A “Year of Wonder”-Ful Classical Music: November

A barren month, filled with dying leaves and frost-covered grass, November has its own strange and empty sense of beauty. This month’s musical selection is anything but that! Although rather eclectic, I hope it adds a little flair to your fall-to-winter transition…

1) Symphony no. 9 in D minor (‘Choral’), op. 125, 4: Presto, by Ludwig van Beethoven

Is there any other piece of music that so fully captures the joy of being human? I think not! While everyone experiences sorrow and hardship, it is the beauty amidst the complexity that makes life so worthwhile. Beethoven captures this brilliantly through the use of the human voice, and I can think of no better instrument to express such an unabashed celebration of life!

2) Music for the Royal Fireworks, HWV 351, 4: ‘La Réjouissance’: Allegro, by George Frederic Handel

So, when I listened to this one, I immediately went,”Oh hey! It’s the stuff that gets played during documentaries on the British Royal family!” Of course, now I know that Handel was the mastermind behind this one, and that he did indeed compose this piece for the Royals of his time. While it might be a bit overdone nowadays, it’s still so quintessentially English that I had to include it. Perhaps you can play this one as entrance music when you finally get home from work! Go celebrate!

3) ‘La Nuit et l’amour’ – ‘Night and Love’: Interlude from Ludus pro patria, by Augusta Holmès

This romantic violin piece was created by Augusta Holmes, a musician of Irish and French descent. Apparently she had much experience in the love department, as she was the mistress and muse to many famous composers! Regardless of her personal love life, this piece overwhelmed me with its tender simplicity. You know those romance scenes in old films where the lovers walk through a sprawling outdoor garden filled with fireflies and roses? Yep, that’s this piece…

4) Beata Viscera, by Perotin

Composed in 1220, this ancient hymn to the Blessed Virgin sent chills up my spine. If you can, listen to this one with noise-canceling headphones on, your eyes closed. I swear it’s like one of those slow-motion dream sequences in a movie. If you need a piece to help you get in a reflective mood, then this is IT. How much more “November” can you get?

5) ‘When I am laid in earth’ from Dido and Aeneas, by Henry Purcell

I’ll have you all know that I am not a big opera fan. Most of the time I love the instrumental melodies in opera, but listening to a soprano hit a ridiculously high note in a language I don’t understand? Nah, not so much. This piece is an exception. The wild longing in this voice is so incredibly sad and…relatable. For Catholics, November is the month of the Holy Souls in Purgatory, and this piece with it’s desperate lines of “Remember me, but ah! forget my fate” evokes imagery that is difficult to ignore. For anyone who is missing a loved one this month, or has an empty chair or two around your Thanksgiving table, maybe do a little self-care: listen to this song, have a good cry, and let it all come out.

Bonus Song(s)!

Adagio for Strings, by Samuel Barber

This was said to be JFK’s favorite piece of music, and has been used in countless famous funerals including, not only his own, but those of Albert Einstein and Grace Kelly, and at the memorials of Princess Diana as well as the 9/11 victims. This is not just your typical violin piece. There is a reason why violins are said to be capable of crying, and this piece, in my opinion, seems to musically explore the five stages of grief and yet remain one melody at the same time. There is one point in which the strings have reached such a uptight and high crescendo that the emotional tension is palpable and feels ready to pop. Then….. it just stops, and there is nothing but silence for a good ten seconds or so. When mourning the loss of a loved one, emotions can reach such a high-fevered pitch that you think you actually will burst from the sadness. In the end, it’s the quiet and the silence of things unspoken that suddenly seems overwhelming. For a piece of music to mentally take you on that journey, to encapsulate that messy and complex range of emotions, it can truly be called a masterpiece.

Nocturne no. 8 in D flat major, op. 27 no. 2, by Frederic Chopin

I could listen to Chopin all day. Go sit down with a cup of coffee or tea near a sunny window, or on a rainy day, or on a snowy day, or just any day, and let your spirit marinate in this one.

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