Musical modernisation: the 108 desires of Henry Purcell

Time for something a bit different today, and no it’s not because I’m too busy to write anything that takes in-depth research, HAHA, why would you think that… ANYWAY, what I’m going to discuss today is a comparison of two songs (and I apologise and know it’s a hassle, but please listen to both, they amazing in their own rights, so check them out), one a classic opera from the 17th Century, Henry Purcell’s the Cold Song, against its modern adaptation by Yasuaki Shimizu 108 Desires . I love adaptations and modernisations, it’s funny that recently I have found that I enjoy historic adaptations that completely disregard the “real” history. I know what “real” history is all about, give me more Russell Crowe as Robin Hood, he don’t care about nothin’, he pushes history nerds like me in the mud with his anachronisms.

You can listen to a great version of the Cold Song here done by Klaus Nomi, OH BOY watch it, it’s worth it for the costumes alone of this crazy French new-waver (here is another, German, option by Nanette Scriba, pretty powerful stuff). Yasuaki Shimizu’s adaptation, the song I’m really interested in, 108 Desires can be found here (you might recognise it from the documentary Cutie and the Boxer, check that out also, it basically posits that the process of creating capital-A art, is only done through suffering).

The Cold Song was written by English Baroque composer Henry Purcell as part of his opera King Arthur, now full disclosure I’ve never heard the King Arthur opera and so I’m looking at it in isolation from its wider, operatic context (always the best way to go about deep analysis, I always think. Let me know what’s really up though, if anyone knows). Based on the lyrics, and some cheeky Wikipedia-ing, it appears the singing character is awoken by Cupid – an easy personification of love if I am forced to give it a glancing analysis – but it is the closing lines of the song “Let me, let me freeze again to death” that hauntingly linger in my mind.

Jump ahead to…maybe 2001 I think…honestly information on this track is hard to find, it was on Shimizu’s album Cinefil, but just try to get your hands on a copy of it, oh brother. 108 Desires keeps the basic melody and spirit of Purcell’s original with a kind of electro beeping that screams: welcome to the future, classic opera. There is however, something that I find very confronting about this piece. When I associate 108 Desires with the ending of the Cold Song, to me there appears to be a begging for death in some form (maybe that should be taken as a release from the burden of love and all it entails, into the winter of loneliness?) and Shimizu distils the, perhaps, self-destructive urges that fuel human behaviour and contemporary notions of love. Perhaps I am more conservative than I like to think, but I find Shimizu’s monotonous listing quite shocking, there is nowhere to hide in this song. The vanity that drives us as we interact with our selves: mirror, clothes, dreams, youth; and as we interact with others and the world around us: sex, fame, sacrifice, power; and what we cry out for: eat me, form me, kill me, hear me. Shimizu boils us down to our very essence, which I cannot help but equate with the self-destructive tendencies of the piece’s inspiration. In the modern world however, this classical notion of love has been introverted, the focus has turned within ourselves as individuals as we move about trying to fulfil baser urges. Life and love is about satisfying any fleeting desire.

Hmmmm, is this actually insightful? Probably not! But please, I am honestly interested in hearing how others react to these songs, particularly 108 Desires. I find it mesmerising, melodic and…not bleak exactly, more stark, I think, or uncomfortable. Aren’t modernisations fun? Hit me up with your thoughts!


If you haven’t already, please check out those songs.

Also, check out Yasuaki Shimizu’s website, it is pretty interesting in its own right (oh boy, creative people!):


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