Cultural Caviar

Bunky Mortimer’s Guide to Classical Music

February 13, 2018

Before we disappear down some Gurdjieffian rabbit hole, let us return to the wholesome sounds that accompanied death and forgiveness in post-Renaissance Europe. Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostri is a meditation on the state of Jesus’ crucified body; his creative spirit was particularly exercised by contemplating our savior’s knees. As the evening deepens, I recommend shedding a century with each position of the clock. Entering the day’s final hours therefore means bathing in the highest creations of unaccompanied Renaissance polyphony. Here is a world unto itself, in which I alone cannot be your guide; but a good general division is between Italian, Flemish, Spanish, and English styles. I am well aware that activities undertaken late at night can be somewhat more profane than their soundtrack. Take heart that you may be in the company of popes: Gregory XIII was thought to have commissioned this setting of the Song of Songs for private performance at his country villa. The words may be allegorical; it is generally thought that the entertainment wasn’t.

As the night passes its meridian, finally release your consciousness into the deepest waters of medieval mysticism. Of course, there is Hildegard; although her tones are somewhat too ascetic for my taste, which tends more toward the atavistic expanses of El Cant de La Sybil-La. The full meaning of the text is lost on our crude modern minds, yet it has been passed down to us in Latin, Provençal, and Catalonian versions. Listen to them all. Where then to end? With the greatest musical recording ever made: Dinu Lipatti’s rendition of Bach’s “Ich Ruf Zu Dir, Mein Herr (I Call to You, My Lord).” Lipatti was dying of leukemia and recorded it against the instructions of his doctors. Its sublime cadences instruct us fully in the acceptance of our condition. As he called out from the keyboard, Dinu Lipatti was approaching eternal rest. You will hopefully not be: Soon another day will dawn, and your journey can begin anew.

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