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5 min

(#7 in the Laney’s List series — a music prof chooses 36 pieces to introduce his 16-year-old daughter to classical music.)

I usually know why a piece of music slays me. It’s kind of my thing. But here’s a piece that I think is absolutely captivating, and I’m not entirely sure why that is.

Sure, I can find a captivating thing or three. The way the sopranos separate at the beginning of each measure, then join and rise together in thirds is an aural dance if ever there was, and 1:40-2:07 is some of the most elegant vocal writing I’ve ever heard. But I’m already sold by the time I get to 1:40, so that’s not it.

The chords are elegant and slightly nonstandard in that I’m-a-pretty-little-Frenchman way that makes me think of Satie at his Gymnopediest. If the second chord (1:10) had been V, for example, it would have been clunky and ordinary. Going to IV7  instead is just lovely. And the chord at 1:16, the one that ends the phrase! Instead of your average half cadence on V , he ends on iii. My keyboard is on the fritz (sorry, I mean on the françois) or I’d give you two sound files to show the difference. But just listen to that moment at 1:16 and see if you don’t hear a wistful harmonic lift-and-sigh in the strings. Nothing says This piece was built within ten years and ten kilometres of the Eiffel Tower like a phrase that ends on iii.

Still, I’m not convinced those details are the whole boule de cire. What do you think?

7. DELIBES “Flower Duet” from Lakmé (3:35)

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See also: 1 Chopin | 2 Scarlatti | 3 Hildegard | 4 Bach | 5 Chopin | 6 ReichFull list YouTube playlist

Dale McGowan is chief content officer of OnlySky, author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies, and founder of Foundation Beyond Belief (now GO Humanity). He holds a...