Friday, January 28, 2011

Buddy Holly & The Late Italian Renaissance

I have often been amazed how Buddy Holly
anticipated the changes in song writing that
Bob Dylan was to personify in the mid-1960s.
(Of course it was The Beatles who really made
it stick as they entered their middle and late
periods and proved its commercial viability.)

The comparison might seem strange as Holly's
song never grew lyrically complex, and he
very seldom developed a song much beyond two
verses, but the complexly sensitive male singing
Well All Right is completely alone among the
rock stars of his time.  He is petulantly self-assertive,
but he also realizes the woman he's speaking to is
as fully alive (with her own desires and inner life)
as he is himself. 

And it's practical knowledge:  the man who
sings Words of Love has a very sophisticated
ability to talk to women - again  unique among
his fellow greats singing lines like "She's sure
fine looking, man; she's something else" - this
after comparing his love to his car.

Even Rave On anticipates a vocabularly 30 years
or more in the future.  (And again the woman
takes the initiative. )  But Rave On reveals some-
thing else about Holly:  not only did he anticipate
the future, but by some strange coincidence, he
developed a style of singing very close to the
Sprezzatura so highly prized by composers of
the late Renaissance such as Caccini, Cavalli,
and most notably Claudio Monteverdi.

Sprezzatura means something like negligence,
but in a good way, and the freedom with which
Holly's voice bent and spread out against a
disciplined bass line would have allowed
Monteverdi to trust one of his composition's into
Holly's hand with confidence:

For comparison sake compare Holly's singing
on Rave On with what starts around the :40
mark of Monteverdi's  Zefiro Torna, 
e di soavi accenti  from his 8th Book of Madrigals.

Rave On

Zefiro Torna, e di soavi accenti.

Buddy Holly continues to astound over
fifty years after his death.  He has the most
densely compact career of any rock 'n roll
great, having in just a handful of years and
songs reached back into the centuries and
looked forward into the decades.

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