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3 Killer Songs About Vincent van Gogh

Did you know that Vincent van Gogh has inspired (at least) three great songs? The first I want to share with you is by Jonathan Richman with the Modern Lovers backing him up (iTunes link), and it's really sweet -- smart, funny, and even moderately educational. Here's a music video a fan made on YouTube:

"Vincent van Gogh" - Jonathan Richman w/the Modern Lovers

Some sample lyrics:

Have you heard about the painter Vincent van Gogh,
Who loved color and who let it show.
Now in the museum...what have we here?
The baddest painter since God's Jan Vermeer.
And he loved, he loved, he loved life so bad,
His paintings had twice the color other paintings had.
So bad so bad that the world had to know,
The man loved color and he let it show.

"Vincent" - Don McLean

But there's more van Gogh action where that came from. Don McLean included a track entitled "Vincent" (iTunes link) on his famous American Pie album. It's sometimes misreferenced as "Starry Starry Night" as those are the opening lyrics. And guess what, there are fan videos for that one too....

Here's a truly powerful live performance from 1972, live on "Sounds for Saturday":

Sample lyrics:

And now I understand what you tried to say to me
how you suffered for your sanity
how you tried to set them free.
They would not listen
they did not know how
perhaps they'll listen now.

Read tons more about "Vincent" via Wikipedia, including a list of dozens of covers -- everyone from NOFX to Chet Atkins covered it. (Okay, okay, here's the NOFX cover and the Chet Atkins cover for the curious.)

"Vincent van Gogh" - Bob Dylan (Live w/Rolling Thunder Revue)

This one speaks for itself. Never officially released, it was written sometime in the '60s and available on various live bootlegs, primarily from the '70s. Here is one such performance:

But Wait, There's Even More

If that's not enough for you, check out Wikipedia's list of Cultural Depictions of Vincent van Gogh (Musical - Popular). If you find any other Vincent van Gogh related gems, please post links in the comments!

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between an Opera and a Musical?
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They both have narrative arcs set to song, so how are musicals different from operas?

For non-theater types, the word “musical” conjures up images of stylized Broadway performances—replete with high-kicks and punchy songs interspersed with dialogue—while operas are viewed as a musical's more melodramatic, highbrow cousin. That said, The New York Times chief classical music critic Anthony Tommasini argues that these loose categorizations don't get to the heart of the matter. For example, for every Kinky Boots, there’s a work like Les Misérables—a somber, sung-through show that elicits more audience tears than laughs. Meanwhile, operas can contain dancing and/or conversation, too, and they range in quality from lowbrow to highbrow to straight-up middlebrow.

According to Tommasini, the real distinguishing detail between a musical and an opera is that “in opera, music is the driving force; in musical theater, words come first.” While listening to an opera, it typically doesn’t matter what language it’s sung in, so long as you know the basic plot—but in musical theater, the nuance comes from the lyrics.

When it comes down to it, Tommasini’s explanation clarifies why opera stars often sing in a different style than Broadway performers do, why operas and musicals tend to have their trademark subject matters, and why musical composition and orchestration differ between the two disciplines.

That said, we live in a hybrid-crazy world in which we can order Chinese-Indian food, purchase combination jeans/leggings, and, yes, watch a Broadway musical—like 2010's Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark—that’s billed as “rock opera.” At the end of the day, the lack of hard, fast lines between opera and musical theater can lead composers from both camps to borrow from the other, thus blurring the line even further.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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History
Lost Gustav Holst Music Found in a New Zealand Symphony Archive
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English composer Gustav Holst became famous for his epic seven-piece suite "The Planets," but not all of his works were larger-than-life. Take "Folk Songs from Somerset," a collection of folk tunes composed by Holst in 1906 and largely forgotten in the decades since. Now, more than a century later, the music is finally attracting attention. As Atlas Obscura reports, manuscripts of the songs were rediscovered among a lost collection of sheet music handwritten by the musician.

The Holst originals were uncovered from the archives of a New Zealand symphony during a routine cleaning a few years ago. While throwing away old photocopies and other junk, the music director and the librarian of the Bay of Plenty (BOP) Symphonia came across two pieces of music by Holst. The scores were penned in the composer’s handwriting and labeled with his former address. Realizing the potential importance of their discovery, they stored the documents in a safe place, but it wasn't until recently that they were able to verify that the manuscripts were authentic.

For more than a century, the Holst works were thought to be lost for good. "These manuscripts are a remarkable find, particularly the ‘Folk Songs from Somerset’ which don’t exist elsewhere in this form," Colin Matthews of London's Holst Foundation said in a statement from the symphony.

How, exactly, the documents ended up in New Zealand remains a mystery. The BOP Symphonia suspects that the sheets were brought there by Stanley Farnsworth, a flutist who performed with an early version of the symphony in the 1960s. “We have clues that suggest the scores were used by Farnsworth,” orchestra member Bronya Dean said, “but we have no idea how Farnsworth came to have them, or what his connection was with Holst.”

The symphony plans to mark the discovery with a live show, including what will likely be the first performance of "Folk Songs from Somerset" in 100 years. Beyond that, BOP is considering finding a place for the artifacts in Holst’s home in England.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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