From Gregorian chant to John Tavener, Hildegard von Bingen to Howard Skempton, countless classical composers over the centuries have written music that offer us moments of stillness. We’ve put together a playlist of music to help calm, clear and focus the mind, perhaps as part of a meditation practice or perhaps simply as part of a restorative escape from daily life.
John Cage Dream
This misty piano piece surrounds a dreamy melody in a soft cloud of resonance, created either by the sustaning pedal or holding on notes, as the performer wishes. It was written in 1948 for a work choreographed by Merce Cunningham.
Pauline Oliveros ‘Suiren’ from Deep Listening
The idea of ‘deep listening’ was, according to the American improviser and composer who came up with the term, ‘listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear no matter what one is doing’. Pauline Oliveros also liked a pun: her Deep Listening album was recorded in a disused cistern four metres underground.
Arvo Pärt Spiegel im Spiegel
Written for violin and piano, this ten-minute piece from 1978 has become one of the Estonian composer’s best-known works. It’s composed using his signature tintinnabuli style, with a melody unfolding over repeated triads. Slow and peaceful, it’s an ideal piece for meditation.
Hildegard von Bingen O Vis Aeternitatis
‘O power within eternity’ is one of the responsories written by the 12th-century German composer, poet and mystic, Hildegard von Bingen. More of her chant settings, such as this, survive than from any other Medieval composer.
Satie ‘Les Anges’ from Trois mélodies
The first of an early set of three songs published in 1887, Les Anges sets a poem by one of Erik Satie’s friends, known as JP Contamine de Latour. In the poem, set in a free-floating style, the words speak ‘angels hovering in the ether, floating lilies among the stars’.
John Luther Adams Songbirdsongs
‘These small songs are echoes of rare moments and places where the voices of birds have been clear and I have been quiet enough to hear,’ says John Luther Adams, an environmental activist turned composer, who has brought the living world into the concert hall, and vice versa. If meditation is about paying attention to the world, these miniatures do just that.