“The Last Time I Saw Richard”. . . is a Romantic tour-de-force with respect to lyrics, composition, and performance. In the folk song tradition, Mitchell sings to her own musical accompaniment, and there is no other instrument playing in the recording; yet, the melodic and harmonic complexity of the song makes for a performance far more sophisticated than usually expected within the folk song tradition.Christopher R. Clason, Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism, p. 83
Christopher R. Clason’s “‘All Romantics Meet the Same Fate Someday’: Joni Mitchell, Blue, and Romanticism,” chapter four of Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism (Routledge 2022), examines Joni Mitchell’s 1971 album Blue against the background of German Romanticism. He identifies characteristics of emotional vulnerability and subjectivity in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s short story “The Sandman” in the song “The Last Time I Saw Richard,” Romantic intoxication similar to that in Tristan and Isolde in Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” and the Romantic seascape and a life of longing in the title track in a way comparable to Novalis’s them of the blue flower, “Blaue Blume,” in the incomplete novel Heinrich von Ofterdingen (1800).
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Clason’s readings of Mitchell’s music and lyrics are careful and sensitive to nuance. For example, he elaborates that in “The Last Time I Saw Richard,” “the impatience felt by the two former lovers is accentuated by the repeated delays in resolution of chord progressions, particularly of the suspended chords, by the long, breathless lyrical lines, and by the barmaid’s interruption” (p. 91). Mitchell’s song “River” samples “modified lines from ‘Jingle Bells’ at the beginning and very end of the song. . . In the last few bars, the returns to a transformed ‘Jingle Bells’ progression, but the scene turns bleaker, even uncanny, when the familiar major chords of the common Christmas carol are delivered in syncopated rhythm, carried through a minor series of modified chords to end on an unresolved Dm7” (p. 91).
Christopher R. Clason is a Professor Emeritus of German at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. His research areas include German Romanticism and the Middle Ages.
Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism
Women in Rock. Women in Romanticism (Routledge, 2022) is the first book-length work exploring the interrelationships among contemporary women rock musicians and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century art and literature, the literature of the Romantic era. LIMITED QUANTITIES ONLY available at a 37% discount.