A pang of emotion shot through my stomach the other day—a stab of mysterious longing that unbalanced me as I was returning to the office from my lunch break. Transcendental yearning overwhelmed my faculties in the parking lot, and under the weight of my own soul, saturated with qualia, my knees weakened. I had a soul attack.
What set off this soul attack? It’s the beginning of November, and Autumn is underway here in Atlanta. The (admittedly slight) chilling of the air, that wrinkled blanket of grey cloud that spreads across the entire sky in an unmistakably Fall-ish way, the speckling of my yard and front porch stairs with orange and yellow leaves, and of course the shortening of the days—it all combines to transform the feeling of the world around us. That “transformed” feeling hit me in the parking lot when I wasn’t expecting it, and I had a moment of heart-vertigo, a sensation like I was on the edge of another dimension—a perfect Platonic world of autumnal forms—which I was in danger of tipping into it if I hadn’t caught myself.
Now that I think about it, why did I catch myself? Why did I pause to regain composure instead of transmigrating into that elusive world my soul forgets it wants until it catches a new glimpse of it? But actually, in the moments that portal opens, the swift current of somber radiance pouring out of it into our own world prevents the would-be immigrant from reaching the border and trespassing where no mortal could safely stay. What in its intensity would overwhelm me there, in its diluted form sustains me here through sehnsucht.
I’ve come across a few pieces of music that have produced similar effects on me. It would be trite to say these pieces “remind me of Fall”; it’s more like they manage to crack open that same dimensional portal as I listen to them. They are, in fact, magic—imbued somehow with the same potency as the leaves and skies and smells of Autumn. These may not work for you like they do for me, but may act more like a lock and key, matching the right hollows in my soul with the perfect outcurves in their characters. But in case your soul matches mine, I offer these for you to try. Just be ready in case these induce a soul attack:
Lux Æterna Suite by Morten Lauridsen
Made up of five movements (I. Intoitus, II. In te domine, speravi, III. O nata lux, IV. Veni, Sancte Spiritus, V. Agnus Dei), this work evokes peace, drama, contemplativeness, and of course, longing. Even its name, “Light Eternal,” suggests a pointing on to something transcendental, something beyond. But it’s not a “beyond” of forgetfulness or formlessness; it takes me to a northern Autumn, but a paradisal North, its trees’ many colors made the more striking against a stark silver sky, and that silver reflected in the glint of dew blanketing emerald hills.
Moldau from Má Vlast by Bedřich Smetana
This piece brings to life the motion of Autumn: its falling leaves, its swaying trees, its clouds in solemn procession, and definitely its flowing rivers. The Moldau is the river which runs through the city of Prague, and its progressive flow is articulated in the music first by the flutes and their rapid arpeggios, then by the melody in the strings as the water widens into the broad and majestic river which runs through the heart of the city. The pace and tempo of this performance are perfect, whereas slower performances break the spell of the music for me. Autumn, after all, isn’t inert but has an energy to it; it has the inherent qualities both of eternality and transience—eternally flowing, but flowing nonetheless.
Ubi Caritas by Ola Gjeilo
The ancient chant Ubi Caritas has been reforged by Ola Gjeilo into a modern sword that can pierce my modern heart. The beginning of the ancient melody and the Latin text has been preserved, but Gjeilo has fortified it with the stout polyphony characteristic of a renaissance motet, and has even alloyed it with the thick, subtle dissonances of Scandinavian choral tradition. This piece transports me into a sacred space, stone in walls and floor, soft blues diffused over pink stone as the Autumn sun, low in the sky, shines through the stained glass windows. The east end of the sanctuary, though, blends gradually with the outdoors, there being no perceptible threshold, and the high Altar is set amidst a purple and gold forest. The angelic voices in this recording reverberate no less among those sacred trees than among the stone columns of the masonry nave.