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Keyword »Bridges« – The Playlist

Our playlist inspired by bridges. From the Elbphilharmonie Magazine's music lexicon.

Fellas, I'm ready to get up and do my thing ...

James Brown aus »Sex Machine«


Testosterone, adrenalin and sweat – James Brown's music is not for wimps! Brown pushed at the envelope of funk with striking riffs, driving grooves and harsher bursts of brass. He reduced the actual singing to verbal scraps, to groans and shrieks, and he provoked audiences in no small way with his ecstatic live performances, with his support for Black Power and by parading his sexuality. All these ingredients can be found in the hit song »Sex Machine«, where Brown's dialogue with the band is also characteristic, in the introduction and at the transition to the middle part, which opens with a shout of »Take ’em to the bridge!«. The word bridge here refers to a section of a song in a different harmony, either the B section of the standard jazz pattern AABA, or (in pop, and in James Brown's music) the C section alongside the verse and the chorus. The principle goes back to the medieval troubadours, who would probably have crossed themselves in panic if they'd had the chance to hear James Brown perform!


In the 1957 film »Bridge on the River Kwai«, the commander of a Japanese prisoner of war camp orders British soldiers to build a wooden railway bridge over the river. The mammoth production won seven Oscars, including Best Film and Best Actor, which went to Alec Guinness. Director David Lean had a clever idea for the opening scene: as the picturesquely ragged-looking extras were unable to march in step, he got them to whistle the »Colonel Bogey March«, a well-known military march from the First World War. The title refers to an alleged army colonel who was a keen golfer, and was in the habit of warning his caddie of balls flying towards them by whistling in the characteristic interval of a third. In the Second World War, the tune was used for the satirical song »Hitler Has Only Got One Ball«, and its use in the film established the march as a definitive symbol of the British »stiff upper lip«.


Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel had a firm place in most record collections for decades. With their crystal-clear harmonies and slightly melancholy voices, the two New York schoolmates landed one hit after another: »The Sound of Silence«, »Mrs. Robinson«, »The Boxer« and in 1970 »Bridge over Troubled Water«. Although Paul Simon wrote the song, he insisted that Art Garfunkel should sing it »like a white choirboy«. The result was a huge success, with the single selling more than six million copies and being covered by many other artists, Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin among them. The song was inspired by a Negro spiritual from the era of the American Civil War. But while in the original God functioned as the bridge of the title, leading from a life of slavery to freedom, in the Simon & Garfunkel version it's the lyrical first person that offers comfort and support. But this declaration of friendship wasn't much help: soon after the song was released, the two artists' often rocky relationship broke down and they went their separate ways.

A story from our current Elbphilharmonie Magazine (in German only). Order the current issue

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Elbphilharmonie Magazine | Bridges

If we are to believe Britten's comments, Bridge must have been a wonderful man.


»He was an excellent viola player and a composer whose starting point was always the instrument. That's why his music is so easy to play.« This is how composer Benjamin Britten described his revered teacher Frank Bridge (1879 – 1941), who helped English music make the transition from the Late Romantic era to modernity. Britten learned two important things from him: composition technique and aesthetic consistency, and his great admiration for his mentor was reflected in a set of variations on a melody by Bridge, each of which illustrated a different aspect of Bridge’s personality. And if we can believe Britten's notes on the individual variations, Bridge must have been a truly wonderful man: a person of integrity, energetic, charming, with a sense of humour and an awareness of tradition, enthusiastic, lively, appealing, knowledgeable and entirely endearing.


Among the handful of things to survive the downfall of former East Germany is the song »Über sieben Brücken musst du gehn« (Across Seven Bridges) by the East Berlin band Karat, which scored the biggest hit of its career with it in 1978. The song was originally written by keyboarder Ulrich »Ed« Swillms as the theme music for an East German TV film – and under unfavourable circumstances: »I spent two weeks staring at this text before I had an idea for the music«, he recalls. »The song had to be recorded between 8 and 10 in the morning in a pathetic outside broadcast unit that boasted the name ›Europa-Studio Grünau‹. You can imagine how the recording turned out – at 8 o'clock in the morning!« But it became a hit nonetheless. The band wasn't allowed to perform in the capitalist West, so Peter Maffay asked if he could have the rights to the song, and since then many people think he wrote it himself. That's not a bad thing in Swillms's opinion: he always preferred Maffay's voice.


One of the most popular of all French folk songs is actually based on a misunderstanding. It goes without saying that no one used to dance on the bridge (»sur le pont«) in Avignon – the only bridge spanning the River Rhone for miles was busy day and night. Once the longest bridge in Europe, the 900 metre structure also spanned the island Île de la Barthelasse – the Veddel of Avignon, if you like – where fairs and festivities were held in the middle of the river. After all, Avignon was the Papal seat for a good 100 years! Sad to say, King Henri IV didn’t take his responsibility for maintaining the imposing edifice too seriously, with the result that the bridge began to collapse from 1603 onwards, and there are now only four of the original 22 arches left standing. Thus the folk song turned into a satirical piece – a bridge that leads nowhere is perfect for dancing on! It's no use for anything else anyway.


We've been had! The word »Bruck« in Schubert's title doesn't refer to a bridge (German: Brücke) at all, but a hilltop lookout point outside Göttingen. The text of this piano song likewise makes no mention of a bridge: it's about a horseman riding home through the woods to his wife, whom he hasn't seen for three days. Schubert's portrayal in music of the galloping horse may well be even more impressive than in the song »Erlkönig«. What's more interesting, however, is the question how happy the marriage – or how clear the husband's conscience – really is: the listener starts to have doubts as he hears the dramatic shifts in harmony and the line »Lust und Leiden, die mein Herz bei ihr bald heilten, bald zerrissen« (Passion and suffering, that soon soothed my heart with her, soon tore it asunder).


Georg Friedrich Händel: Israel in Egypt

There is no mention of bridges in the Bible; something as surprising as it is significant, if we call to mind the fact that many Biblical stories would be redundant if a bridge had been available! Think of St Christopher carrying Jesus across the ford, think of Jesus walking the waters or Moses parting the Red Sea… And it would be a pity if these stories were lost, in both musical and theological terms. The last-mentioned event was set to music by several different composers, among them Handel in his oratorio »Israel in Egypt«, where he appropriately gave the exodus of the Israelites the form of a fugue (Latin fuga = escape).  The returning waves of the sea that buried Pharaoh and his army beneath them come crashing over the stage with massive choral breakers, drum rolls and foaming figures in the strings. The poor Egyptians could certainly have done with a bridge…

Author: Clemens Matuschek

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