Apocalypse Discs – Derek Turner


Quarterly Review Editor

I like all kinds of music, and my tastes are always changing. These kinds of lists are always mere snapshots, and as soon as you decide on a list of ten you think of piece number eleven, twelve and so on. The ten tracks below are in no particular order. My tastes are sadly middlebrow, and I tend to like things I can sing along to or play on guitar. I dislike the kind of snobbishness that detests popular music because it is popular. That having been said, pop music seems to date very quickly. If I had to name genres whose disappearance in a social melt-down I could view with equanimity, I would single out jazz, rock and roll, rap, Northern soul, Motown, Christian rock, and the majority of “easy listening”, from 1970s stalwarts like James Last and Cliff Richard to more modern muzak merchants like Michael Bublé.

I find all kinds of folk music interesting, and much of it hugely enjoyable. You don’t have to be Malian to love Malian music, or Portuguese to find fado inexpressibly moving, but it is sometimes difficult to get under the skin of something very alien. Just last week, I tried hard to enjoy some Balinese tunes, but I only lasted as long as I did out of a strict sense of duty. I generally prefer baroque to Romantic, but of course there are always exceptions (see below). I have a weakness for slow over fast songs, a reflection possibly of some innate melancholia. DT, 18th March 2013

Wondrous Machine, Henry Purcell

This is the first Purcell tune I ever heard, when I turned on Radio 3 by chance one afternoon in the early 1990s, and I was moved almost to tears (very unusual for me) by its superbly controlled melody and the stateliness of the lyric


Funeral Music for Queen Mary, Henry Purcell

The most plangent piece of music I know. Purcell wrote this for the funeral of Queen Mary, and it was first played at her funeral in March 1695. The state funeral’s route from Banqueting House in Whitehall to Westminster Abbey was apparently fully lined with black material, and the combination of sable pomp and this music must have had a searing effect. To add to the mournfulness of the music, it was next played at Purcell’s own funeral, just eight months later


Bachelorette, Bjork

The Icelandic singer is one of the most original of contemporary musicians, and this tune is one of her most satisfying and expansive. When I hear it, I imagine myself in medieval Iceland early on a summer’s morning, watching a bright-eyed blackbird foraging beside a stream in some dew-soaked glade


Dance of the Furies, Christoph Willibald Gluck

From his influential 1762 opera Orpheus and Eurydice. Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music render it with compelling verve and brazen flourishes that sound like the Wild Hunt. Baroque music at its most thrilling


White Winter Hymnal, Fleet Foxes

The Fleet Foxes come from Seattle, and there is a hippyish West Coast quality to their music, which is strongly influenced by English folk. This song is full of the muffled softness of snow


Stirb Nicht Vor Mir (“Don’t Die Before I Do”), Rammstein

The German band is best known for driving rock anthems like Feuer Frei, but this is the only one of their songs one can sing along with. The splicing of concert footage with scenes from Nosferatu makes for a Gothick feast


Shallow Brown, traditional West Indian song

Full of the power and sweep of the sea, a plaint as uplifting as the best gospel music. This melody, like many others, was saved for posterity by the indefatigable Percy Grainger


Songs of the Auvergne, Joseph Canteloube

Canteloube’s uniformly beautiful orchestration of folk songs gathered in the Auvergne, many based on traditional call-and-respond songs between shepherds (and shepherdesses) hailing each other from hilltops. Too Arcadian for words. This is the song known as Bailiou


Ma Vlast (Die Moldau movement), Bedrich Smetana

Smetana’s noble form of nationalism puts to shame today’s more demotic manifestations, which appear to revolve around sports. The whole symphony is beautiful, but perhaps this movement evokes most powerfully the haunted landscape of Middle Europe. It has a sense of great rivers and walled medieval cities


Two Ravens, traditional British song

Alfred Deller’s version of this is the best, but is apparently not available on-line. I have accordingly linked to one by Steeleye Span. This is variously described as a traditional English and a traditional Scottish tune, so take your ethnic choice! As with many folk songs, there is a piquant contrast between the delicacy of the tune, and the horror of the lyric – in this case, two ravens considering dining on “a knight, slain under his shield”. The details of the dissection are gruesome – “Ye’ll sit on his white hause-bane, / And I’ll pike out his bonny blue een; / Wi ae lock o his gowden hair / We’ll theek our nest when it grows bare”



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