National Poetry Month: Poems About Music, Day 23 of 30

Triolet on a Line Apocryphally Attributed to Martin Luther

By A. E. Stallings

Why should the Devil get all the good tunes,
The booze and the neon and Saturday night,
The swaying in darkness, the lovers like spoons?
Why should the Devil get all the good tunes?
Does he hum them to while away sad afternoons
And the long, lonesome Sundays? Or sing them for spite?
Why should the Devil get all the good tunes,
The booze and the neon and Saturday night?

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A few notes: a triolet is a form of 8 lines with only 2 rhymes.

Of that “Devil has the best tunes” quote…I’ve found it hard to run down, and hadn’t heard it associated with Martin Luther, but rather with an English cleric defending the right to use popular tunes in religious contexts (a practice that goes back centuries). Predictably, Terry Prachett has a fun twist on it: “It is said that the Devil has all the best tunes. This is broadly true. But Heaven has the best choreographers.” There’s quite the work exchange between both parties when it comes to the arts.

In any case, the tunes+devil thing is a cue for Liszt, considered demonic in his own time (as was Paganini, and in fact anybody whose level of musical virtuosity seems unexplainable.) Here is the Mephisto Waltz No. 1, played by the Baden-Baden Radio Symphony Orchestra with an exciting lack of restraint (plangent open strings, big crescendos, barely controlled frenzy.) This was written to accompany a stage version of Faust, and also exists in a ferocious piano solo version.

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