Glimmande nymf

To a sleeping "nymph". Print, Sleeping woman, by Albert-Émile Artigue, 1899
First page of sheet music for 1810 edition

Glimmande Nymf! blixtrande öga! (Gleaming Nymph, flashing eye!), is one of the Swedish poet and performer Carl Michael Bellman's best-known and best-loved songs, from his 1790 collection, Fredman's Epistles, where it is No. 72. A night-piece, it depicts a Rococo muse in the Ulla Winblad mould, asleep in her bed in Stockholm, complete with allusions to both classical and Nordic mythology.

The epistle is subtitled "Lemnad vid Cajsa Lisas Säng, sent om en afton" (Left by Cajsa Lisa's Bed, late one afternoon). Bellman's biographer, Paul Britten Austin, calls the song exquisitely delicate.

Context

Carl Michael Bellman is a central figure in the Swedish song tradition and a powerful influence in Swedish music, known for his 1790 Fredman's Epistles[1] and his 1791 Fredman's Songs. A solo entertainer, he played the cittern, accompanying himself as he performed his songs at the royal court.[2]

Jean Fredman (1712 or 1713 – 1767) was a real watchmaker of Bellman's Stockholm. The fictional Fredman, alive after 1767, but without employment, is the supposed narrator in Bellman's epistles and songs.[3] The epistles, written and performed in different styles, from drinking songs and laments to pastorales, paint a complex picture of the life of the city during the eighteenth century. A frequent theme is the demimonde, with Fredman's cheerfully drunk Order of Bacchus,[4] a loose company of ragged men who favour strong drink and prostitutes. At the same time as depicting this reality, Bellman creates a rococo picture of life, full of classical allusion, following the French post-baroque poets; the women, including the beautiful Ulla Winblad, are "nymphs", and Neptune's festive troop of followers and sea-creatures sport in Stockholm's waters.[5] The juxtaposition of elegant and low life is humorous, sometimes burlesque, but always graceful and sympathetic.[2] The songs are "most ingeniously" set to their music, which is nearly always borrowed and skilfully adapted.[6]

Song

Music and verse form

The music is in 2
4
time
, and is marked Andante. There are three verses of 11 lines each, the final line being repeated da capo to make 12 lines in all. The rhyming pattern is AA-BB-CC-DD-FFF.[7] The melody is an ariette from an opéra comique, Le peintre amoureux de son modèle by the Italian composer Egidio Duni,[8] which in 1782 was translated into Swedish as Målaren kär i sin modell ("The painter in love with his model"). It had the timbre "Maudit Amour, raison severe" ("Cursed Love, severe Reason").[9]

Lyrics

Although first published in 1790 with the other Epistles, Glimmande nymf came to Bellman in 1771, in one of his first attempts at songwriting. The initial version was direct in its description, telling the nymph to "Lay on this chair your robe, trousers, cardigan and skirt". It culminated in an account of the "little death" (orgasm): "Jag leker och tager/ Svimmar, somnar, suckar dör/ Cajsa Lisa mig tillhör." (I play and take/ Faint, fall asleep, sigh, die/ Caisa Lisa belongs to me.) These lines were replaced with a more innocent but still clearly erotic narrative.[10] To convey the desired mood, Bellman creates a rainbow — after sunset: realism is abandoned for poetic effect. Bellman's biographer, Paul Britten Austin, comments that the reader "does not even notice": "Never mind. It is a beautiful scene, even if its chronology calls for much poetic license."[11]

Versions of the first verse
Carl Michael Bellman, 1790[1][12] Eva Toller's prose, 2004[13] Paul Britten Austin's verse, 1967[14]
Glimmande Nymph! blixtrande öga!
Sväfvande Hamn på bolstrarna höga!
   Menlösa styrka!
   Kom, kom nu at dyrka,
   Vid et smalt och utsläckt ljus,
   Sömnens Gud, vår Morpheus.
Luckan ren stängd, Porten tilsluten,
Natthufvan ren din hjässa kringknuten,
Ren Norströms pisk-peruk
den hänger på sin spik.
|: Sof, somna in vid min Musik. :|
Glittering nymph, (with) flashing eyes,
soaring apparation on the high feather-bed,
   benevolent strength,
   come, come now to worship
   by a thin and extinguished candle
   the god of sleep, our Morpheus!
The shutter is already closed, the gate is locked,
the nightcap is fastened 'round the crown of your head;
already Norström's wig
hangs on its hook.
|: Sleep, fall asleep to my music! :|
Glimmering nymph, glances so sparkling
Hovering wraith on pillows darkling,
   Innocent temptress
   Come, come now to vespers;
   By a candle's waxy heap,
   Morpheus worship, god of sleep
Lock'd is the door, the shutter in place is;
Drowsy thy head a nightcap embraces;
Now Norström's old peruque
Its rusty nail doth seek.
|: Slumber, sweet nymph, to my musique! :|

Reception

Britten Austin describes the song as "A lovely night-piece, its exquisite delicacy is best appreciated when considered against the background of its hushed and fragile music."[14] He suggests that although the song names the "nymph" as Caisa Lisa, "one cannot but feel" that the real heroine is Ulla Winblad, who is for example called a nymph in Epistle 28. The real Ulla, Maja-Stina Kiellström, aged 27 in June 1771, had become famous as a sexy figure in Bellman's Epistles, making her close to unmarriageable, so Bellman found a job for her fiancé, Eric Nordström, and the couple were able to marry.[14]

The scholar of literature Lars Lönnroth writes that the "languorous and intense"[15] melody was originally for an aria about a lover's struggle between the personified "Love" and "Reason". Love draws him to the beloved; Reason tells him he will regret it. He notes that Fredman, too, is pulled to and fro by the same two forces. The "obscene details" of the 1771 version were replaced in the printed 1790 text with a description of the surroundings and a lyricism that at on the surface, he writes, make the song more seemly; the mood is "less burlesque and more inward".[15] The musical setting, too, was changed, removing the instrumental imitation of the action. Still, even without the "erotically arousing striptease", the song's structure was unchanged, and the goddess of love is still present, with "I to Freya's worship go"[15] instead of the frank account of Cajsa Stina as "a diligent temple maid"[15] in Freya's temple, so, Lönnroth writes, it is open to question whether the printed version was much more proper.[15] The retouching, however, in Lönnroth's view converted "a semi-pornographic bedroom farce",[15] including a collapsing bed, to high erotic art complete with Orphean nature-mysticism, making the song "a demonstration of poetry's ability to immortalise".[15]

Epistle 72 has been recorded by Fred Åkerström on his album called Glimmande nymf, and by Cornelis Vreeswijk.[16]

References

  1. ^ a b Bellman 1790.
  2. ^ a b "Carl Michael Bellmans liv och verk. En minibiografi (The Life and Works of Carl Michael Bellman. A Short Biography)" (in Swedish). The Bellman Society. Retrieved 25 April 2015.
  3. ^ Britten Austin 1967, pp. 60–61.
  4. ^ Britten Austin 1967, p. 39.
  5. ^ Britten Austin 1967, pp. 81–83, 108.
  6. ^ Britten Austin 1967, p. 63.
  7. ^ Hassler and Dahl, 1989, page 170
  8. ^ "Fredmans Epistel N:o 72". Bellman.net. Retrieved 17 March 2016.
  9. ^ Massengale 1979, p. 200.
  10. ^ Stenström, Johan (22 March 2005). "Ljuva karneval! Om Carl Michael Bellmans diktning Bellman bakom maskerna". Svenska Dagbladet. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
  11. ^ Britten Austin 1967, p. 132.
  12. ^ Hassler & Dahl 1989, pp. 169–172.
  13. ^ Toller, Eva (2004). "GLITTERING NYMPH - EPISTLE NO 72". Eva Toller. Retrieved 13 June 2021.
  14. ^ a b c Britten Austin 1967, pp. 87–88
  15. ^ a b c d e f g Lönnroth 2005, pp. 309–314.
  16. ^ Hassler, page 284.

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