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THREE TAKES ON A WALTZ

London, 2018

 

    I spent the last two weeks obsessed with my recent musical discovery; Leonard Cohen’s sublime Take This Waltz.

A song that I had neglected in the past, it is actually thanks to Sílvia Pérez Cruz & Raül Fernández Miró’s interpretation that I rediscovered this masterpiece in songwriting, and interpretation. My curiosity aroused, I went back to the original version—Cohen’s—and through it discovered Swedish singer Ebba Forsberg’s interpretation.

It amazes me how one piece of music, can—through translations, changes of interprets and instruments, tempo, feel etc.—be source to such a wide range of emotions and diversity to the listener. 

 

Take This Waltz was originally written and recorded by Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen in the 1986 tribute album to Federico García Lorca, Poet in New York. The song is mostly based on his poem Pequeño vals vienés. It features a 3/4 waltz accompaniment by an accordion-sounding-like synth and has very little other instruments aside from additional vocals. Although addressing dark themes—such as death—the song has a strong upbeat feel to it. It is very easy to picture ourself in the streets of Vienna on a dark summer evening, but I feel like the song and poem’s actual true meaning is overlooked by the positive aspect, instrumentation and musical feel of the piece.

Ebba Forsberg interpretation of Take This Waltz—translated Ta min vals—can be found on her  2009 tribute to Leonard Cohen, Ta min vals - Ebba Forsberg sjunger Leonard Cohen, with lyrics translated by Mikael Wiehe. Although she later recorded an English version of the song, it is the Swedish one that caught my attention. Forsberg’s interpretation of the piece is a lot more smooth and feminine than the original. Through a very minimalistic approach—mostly a quartet of guitar, bass, piano and drums supporting Forsber’s voice—she conveys a warm and somehow more delicate take on the piece. The 3/4 waltz feel is still very present, however a lot more laid back and natural. The language is surprisingly a very good fit to the song, adding a sense of foreignness and authenticity.

Finally, the version that wrote this story. Sílvia Pérez Cruz & Raül Fernández Miró’s vocal and guitar duet provide the foundation of what is—in my opinion—the most passionate and exciting version of Take This Waltz. Named after the original poem Pequeño vals vienés, Pérez Cruz’s is both intense and full of melodic contrast, taking the listener on a miniature journey through the warm Spanish landscapes. Here the Viennese waltz leaves space to Catalonian music. Miró’s guitar is rich, and alternates between discreet melodic and echoed lines, to distorted guitar sounds, swells and tonal effects, traditional tremolos and rock guitar.

 

These three takes on a waltz are a a wonderful illustration of a beautifully written song and creative interpretations of it, and how by tasteful meeting they all result in wonderful pieces of art.

The Leonard Cohen case is a particular one to me; when it comes to listening to him performing his own song, I often find the form to give too much shadow to the substance, and usually have to refer to interpretations of his music to fall in love with it. In addition to Sílvia Pérez Cruz & Raül Fernández Miró’s Take This Waltz, Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah, or Sigrid’s Everybody Knows are another good set of example.

En Viena hay diez muchachas, 

Un hombro donde solloza la muerte 

Y un bosque de palomas disecadas. 

Hay un fragmento de la mañana 

En el museo de la escarcha. 

Hay un salón con mil ventanas. 

¡Ay, ay, ay, ay! 

Toma este vals con la boca cerrada. 

 

Este vals, este vals, este vals, 

De sí, de muerte y de coñac 

Que moja su cola en el mar. 

 

Te quiero, te quiero, te quiero, 

Con la butaca y el libro muerto, 

Por el melancólico pasillo, 

En el oscuro desván del lirio, 

En nuestra cama de la luna 

Y en la danza que sueña la tortuga. 

¡Ay, ay, ay, ay! 

Toma este vals de quebrada cintura. 

 

En Viena hay cuatro espejos 

Donde juegan tu boca y los ecos. 

Hay una muerte para piano 

Que pinta de azul a los muchachos. 

Hay mendigos por los tejados. 

Hay frescas guirnaldas de llanto. 

¡Ay, ay, ay, ay! 

Toma este vals que se muere en mis brazos. 

 

Porque te quiero, te quiero, amor mío, 

En el desván donde juegan los niños, 

Soñando viejas luces de Hungría 

Por los rumores de la tarde tibia, 

Viendo ovejas y lirios de nieve 

Por el silencio oscuro de tu frente. 

¡Ay, ay, ay, ay! 

Toma este vals del "Te quiero siempre". 

 

En Viena bailaré contigo 

Con un disfraz que tenga 

Cabeza de río. 

¡Mira qué orilla tengo de jacintos! 

Dejaré mi boca entre tus piernas, 

Mi alma en fotografías y azucenas, 

Y en las ondas oscuras de tu andar 

Quiero, amor mío, amor mío, dejar, 

Violín y sepulcro, las cintas del vals.