Monday, January 9, 2017

Music on Monday: The Exile Edition

Photo by Ryan McGuire
Music on Monday is a weekly series featuring music that connects with the current events of my life in some way and that might be interesting to those who would like to learn more about classical music.

My exile ended today. I enjoyed a sort of retreat when my piano students took off for Christmas holidays until my studio reopened today. I didn't have to travel this year, so I did my shopping online, stayed at home and did pretty much what I pleased. That included a lot of reading and more piano playing than I've done in a long time.

I obsessed a little over a piano arrangement of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." It was tricky enough to keep me working on it over a solid three weeks to have the satisfaction of playing it well. Because the words I know best from memory are those of the first verse and chorus, I ended up meditating through all of that repetitive practicing, lectio divina style, on this:  O come, o come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the son of God appear. Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel will come to thee, O Israel.

"Rejoice" was set to glass-breaking dissonance. Makes sense. How do you rejoice in exile? The piece ended with a build-up to an exquisitely painful 9-8 suspension before closing off, still in the original minor key. No hopeful Picardy third on the end. Since we lost two family members who would not be at our Christmas table this year, a minor key felt more appropriate than fa-la-la-la-la. Advent's themes of waiting for a resolution when all would be made right felt comforting. As depressing as all of this sounds, there were quite a few moments of spontaneous joy. They'd appear out of nowhere, as though they'd been airdropped in a sort of humanitarian aid program.

So, I grieved and reflected on exile and dissonance, but by the time school resumed, I was ready to rejoin the real world and in much better spirits.

To close my exile/retreat off, I watched an opera last Saturday. The Metropolitan Opera Company broadcasts live transmissions of full-length productions in HD to movie theatres all over the world. I convinced my 14-year-old daughter to go along. She allowed that she didn't hate it. The opera was Nabucco, a love story set amidst the exile of the Hebrews after being overrun by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (Nabucco). At least, I finally got a Picardy third of sorts at the end. Read on.

Today's Music on Monday selection is the aria sung by Nabucco, "Dio di Guida." Having declared himself not merely king, but God, he has become mentally unstable and a prisoner of his illegitimate daughter who has assumed the throne. She is about to execute all of the Hebrews, including Nabucco's legitimate daughter who has converted to Judaism. From his own exile of sorts, he kneels and pledges his faith and loyalty to the Hebrew God. I chose this video because it has subtitles, but I wish I could post a video of Placido Domingo's performance last Saturday which was one of the more moving operatic performances I've seen. He didn't merely kneel; he sang it prostrate on the floor. His senses return, he reclaims the throne, and frees the Israelites. Exile over.

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