The Music Column

Rambling Rose

As a literalist of the imagination, I have somehow supposed that the fall equinox on September 22 meant that according to astronomical rules, the roses would—with a clunk—stop blooming.  But when last December, I saw many rosebushes still going at it even in a northern clime, I had to amend my faith in the lovely song “The Last Rose of Summer.”  Those outdoor roses were not only blooming but budding, after the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and even after the Winter Solstice.

I must caution enthusiasts that the song is a beauty when it is sung beautifully—and we will have to address that matter by citing various performances.  But beyond those, we will also see that a song of modest aspect can play a surprisingly big role in the world of musical possibility and actuality.

The song was a hybrid and bigger than it was in itself, from the get-go in 1805.  In one of numerous gatherings of Irish Melodies, Thomas Moore published the verse, and John Stevenson coordinated the lyrics with a traditional Gaelic melody—a service he performed for other Irish melodies as well, such as “Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms.”  But much of the something else is something we have to remember from more than two centuries ago.  A powerful current of growing romanticism affirmed a belief in the “noble savage”—a...

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