27 April 2009

Switching Gears this baking Musical Monday...

Last week was bright, happy coloratura soprano music, this week, we're shifting to something a little more haunting, despite the fact that the weather here is just screaming "bright and happy and 95 degrees" at me. John Tavener's Song for Athene is arguably one of my very favorite choir pieces, which is odd, as I'm usually a fan of the more grand, loud, weird, and bombastic pieces (Carmina Burana or Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms, anyone?).

Tavener wrote it in memory of a family friend, a young actress named Athene Hariades. She was Greek Orthodox, so Tavener wrote the piece in the tradition of the Easter Orthodox churches, specifically our funeral services. What this means is that no instruments are allowed. Nothing but voice, or the technical music term for it: "a cappella." So that drone on the bottom? Those are the Basses, staggering their breathing.

This is not the best rendition of it I could find, as I simply couldn't bring myself to post the most amazing version, as it makes me cry every time. At Princess Di's funeral, the choir sang this as they escorted her casket out of Westminster Abbey. Musically, it is the best performance I have ever heard of this piece, but the only YouTube videos of that recording include the video feed of the funeral, which I simply do not have the wherewithal to post. If you think you've got the chutzpah to make it through that video, all you've got to do is search "Princess Di Song for Athene" on YouTube. As it is, even with this version, you may want to have some tissues handy. Eastern Orthodox church music is just scored in a way that brings tears to eyes very easily, without you even realizing it. It's gotta have something to do with chord frequencies or something.

So, without further babbling on my part, enjoy (and try to ignore the sometimes goofy video editing).


PS: I got my camera back, so expect a real post in the next few days!


Tekgirl said...

OMGosh I enjoyed this bit of music- but I wish I'd read the warning more thoroughly. It's just so... haunting. I think that's the best way to describe it. Beautiful though. Thank you for the education!

zcrescendo said...

Thanks for sharing this piece - it's stunning! I recognize the bass drone from Tavener's slightly odd "Today the Virgin." I also tend to prefer a good "O Fortuna" or Verdi's "Dies Irae" generally, but it's always good to hear something spooky-cool now and again!