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'Ces nymphes, je les veux perpétuer': The Post-War Pastoral in Space-Age Bachelor-Pad Music

Rebecca Leydon
Popular Music
Vol. 22, No. 2 (May, 2003), pp. 159-172
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3877608
Page Count: 14
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'Ces nymphes, je les veux perpétuer': The Post-War Pastoral in Space-Age Bachelor-Pad Music
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Abstract

Juan Garcia Esquivel's compositions and band arrangements of the late 1950s and early 1960s - his so-called 'space-age bachelor pad music' - feature exotic and futuristic instruments, dazzling stereo effects, textless vocalisations, and an array of colourful harmonic resources. This paper situates Esquivel's music within the venerable tradition of the Pastoral mode, a specialised narrative mode met in certain literary and musical works. I begin with an account of the musical pastoral, illustrated with reference to Renaissance madrigals, opera libretti, and especially French concert music from the turn of the twentieth century. In the music of 'impressionist' composers, pastoral conventions include a preponderance of 'slithery' sounds such as tremolo, trills, glissandi, gauzy timbres, colouristic harmonies and, especially, an over-abundance of motivic material. The steady parade of new themes, with little repetition, and rapidly changing orchestral colours impart a hedonistic atmosphere, consistent with the 'fantasy of plenitude' associated with the literary Pastoral. Esquivel's music, I claim, represents a transposition of this bucolic style, in which the ephemeral sounds of the flute and harp are transformed into their space-age counterparts: theremin, vibraphone, buzzimba, and the 'zu-zu-zu' of the Randy Van Horne Singers. Esquivel's music, I argue, reconstitutes the particular erotic configurations of classic pastoral: in place of fauns and nymphs are suave bachelors and their dates. The paper concludes with a discussion of representations of the 'leisurely bachelor' in other contemporaneous media.

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