Cover Versions: Adagio For Strings

Since it’s July, and other than watching the Dance of Doom on the budget in Washington there isn’t all that much going on until the statewide elections heat up, I figured maybe we could do something that would (1) fill up some space, (2) be not completely boring and (3) change things up a little.

So I thought of this, and Oscar said he’s with me on it (though I don’t trust the little bastard since he showed up last week with high school kids doing Beatles songs on the kazoo, and if he does that crap again we’re gonna have a problem). Specifically, pick a song – then show all the different versions of it that appear on YouTube. Maybe some of our other posters might like to get in on the action as well. That’d be swell.

This is pretty fertile ground, as it turns out.

I’m not a big classic music fan, but one piece that always gets me is Adagio For Strings, by the 20th century English composer Samuel Barber. It’s just sad as hell – a lot of classic stuff is, I think; much more so than more modern forms of music other than maybe the blues, and even the blues is all about getting wasted to take the edge off. Old-style country music, where the poor guy’s wife ran off with his dog after he crashed his truck, is maybe the modern version of your typical classical stuff.

Or maybe I’m all wet.

But Barber’s famous composition is just an absolute tearjerker. It just screams pain and misery to you.

No clue what I’m talking about? Fine. A taste, from Wikipedia…

Adagio for Strings is a work by Samuel Barber, arranged for string orchestra from the second movement of his String Quartet, Op. 11. Barber finished the arrangement in 1936, the same year as he wrote the quartet. It was performed for the first time in 1938, in a radio broadcast from a New York studio attended by an invited audience, conducted by Arturo Toscanini, who also took the piece on tour to Europe and South America. It is disputed whether the first performance in Europe was conducted by Toscanini or Henry Wood. Its reception was generally positive, with Alexander J. Morin writing that Adagio for Strings is “full of pathos and cathartic passion” and that it “rarely leaves a dry eye.”

And here’s what it’s supposed to sound like, with a little bit of visual agony to REALLY spread the pain on thick…

For those of you who are now thinking to yourselves, “Yeah, yeah – I’ve heard this before, in a movie soundtrack somewhere. It was in, uhhhh, oh hell, what movie did I hear this?”

Platoon. And The Elephant Man, if you remember that one (John Hurt was the Elephant Man, and he’ll have you know he’s not an animal).

Really beautiful stuff, and horrendously depressing.

There’s a choral version of it as well (they call it Agnus Dei), which sounds a bit different but still largely captures the mood…

Strangely enough, though, there are folks who have taken this piece in some quite different directions than Barber did when he originally wrote it.

Like this, for example…

You’ll notice the background behind the violinist, whose name is Linzi Stoppard (she’s kinda easy on the eyes, for certain; it’s not a surprise she’s also a model and she’s also Tom Stoppard’s daughter-in-law), is perhaps something you might have heard before. That version of the tune comes courtesy of a guy named Tiesto, who’s a fairly big name among the electronic/dance set. The actual musical subset in question is called “trance” music; I haven’t a clue why.

Anyway, here’s a more basic version of what this guy Tiesto does with the piece (forgive the video; there’s a concert version of it you can’t embed that you can see here if you want)…

And another electronica version – the DJ’s just can’t get enough of this thing as fodder for remixes. This one’s by a group called Horizon…

But wait, there’s more. This is the William Orbit version. They say this is what “trance” music really is supposed to sound like. Apparently it’s not as easy to dance to. I couldn’t say…

I actually kinda like this one, but I’ve always had a thing for hard-rock versions of classic stuff (I have a picture in my head of Beethoven and Bach and Tchaikovsky busting a nut over an electric guitar)…

All that said, I still like this version best of all – it’s the choral version done by the Accentus Chamber Choir. Cool video, too.



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