The Importance of Listening, Instalment 5

Today’s instalment has no particular theme, save perhaps that this list features great names and great collaborations. From opera to world music, this collection of works should provide something for everyone.

Vocal Music

Henry Purcell – Dido’s Lament from Dido and Aeneas

Second to Pachelbel’s famous (or maybe infamous) Canon in D, this aria from Purcell’s opera is the one of the most famous examples of the ground bass in music history. This ground bass is particularly notable for its chromatic descent, reflecting the melancholy nature of Dido’s words, as she asks to be remembered when she dies. For the full aria:

Instrumental Music

J.S. Bach – Double Violin Concerto in D minor

Among Bach’s most famous concerti, this concerto is a masterclass in the Baroque devices of imitation and counterpoint. The violins are not organised hierarchically, so both players get to show off suitably throughout the three movements. For a version by two of the greats in the violin world, Yehudi Menuhin and David Oistrakh:

Music for Film

James Horner – Avatar (original soundtrack)

James Horner has enjoyed a long relationship with director James Cameron, famously scoring Cameron’s most successful film, Titanic. They repeated their box office success again with Avatar, a sci-fi/fantasy movie about an ex-Marine’s involvement in the human colonization of the mysterious planet of Pandora. Listen out for unfamiliar instruments, non-Western vocal techniques and the spectacular credits song. For the full album:

Popular Music and Jazz

Madonna – Like a Prayer (full album)

Love her or loathe her, there is no denying Madonna’s influence on the popular music world and industry. In her fourth studio album, Madonna explored a range of different musical styles, including dance, funk, gospel, and soul, and dealt with themes of family, religion and empowerment. Of course, controversy was never too far away. For a playlist of the full album:


Herbie Hancock – Jazz Africa (album)

Herbie Hancock’s name is normally synonymous with jazz, but he is one of many artists who have broached into other genres at some point during their careers. In this live album, Hancock took jazz and world music influences and combined them in concert with world music musician and composer, Foday Musa Suso. For a full video recording of the live concert:

New Directions

Alban Berg – Lulu

Berg was a disciple of Schoenberg, taking on his principles of expressionism and serialism, but giving them his own particular twist. Lulu, his second opera and a work he left unfinished, is typical of the kind of subject matter that these early modernists used as inspiration: the story details the life of Lulu and her fall from grace. The opera is a giant arch shape, as Lulu’s life first improves as she marries for love, then declines as she is accused of ruining others and falls into disrepute. For a suite of the music from the opera:

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