The Galaxy – An Englishman’s Great Achievement

Henry Purcell

Henry Purcell (Image via Wikipedia)

I can find no better manner of celebrating the Galaxy’s 15th Anniversary (March 3rd) than with a return to a sort of music that was heard on the Galaxy with far greater frequency than what we can do now.  In our early years, the Galaxy was a 3-4 hour show, and that is sufficient time to play quite a bit of opera.  So, indeed, quite a bit of opera was heard.  Alas, it is difficult to plug a full opera into a 2 hour show, since most operas far exceed 2 hours, and I do not like to interrupt music.  It is also difficult to acquire new material.  So, while opera as a whole distinctly belongs on The Galaxy, I am regrettably unable to play as much opera as I would like.

But there are a few selections that one can find that fall within our time limit, and one of the great examples of such is Henry Purcell‘s Dido And Aeneas.  First performed in 1688, it was Purcell’s only “opera”-type work that was entirely sung (as opposed to having spoken-word parts), and is considered a keystone in English Baroque-era music.  It is well known for the strikingly beautiful, haunting aria that Dido sings as she approaches death, When I Am Laid Down in Earth, popularly known as Dido’s Lament.  However, when we go beyond that one particular aria we hear a crucial work in the development of the musical form that became opera.  Indeed, this work displays its English influences easily and often, especially in the choral sections, even while it also demonstrates Italian influences in its usage of recitatives.  While this is not considered the earliest English-language opera (that honor goes to a gentleman by the name of John Blow, who wrote Venus and Adonis around 1683), the end result is a fine demonstration of the development of the opera form that fits in well with the works of Monteverdi and Gluck, and helps leads the way to Handel.

Consider the following clip of the legendary dramatic soprano Jessye Norman performing the aforementioned Dido’s Lament:

We began the show, however, with some metal from As I Lay Dying.  I’ve been particularly grooving to their 2010 album The Powerless Rise over the course of the last few days, and I just had to plug some in.  The Powerless Rise is an interesting album that shows the songwriting and instrumental growth that has informed their previous albums, An Ocean Between Us and Shadows Are Security (from which we also heard selections tonight).  One can also hear the greater degree of integration of bassist Josh Gilbert, who joined the band during sessions for An Ocean Between Us.  Great musicians never rest on their laurels – just as one’s perspective changes as people grow and mature, so must a musician’s work also change and reflect that musician’s growth.

After our As I Lay Dying set, we also heard a few songs from Soundgarden.  I was pleased to read within the last few weeks that they are both working on a live album, using material from their last full tour in ’96, while also working on prospective new material.  I considered Soundgarden’s breakup to be a major loss, and I’m pleased to see that they have patched things up.  We heard selections from Badmotorfinger and Superunknown.

After Dido and Aeneas, we finished the show with a lovely set from the recent Simon and Garfunkel Live ’69 release.  Recorded during their last tour, this recording features several songs recorded right here in Carbondale (11/8/1969), and I included several songs from that show in this set.  I can easily imagine that there could be folks listening to the show who attended that concert (my own mother wanted to go, but could not because she couldn’t get a babysitter for me – I was 1).  As we can hear, they were in fine form during this tour.

The following is the official playlist.  As always, the original can be found via my homepage.

Composer Performer Title Genre Label
As I Lay Dying
Metal, metalcore
Bury Us All
Metal Blade, 2007
Meaning in Tragedy
Metal Blade, 2005
Beyond Our Suffering
Metal Blade, 2010
Rusty Cage
Metal, hard rock, “grunge”
A&M, 1991
The Day I Tried To Live
A&M, 1994
A&M, 1991
Henry Purcell
Anne Sophie von Otter, Stephen Varcoe, Lynne Dawson, Nigel Rogers, Elisabeth Priday, Carol Hall, Sarah Leonard, Kym Amps, Choir of the English Concert, The English Concert, Trevor Pinnock, cond.
Dido and Aeneas
Classical, Baroque era, opera
Deutsche Grammophon, 1989
Simon and Garfunkel
For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her
Sony, 2008
Scarborough Fair/Canticle
Mrs. Robinson (from the Motion Picture The Graduate)
The Boxer
Why Don’t You Write Me
So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright

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