Procol Harum

Beyond
the Pale

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Celebrate Walpurgis!

Niels-Erik Mortensen (Copenhagen)


Now, what exactly does Repent Walpurgis mean, and how is the title related to the early Matthew Fisher tune? As the dictionary states, 'repent' is 'to be sorry for (wrongdoing)', while Walpurgis apparently was the name of some English princess who was spreading the Gospel in Germany some 1200 years ago. Somehow down the line, this saintly creature was connected with the popular belief that all German witches gathered on the night of 30 April before leaving on their supersonic broomsticks for the Brocken mountain.

So, is this just Matthew's version of A Night on a Bare Mountain most vividly and scaringly interpreted in Disney's Fantasia? Actually, the Moussorgsky piece was, in the Disney-rendering, combined with the Gounod / Bach Ave Maria as apotheosis. This tune reappears in the middle break of Repent Walpurgis. By some weird coincidence, Gary was rehearsing the Bach prelude on which the Gounod Ave Maria is based while recording the first album, and so they stuck it in. A thunderbolt of genius.

But what's in a name? At the end of the day, this composition might very well turn out to be the most important of the entire Procol Harum album. Performing this tune, we have the first and perhaps only real example of a PH song in which Matthew, Robin, BJ and Gary appear on equal terms. Emerging out of the sound of heavy drumming, Matthew states the hymn-like, Bach-inspired theme in C minor, followed by changes into F minor and G major no surprises there. But the tune itself though actually rather simple catches the ears, develops and is suddenly fiendishly stopped by Robin's heavy guitar work Page and Blackmore, go home!

A moment of tranquillity appears as organ and guitar choose to be silent, leaving the vacuum to be filled up by Gary performing Bach's C major prelude. And a true classical finish line awaits the listener in the closing bars, those marvellous thundering chords. No doubt, Procol Harum did send the witches on their way. In the Procol universe darkness always prevails, because the glimpses of Nirvana always seem to be more tempting than sun, light and brightness. In Repent Walpurgis this statement is actually reversed. Quite a refinement, come to think about it. And perhaps Matthew experienced something similar to the person in Sullivan's song, The Lost Chord:

  • 'Seated one day at the organ, I was weary and ill at ease,
    And my fingers wandered idly, over the noisy keys,
    I know not what I was playing, or what I was dreaming then,
    But I struck one chord of music, like the sound of a great Amen.'
  • Amen indeed.

    Niels-Erik Mortensen who adds, 'This is not translated,
    but written directly in English. If Joseph Conrad
    could, so can I (I hope).'


    More Walpurgis revels here


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