Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What the Hell is a Purple Summer Anyway?

I was a huge fan of the musical Spring Awakening, but I always thought the show should have ended before the closing song "The Song of Purple Summer." I mean, what is a purple summer? Steven Sater, Spring Awakening's book writer and lyricist, addresses this and other lyrics in his new book A Purple Summer: Notes on the Lyrics of Spring Awakening.

The idea for the book came from e-mails Sater was writing to translators on how to convey the meaning of the lyrics in other languages. The songs are presented in chronological order, with explications following Sater's lyrics for each. At only 87 pages, it's a quick read (I read the whole thing on a subway ride). There are plenty of interesting anecdotes, especially in the conversations with translators (for the Seoul production, the Korean translator had to choose between "joy," "garbage," and "drug" to convey the meaning of "junk" in "My Junk"). However, with only a couple of pages devoted to each song, Sater could have gone deeper into the explanations. I would have also enjoyed more of the backstory of writing the musical with Duncan Sheik.

As to the question of what is a purple summer, here is what Sater has to say:
"For me, 'purple summer' represents the time of maturation--a time when the fields will yield crops, and the horses bear foals again. It is the time when the painful spring of adolescence reaches the maturity of summer."

Click here to read an excerpt from the book.


Unknown said...

Not sure if this is the official reason they chose to end the song with Purple Summer. But in the original Wedekind play when Moritz is talking about how Melchior's enlightenment has affected him he says "it was like listening to...a song you hummed to yourself when you played as a child, and then hearing it when you're lying down to die coming out of someone else's mouth"
The lyrics in Purple Summer link to the Spring and Summer song Ilse sings about their childhood just before Moritz dies. Maybe in both cases she represents "someone else's mouth" and brings back the theme of being enlightened to something which is already a part nature after having it suppressed by society. I just got excited about literary links and wanted to share

Anonymous said...

I took the purple color to be a fusion of the deaths of Moritz (blue/sadness/suicide) and red blood of a botched abortion of Wendla. Sorry for replying to a 5/6 year old post, but we just finished doing this show, and it's been on my mind.

Anonymous said...

^ I disagree that the "purple" is from that mixture of blue and red, as they are both very specific things (and gruesome) while the song is a very general metaphor, and optimistic.
I actually found this page while searching for the meaning of the term, and I don't quite get the "purple" reference (that word is quite unpoetic; usually you would have it as "violet" etc) but the "summer" definitely refers to moving on to the next phase of list, young adulthood. "Spring", in the very title, means youth, the show is adolescence, and now that they/we have experienced samples of the heartaches of adolescence, they wish us adieu into the next phase, summer. And purple :)