Haupz Blog

... still a totally disordered mix

Music for Flying

2021-04-25 — Michael Haupt

Some situations just call for a soundtrack. One in which I frequently used to have this feeling is when I'm sitting on an airplane, travelling at great speed high above ground (or less high above clouds). The view is usually stunning, and even though the plane is moving really, really fast, the world below seems to pass by very slowly: a matter of scale.

What music would describe this? Rather than readily giving a description, I'd prefer giving examples, and coming to a (preliminary) conclusion afterwards.

The very first piece that I ever associated with flying (before even having flown once) was Wagner's Lohengrin ouverture. The immense slowness and calm of the music seem to resonate well with the impression described above.

Two pieces by Olivier Messiaen emanate the same mood: the movements Demeurer dans l'Amour and Le Christ, Lumière du Paradis from his last big orchestral work, Eclairs sur l'Au-dela.

The almost too famous Adagietto from Mahler's Fifth Symphony adds to the list. Despite its more vivid second part, the first movement from Einojuhani Rautavaara's Seventh also belongs there. So does Charles Ives' The Unanswered Question.

It seems strings play a major role: the common trait in all of the pieces above is that they are not only slow, but they also feature what some call a “string carpet”. Maybe that's an important ingredient - in my book, it certainly seems to be. There are indeed strings in Frank Martin's Unser Vater in dem Himmel, dein Name werde geheiliget from his oratorio In Terra Pax.

Yet I must add one more piece that is purely vocal: Gustav Mahler's song Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, in the version that Clytus Gottwald arranged for 16-part choir. The orchestral version with solo voice doesn't feel quite right.

Given that last piece, it can't just all be about strings and slowness. (Unless you insist that the human voice is a string instrument.)

Anything I should add to the list? Any ideas of how to come up with a more conclusive definition?

Tags: music