Waltzing Matilda / Anthem
Author: Australian Traditional / Albert d'Ossché
Date/Studio: 1981 Spectrum, Portland, OR
Engineer: Dave Mathew
Producer: Baila Dworsky
Original Release: The Art of Dulcimer (KM217)
Current Release: The Complete Recordings (BSR 158)
Albert d'Ossché was a Russian History major, a discipline fraught with intrigues, great art and imperial power. He was also an astute fan of opera which often addresses similar themes. In general, he was raised to be culturally aware both through his parentage which included a famous painter, an art museum director, a major industrialist, a diamond merchant and through his preparatory schooling associations with classmates and their families of social rank.
One of the few times he spoke of his mother's father, this anecdote was shared. “My grandfather moved to Mexico City just before World War 1, taking his diamond business with him. He loved to drive his old Bentley. Gesturing and telling me a story one day he ran the Bentley across a sidewalk and through a plate glass window. He got out of the car still telling me the story. The shop owners were going crazy. The police came. He's still talking. He handed the police a card. They read it and said, “Oh Señor Taylor, we are so sorry. We will get this fixed. Can we call you a cab?”
Albert understood the influence power and wealth wield. None of the family wealth was inherited by him but he knew well what they made possible. He was by nature a realist. His innate understanding of reality made him, if not cynical, then at least critical. He leavened this predilection with being a joyous participant in social spoof and the theater of the absurd. He was one of the 70,000 people who, aided by Allen Ginsburg's Tibetan chanting, tried to levitate the Pentagon on October 21, 1967.
In 1974 the Australian government was conducting a survey about adopting a new national anthem, wanting to move away from God Save the Queen to something more uniquely Australian. Although Waltzing Matilda was a leading contender, it was polling a weak second, almost 2 to 1, to Advance Australia Fair. Albert's intertwining paths of history and opera and what moves people of power led him to write his own contender.
He reasoned that, although Waltzing Matilda was a catchy, popular song, it was “too folky” to be considered lofty and idealistic by the other people of the world-- an important criteria for anthems, putting on the dog. It had to be symphonic and operatic-- bold. It had to have a more patriotic flair. Matilda caught the spirit of the Australian people but it was also too short and wouldn't hold up well next to the Uruguay anthem that was 105 bars long and took six minutes to play.
He deconstructed Waltzing Matilda and concluded that the chorus was what everyone knew anyway. It was worthy of keeping but the verses were too jumpy. Next he set about writing a segue into a true anthem that would be replete with musical overtures reflecting undauntedness, instilling bravery and invoking pride. The segue concept didn't quite work so he reverted to a classical arrangement and let the Matilda chorus be the first movement and wrote Anthem as the second movement.
Anthem is a brilliant piece of music. Like Albert's Last Tango in Tantra did with French torch songs; it perfectly reflects the nature of anthems. It is brilliant not because it is flamboyantly remarkable but because it competently illustrates the genre. It wouldn't be a d'Ossché tune if it did not have pregnant pauses and the melodic rushes and flourishes to land on the correct beat. But it does and it is. I renamed the second movement, Albert's Anthem. It can, and does, stand alone.
In 1977 Australians voted for Advance Australia Fair but only by plebiscite. There was still time. Our Wild Dulcimer Songbook (1981) claims Matilda won. Wishful thinking. Advance wasn't official until 1984. By then Albert had moved on to writing about what would happen to the atomic-waste-spawned, radioactive giant sponges off the San Francisco coast if the moon fell on California.