Depending on external conditions, as well as one’s state of mind, listening to music can be a very intimate, self-reflective process. Some pieces of music, partly due to their esoteric nature, work especially well when experienced in private and attentively, with as little distraction as possible.
Below is a list of such works that are very dear to me personally, works I often turn to when seeking comfort and consolation – things particularly precious in days of self-isolation and “social distancing”…
Federico Mompou – Música Callada (Silent Music)
Grandson of a bell maker, Catalan composer Federico Mompou was fond of imitating the meditative sound of bells, something that can be heard in his masterful Musica Callada, a collection of 28 miniature pieces for piano based on the mystical poetry of Saint John of the Cross. Mompou’s magnum opus, this enigmatic work is reminiscent of Eric Satie in its crystalline simplicity and serene beauty.
Max Richter – The Blue Notebooks
Featuring readings from Kafka’s fragmented The Blue Octavo Notebooks and recorded in the aftermath of the protests against the 2003 invasion of Iraq, The Blue Notebooks was described by Richter as “a protest album” and a “meditation on violence”. A work fragile yet powerful and moving, it invites to confront our innermost feelings, doubts, and thoughts.
Arvo Pärt – Spiegel im Spiegel
A magnificent example of Pärt’s uniquely evocative style, Spiegel im Spiegel, like much of his music, seems somehow to make time stand still, offering us a glimpse of the eternal.
George Gurdjieff – Sacred Hymns
Written by Greek-Armenian mystic and philosopher George Gurdjieff in collaboration with Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann, this genuinely spiritual music is better understood as part of Gurdjieff’s greater philosophical system, known as the Fourth Way or “The Work”. According to Gurdjieff’s teachings, musical structures parallel cosmic structures, music being thus able to to significantly affect and benefit individuals.
Keith Jarrett – The Köln and Vienna Concerts
Both of Jarrett’s great recitals (called simply The Köln Concert and Vienna Concert) are wonderful examples of his masterful improvisational skills. Moreover, one gets the impression that during these intriguing performances Jarrett is completely surrendered to the music, inviting us to follow him in his daring excursions as active listeners. As Jarrett himself (who has also made an excellent recording of Gurdjieff’s music) has claimed, his goal when improvising is to “wake up” and keep listeners “alert”.