This article is part of our ongoing series 'Lockdown Listening' in which our writers share what they've been listening to during the London Coronavirus lockdown(s).
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“I hope I find you well in this difficult and troubled time”- as I’m sure we’ve all been used to reading nowadays. With these troubled times, there arose a need for emotional comfort, for reassurance or just pure entertainment. Here’s some of the highlights of my listening experience during this pandemic that I hope will help some of you the same way they aided me.
1. Marchetto Cara - Io non compro piu Speranza
Sometimes, you come across one of these earworm pieces that just stay with you no matter what they are about. This was the case with this frottola, a type of popular secular song that flourished in 15th-century Italy. I thought I should start with this piece because it really interested me why I fell in love with it so quickly. Something about the simplicity and the intimacy of the ensemble, Marco Beasley’s enticing vocal timbre and the catchiness of the tune attracted me so much that I would listen to this tune on loop for hours without end. One cannot help but think of Bob Dylan singing with his guitar on a lonely stage; I found a strange sense of comfort in that idea, I guess.
2. Giuseppe Verdi - “Tacea la note e placida”, from Il Trovatore
Among my endeavours this year was to become personally invested in the work of female artists I grew up not knowing well enough. One result of this investigation was my review of the music of Mary Jane Leach’s album “(F)lute songs”, published in early November on Listen and Write. Another, however, was my rediscovery of the voice of Leontyne Price, a celebrated soprano and the first African American to become a leading performer at the Metropolitan Opera. Her recording of Verdi’s “Tacea la notte e placida” is unlike anything I have ever heard before; such is the power her beautiful and robust voice has to move you to the verge of tears that I was drawn to it time and time again during the lockdown.
3. Gian Carlo Menotti- “Mommy, mommy dear” from The Medium
Among the many pieces I was- and am- studying during the lockdown, one notable mention would definitely have to be Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Medium” for the King’s College Opera Society’s upcoming production. This short, two-act opera was premiered in 1946 and describes how Baba, a phony medium, slowly descends into madness and paranoia when one of her séances goes badly wrong. In this part, Baba’s daughter, Monica, pretends to be the voice of one of Doodly, the deceased daughter of one of Baba’s clients, Mrs. Nolan. What really captured me from this part were Monica’s- or rather, Doodly’s- words of comfort to her mother, asking her to not be sad for her because she’s still here. “What is death but a sweeter change, there’s no parting, there’s no end” she says in a truly gorgeous aria underpinned by Menotti’s beautifully written music, making it one of the most unforgettable moments in this entire opera.
4. Stan Getz/ João Gilberto- "Doralice"
Ever since last year, when I was introduced to this history-making album by Stan Getz and João Gilberto, I’ve always gone back to this song when I need my spirits lifted. I didn’t really know much about bossa nova before studying it in my first year of university, and so was instantly mesmerised by this new sound world. Gilberto’s voice is excellent for singing in this quiet yet flexible and agile style, while his revolutionary guitar playing defined the genre’s characteristic sound, influencing generations of later musicians. Lots of happy memories of in-person teaching and socializing to go with this piece, too, that kept me company in these lonely months.
5. Chopin- Nocturne Op. 9 no. 2 (Leonskaja)
I wanted to end this playlist with a piece I’ve attached many feelings to over the years. Every year on my birthday, or on a very important day, I have a very specific ritual I follow with this piece. On the night before, just before the clock strikes midnight, I sit up on my bed, listen to this nocturne and try to take in everything that’s happened since the last time I sat like this. I take in all my surroundings, remembering all the things I did this year that got me to where I am, while also imagining what the future has in store for me. There are so many emotions associated with this piece for me; yearning, melancholy, grief, quiet rejoicing, a sort of peaceful acquiescence for everything that comprises the human condition, a calm acceptance of the highs and lows of life as a human being. This year, I decided to listen for the first time to Leonskaja’s recording, which seemed like it was expressing all those emotions and many more at once. A truly magical moment, especially in this difficult period of isolation for me as well as many others.
Looking back, I did seem to have an affinity for song waiting to hear other people sing in person. A testament to the human being’s social side, perhaps? May we all, then, someday reunite to hear each other sing like that (or play the piano to each other like that, I don’t mind.)
Phoebus Kyriakoudis, February 2021
Read other articles from the series here. They include:
Go to this Spotify playlist to listen to all the songs mentioned throughout the series!