Press Play: “Spiritus Sanctus” by Hildegard von Bingen

I don’t listen to much plainsong. Well, who does? But listening to this chant by Benedictine abbess Hildegard von Bingen was an interesting exercise in audio-monotasking.

The fidgety, restless part of my brain started getting bored. It wasn’t used to this. It started asking me when the harmony was going to come in. I calmly explained that because this was plainsong, there would be no harmony. Would there be any strings? Horns? Maybe a drum solo?

After a while, I stopped answering my fidgety brain’s questions. It sulked momentarily, but soon enough it began to enjoy the simplicity. I got caught up in it, and found an unusual pleasure in focussing on one sound, one melodic line.

I encourage you to do the same. Close all other browser tabs, cut out everything else, and just listen.

Key moment: Any time the voices stray unexpectedly to the minor 2nd, especially at 6:22.

That makes me think of: “One-Note Samba” by Antonio Carlos Jobim. With his skillful use of a single note, Jobim would have made a good monk if he had been born a thousand years earlier.

Andrew Moore is our blogger-in-residence, and author of the music blog Beautiful Song of the Week.”


Press Play: “Kyrie” by Marc-Antoine Charpentier

I find Baroque music to be very relaxing. It doesn’t have the excitement and unpredictability of contemporary music, or the unrestrained emotion of the Romantic era, but there’s a form and flow that I find soothing. When listening I often find my head making involuntary swaying movements that are a bit embarrassing when I glimpse myself peripherally in a mirror.

Key moment: There are lots of wonderful Baroque cadences in this one. My favourite is probably the one that spans almost fifteen seconds, starting at 3:40.

That makes me think of: “Only In Dreams” by Weezer. I know it’s a big jump sideways, but humour me for a second…listen to the two violins in the opening moments of Charpentier’s piece, and then listen to the two guitars starting at about 5:45 of the Weezer song. I’ll bet that Weezer would admit to a bit of Baroque influence.

Press Play: “O Sacrum Convivium” by Andrea Gabrieli

In the late 16th Century, few places in Europe boasted as many talented composers per square foot as Venice. Being a choral composer in Venice in the late 1500s was like being a jazz musician in New York in the late 1950s; it was the perfect environment in which a generation of remarkable talent could blossom.

Andrea Gabrieli was one of the first in a line of famous “Venetian School” composers that ended with the death of Monteverdi in 1643. And just as it must have been magical to hear Miles Davis at the Birdland Jazz Club in 1959, it must have been life-altering for an aspiring composer to hear Gabrieli’s O Sacrum Convivium in St. Mark’s Basilica.

Key moment: When the basses plunge to a low F at 3:19.
That makes me think of: I might be imagining it, but that chord at 3:19 really reminds me of the opening chord of Miles Davis’ 1959 classic, “Blue In Green”.

Andrew Moore is our blogger-in-residence, and author of the music blog Beautiful Song of the Week.”

Press Play: “Invocation to Sleep” by Tchaikovsky

In a lot of workplaces these days, there is a bit of a culture of busy-ness. An unspoken competition to see who can stay at work the longest, who can claim to be the busiest. And I think that’s a shame. It’s like having a competition to see who can survive the longest by eating only one food group.

I saw an interesting visualization recently that illustrated the daily routines of a variety of famous people. Many of them were composers, and many of them seem to have led very balanced lives. According to the chart, Tchaikovsky (in the bottom left of the graphic) worked only 4 hours a day. Much of his day was taken up with walks, socializing, reading, and a full 8 hours of sleep.

I realize all jobs have different inherent workloads, and 4 hours of work might not be an option for everyone. But there’s a difference between being productive and being busy. And for my money, a solid 4 hours of being productive is worth much more than 8 hours of being busy.

Key moment: The dissonance in the opening bars.

That makes me think of: The wonderful, echoing harmonies in “If You Can’t Sleep” by She & Him.

Andrew Moore is our blogger-in-residence, and author of the music blog Beautiful Song of the Week.”

Press Play: “Contre Qui, Rose” by Morten Lauridsen

Owing to their perfect combination of beauty and prickliness, roses have become the symbol for the pain that sometimes goes hand in hand with love.

Poets and musicians have used the rose metaphor for centuries, and it’s really not fair on the poor old rose. There are plenty of other things we love that hurt us; ice cream gives us headaches, the sun gives us sunburn, George Lucas gave us “Howard the Duck”.

But if you’re going to use the rose as your painful love metaphor, it’s tough to do it better than in this piece by Morten Lauridsen, with these words by Rainer Maria Rilke:

Against whom, rose,
have you assumed these thorns?
Has your too fragile joy forced you
to become such an armed thing?

But from whom does it protect you,
this exaggerated defence?
From how many enemies
have I saved you
who do not fear your thorns at all?

On the contrary, from summer to autumn
you wound the affection
that is given to you.

Key moment: The chord at 2:19 gives goosebumps to my goosebumps.

That makes me think of: No, not this one. There are plenty of songs about being hurt by the one you love, but one I’ve been listening to a lot recently is “Lost & Found” by Lianne La Havas.

Andrew Moore is our blogger-in-residence, and author of the music blog Beautiful Song of the Week.”