, giving a unique character to the song and emphasising its singular position at the centre of the cycle. In discussing the various songs, this article draws attention to Van Wyk's ability to set words to music in a highly imaginative way, and to his sensitivity for the feelings expressed in the texts. His compositional proficiency is highlighted, especially his extraordinary skill in creating atmosphere and "painting" with musical sounds. The article highlights how the accompaniments - through recurring motives, varying textures, changes in tempo, the frequent use ofpedal points and the continuous presence of the piano - not only underline the songs' formal structure but contribute to the music's evocative character. Because of their length and picturesque content, Lecto compositus and Somnia quae mentes ludunt posed a special challenge to the composer. Van Wyk succeeded in representing colourful scenes by means of an imaginative use of the timbre of the accompanying instruments. In each song one instrument is accorded prominence, to capture and represent the poem's essence. Complex chord structures, double spelling of notes in a chord, some abrupt modulations and frequent use of the tritone in different keys, as well as the already mentioned pedal points, characterise the harmonic content of the songs. The taxing vocal part requires a skilled baritone voice. Considering the wider context of this Van Wyk song cycle, one should not overlook the possible influence that some of Benjamin Britten's works may have had on it. Although Van Wyk's songs exhibit their own characteristic style there are several areas where marked similarities with Britten's works are noticeable. Worth mentioning are the original high tessiture and lyrical sound of Van Wyk'sfirst attempts at setting Qualis nox and Sit nox to music. These characteristics remind one of Britten's Les illuminations and Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings. The B-section ofVan Wyk's Somnia quae mentes ludunt could be compared with many examples of explicit word painting in Britten's songs, such as Rats Away! from Our Hunting Fathers, as well as Below the thunders of the upper deep and Midnight's bell goes ting, both from Nocturne. Even the use of descriptive melismas on words like ludunt (tease), sanguine (blood) and quatit (shake) can be compared with Britten's treatment of l'ecume (the foam) and tourbillons (whirlpools) in Marine from Les illuminations and lulling in Sonnet from Serenade. The aim of this article is to bring this extraordinary song cycle to the attention of performers and researchers alike.

Palavras-chave : Arnold van Wyk; Petronius songs; Satyricon; song cycle; baritone; unpublished compositions; archival research; eroticism; word painting; Benjamin Britten.

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