While swimming for twenty-six hours after I sank RESURGAM, I speculated about what would be the very last piece of music I would want to hear before I died.  Checking RETURN TO THE SEA I find that I decided upon any of Beethoven’s Late String Quartets, Satie’s Trois Gymnopedies, and the Incomplete Contrapunctus from Bach’s  Art of the Fugue.  Nineteen years later I haven’t changed my mind.

        I don’t know that any of us actually believes in his or her own death.   Although on one level we know death is a certain Darwinian necessity, we often say, “I thought I was going to die.”  Or “If I’m going to die...”   More deeply we are all our own universes and cannot imagine a world without us in it.

        Nevertheless, sometime between the next instant and the next few decades--Carol has predicted that I’ll die by falling off a boat in the middle of an ocean when I’m 90, which certainly would be winning the game--although I think by living this long I’ve already won--these entries are going to come to an end, quite possibly without warning. 

        So believing in preparation, I offer a requiem playlist of the music I would choose to hear last.  There be no mourning here.  And nothing more morbid than making a musical will.        

        This is not a list of my favorite music, but of that music I consider appropriate for the occasion.  Some explanatory notes follow the playlist.

        With one exception, I’ve limited myself to music available at the iTunes store.  It would all cost less than $20.  You could buy and enjoy the music now and play it again some evening when you learn that I’ve died.  If you are a drinker, a glass of Laphroaig would be in order.

        I wanted to keep to a self-imposed limit of ten tracks, and have only exceeded that by including three performances of Bach’s incomplete, ART Of THE FUGUE, which I like to believe was interrupted by his death.  Approaching death, backing off, approaching again, backing off, approaching again.  What better depiction of my life?

        I have given thought to sequence.  That of the last five is essential.

        The playlist is a work in progress and may change with time.

        Selections are shown by name, album, artist.

Dante’s Prayer   LIVE IN PARIS AND TORONTO   Loreena McKennitt

The Swan of Tuonela   Sibelius:  Finlandia; Valse triste;

            The Swan of Tuonela; En Saga   Eugene Ormandy

            and the Philadelphia Philharmonic

Nova Scotia Farewell   Ian and Sylvia:  Complete Vanguard

            Studio Recordings   Ian and Sylvia

I Had a Farm in Africa (Main Title)   Soundtrack from OUT OF    

            AFRICA   John Barry

Second Movement    Gorecki:  Symphony Number 3

            Zofia Kilanowicz, soprano     Polish National 

            Radio Symphony Orchestra    Antoni Wit

Scorpion   Red Horse   Lucy Kaplansky

Siyakudumisa    You Tube Video    Holy Cross Choir

Trois Gymnopedies   Erik Satie:  Piano Works    Anne Queffelec

Carrighfergus   ELEMENTAL  Cedric Smith and Loreena McKennitt

Incomplete Contrapunctus (track 12)   BACH:  ART OF THE FUGUE 


Fuga a 3 Sogetti (track 18)   BACH:  ART OF THE FUGUE   Loeki Stardust


Contrpunctus 14 (track 11, disc 2)  BACH:  ART OF THE FUGUE  

            Tatiana Nikolayeva

        In going over my music collection I realized that I could have created my requiem with just classical music--any of Beethoven’s Late String Quartets would have done; or with just Bach; or Sibelius; or simply Faure’s Requiem.

        I was a little surprised to discover that I could also have limited it solely to African music, or Irish, or Spanish, or Loreena McKennett, or Mark Knopfler, or Lucy Kaplansky.  Or others.

        But I have tried for diversity, to offer a spectrum of music that has meaning to me in this context.   

        Several songs, such as Amigo de Verdad by Gipsyland, were not included because they are too obscure to be available at the iTunes store.

        Others almost made it.  I didn’t include Dave Alvin’s The Man in the Bed because I strongly hope not to die in a hospital bed; and I didn’t include his Everett Ruess, although I think parts of the song are perfect, because  it also contains reference to loving his childhood home, which I didn’t, and “they never understood my mind.”  I like to believe that some of you have understood mine.


The Swan of Tuonela is not my favorite Sibelius:  his symphonies are.  But the piece lent its name to THE HAWKE OF TUONELA,   Of the tone poem, Sibelius wrote,  “Tuonela, the land of death in Finnish mythology is surrounded by a broad river with black waters and rapid currents, on which the Swan of Tuonela floats majestically, singing.”


I saw Ian and Sylvia perform Nova Scotia Farewell live in Huntington Beach, California, in 1966, before I even owned a boat.  It has remained my favorite sea chanty.


The reasons for including I Had A Farm In Africa are found in the journal entry for April 6, 2007.


Beyond its sheer beauty, the Second Movement of Gorecki’s Third Symphony, plays a key role in my short story, “Sailing To Africa.”

At iTunes you cannot buy just the Second Movement of the rendition by the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, which is the one I own.  However you can buy  only that movement by other orchestras, which might be as good or even better.  The entire symphony is, of course, worth hearing.


I wrote of Scorpion on August 27, 2010.  It is still a sexy song that reminds me of the women in my life.


When I last checked three versions of Siyakudumisa (“We Praise You”) were available at the iTunes store.  None of them approach the joy of that by the Holy Cross Choir, which I bought on a locally produced disc while in Cape Town in 2002.  I hope the You Tube video continues to be available.

I was raised as a Presbyterian, but have not been a Christian for fifty years.  I just like some religious music.


I wrote about Cedric Smith’s version of Carrighfergus on November 14, 2008 and again on October 18, 2010.


I spent several enjoyable hours listening to Beethoven’s Late String Quartets, which together take up four CD’s, without being able to choose any one movement.

I also spent considerable time trying unsuccessfully to choose a single version of Bach’s Incomplete Contrapunctus from The Art of the Fugue.  So I decided to give Beethoven a pass and include three very different versions of Bach.

I am aware that some modern musicologists  don’t believe that this was Bach’s last work, interrupted by his death, though one of Bach’s sons wrote on the score that it was.

Whether true or not, I choose to believe that Johann Sebastian Bach was composing when he was interrupted by his wife calling him to  dinner or someone at the door and never came back.

Of these versions, one music critic said of the Phantasm Viol Quartet, that if he had only two recordings on a desert island, this would be one.

The Loeki Stardust Quartet make recorders sound almost like an organ.

Tatiana Nikolayeva is considered by many to be peerless. 

I have two other versions of Bach’s Art of the Fugue:  one by Pierre-Laurent Aimard is excellent, but not, I think, the equal of Nikolayeva;  the other by Glenn Gould I seldom listen to.  I enjoy his performance, despite his humming along.

Concluding with three versions of Bach--all are the same piece of music under different names--repeatedly approaching silence, then starting over again, until the irrevocable end, is apposite for my life.

                                                                            June 28, 2011