The meaning of life, pt. 2: The Lost Chord

Thanks to victorianweb.org for the         sheet music. 
Thanks to victorianweb.org for the sheet music.

After reading my post of yesterday, my father, who taught me everything I know about listening to music, has reminded me of something that I want to pass along. I’ll give you a little explanation, but very little of my own interpretation. This is just pure, old-fashioned coolness.

In 1877, Arthur Sullivan (of “Gilbert &” fame) wrote a song out of grief, at the bedside of his dying brother. The lyrics came from a poem by Adelaide Anne Proctor published in 1858. Sullivan’s The Lost Chord became a huge Victorian-society parlor success.

The Lost Chord is a richly poetic and prayerful approach to the idea I discussed yesterday in this space. Thank you, Adelaide and Arthur. (And Vincent, too.)

Seated one day at the organ, I was weary and ill at ease / and my fingers wandered idly over the noisy keys. I know not what I was playing, or what I was dreaming then / But I struck one chord of music, like the sound of a great Amen. It flooded the crimson twilight, like the close of an angel’s psalm / And it lay on my fevered spirit with a touch of infinite calm. It quieted pain and sorrow, like love overcoming strife /  It seemed the harmonious echo from our discordant life. It linked all perplexèd meanings into one perfect peace / And trembled away into silence as if it were loth to cease. I have sought, but I seek it vainly, that one lost chord divine / which came from the soul of the organ and entered into mine. It may be that death’s bright angel / will speak in that chord again, it may be that only in Heav’n I shall hear that grand Amen.

There are recordings available online (this will give you a nice feeling for what the song sounded like in Victorian parlors.)

But even better: THIS time-travelly wonder is a recording from August 14, 1888, introducing Mr. Thomas Edison’s Perfected Phonograph to the London press, playing a song everyone knew.

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