Cupid, the Most Cunning Rogue Alive!
It’s the most romantic time of year – the air is full of birdsong, last-minute dinner reservations and declarations of love!
It is obvious to say that many great works of music have been inspired by love and heartbreak. This year, we’ve compiled a list of twelve unusual works about love. We’ve found songs written in dedication, music of passion and death and even music about the wiles and tricks of Cupid himself.
12. Edward Elgar – Salut d’amour
It’s true that we said this would be a list of lesser-known repertoire, but can there really be a countdown of music about love without Salut d’amour? This is probably the soupiest, most romantic piece ever written and sometimes in life, that’s all you need.
11. Lili Boulanger – Elle était descendue au bas de la prairie
Lili Boulanger (1893 – 1918) wrote her remarkable cycle Clairières dans le ciel in 1915, shortly before her premature death in 1918. These thirteen songs feature early symbolist poetry by Francis Jammes, remarkable texts which tell a personal and emotional story of a first love which fractures bitterly. This first song is wistful and delicate, describing a saturated and beautiful spring afternoon in a low valley full of flowers. His lover fills her arms with blossoms and walks with “the lanky grace of girls who are too tall.”
The full work for voice and piano is available here.
10. Claudio Monteverdi – T’amo mia vita (Madrigals, book V)
We really love Monteverdi (1567 – 1643) and couldn’t wait to share this madrigal with you. This dramatic poem intones “I love you, my life!” It’s sweet, full of sighing and happy bliss. The music is far more complex, full of unexpected twists and turns, giving the listener both the bitter and the sweet. This work is from Monteverdi’s famous fifth book of Madrigals, each one as spectacular as the last.
You can get a score of his fourth and fifth books of madrigals here.
9. Kaija Saariaho – L’amour de loin (2000)
This opera is surreal and all-encompassing, full of lush music that blends spectralist and medieval sensibilities into one beautiful strange world. L’amour de loin is beyond spellbinding – it stays with you long after first hearing it. Saariaho tells the story of a troubadour who hears of the beauty of a young woman who lives in the east and he falls desperately in love with the idea of her. He makes a perilous journey to find her, eventually costing him his life.
8. Francis Poulenc – Chemins de l’amour
7. Augusta Holmès – La Nuit et l’amour
This is a perfectly lush little romantic ode to all that Valentine’s Day stands for! Holmes has written something that is sweet and little wistful, but somehow full of richness and beauty. Holmes (1847 – 1903) was a student of César Franck, whom she admired greatly. Her early work consists mostly of song and chamber music but she composed a few large-scale orchestral works and three operas, mostly in the latter part of her life.
6. Marianna Martines – Sol che un instante from Il primo amore
Marianna Martines (1744 – 1812) was a highly accomplished composer, pianist and singer. The great librettist Metastasio was a dear friend of her family, supporting her development and education and ultimately leaving his wealth to her upon his death. Martines studied with both Haydn and J.A. Hasse and performed regularly in the court of Empress Maria Theresa, often alongside Mozart who was only a few years her junior.
Martines’ output includes large-scale vocal works, cantatas, keyboard works and a symphony. Her vocal works in particular are extraordinary, demonstrating the versatility and skill of her own singing.
This cantata is absolutely of the classical period – it’s a pastoral depiction of love, full of shepherds and green fields. Martines writes music which is sublime. It’s well balanced and symmetrical, full of joy and beauty in every phrase.
Certain works by Martines available by special request.
5. Maurice Ravel – Placet futile from 3 Poémes de Stéphane Mallarmé
in 1923, Igor Stravinsky was in the audience for the premiere of Schoenberg’s iconic Pierrot Lunaire. In the summer of the same year, he returned to France and spent a few months working with his dear friend Ravel. He raved about Pierrot, describing its instrumentation and harmonic language to Ravel in great detail. The pair resolved to write works for the ‘Pierrot’ ensemble (voice, violin/viola, flute, clarinet, cello and piano) and to draw some inspiration from Schoenberg’s innovative (and controversial) work.
Stravinsky produced his brief and wonderful Three Japanese Lyrics – or by way of stunning contrast, Ravel created these astonishing songs to symbolist texts by Mallarmé. The second of these, Placet Futile, is a petition to an untouchable lover. This is a scene like the ones painted on Sevres porcelain, full of unexpected oddities. Mallarme writes “Since I am not your whiskered lapdog, your candy, your rouge or your games… Oh, Princesse, please appoint me to become the shepherd of your smiles.”
4. Barbara Strozzi – Amor dormiglione
Barbara Strozzi (1619 – 1677) was an incredibly prolific Baroque composer, writing mostly secular cantatas for voice and continuo. Her music demonstrates wonderful craftsmanship and immense creativity. She was highly regarded in her lifetime, although her work as a performer and composer was restricted to salons and private gatherings due to her gender.
This particular playful cantata is about a sleepy Cupid who is failing to bewitch lovers – he is being urged to awaken and fire his arrows of passion!
Some works available on request.
3. Richard Wagner – Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde
We couldn’t have made a list of music about love without this aria. It’s rapturous and transcendent, full of the overripe passions of fin-de-siecle Europe; no words could do this sublime piece justice. Hearing is believing, so make sure you don’t miss this one.
Available as a study score!
2. Olivier Messiaen – Poèmes Pour Mi
Olivier Messiaen (1908 – 1992) wrote this landmark work in 1936 for his first wife, Claire Delbos. The music is like something from another world, pulsating with remarkable rhythmic intensity and almost physical heat. Messiaen authored both the music and the text, based on Bible verses from the New Testament. This song cycle is full of the profound joy and reverence Messiaen felt for the unending beauty of the universe.
Available for voice and piano.
1. Henry Purcell – Cupid the slyest rogue alive Z367
The final tune on our countdown is a cheeky flirtatious one by the British composer Henry Purcell. This song tells the story of Cupid who bothers a hive full of bees and gets his just reward. He bemoans his fate to his mother, complaining that “a little yellow bird they call a bee… how it has gored and wounded me!” And his mother responds:
“For all the world just such another,
Just such another peevish thing,
Like in bulk, and like in sting?
For when you aim a pois’nous dart
Against some poor unwary heart,
How little is the archer found,
And yet how wide, how deep the wound!”Available here.