Of all the musical intertexts we’ve encountered this semester, I believe Patrick Wolf’s “To The Lighthouse” is my favorite. I think it handles the topic of Woolf’s death with subtlety, emotional nuance, and productive energy, and it contains some interesting references as well. It’s not a mourning song, though it very easily could have been, but rather an exhortation to live and endure in a way that I feel is respectful of her experience, and even affectionate toward her. The most moving line in the song is actually a quote, the first part of a line from Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas: “Great minds against themselves conspire/And shun the cure they most desire”, which the chorus sings as Aeneas leaves Dido to her death. Wolf deals a lot with this idea of the burdened, melancholic creative, and when I saw his name on the syllabus, I immediately assumed that we would be listening to a song from later in his career, “The Sun Is Often Out”, which a friend once showed me (with a preface of “this is the saddest dang song in the world”, and I have to say, he wasn’t exaggerating).
This piece is one that Wolf wrote in memory of a poet friend who took his own life, and though I don’t actually own or regularly listen to any of Wolf’s music, the lyrics are so powerful that they have stayed with me for years. It seems a bit simplistic to draw on the contextual placement in London and lines like “They’re throwing flowers in the river/where your body cold was found” as signs of Woolf’s presence, however quiet, but the repeated last lines are what I associate most with her and with the frequent but inexplicable concurrence of creative brilliance and incredible emotional suffering:
“Was your work of art so heavy
That it would not let you live?”