Monday, February 2, 2015

The Bells of St. Mary

The Bells of St. Mary's
Words by Douglas Furber
Music by A. Emmett Adams
1937 1917

Key: F major
This illustration looks like it's from 1750, and that's not the right church.
The range on this song is beyond my comfort level so I'll spare you a vocal version. The problem will be comparing this published sheet music with the version Bing Crosby sings 7 years hence in 1945 in the movie of the same name with Ingrid Bergman. That version totally drops the 6/8 sea shanty introduction, jumps right to the Refrain...and changes those lyrics too. I'm trying to avoid songs made famous by Bing Crosby and even though this song predates him, Crosby made the song famous at the end of WWII as Father O'Malley showing up at a Catholic school and charming the sister in charge (Bergman). I don't want to analyze these movies but I will point out that in 1944 Bing Crosby first appeared as Father O'Malley in Going My Way, and won a best actor Oscar. That's high praise for a lounge singer. As near as I can determine this role was the perfect match for Crosby's public persona; O'Malley is kind of a fallen angel, he dresses in street clothes, drinks, plays golf, hardly seems devout and seems to be pining for the girl he left behind when he joined the priesthood. It's a strange role and the only way I can describe him is like Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, except in a priest's robe. He seems to wander the earth looking for trouble and then solving everything with charm and a song before drifting back off to another adventure. Well, 1944's role was so good they immediately put him back in action with Bells of St. Mary in 1945 and that's where he sings this song I found in my box of dusty music. It is interesting to note that I watched an unrelated movie of Bergman's at cine club in Mexico. Me and three Mexican men watching a grainy version of Stromboli (1950) in Castilian, Spanish in some kind of Italian dialect with Spanish subtitles, Directed by Roberto Rosellini. I had no idea what was going on and I kind of fell into a trance, nodding off like an old man, until the lights came up and I had almost no idea where on earth I was. Maybe a Mediterranean Island, maybe Labrador, Texas, Mexico, Ecuador. It had all blended together and I was truly lost and forlorn, speechless. Well, Bergman and Rosellini were married to other people at the time, and that didn't stop them from having children together, first a son and then twin girls, one named Isabella, the other named Ingrid, and getting divorced from their respective spouses and getting married...and this scandal was, in Bergman's words, exacerbated by the fact American audiences had "Seen me as a nun and thought I was pure, but I am only a woman." I had wondered what she was talking about at that time...and now I know...she's talking about her 1945 role as a Sister Mary Benedict at a troubled Catholic school opposite Bing Crosby in The Bells of St. Mary's, which is the title of a song written in 1937 by two blokes from England. Well, she fled Hollywood for Italy and had to stay there about 10 years until American standards eroded to the point it was acceptable to applaud a harlot and temptress.

The song itself is definitely a sea shanty...followed by a completely musically unrelated choral section.

"And out in the valley the sound of the sea, I know you'll be waiting, yes, waiting for me." 

The song seems to be from a sailor to his bride on shore or depending on the preposition or pronoun you use, a bride to her sailor at sea.

"At the porch of St. Mary's I'll wait there for/with you, in my/your soft wedding dress with its ribbons of blue....?"
Not my picture, but evidently this is the Church of St. Mary's in Southhampton

Well, in my research to determine what it is these writers were writing about I see that the composers were English. St. Mary's is a common port town but the specific St. Mary's they are talking about is in Southhampton, England near Portsmouth on the south coast with a shipping Furber was aiming for a sea shanty effect and got pretty close. There is a problem with the melody that has a cadence on an E major chord and a B natural in the melody. It's a rough transition to this cycle of 5ths cadence: E-Ami-D7-G7-C especially because that B natural is the high point of the introduction. It doesn't work for me...but that should be blamed on A. Emmett Adams, who takes responsibility for the music. Maybe in Australia, where he's from, that's how sea shanties sound but in England and Scotland and Ireland and New Foundland, that's all wrong. Furthermore, it sounds like two songs pasted together without any relevance to one another. The 6/8 Sea shanty about the wedding, and the Common Time Refrain about the wedding. This refrain is a kind of tribute to church bells. Anyone who lives near a church will never forget the multiple bell melodies that play for mass and weddings and V-E days and this quarter note/half note refrain is possibly the exact melody the St. Mary's church plays, or some church in the history of Emmett Adams.

"The love bells shall ring out ring out for you and me."

Only Vera Lynn sings this version

Here's Vera Lynn singing a 20 year old sea shanty homage.

Vera Lynn was the singer who made famous another one of the pieces I've recorded here, "We'll Meet Again". She's from England and her music maintained morale as London was burning from German air strikes. I wonder if the person who collected all this music wasn't from England. I really have no way to figure out the history of this box of music beside someone named Dubois who wrote her name on some of the covers. It represents music from 1904-1950 everything Vera Lynn made famous and everything Bing Crosby made famous, The Andrews Sisters, Bob Hope, Gene Autry. It's a musical time capsule from 1945 but I don't know which side of the ocean it's from. I have to assume it's American. This sheet was published by Chappell & Co - INC. RKO Building Rockefeller Center NYC but also Asherberg, Hopwood & Crew, Ltd in London. 1937. Lynn recorded it in 1938 and Crosby recorded it in 1945.

Well, A. Emmett Adams appears to have been busy because while I first assumed this music was from 1937, I now find evidence that A.E. Adams had published a song title Bells of St. Mary as early as 1919. This makes me think he'd written the song 20 years earlier and Furber came along and wrote new lyrics and they republished it, but that's not true either. They both wrote it in 1914 and then republished in 1917. And this is confirmed by the information on Furber that suggest it was written together in 1914 and then republished and republished again. Well, this troubles me because usually a publisher will have the decency to put "Originally published MCMXIV Republished MCMXXXVII....

Hold on. I just made a mistake. I looked at the publishing date on the back side of the cover page and that's a promotion for a song called I Heard a Forest Praying by Peter De Rose and Sam Lewis. It's totally unrelated except that this edition of The Bells of St. Mary's has been republished at the same time as I Heard a Forest Praying. Damn it. I got the two dates confused and now that I look at it, the date is obviously 1917 for this copyright MCMXVII, they didn't renew it and they didn't put a new date on it, but this particular paper copy is not from 1917, it's the republished version from around 1937 and that would be supported by the promotion for I Heard a Forest Praying on the front...although the back page has a promotion for a 1924 song called In The Garden of To-Morrow by Jessie Deppen and George Graffe Jr. I need these promotion songs copyrights in order to deduce when this Bells of St. Mary's was written and now I can re-categorize this song in the 2nd decade instead of the 4th. 

I see my mistake. I originally knew this was from 1917, but I recently resorted the songs and used the wrong copyright to put it with songs from the 1930s. Well, the only recording I could find is from 1938 so I thought that was the year, but this composition was originally from 1914, copyright in 1917, recorded a few times over the years and finally in 1945 with Bing Crosby. They got 30 years and a full feature movie out of this simplistic tune. The final church bells rang for A Emmett Adams in 1938 so he never got to see Crosby sing to Bergman.

These pop songs from 1910-1915 are really odd to my ear. They are neither topical, nor discuss WWI, Prohibition, Women's Suffrage, Flu Epidemic, or anything current. It was a short period of time when there wasn't much to write about and Furber and Adams aren't even American so I don't know what the history of that time looked for them in England. I wanted to pick a song that was not affected by WWI or WWII or made famous by Bing Crosby but I could only satisfy two of those three conditions and this is what I get. This is an old song...actually it's technically 101 years old but this copyright suggests it is only 98 years old. Amazing.

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