Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | April 5, 2011

Moon Over a Ruined Castle for Oboe and Strings

Last month, we went to see Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony – live. Neither of us had done this before, and it really is an athletic event for all the musicians… you can feel their energy and the anticipation of the crowd almost with the same electric sensibility of a championship anywhere. The acoustics of the Strathmore Hall were wonderful! Much, much better than the Kennedy Center – so keep that in mind if you’re ever traveling through Washington, D.C. And the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and guest conductor a real treat.

The performance was shortly after the Tsunami in Japan, a nation the BSO travels to often, and in remembrance of their visits and in sympathy with the losses there, they added their encore piece to the performance at the last minute. Arranged by bassist Jonathan Jensen, it was short, and very beautiful. Unable to find their recording, I found this one instead and was surprised by the Youtube comments that attributed McCartney’s “Yesterday” as a one-off from this piece – as I imagine that’s a bit too quick off the mark to be so certain. So maybe we can say is, “As if !”, but maybe not. While a first listen might give some inkling that the comment is on the mark, a second… less so.

If I have it rightly, the poem was written during the Meji Restoration period in Japan commemorating a defeat and the valiant samurai’s loss of life. It was first set to music in the obliterated aftermath of World War II. You’ll find a Rampal performance for flute as well, but this one seemed closer to the spirit of Jensen’s arrangement.

I found two English translations. One by someone named “Scorpion”… and another by Minako Watanbe, a classical guitarist. I chose Minako’s translation for its reference to the cherry blossoms which seemed much more consistent with what I expect from Japan (although I liked Scorpion’s broadening of the context). I re-arranged Minako’s text somewhat to flow a bit more consistently….’cause I have that sort of hobglobbin kind of mind that needs that stuff for some reason.

A banquet was held in the splendid castle
in the season of the cherry blossom.
Where is the light now,
that shadowed the glasses
and flew through the old pines?

The encampment was covered
with frost in the autumn.
Where is the light now,
that shone on the swords like plants,
that were as numerous as the cackling wild geese that flew ?

Now there is the moon over the desolate castle.
Whom is it shining for without change?
Only tendrils remain on the walls.
Only the storm sings between branches of the pines.

The shadow of the sky doesn’t change.
But the moon is reflecting it as before,
changing for better to worse?
Ah! The moon over the desolate castle!


If you have not already done so, and feel so inclined, IOCC is working to help Japan here. And of course a well-connected friend suggests the group he is very much involved with, the Japan Society, is organizing a concert and hefty donation here (now $3.3 million and rising) together with organizing troops on the ground to make sure the funds are used well.  Better, in that spirit of “not either-or, but both-plus” that runs through Orthodoxy, I’d suggest both. The Japanese people need our help… the Orthodox certainly. But I suppose the Japan Society will also feed in a much, much larger effort in places we would and could not reach by virtue of already bridging barriers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: