If, like me, you abhor rain and its associated displeasures, you may already be rejoicing in the 195th anniversary of a miraculous event that occurred on the date of this publication in 1823: Charles Macintosh (1766-1843), a Scottish chemist, sold his first raincoat. Layers of cloth sandwiched a rubber substance that kept the unwelcome intrusion of rainwater at bay. The inventor became duly and widely acknowledged following the adoption of the moniker ’mackintosh’ as a general term of reference for any raincoat. Where the ‘k’ came from, I’m not sure.
Composers have been less intolerant and more welcoming of watery downpours than I. So, let’s take a look at how this aspect of Mother Nature permeates their works.
The music of Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996) is a good place to start. He had an enduring fascination with water in all its manifestations throughout his life, dating back to the beginning of his career with his 1963 electronic work, Water Music. In 1980 he observed: “Thinking of musical form I think of liquid form. I wish for musical changes to be as gradual as the tides.” He wrote Rain Tree for percussion trio in 1981. A passage from a novel by Kenzaburo Oe gave him the title:
’It was named the ’rain tree’, for its abundant foliage continued to let fall raindrops from the previous night’s shower until the following midday. Its hundreds of thousands of tiny, finger-like leaves store up moisture, whereas other trees dry out at once.’
Crotales, vibraphone and marimba colour Takemitsu’s imagery.
Rain Tree (8.555859)
On balance, I think I’d rather find myself in a situation of too much rain, rather than too little. Australia is currently gripped by drought but it’s a stretch for the imagination to picture the country’s hardy ranchers resorting to weather modification rituals, by which I mean a rain dance. These are common practice around the world, however, where science and strategy cannot come to the rescue. Notable among early Australian composers was John Antill (1904-1986) who scored initial success with his music for the ballet Corroboree, the anglicised version of the Aboriginal word Carriberie which describes Aboriginal ceremonies involving singing and dancing. The ballet’s third scenario, shot through with raw primitivism, is titled A Rain Dance.
We’ll have a pastoral interlude here, with a floral commentary on the survival qualities of the humble daisy. Daisies after Rain, a poem by Judith Bickle, speaks for itself:
The daisy stars are swaying lakes,
When sunshine follows rain,
They move like fairies in a mist,
Shaking fair heads, again.
Rose petals fall, the poppies bend,
Knowing their hour is done;
But daisies lift their shining eyes,
And laugh, up to the sun.
Here it is set to music by Roger Quilter.
Daisies after Rain (8.557495)
Somewhat rougher around the edges is Edward Cohen’s Acid Rain (1997), in which two glockenspiels, two vibraphones, two pianos, and chimes are used to evoke the sound world of the Indonesian gamelan. The composer writes: “The piece is predominantly loud and often insistent, with softer passages serving as transitions, and finally as a coda, in which a not-quite predictable tinkling is meant to suggest a wind chime on a day when the breeze is gentle, the storm already past, but not forgotten.”
Acid Rain (8.559684)
The Swedish composer Hugo Alfvén (1872-1960) enjoyed talents outside music. He was an accomplished painter of watercolours and in his youth had actually contemplated a career as a painter. He constructed a suite from his score for the ballet-pantomime Bergakungen (The Mountain King) when the work eventually fell from the repertory. Although he had the full resources of the romantic orchestra at his disposal, Alfvén’s magical sensibilities as a painter shine through the movement titled Summer Rain, that perfectly captures the combination of gentle drizzle and seasonal warmth.
Summer Rain (8.553962)
For rain on a more biblical scale, literally, we turn to Genesis, a collaborative work for orchestra, chorus and narrators, completed in 1945. Each of the seven movements was assigned to a different composer of note of the day; these included Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Milhaud. The fifth section, Noah’s Ark, became the responsibility of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco; its 3-part structure deals with the building of the Ark, the deluge, and the immediate aftermath. We’ll join the score at a point where we get a flavour of all three.
Noah’s Ark (8.559442)
We’ll end in more poetic vein with two pieces written within only a decade of each other, but geographically very distant.
The song Jogashima no Ame (Rain over Jogashima) was written in 1913 by Tadashi Yanada. Jogashima, a small island of volcanic rock on the Miura peninsula south east of Yokohama, is situated near the tuna port of Misaki with a fine view of Mount Fuji. The words describe the rain as ‘pearls or morning mist, or perhaps my silent tears’. A ship sails by and is soon lost in the mist. Here it is in a transcription for flute and guitar.
Jogashima no Ame (8.573911)
Finally to Debussy, who wrote his three Estampes (Prints) in Paris in 1903; they’re often referred to as his first truly ’impressionistic’ pieces. The third is titled Jardins sous la pluie (Gardens in the Rain) in which the dogged insistence of the falling raindrops is assauged by references to a nursery rhyme (Do, do, l’enfant do) and a folksong (Nous n’irons plus au bois).
Jardins sous la pluie (8.573846)