I Have Only Just A Minute

I have only just a minute,
Only sixty seconds in it.
Forced upon me, can’t refuse it.
Didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it.
But it’s up to me
to use it.
I must suffer if I lose it.
Give account if I abuse it.
Just a tiny little minute,
but eternity is in it.

—Anonymous (attributed to Dr. Benjamin E. Mays)

Svetik Savishna” takes a little over a minute to perform—but just listen to what’s packed in it:

. . . with O Darling Savishna, Mussorgsky succeeds completely in a setting that is indubitably in the “folk” style but also an art song. . . . The song is in the unusual time signature of 5/4. More unusually still, the melody line, if it can be called a melody, consists essentially of a one-bar-long figure, and the piano accompaniment consists essentially of the same gesture repeated over and over again for the entire 47 bars of the song . . . . an entirely new and completely coherent structure based on the folk idiom. [cite]

Another minute that packs a wallop is this one, which ended a billionaire’s vanity campaign:

8 thoughts on “I Have Only Just A Minute

  1. shoreacres

    When I read that “Darling Savishna” was written in 5/4 time, it jogged my memory. I double checked, and sure enough: Brubeck’s “Take Five” also was written in 5/4. There’s a great article about Brubeck here, and this seems relevant to Mussorgsky’s piece:

    “David Huron, a music professor at The Ohio State University, researches a variety of topics in music cognition, including the emotional effects of music and what makes tunes memorable. He says that musicologists tend to focus on novelty when discussing musical appeal, but in reality, “people prefer things that are familiar.”

    He says that in order to make songs such as “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo a la Turk” compelling, Brubeck had to balance the novelty of the rhythm with familiarity, particularly through repetition. “If you want to make things accessible to listeners, repetition is key. If he had just done a more Stravinsky-esque thing, playing around with these rhythms and not repeating them, then what we know from the research is that would be much less appealing to the listeners.”

    Very interesting!

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Good sleuthing! When in high school, discovering Take Five, I thought Brubeck had invented that time signature. I tried to “conduct” it in a class once–and failed miserably as you might expect, as I knew nothing whatsoever about conducting. Turns out 5/4 time goes back. I can’t find a first use, but Glinka used it in an opera–it turns out the rhythmic complexities drew on the rhythms of the Russian language.

  2. David Nice

    My all-time favourite minute’s magic is Sibelius’s ‘Song II’ in one of the suites he drew from his incidental music to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The original is a setting of Ariel’s ‘Where the Bee Sucks’, but what he does with the two clarinets and the melody (second verse both truncated and extended) in the purely orchestral version is total genius.

Comments are closed.