We’re well into April, the name derived from the Latin word aperit which means ‘opening’. Flowers and trees in the northern hemisphere do indeed begin to bloom at this time, but April can be a most confusing, if not frustrating month: drearily wet one day, promisingly warm the next, armed with surprises and contradictions, daisies and sweet peas.
William Shakespeare (who was both hatched and dispatched during the month of April) expressed this opinion in his Sonnet 98:
John Drinkwater (1882–1937) had a slightly more earthy comment on the time of spring’s awakening:
April’s rather quixotic reputation is further confirmed by its three annually observed days: National Thomas Jefferson Day, National Scrabble Day and National Peach Cobbler Day. So, how has the month been immortalised in music? From April showers to April flowers, April love to April elegy, here’s a selection of pieces that reflect the chameleon qualities of the month.
First on the programme is a performance by distinctive chanteuse Eartha Kitt of Avril au Portugal (April in Portugal) (8.120800), with translated lyrics that end like this…
The English composer William Alwyn (1905–85) was also no mean pianist; some of his works for the keyboard present significant technical challenges. But we’re turning to him for an expression of a fleeting April shower from his suite April Morn (8.570359), four short pieces designed for educational purposes, written between 1924 and 1926. Even in these simpler pieces, Alwyn’s creativity is to the fore, and he conveys the various moods with consummate skill. Here’s April Shower.
Next we have a song by the eminent composer Sebastián Durón (born on 19 April, 1660), one of the most important musicians in Spain at the turn of the eighteenth century; he held the post of royal maestro de capilla at the Court of Charles II in Madrid. With accompaniment provided by the double harp, here’s his song Abril floreciente (Flowering April) (8.570458).
April’s haze of moods and colours seems particularly well suited to music with an impressionistic wash, so I’ve chosen a piece by Paul le Flem (1881–1984) to illustrate this. Le Flem belonged to the Parisian circle of Martinů, Tcherepnin and Tansman, summing up his own music as a fusion of three influences: his native Brittany, Debussy and D’Indy. Here’s Avril (April) (GP695), a piece for solo piano, written in 1910 and dedicated to the composer René de Castera. It’s a festive, springtime work, in which the spirit of nature’s renewal is translated into a dazzling piece of pianistic writing.
John Duke (1899–1984) was one of America’s foremost composers of song. Asked why, as a pianist, his compositions included so few piano works and so many songs, Duke replied: “I think it is because of my belief that vocal utterance is the basis of music’s mystery.” He wrote his moving April Elegy (C325011A) in 1950; it’s a setting of a poem by Alfred Young Fisher (1902–1970):
April rain in the wind-washed clover,
Sing melodies to ease deep pain, deep death.
Gently blow above her,
If song nor wind nor wind-washed strain of song can comfort her,
O, then cover her with silence and never come again.
Silence and peace to those who love her,
Peace in the eyes of the windy plain,
Earth nor sky nor song can move her
Nor April rain.
For our penultimate piece, we turn to music by the Czech composer and conductor Vítězslava Kaprálová (1915–1940). She wrote her Dubnová preludia (April Preludes) (GP708) in 1937 while still a student at the Prague Conservatory. These four brief and highly varied pieces remain her most often performed and recorded works for solo piano. Here’s the third movement, an Andante semplice.
I don’t know which piece you would choose to set us straight after such a varied medley of April airs, but mine has to be one that was frequently on the airwaves when I was in my early formative years, and has stuck with me since—Pat Boone’s recording of April Love (9.82519). And, as a parting shot, if the weather is getting you down on some days right now, remember what Al Jolson had to say:
Though April showers may come your way
They bring the flowers that bloom in May.