If you’re lying in bed at night with a head full of rambling thoughts that are incessantly chasing away your dreams, then go ahead and play this week’s honourable mention: “Spiegel im Spiegel” by Arvo Part. The soft silky melody of the violin is going to make you feel like you’re resting on a puffy cloud, while the lullaby-like background piano droplets will spellbind you in a deep and comforting sleep.
“Electric Counterpoint” by Steve Reich also has a similar result (more in terms of calming the mind than getting you asleep), albeit it achieves this in a much different way. Both Reich and Part are minimalists, the latter being a pioneer of mystic minimalism. “Spiegel im Spiegel” is one of his most renowned works, being written in the tintinnabular style, a compositional style created by Part himself, describing it as:
“an area I sometimes wander into when I am searching for answers – in my life, my music, my work.
In my dark hours, I have the certain feeling that everything outside this one thing has no meaning.
The complex and many-faceted only confuses me, and I must search for unity. What is it, this one thing,
and how do I find my way to it? Traces of this perfect thing appear in many guises – and everything that
is unimportant falls away. Tintinnabulation is like this. . . . The three notes of a triad are like bells.
And that is why I call it tintinnabulation."
At number 3 we have a short piece by Ennio Morricone, one of the most prolific and prominent film score composers, having written over 500 works for cinema and television. The “Love Theme” from “Cinema Paradiso” is nostalgic, sad and grandiose all at the same time, and it’s especially moving when played by Itzhak Perlman.
Continuing with contemporary composers, but going further north in the land of the aurora borealis, which inspired this work, “The Spheres” by Ola Gjeilo comes at number 2. This is a beautiful choral piece, part of the larger “Sunrise Mass”, having a cosmic and ethereal vibe to it, with a shuddering effect towards the end when the chorus comes in at unison.
Sacred, but non-liturgical, both praised and attacked for its choice of language (German over the traditional Latin), heavily debated over its selection of texts (extracts from the Luther Bible assembled by Brahms and omitting any mention of Christ, as opposed to the conventional Mass script), focused more on the living rather than the dead (intended as a consolation for the still breathing humanity, while they mourn the departed), considered both too mystical (for the Protestants) and lacking in emotion (for the Catholics), praised by the former and disapproved by the latter, “A German Requiem” by Johannes Brahms is a truly controversial work as this week’s number 1, going from being booed (at the premiere, a percussionist drowned out the whole orchestra and the soloists due to a misunderstanding of the score) to becoming one of the most popular concert performances. I particularly like the first and last two movements, which have the sombre, dark and powerful chorus, from the 1997 EMI recording (Amazon link, idagio link), with Otto Klemperer (director), Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone) and Philharmonia Orchestra.
Disclaimer: This is not an exhaustive list of all the works curated by Clemency Burton-Hill in the book “Year of Wonder: Classical music for every day”. To enjoy the full catalogue of pieces proposed by the author along with her comments on the composers and the music itself, feel free to pick up her awesome book here (not affiliated, nor sponsored)