Music for Serenity and Dreaming

This is a quiet show; it won’t rock your world or make you shake your booty. It would be good to accompany yoga, meditating, or reading a book though. Or maybe to listen to while taking a leisurely walk.

French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet has just come out with an Erik Satie box with all the eccentric French composer’s solo piano music. The gymnopedies are Satie's most famous works. Debussy helped make Satie famous by orchestrating them in 1888; it was a real boon for Satie, who had been kicked out of the Paris Conservatoire. Satie was an outsider, an oddball composer. He was nicknamed ‘the velvet gentleman’ because he loved all things velvet: he walked around with a velvet umbrella, and once bought something like 22 velvet suits from a London undertaker. The new box makes a great intro to Satie’s strange, quirky, and wonderful pieces.

We segue into a 1948 piece by John Cage called “In a Landscape,” here performed by pianist Margaret Leng Tan. Unlike Cage’s other more conceptual works, there is no water dripping or ambient sounds here, like his scores for Merce Cunningham’s dance company. It is a soft, dreamy work.

Harold Budd composed the next piece, named after the Islamic invocation to prayer, way back in 1978. The tone colors and texture of the work always affected me: 3 marimbas, Fender Rhodes, celesta, harp, glockenspiel, and the alto saxophone of the late Marion Brown. The album, The Pavilion of Dreams, was produced by Brian Eno. (What a beautiful title, by the way.)

Jóhann Jóhannsson is an Icelandic composer who lately has been scoring films. This piece features a very straight-laced narrator telling us how to perform maintenance on a now-ancient IBM printer. The work builds from quiet voiceover to a 60 piece string orchestra.

So far there have been no vocals (except for the narrator on the IBM work), but that changes with the final three songs. The first is a young Korean singer, Youn Sun Nah, singing what amounts to the unofficial Korean national anthem.  It is a folksong all Koreans know by heart.

Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan is next, with an Armenian liturgical song that goes back to the 10th century A.D. The stunning soprano is Jenni Nazarian. This is a new ECM album that Tigran recently toured the U.S. to perform.

Finally, a new album by Norwegian pianist-composer Ola Gjeilo. We hear a work for piano and voices called “Ubi Caritas.” Like the Hamasyan, it is a song associated with the Christian church, and goes way, way back in time.

I hope you enjoy this music for serenity and dreaming.

Rhythm Planet Playlist for 5/13/16:

  1. Erik Satie and Jean-Yves Thibaudet / “Gymnopedie #1” / The Complete Solo Piano Music / Decca
  2. John Cage and Margaret Leng Tan / “In a Landscape” / Daughters of the Lonesome Isle / New Albion
  3. Harold Budd / “Bismillahi Rrahman ‘Rrahim” / The Pavilion of Dreams / Astalwerks (CD); Editions EG (Vinyl)
  4. Johann Johannsson / “IBM 1403 Printer” / IBM 1401, A User’s Manual / 4 A.D.
  5. Youn Sun Nah / “Arirang” / Lento / ACT Music + Vision
  6.  Tigran Hamasyan / “Havoun Havoun” / Luys I Luso / ECM
  7.  Ola Gjeilo and Voces8 / “Ubi Caritas” / Ola Gjeilo / Decca


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Tom Schnabel