Music for the Apocalypse

February 6, 2017 at 4:28 pm

Thanks to current events and to a certain person who has recently come to power, the Doomsday Clock has been set forward thirty seconds. What will you do when the end comes? And more importantly, what tracks do you have on your phone for the occasion?

The idea of the world ending is certainly not new; there are loads of artwork devoted to the idea, from ancient through modern times. We’ve all thought about “what if” at some point in our lives. I hadn’t really connected the end of the world and music until very recently – the inspiration for this post came to me in the middle of a video game: Fallout 4. To oversimplify, it’s a game where you shoot baddies in post-apocalyptic setting.

What happened was this: I had turned on a radio in the game to the “classical music station”, when I was attacked by a horde of zombies. As I exterminated this crowd of undead enemies, I laughed because the radio was playing the dulcet tones of Edward Elgar‘s “Salut d’Amour“. The juxtaposition of murdering horrific humanoid mutations and sweet, lovely music was perfect irony, and completely opposite of the typical battle music of video games.

This certainly isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this sort of irony. The most glorious moment in the 1989 film version of Shakespeare’s Henry V comes when Henry (who by this point is barking mad) orders all his soldiers to sing a Te Deum and a Non Nobis in praise of God, who helped them slaughter the French in a bloody battle. The magnificent music plays during a single, four minute long shot of the battlefield, covered with mangled bodies and limbs: Not unto us, Lord, but to thy name be glory.

But let’s be realistic, we can accept the beautiful music coupled with bloody scenes because we’re removed from the situation. To have to face these horrors in real life is very unsettling. A more appropriate response would be the music in the 2011 film, Melancholia. To sum it up: people live screwed up lives, but it doesn’t matter in the end because a giant planet crashes into earth and destroys everything. This sort of despair is perfect for accompaniment by Wagner’s prelude to Tristan und Isolde (tragically, edited to fit the footage.)

Why so serious? If the world is going to end in flames, you may as well have fun while doing it, like in Dr. Strangelove! Don’t just drop that atomic bomb, ride it like a cowboy!

Did you know there’s an opera about the atomic bomb? Check it out!

So, nuclear war might end the world. If it did, would humanity descend into tribal warfare, fighting over food, water, and fuel? Brian May‘s killer soundtrack to Mad Max 2 will help you prepare for that.

But it turns out nuclear war is only one of many possible doomsday scenarios that threaten us. Climate change could turn our planet into a Waterworld.

Did you know there is a symphony about climate change? Check it out!

So, what are we to do? Well, on one hand, we could go into a panicked frenzy of despair:

or, we can stand up and do something about it:


Life isn’t fair

July 2, 2016 at 10:30 am

To dovetail off of yesterday’s post, music has to be in the present in order to exist. Organized dots on a page are not music – it doesn’t become music until it exists either as imagined or real vibrating air molecules, heard by a human. The harsh reality of this is, sometimes great music can be sitting dormant in books (or even a person’s brain), waiting to be heard by others. Take, for example, Edward Elgar‘s Cello Concerto.

The concerto received one of the famously worst premieres in music history – all thanks to an inconsiderate conductor who didn’t allow for enough time to rehearse the piece. When it was first performed in 1919, the orchestra did so poorly that the piece instantly fell into obscurity. It wasn’t until 1960 – 25 years after Elgar’s death – that the piece exploded in popularity due to a particularly stunning performance by Jacqueline du Pré (about whom a film was recently made.)

A twist of circumstances, a poor decision by a person in control, and history can be changed. It might not be fair, but it’s life.


Memorial Day

May 30, 2016 at 9:00 am

I am deeply humbled by the bravery of any person who willingly risks his or her life for the sake of others, and am thankful for the sacrifice that many made so that I may live as I do. It’s easy to forget this, living in the sheltered, safe world in which most of us live. Please take some time today to remember and give thanks for the lives lost fighting for our way of life.

Edward Elgar‘s “Nimrod” from his Enigma Variations – originally a statement of deep friendship by the composer. Its rich sweeping emotion has made it a perfect choice for remembering the lives of heroes. “Nimrod” was an ancient biblical hunter; Elgar’s friend was “Jaeger”, the German word for hunter – thus the coded title of this movement.