The cause of a smile


The beginning of Yesterday Once More by The Carpenters. What could possibly link this timeless 1970s song to Purcell’s timeless anthem Rejoice in the Lord alway, written almost three hundred years earlier?


When we focus on the downward travelling bass line in both, it soon becomes apparent.



– music written hundreds of miles and years apart but sharing the common musical device of the descending motif, giving the music a sense of direction and harmonic progression.  (The Carpenters’ For All We Know is very similar at the beginning.) In a DSQ programme that contains three works by English composers and one by Mozart, it is clear that there are many connections. Within the music there is evidence of the universality of origins and influences.

There are several more descending lines integral to the works that we are playing.


2. Mozart

Sometimes these descending lines give a strong sense of where the bass line is heading. At other times, it isn’t so obvious. In the beginning of the Elgar quartet, the cello (bass) line wanders down while the first violin heads upwards, in a way not dissimilar to the Mozart example above.

3.  Elgar (beginning)



Later in the first movement the downward line is more thematic:

4.  Purcell
Purcell’s downward lines roll out in profusion.

In some ways, Purcell’s music sounds more modern than any of the other more recent composers featured in our programme. Elgar definitely wanders off into new territory, for him at least. There are echoes of Wagner and Debussy but somehow it is quintessentially Elgar.  It feels appropriate to play Elgar immediately after Purcell – they are surely questing, kindred spirits spanning the centuries.

In the videos I describe some of the descending lines as like a tolling bell. Purcell’s anthem, Rejoice in the Lord alway is also called the ‘Bell anthem’ because of the downward bell-like movement of the bass line – so much more than a bass line!  I studied this anthem in my early teens and it really affected me way back then. The Carpenters also had their place in my listening of that time. I wasn’t aware of the link between the two but perhaps it takes time to become aware of the universality of things.

When I was young I’d listen to the radio
Waitin’ for my fav’rite songs
When they played I’d sing along
It made me smile

(Richard Lynn Carpenter and John Bettis)










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