Press Play: “With Drooping Wings” by Henry Purcell

During my time as a choir boy, I mainly knew Purcell as the composer of happy-fun-times pieces like “Rejoice in the Lord Alway”. I figured that was the only kind of music he wrote: typical Baroque stuff, ideal for listening to while frolicking around a maypole. I had no idea that he had written anything of the intense sadness and emotion of “Dido and Aeneas”, especially its final chorus, “With Drooping Wings”.

Key moment: The pauses between “never…never…” at 1:55.

That makes me think of: Pete Townsend has been quoted as saying he was influenced by Purcell’s music, and the opening of “The Pinball Wizard” certainly sounds like it owes something to the mournful chords of “With Drooping Wings”.

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

Press Play: “O Sacrum Convivium” by Olivier Messaien

Two things strike me about Olivier Messaien:

  1. He really liked birds, almost to a Portlandia-ish degree. He wrote at least 20 pieces about them. And not just the pretty ones; his Catalogue D’Oiseaux includes pieces entitled “The Black-Eared Whetear and “The Buzzard”.
  2. He really liked messing with time. Unusual time signatures, palindromic rhythms…in once piece, he gives the performer the slightly un-nerving instruction that the tempo should be “infinitely slow”.

This piece, while it doesn’t mention birds explicitly, does have a fascinating time structure. It’s a bit over my head to describe it, but I think it alternates between five-four and…uh, Pi. Or something.

Key moment: The long “alleluia” that begins at 2:38 descends slowly and smoothly, like a buzzard landing on a dead horse dove landing on an olive branch.

That makes me think of: The way the bass part climbs up and then down chromatically at 0:28 reminds me of the opening chords of “The Pyramid Song” by Radiohead. The weird time signature clinches it.

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

Press Play: “Pie Jesu” by Lili Boulanger

I know it’s a bit early to think about Halloween, but holy smokes is this a spooky piece of music. The uneasy chromatic movement of the organ. The swelling strings. Even the intervals of the soloist’s voice have a certain “I’m watching you” creepiness about them.

So here’s what you do if you happen to have the personnel handy to perform this piece: set up on the street on October 31st, dress the strings in zombie outfits, dip your conductor’s baton with glow-in-the-dark paint, and have your alto soloist dressed in a white sheet with eye-holes cut out. Put out a self-serve basket of candy, and another one for donations to your choir. Everybody wins!

Key moment: Just in case it wasn’t spooky enough, Boulanger throws in some pizzicatto action at 3:45.

That makes me think of: …the classic spookiness of John Barry’s “Golden Girl”.

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

Press Play: “O Filii Et Filiae” by Ivo Antognini

I’ve listened to this piece, by Switzerland’s Ivo Antognini, performed by large choirs and small choirs, and it’s lovely either way. But somehow I can’t stop listening to this version, stripped down to four voices. There’s a faint hint of barbershop-ness to it; I can just picture four quaintly dressed friends performing it on a street corner in Geneva.

Key moment: There’s a great little bit of dissonance, crunchier than a triangle of Toblerone, at 1:28.

That makes me think of: I’m going through a serious 3-part harmony phase at the moment, so the wonderful harmonies of Antognini’s piece remind me of The Boswell Sisters.

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

Press Play: “Pater Noster” by Peteris Vasks

As well as being home to composer Peteris Vasks, Latvia is home to a waterfall called Ventas Rumba.

It’s the widest waterfall in Europe, measuring 360 feet across. The Latvians are very proud of this waterfall; in fact, it was dedicated a protected natural monument in 1997. But the great thing about Ventas Rumba is that despite being 360 feet wide, it’s only 6 feet tall. It looks like an adorable mini-Niagara.

I can’t help but wonder if any daredevil has gone over Ventas Rumba in a barrel. A quick internet search tells me nobody has attempted it…so hey, if you’re an aspiring daredevil with a pesky fear of heights, catch the next plane to Latvia.

Peteris Vasks’ beautiful “Pater Noster” is a perfect piece of music for a country with such a sprawling yet gentle natural wonder. It’s rich and sweeping, but not too big or jarring. It’s the type of music you could go over in a barrel and still come out unscathed on the other side.

Key moment: The final cadence takes a good long time, beginning at about 6:05, and it ends up resolving on a gentle major chord.

That makes me think of: “Amreik” by Eluvium is another gentle but wide waterfall of a song.

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