Monday, September 16, 2013

Radka Toneff (Norway, 1977-1982)

Straightaway I'm going to mention this is not a download post, because these records are easily available now as CD copies, or even as cheap LPs.

A friend recently introduced me to the music of this amazing Norwegian singer, whose style might be described as a mid-seventies jazzy singer-songwriter (think Joni Mitchell during the "Blue" period or Roberta Flack in the early seventies).  I have never heard such a beautiful and emotional triplet of albums since I and so many others 'rediscovered' Nick Drake way back in the 80s-90s, and Nina Simone before him.  Although his style was folk, and hers singer-songwriter, they are very similar emotionally and not surprisingly both committed suicide.

Back when I was in high school I fell in love with an American poet called Sylvia Plath, who I still adore.  How, at that time, could I possibly have known that in Norway a brilliant musician called Radka Toneff had set her poem "The Lorelei" based on a Germanic myth, to the most amazing progressive melodies?  This is one reason I thank god for the internet, without which me hearing Norwegian albums would have been impossible.  But I know that if I had heard her version of this as a kid I would have been blown away even back then not just by the musical compositional brilliance, but by the way she has put the whole soul of the poem to music with the strings, the piano, the harmony vocals at the end: "Stone, stone, ferry me down there."

"Words don't come easy to me, my feelings show in my face,  but when I sing to you, I sing to you, and no one else, no one else."
Every song is personalized in the most emotionally devastating way.  Her rendition of the old Jimmy Webb "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" (he stole the title from a sci-fi novel by Heinlein but turned it into a gorgeous lost-love song) is also out of this world.  How many times have I said the same, this is the only taste of what heaven is like on this world that I will ever experience.

Like Nick Drake the last album is stripped down and austere featuring only singing and amazing acoustic piano, almost a suicide note in fact, as the last song testifies:  "I read my sentence" (a poem this time by another favourite, Emily Dickinson.)

For more biographical infos check out wiki as usual:

(Listen to the song and read the poem, since her English at times is difficult to understand.  I'm pretty sure this poem is about the urge to kill oneself, symbolized by the siren-like Lorelei which calls sailors to their death on the rocks below her, which Sylvia Plath also succumbed to in the end.)

It is no night to drown in:
A full moon, river lapsing
Black beneath bland mirror-sheen,

The blue water-mists dropping
Scrim after scrim like fishnets
Though fishermen are sleeping,

The massive castle turrets
Doubling themselves in a glass
All stillness. Yet these shapes float

Up toward me, troubling the face
Of quiet. From the nadir
They rise, their limbs ponderous

With richness, hair heavier
Than sculptured marble. They sing
Of a world more full and clear

Than can be. Sisters, your song
Bears a burden too weighty
For the whorled ear's listening

Here, in a well-steered country,
Under a balanced ruler.
Deranging by harmony

Beyond the mundane order,
Your voices lay siege. You lodge
On the pitched reefs of nightmare,

Promising sure harborage;
By day, descant from borders
Of hebetude, from the ledge

Also of high windows. Worse
Even than your maddening
Song, your silence. At the source

Of your ice-hearted calling --
Drunkenness of the great depths.
O river, I see drifting

Deep in your flux of silver
Those great goddesses of peace.
Stone, stone, ferry me down there.

Radka Toneff committed suicide on October 21, 1982 at the age of 30.
I hope the beauty of this amazing artist remains a part of our culture for ever!

"Shy like a child, she is... her glance, her story that never was told...
Say something nice to her, don't turn your back on her..."

Now I'll open the floor up to requests, if anyone wants some reups from the recent past-- that is, the last 2-3 years since I've been here.


Anonymous said...

syrinx - syrinx and long lost relatives in lossless format please!!!!!


thanks a lot and long live!!!

Tristan Stefan said...

oh wow, great start for me. I don't have syrinx in lossless. Anyone else out there can help?

Anonymous said...

Lovely post, Tristan - Thanks from ptrond :)

ushaped said...

These are indeed great albums. Thanks for the lovely post.

fuse999 said...

Do you have the self titled Gallery album in lossless? Thanks either way!

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