Wednesday, June 29, 2016

När skönheten kom till byn (When Beauty came to the village)








I'm not sure if I bought it in a loppis (= junk shop) or if it was a treasure inherited from the summer cottage, but either way this has lain in the rarely-visited "outsize" department of my bookshelves for quite a few years now, along with various books about the Swedish mountains, Tim Allen's Tattered by Magnets, proceedings of the Thai-Swedish society, Francis Rose's Grasses, Sedges, Rushes and Ferns, maps, screenprints etc.

It's in some ways a typical publication (1943) from the golden age of Sweden's ballad era. It consists of words and music (arranged for guitar and piano) for a dozen "visor" (songs). The most famous troubadour of this era, Evert Taube, wrote both words and music.  In this case the music is by orchestral composer Lille Bror Söderlundh (he later scored many films), and the lyrics are, with one exception, by other people. Nine of the texts are by the poet and song-writer Nils Ferlin.

The striking jacket is by Gocken Jobs, the sister of Lille Bror's wife Lisbet Jobs. The sisters were a talented pair of ceramicists who later branched out into designing fabrics, etc. (Initially because of shortages of ceramic materials during WW2.) They re-used the name of this collection, När skönheten kom till byn, for their important exhibition of 1945. "Jobs Handtryck", their joint venture into fabric design, is still iconic to many Swedes.

The "visor" of this era were founded in a proletarian folk tradition but had become art-song. Taube was from a relatively upper-class background. Söderlundh and Jobs were a high-achieving couple in Stockholm. But the bohemian Nils Ferlin had come from a relatively poor background, and Moa Martinson, who contributed one lyric to the collection, was a definitively proletarian writer.

It's tempting to dismiss these popular songs as fiddling while Rome burnt. That would be a bit unfair. Artistic life in a neutral country is never going to seem very heroic, but there was some political engagement in this case. Three years earlier, Söderlundh had written music for an anti-Nazi ballet. And Ferlin's poems often bore a sharp satirical edge.

Here's a quick translation, with quite a lot of guesswork, of the title song. (The Swedish is very slangy and full of difficult idioms.)


NÄR SKÖNHETEN KOM TILL BYN --

När skönheten kom till byn då var klokheten där,

        When Beauty came to the village, Wisdom was already there,

då hade de bara törne och galla.

        there it was just thorns and bile.

Då sköto de efter henne med tusen gevär,

       They shot at her with a thousand guns

ty de voro ju så förklokade alla.

      because they were all so wised up.

Då nändes de varken dans eller glädje och sång,

      There was no dancing or joy or song

eller något som kunde vådeligt låta.

      or anything that might sound dangerous.

När skönheten kom till byn -- om hon kom någon gång,

      When Beauty came to the village, if she ever did come,

då ville de varken le eller gråta.

      they wished neither to smile nor weep.


Ack, klokheten är en gubbe så framsynt och klok

      Ah Wisdom is an old bloke so far-sighted and wise

att rosor och akvileja förfrysa.

      that the roses and aquilegias get frostbite!

När byfolket hade lärt sej hans ABC-bok

      When the village-folk had learnt his ABC

då upphörde deras ögon att lysa.

      then their eyes ceased to shine.

Hårt tyngde de sina spadar i åker och mull,

      They banged their spades hard in the field and loam

men fliten kom bara fliten till fromma.

      but their work only benefited work.

De räknade sina kärvar --for räkningens skull,

      They reckoned their sheaves, for reckoning's sake

och hatade för ett skratt och en blomma.

       and they hated a laugh or a flower.


En gång skall det varda sommar, har visorna tänkt,

      One day it will be summer, so the ballads claim,

en dag skall det tornas rymd över landen.

       One day the blue heavens will move over the land

Rätt mycket skall varda krossat som vida har blänkt,

      Much shall be shattered that has gleamed far and wide

men mänskorna skola lyftas i anden.

      but mankind shall be raised up in spirit.

Nu sitter de där och spindlar så smått och sa grått

      Now they sit there and spin webs so small and so grey

och kritar för sina lador och hyllor

      and chalk (accounts?) for their barns and their shelves

En dag skall det varda sommar, har visorna spått.

      One day it will be summer, so the ballads predicted,

-- Men visorna äro klena sibyllor.

       But ballads make poor prophets!


Hear it sung in Swedish on Youtube by Gisela Nordell: https://youtu.be/vcqAi7u1ETo . The melody is fresh but sharp, a major-key waltz tune with a recurring minor third.

Here's an English adaption by Christer Caramon. I don't know anything about him but he seems to specialize in English versions of famous Swedish songs. A delight!





Textile design by Gocken and Lisbet Jobs, 1945

[Image source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/227431849909403997/]



One of Lisbet Jobs' best-known designs, Aurora (1956)

[Image source: http://www.mrperswall.com/wall-murals/aurora-1790-w]

The Jobs style was based on botanically accurate and distinguishable plants. See e.g. the Herb-Paris in the top illustration, or the Water Avens here. I suppose the umbellifer in the middle is Heracleum sphondylium (Hogweed - Björnloka);  the white-flowered ssp. sphondylium as opposed to the yellow-green ssp. sibiricum (which is actually the more widespread ssp in Sweden).


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