When I was in high school, I attended a summer music program where I took classes and performed in various ensembles. There was one class that truly captivated me: musicology. In the years since, I’ve been following and studying the works of various musicologists (I loved Elizabeth Miles’ series, “Tune Your Brain“), and music writers.
When I moved to New York, I quickly discovered the work of the brilliant New Yorker music critic, Alex Ross. I attended a lecture where Alex Ross spoke about the Lamento, and suddenly my high school musicology class experience came rushing back to me. I became obsessed with finding examples of this technique -the technique Ross describes as “a series of four descending notes that (are) often associated with lament. It’s an echo, probably, of human sobbing or sighing.” The one that I remembered from my musicology class, which was also covered in this lecture was the bass line from Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” (in this example, it can be heard in the cello and bass parts, beginning at 0:57).
I’m sure you can think of a few instances in popular music where this technique is employed. The first one that came to my mind was Dave Matthews Band’s “Sleep to Dream Her“.
What I love about this Aimee Mann song is the music. When the the vocals begin, you can hear the guitar setting up something of a lamento, but then at :28, the bass line provides the true lamento. However, what’s unique about this song is that instead of resolving to a minor key, as most lamentos do (well, they typically remain in a minor key), this lamento resolves into a major key – so that the first half of each line is minor, and the second half is major. It’s truly interesting. The chorus is truly mesmerizing as well.