I wonder how many posts and articles will bear this title over the next week or so? No surprise really, given how jaw-dropping it must have been to see humans walking on the surface of the Moon fifty years ago. I’m too young to remember it as it happened, but most people on Earth have probably seen the blurry, extraordinary footage at one time or another.
In celebration, I did a quick trawl through our songsheet collection. The moon features a lot in songs, either as itself or as moonlight. Here’s my selection.
Brahms Mondnacht, WoO 21 (publ. 1872)
The young Brahms was introduced to Robert Schumann in 1853. They (and Clara Schumann) immediately hit it off. A year later, he composed this setting of an Eichendorff poem, ‘Moonlit night’ as an homage to Schumann’s own earlier version. This is how Graham Johnson describes the poem in his notes to a Hyperion recording :
This is a poem of bridal rapture, the mystic union of heaven and earth …
And here’s a taste in translation from the original German:
It was as if the heavens Had quietly kissed the earth, And now, with its shining blossom, It dreamt of them alone.
The song has been recorded by both male and female singers. Here’s a version by Dieter Fischer-Dieskau:
Benedict The moon has raised her lamp above (publ. 1890s)
Julius Benedict is an excellent example of a composer once well-known in his day and who now barely registers. German born, he spent most of his working life in Victorian England. His best received opera was The Lily of Killarney and that is where this duet for tenor and baritone comes from. It oozes Victorian sentimentality, yet it’s a very pleasant, short piece. As I’ve discovered, the tune readily gets stuck in your head.
Here are the opening lines:
The moon has raised her lamp above To light the way to thee, my love, Her rays upon the waters play, To tell me eyes more bright than they Are watching thro’ the night.
Nearly forty years after the opera’s premiere, our copy demonstrates the duet continued to be popular enough to merit a low-cost edition. It still clings on at the fringes of the repertoire.
Schertzinger & Burke The moon and the willow tree (publ. 1940)
With this title, we lurch forward into the 1940s and a song from one of The Road to… series of movies. I imagine romantic, humorous Hollywood films were greeted with more than usual enthusiasm by a wartime audience in the UK. Victor Schertzinger was a violinist, film director, producer, and composer. The Road to Singapore was one the last films he worked on.
The song was sung by Dorothy Lamour’s character. Here’s a flavour of the lyrics:
I have two friends, the strangest company, The gay, light-hearted moon and the willow tree, The sad willow tree. And when we meet I notice suddenly The moon begins to smile, but the willow tree Starts weeping for me.
The link is to a slightly later recording by Kitty Kallen.
Edwards & Madden By the light of the silvery moon (publ. 1953)
We move into the 1950s with a song that was originally written in 1909. That’s appropriate as the movie concerns a family in Indiana welcoming back a soldier from the first World War. It also explains why I kept reading the verb ‘to spoon’ in the lyrics. Somehow it sticks out – a slang word which has dated and never come back into fashion. The song on its own has appeared regularly in other contexts.
Here’s a taste:
By the light of the silvery moon, I want to spoon, To my honey I’ll croon love’s tune, Honeymoon keep a-shining in June …
There are a number of recordings out there, dating from when it was first composed through to the 1960s. I’ll leave you to make your choice.
Howard Fly me to the moon (publ. 1962)
Finally, we arrive at the title song, composed in 1953. This early 1960s cover is boring beyond belief; however it does give a good idea of how many singers had it in their catalogue at time of publication. Eleven in all are named and that only scratches the surface of the total catalogue across the decades. One of the most famous singers isn’t listed here; Frank Sinatra’s rendition came a few years after.
Just in case you’ve forgotten the refrain, here’s a part of it:
Fly me to the Moon, and let me play among the stars; Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars.
To make up the for earlier omission, here’s Sinatra to close: