That Sleep of Death

Death scenes from Le Jeune Homme et la Mort ballet & Henry Purcell’s opera, Dido and Aeneas

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Both the anonymous young man and Dido, Queen of Carthage, are heartbroken and about to kill themselves. Yet how “ugly” and merciless and “cold” (very Cocteau-esque) is Le Jeune Homme et la Mort for all the exquisite beauty of J.S. Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor and Baryshnikov’s and Noureyev’s mesmerising performances.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ptNz8rBk7Y (Noureyev)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Er0-aAdC2n4 (Baryshnikov)

* That must have been incredibly hard for Baryshnikov to do – his mother hung herself when he was a small child, and he discovered her hanging from the rafters in their home.

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Compared to the supremely forgiving and uplifting Dido’s Lament, sung with pure clarity‪ and charity, at Henry Purcell’s opera – Dido and Aeneas:

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“When I am laid, am laid in earth,

May my wrongs create No trouble,

No trouble in thy breast”

* quietly sobs *
Hauntingly Beautiful! True heart breaker! A most precious friend of mine asked me once to forgive him in the exact words of Dido, although there was nothing to forgive, and I promised him to play this song on his funeral, for all the world to know what a most gentle, kind, noble and selfless love he had for everyone. Ever since I cannot listen to this without remembering him and welling up ..

Is it possible to hear this masterpiece by without sobbing? I think emphatically not. Dido’s Lament from Purcell‘s opera Dido and Aeneas is arguably the saddest piece of music ever written. But how exactly does Purcell manipulate our emotions to make sure we well up each and every time we hear it?

Legendary harpsichordist and conductor Trevor Pinnock, explains why  it breaks our heart every single time and exactly how Purcell reduces us to tears every time.

http://www.classicfm.com/composers/purcell/guides/trevor-pinnock-didos-lament/#iKWe3zIsJVq33irX.97

For opera connoisseurs, the great Jessye Norman’s rendition is in my opinion classic for its great depth and superb diction, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_R7BYSgz8xY

Elin Manahan Thomas‘ is more ethereal and crystalline

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGQq3HcOB0Y

and Xenia Meijer‘s quite beautiful and moving

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ivlUMWUJ-1w (Opera)

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For more classic paintings on the theme of Love and Death, go to https://vimeo.com/89692541, which features a recording of the famous Aria, arranged for classical guitar and illustrated by several paintings of Heinrich Füger, Nathaniel Dance-Holland and Joseph Turner.

  • That Sleep of Death

Aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.

From Shakespeare, Hamlet: Act 3, Scene 1, Hamlet’s Famous Soliloquy: “To Be or Nor to Be”

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