It seems like every time the Trump administration does something really horrid, I end up crying — which is why I sometimes avoid the current news cycle — and why I also have a list on my smartphone’s notebook app called List Of Times The Trump Administration Has Made Me Cry So Far.
Other times, I feel I have to own it as much as possible and wallow in the horrid times we are living in, so I have created a soundtrack of some depressing pieces of music that match the general atmosphere.
Here are five of them.
1. John Dowland’s Flow My Tears
John Dowland, a Renaissance composer, wrote a famously depressing song called “Flow, My Tears.”
If you listen to the lyrics, there are beautiful lines like:
Where night’s black bird her sad infamy sings,
There let me live forlorn.
I feel like that’s a metaphor for our times at some level.
This song was part of a weird artistic trend at the time to make stuff super melancholy. It relates back to the Renaissance theory of the four humors or four temperaments (which, in turn, comes from the Greek physician, Galen).
If you were melancholy, it was because you had too much black bile over having too much blood, phlegm, or regular bile, which is what happens when you trust that jerk Galen, who also said stupid stuff like your liver digests your food to turn it into your blood.
Anyway, during the Renaissance, making art melancholy became a fad. Dowland was a part of this trend. His motto was “Semper Dowland, Semper Dolens” or “Always Dowland, Always Mourning.”
2. Aulis Sallinen’s Winter Was Hard
This piece is by contemporary Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen.
When I listen to it, it always makes me think of the bleakness of Siberia in winter.
To me it sounds like a bunch of peasants like sitting in a shack around a table without any food on it. Or like the tundra all covered with snow and the wind blowing over it very bleakly maybe around the shack where they are starving.
They are just trying to wait it out till the spring thaw when they will be able to dig for some like roots and shit or gnaw some new leaves from trees and shrubs, and they are so not going to make it.
3. Antoine Brumel’s Dies Irae, Dies Illa
The original “Dies Irae” or “Day of Wrath” was a hymn written in the 13th century. It’s basically about the day of judgement where good souls are sent to heaven and the bad souls are cast into hell.
When I listen to it, I can almost hear the groaning of church bells while mourners in black clothing stand around a mass grave with like a hundred pock-marked bodies dumped in during the black death.
This seems prescient for all kinds of reasons.
“Dies Irae” eventually became part of the sequence for the Requiem Mass or Funeral Mass of the Catholic Church, and the theme from “Dies Irae” has been musically referenced by many composers since the 13th century.
Antione Brumel (the 15th century French composer who composed this version) was actually the first composer to put “Dies Irae” into a mass. Before that it was only a dumb hymn that everyone cried about because plague death.
4. Krzysztof Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima
This piece is by contemporary Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. I don’t know anything about this piece other than it was written for the victims of Hiroshima, and that it sounds like screaming.
It’s really disturbing in that eternal torment kind of way — in that it depicts the realistic horrors of war.
I feel like if current administration’s politics keep heading in the same direction regarding international diplomacy, that this could become a reality for us at some point. I can’t even imagine the war crimes that this administration would allow if we went to war.
5. Henry Purcell’s “Dido’s Lament” from Dido and Aeneas
Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas is based on the story of Queen Dido of Carthage from Virgil’s Aeneid. All you need to know is that Aeneas leaves Dido, and in a fit of grief, Dido throws herself on top of a funeral pyre and stabs herself to death.
The aria “Dido’s Lament” is led in by a particularly morbid recitative:
Thy hand, Belinda, darkness shades me,
On thy bosom let me rest,
More I would, but Death invades me;
Death is now a welcome guest
I like to imagine Dido throwing herself on the fire and singing the lyrics as she is stabbing herself.
6. Five Other Pieces
Here are five additional pieces that also erupt with pathos and evoke the current climate.
- Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony (Funeral March)
- Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time
- Shostakovitch’s String Quartets (All of Them)
- Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta
- Lera Auerbach’s Dreams and Whispers of Poseidon
Unhappy listening, everyone.