“Sad wanderer, weep those blissful times
That never may return!”
The lovely floweret seemed to say,
And thus it made me mourn.
– Anne Brontë
The Brontë sisters have inspired countless admirers over the years, in a multitude of genres. Kate Bush floated in a meadow in her iconic red dress warbling her classic Wuthering Heights; Jane Eyre has been revisited in manga and ballet formats; Bernard Hermann composed an opera; there is even an asteroid named after Charlotte.
NYC-based guitarist and composer Charlie Rauh has taken up the mantle for the next chapter of Brontë tributes with his third album, The Bluebell (Destiny Records), due out 28 August. Rauh’s lullabied homage to the poetry of the famed Yorkshire wordsmiths. Rauh is a fixture in the NYC music scene, as a performer, well respected studio musician, and artist-in-residency with the likes of The Rauschenberg Foundation, The Klaustrid Foundation, and The Chen Dance Center. Rauh’s approach to solo guitar composition takes inspiration from folk lullabies, plainchant, and the imagery of various poets, ranging from the Brontës to Anna Akhmatova.
“I’m massively influenced by Joy Division both in the music and lyrics, as well as southern gothic writers like Flannery O’Connor,” says Rauh. “But the Brontës essentially invented the goth genre!”
The Bluebell puts Rauh’s stylistic hallmark of spacious solo guitar composition on full, minimalist display, while giving greater depth to this set by taking on the beloved poetry of Emily and Anne Brontë as inspiration. Titled after a small flower familiar to the landscape of the Brontës’ homeland in Northern England, and a subject of both authors’ writing, the songs of The Bluebell emerge as thoughtful, pensive, and reverent interpretations of the sisters’ poems. Rauh studied the work of the Brontës, carefully choosing the selections that suited the intention of the project.
Fittingly, Rauh echoed the Brontës by collaborating with his two older siblings, Christopher and Christina, on this album. For the first time as adults, the Rauh family worked together, just as their literary predecessors did nearly two centuries ago. Recorded in the home where Rauh spent his youth, the nine miniature songs weave, ring, and decay as they alternate between selections of Emily and Anne’s poems of childhood, growth, persistence, and wonder. Rauh sent the music and corresponding poems to his siblings, who in turn created miniature paintings and word responses in the form of their own version of Diary Papers: a day-to-day multimedia project Emily and Anne enjoyed.
“I wanted to try to represent the layered immensity that their writing evokes,” says Rauh. “These poems have been such a huge inspiration to me over the years, and I hope to have channeled my own experience into their words to create something not only deeply personal, but also relatable with this music.”
The eponymous opening and closing pieces refer to poems each author penned about the bluebell’s symbolism. The opening track (drawn from Anne’s poem) channels the reminiscence of childhood and its simple joys, giving way to later life’s mounting complexities and accelerated decline. The closing piece (drawn from Emily’s poem), confronts the lament of difficult times by using the flower as a symbol of persistence and strength, reminding the author that seasons change.
The starkness and space of the songs are brought forward by the ambience of how Rauh chose to record them. The guitarist chose to record the album in a meaningful location, making for experiential listening marked by the transportive effect of allowing one to feel and hear where…and what…he is playing.
Rauh’s combination of fingerstyle and flat-picked guitar evokes echoes of medieval modal movements, intertwined with smoky Appalachian melodies. This minimalist, ambient album transcends space and time; it is equally at home in the soundtrack of a purist Merchant Ivory film as it is an avant-garde performance art piece, or Buddhist meditation retreat.
The Bluebell will be available with a limited-edition copy of the Rauh siblings’ recreated Diary Papers – each individually handmade – available with the download of the album through the Destiny Records Bandcamp store.