Poirot sings

A few random notes about Poirot’s singing. Off the top of my head, I can think of two instances in the books where he sings (diligent readers may possibly think of others). He is said to sing in “a hesitant baritone” as well as affecting “an abominable falsetto voice”!

Hercule Poirot essayed in a hesitant baritone.

‘The proud have laid a snare for me,’ he sang, ‘and spread a net with cords: yea, and set traps in my way…’

-One, Two, Buckle My Shoe

***

‘Yes. To hum a tune is extremely dangerous. It reveals the unconscious mind. The tune you hummed dates, I think from the days of the war. Comme ça,’ Poirot sang in an abominable falsetto voice:

‘Some of the time I love a brunette,
Some of the time I love a blonde
(Who comes from Eden by way of Sweden).’

-The A.B.C. Murders

***

I think it is safe to say that Poirot is not much of a singer. 🙂  In the television series, we distinctly hear Poirot’s singing voice (hesitant remains a pretty good adjective to use) in a few places: The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly, The Theft of the Royal Ruby, and The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Neither adaptions of One, Two, Buckle My Shoe nor The A.B.C. Murders feature Christie’s scenes of Poirot’s singing in church and to tease Hastings, respectively.

In Johnnie Waverly, Poirot and Hastings encounter a disappointing buffet breakfast at the home of their host, and subsequently decide to nip off in the car in pursuit of sustenance at an inn. While riding back, Hastings (perhaps cheered by his recent pint) seems to initiate the singing of the children’s folk song, “One Man Went to Mow.”

The Theft of the Royal Ruby sees Poirot as a guest of a renowned Egyptologist and his family at Christmastime. On Christmas Day, we see Poirot and company in church while our favorite detective is schooled on the proper vocal arrangement of “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”

And in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Poirot (in a burst of enthusiasm for the British war effort) leads his merry band of fellow Belgian refugees in a sort-of rousing chorus of “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.”

Perhaps I shouldn’t mention it here, but since I have the photo up anyway– remember how Poirot points out that Mrs. Inglethorp has extended hospitality to himself and *seven* of his fellow countrymen who are refugees? Count the number of Belgians trailing along after Poirot. Are my eyes deceiving me, or is that actually eight men?

Here’s another photo. Who’s the mysterious extra man?

Anyway, getting back to the point of singing…

Suchet does not consider himself much of a singer, and as a matter of fact you’ll rarely see him singing in his screen roles. But there is a rare occurrence of such in the film When the Whales Came, and coincidentally, his character is once again singing “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.” In a decidedly inebriated state! (When the Whales Came is also set at the time of the Great War, hence the choice of song, and the music for the film was by Christopher Gunning. Small world, eh?)

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A-B-C: The musical landscape of The A. B. C. Murders

On June 21, Kingston Hospital Radio Online tweeted an interesting little tidbit about the music used in The A. B. C. Murders that Hugh Fraser retweeted, and so it came to my feed…

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For my part, I was both delighted and sort of chagrined that I had never noticed this before. Last night I finally re-watched the episode, and the A-B-C motif positively screams to high heaven. Once heard, it cannot be unheard. I also realized that a full-fledged lay analysis was inevitable at that point, and so I watched through the episode sitting at my piano keyboard to see just what happens with the alphabet (musically) throughout the episode. I won’t go through quite the entire thing here– there are about a hundred key changes and transitions– but I’ll share some of the more interesting highlights.  🙂  ***Plot spoilers ahead***

As a bit of an aside, is it coincidence or not that we see, on two different pieces of Hastings luggage, his initials? They happen to start with A, and I'm not sure we see this in any other episode.

As a bit of an aside, is it coincidence or not that we see, on two different pieces of Hastings luggage, his initials? I’m not sure we see this in any other episode.

The very first thing we see in the episode, which I love, is the rack of ABC railway guides at the station where Poirot is waiting for Hastings. A familiar cane appears to straighten those that are sticking out a bit. The very blatant A-B-C notes (representing the first three notes of the A minor scale) are the first things heard, and they quickly mingle with the Poirot theme, which has been transposed up a step from G minor to A minor and also contains those first three notes. This may explain why you can watch the episode so many times without realizing you’re hearing A-B-C… it just sounds like the beginning of the Poirot theme transposed (A-B-C-E-A from G-A-Bb-D-G). Clever.  🙂

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Throughout the episode– for example, early on when Poirot and Hastings are first discussing the first letter–  the A-B-C motif is sometimes paired with Eb-F-Gb to create a series of creepy-sounding diminished fifths. What better way to emphasize the unresolved tension of letters sent from a homicidal maniac? Diminished fifths give that delightful sensation of “something is really sick and wrong here.”

Whenever a new message from A. B. C. appears, the key reverts to A minor, and this also frequently happens when we encounter Cust. (Although he is also an A. B. C. in a manner of speaking, this is a bit deceptive musically because it causes the viewer/hearer to mentally associate that character with the typed letters. Sneaky!) By the time we get to Andover and the sign is zoomed in on, we get a very heavily-hammered A note. I was curious to see whether the same would hold true of the B, C, and D crimes. And sure enough– when the Bexhill poster is shown, we get a blaring B in the key of B minor, even– and later, Churston takes us to C minor! I was very giddy about this…  🙂  🙂  🙂  There are associations with keys for the different crimes in other places, too, such as when Donald Fraser is discussing the Bexhill crime and his dreams with Poirot, and the “ABC” theme plays in B minor again (B-C#-D).

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Doncaster presents some interesting musical moments, too. The drone of the D for Doncaster begins when Japp, in Poirot’s sitting room, contemplates the St Leger as a complication of plans. When Cust enters the train to travel to Doncaster with the rest of the crew, we hear a “A-B… C-D”! And when everyone arrives in town together, sure enough, the key is switched to D minor.

I just want to hug the composer at this point. But moving along.  🙂

One of the most intriguing sections, musically, is when the crowds are congregated at the St Leger, and we see our various characters standing at their posts while Poirot parks somewhere to employ the grey cells. The music starts in A minor, and slowly modulates up by half steps through various keys, so that we get the B minor and C minor moments of earlier crimes as Poirot sits and thinks about them. This is also interspersed with Poirot’s own “regular” G minor theme. And just when he starts to get his revelation, what happens but a determined, final resolve to D minor!

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We first hear the theme in F minor (I think) when Poirot is sitting and thinking about what will happen at Doncaster. Poirot’s denouement begins in his standard G minor, but when he gets to the part of his story where Cust meets the murderer over dominoes, the F minor key returns for the “ABC” theme. This is interesting– F for Franklin, perhaps? The reveal of the murderer takes us back to the original A minor, while the chase scene progresses through Ab minor, D minor, and F minor before returning to A minor. Franklin Clark is finally taken away by the police on a strong drone of F!!

Fascinating stuff!

Poirot in America: Flatlands presents a Christie radio drama

On this Fourth of July, what a treat to be able to watch a live presentation of the Agatha Christie radio drama, “The Case of the Careless Victim,” right here in southern Manitoba. Flatlands Theatre Co. has been doing a series of events at Bethel Heritage Park in Winkler this summer– and woe betide me if I miss Poirot when he’s within a ten-minute drive!!

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Bethel Heritage Park, Winkler.

The set-up was delightful, with the Flatlands cast in period costume for the benefit of the audience– Poirot was even given a cane. Since it is radio, I’ll forgive his extra facial hair, especially since the accent was so nicely done.  😉  The performances were all really excellent. Angela Klassen gave an especially memorable turn as the plucky Miss Abigail Fletcher, in whose apartment a body is discovered. “Watching” radio drama sound effects live is rather fun, and these were interspersed throughout the performance with generous doses of Christopher Gunning’s Poirot theme music. There was even an adorable vintage-tinged commercial break.  🙂

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Now, the world of “Poirot audio” is familiar to me– I’m a frequent listener of Christie’s audiobooks a la Hugh Fraser and David Suchet, and John Moffat is known to me as well– but Christie’s own radio dramas via the American market was a huge, mysterious unknown. I wasn’t sure what to expect, or even if the story was really a Christie original, as I’d never heard of it before. The plot had some typically Poirot-esque elements, but with some glaring departures from Christie’s usual style for her Belgian sleuth. First and most obviously, Poirot himself is in America, which never happens in the books. He even takes an apartment and hires a secretary there! Second, in the radio drama script, there are a few phrases and thoughts expressed that one does not normally associate with Poirot. He says “sacrebleu” twice, a phrase I don’t ever recall Christie putting in Poirot’s mouth (despite a Poirot reference in the Wikipedia article on the term– incomprehensible). He also once mentions finding the circling of airplanes at the location where he is dining as “charming” in that it gives the sensation of flying, although Poirot himself detests air and sea travel, which makes him feel sick. (This also explains why he hadn’t gone tripping across the pond in Christie’s stories– the Channel alone is hard enough for him!)

My ever-helpful husband found some information for me to answer some of these burning questions and puzzlements. It comes down to the fact that the rights to use the character were contracted from Christie to produce these radio dramas in the mid 1940s, which explains the discrepancies from canon and why they are not included with other Christie Poirots. You can go to this link and read all about Hal Huber’s efforts in procuring Poirot for American radio– it’s interesting stuff.

Good job, Flatlands– and thanks for introducing me to Poirot in America!

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The Adventure of the Cheap Flat… random thoughts, and a giveaway!

Some assorted musings about the episode The Adventure of the Cheap Flat…

*  When he’s working with his friend, Poirot seems to be eternally useless at inconspicuous burgling, whereas Hastings is awkward but ultimately successful– see The Veiled Lady and Wasps’ Nest for confirmation. On his own, Poirot has more subtlety!

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*  I do have a few little script quibbles. The overblown American stereotypes I find annoying. (And football metaphors along with everything else… really?) Also, the alteration of the plot for television makes Poirot to spot the Italian-American outside the block of flats for some time before the man enters the building at night. Great for dramatic tension, sure, but since he knows the guy’s purpose, WHY doesn’t Poirot just approach this man in daylight and explain everything in advance, rather than waiting for him to break into the flat and risking someone getting knifed?? I know the blasted little man wants to be dramatic and all, but really! In the book, he knows the “swarthy stranger” has been asking about the tenants but doesn’t know where the Italian is in advance, so he has to wait until the man breaks into the Robinsons’ to apprehend him and explain things. And the story flows naturally from there. Television-Hastings really deserves the chance to give Poirot a smack upside the head for all this…

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*  When you have an assortment of nerdy interests, you find strange and unlikely overlaps between them everywhere. For me, I watch The Adventure of the Cheap Flat and I think of George Harrison. The “Night Club Music” in the episode in question is credited to one Neil Richardson. Presumably this includes the music we hear at about the 26-minute mark, when Poirot visits The Black Cat to interview the crooked Bernie Cole. As he wanders through the nightclub, the jazzy riff puts a song into mind by George Harrison called “Not Guilty”—  originally written and recorded, though not originally released, with the Beatles.

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The night club music has this riff of F#-D-C#DAC# that reminds me awfully of the similar E-G-AGDB riff in “Not Guilty.” It’s not plagiarizingly similar or anything… but I just can’t not think of it… and it’s just really funny that the title of the other song is “Not Guilty.”   😉  Offhand I can’t think of any other cute and clever connections between the Poirot universe and George Harrison himself, other than perhaps the fact that one of Suchet’s earliest film roles was The Missionary, with Maggie Smith, and a Handmade Films production. Harrison founded the company in the late ’70s, the same year in fact that he was recording “Not Guilty” for his well-received self-titled album.

*  Okay, now we come to the giveaway. Since today’s post is about Cheap Flat, I’ll be offering this miniature painting in a cute little black wood frame to the winner. The canvas itself is 2.5″x3.5″ and the frame makes it just a little bigger. The scene is from this episode, the moment when Poirot is explaining to a bewildered Hastings that he aims to take a flat in the same building as the Robinsons. ***UPDATE***: No winners were forthcoming this week, so a new contest to win this painting is up at this post here.

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Bon chance!

Curtain: Why Hastings really dashes back upstairs.

***Spoilers, but if you’ve been here before, you know that! Watch Curtain already!  😛 ***

Anyway.

You know the scene where Elizabeth Cole is playing Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude right after Hastings has had his final chat with Poirot? Hastings walks in on her; she stops playing when she sees him; Hastings has a few moments of pause, then dashes back upstairs to find his friend dead in bed.

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What exactly is it that triggers the dash upstairs? Instinct? The simple fact that the music has stopped dead is what immediately leaps to the eye (or ear), and that is an important part of it. But there’s another component that is more pointed.

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“La musique cesse.” Charcoal sketch on paper.

The fact is that this scene exactly parallels the scene where Hastings first meets Poirot again there at Styles, all those years later, at the beginning of the episode. Elizabeth Cole is sitting at the piano, playing the very same piece. Hastings opens the drawing room door, and there is his friend. Poirot turns to face him, and as he opens his mouth in greeting…

The music stops. And Poirot speaks: “Hastings?”

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The reason, I humbly and speculatively propose, that Hastings stands there awkwardly at the drawing room door when he opens it on the day of Poirot’s death, is that he feels déjà vu, as though he’s waiting for something to happen. And something does happen. Once again, the music stops. Once again, he hears his name: “Captain Hastings?” But it is not Poirot who greets him. That’s when it occurs to him that there is only one difference in the two scenes: Poirot is gone.

Poirot is gone. And when he realizes this, it is then that he rushes upstairs again to see if it is true… and it is.

Hastings returns to the drawing room to ruminate in grief with his daughter, Judith, afterwards.