Very Modern Love Songs: Your Weird, Steamy Playlist for V-Day

Valentine’s Day is here, and for contemporary music enthusiasts, it can be hard to compile the proper playlist. From openhearted to kinky, we’ve got some pretty wide-ranging ideas of what romance is. Without further ado, here’s your 2014 playlist of avant-garde baby-makin’ music.

Written By

Ellen McSweeney

Valentine’s Day is here, and for contemporary music enthusiasts, it can be hard to compile the proper twitterpated playlist. After all, laypeople are constantly referring to our favorite pieces as “scary movie music.” Don’t they know we’re just as romantic as the next guy? When we’re cut, do we not bleed?!

I started thinking about what makes new music erotic or romantic, and decided to ask my Facebook friends and Twitter followers the same question. Some of their responses were just weird enough to include…and some were just weird. From openhearted to kinky, we’ve got some pretty wide-ranging ideas of what romance is. Without further ado, here’s your 2014 playlist of avant-garde baby-makin’ music.

What’s sexier than the human body? Few composers explore this question better than Jenna Lyle. We can neither confirm nor deny rumors that Lyle’s upcoming doctoral dissertation will include microphones placed inside certain unmentionable orifices. While you’re waiting for that excitement, check out her duo Aqualung for some sensual girl-on-girl-on-violin action. (Full disclosure: I’m the violinist in this video.) Lyle here explores “the intimacy and claustrophobia of closeness to another in parallel with the intimacy and claustrophobia of being alone with oneself.” What’s more romantic, or real, than that?

You know it. I know it. The phenomenal composer and conductor Matthias Pinscher is a heartthrob on the podium and on the page. Exhibit A is his Songs from Solomon’s Garden, which takes as its text some of the oldest sex poetry in Western civilization. The throbbing (yes, throbbing) trumpet solos were reportedly written especially for his paramour in the New York Philharmonic. It’s not every day we get to know a living composer Biblically.

Is your Valentine’s Day more bitter than sweet? Or is it, er, another taste altogether? The unfailingly raunchy Matt Marks set a text entitled “I tasted another woman in your mouth” for his song cycle I[XX]. As you might expect, this audio is NSFW.

With dating apps like Tinder and Grindr starting to make OKCupid look downright quaint, we could all use a primer on love in the digital age. Composer Robert Honstein’s My Heart Iz Open is a lonely-hearts online love story complete with email subject lines and corny screen names. It even turns its compositional light on dating websites’ heartbreakingly detached Terms of Use.
Thanks to Chicago composer Morgan Krauss, getting in the mood tonight will not be a problem for any of us. Just imagine you’re in a darkened concert hall listening to her Gravity of Shadows: two female vocalists ooh-ing, sighing, and breathing their way through four sensual minutes. The flutes sound just as transfixed, focused and ecstatic as the humans. Are you tingly yet? (h/t Doyle Armbrust)

Let’s not forget the classics. Morton Feldman’s Piano and String Quartet, like great love, creates a sense of deep attunement and intimacy. The piece’s opening sequence has a sense of suspended timelessness, like two lovers lingering over every touch. But at an hour and twenty minutes, the piece more closely resembles a long, mindful marriage than a fling. (h/t Dave Reminick)
Thanks a lot, Jonathon Kirk: I’ll never think of hockets the same way again. When I asked friends to name their favorite “sexy” pieces, Jonathon chose Meredith Monk’s Hocket” from Facing North. This vocal duet evokes either the rhythmic call-and-response of lovemaking or a couple in a lifelong repetitive conversation. Or both.

Things get kinky when the conversation turns toward Georges Aperghis. His quintet Crosswind, performed here by Chicago dynamos Anubis Quartet and Nadia Sirota, has a raw and ravaging energy, punctuated by yelps of unfulfilled longing and, let’s be real, sucking sounds. Though Crosswind feels more like an orgy than the more intimate couplings on this list, there is an innocent, charming little love song nestled in around 5:40. (h/t Seth Brodsky)

But perhaps, dear readers, you’re tired of weird. Perhaps you’re ready for real love. Two of contemporary music’s favorite lovebirds, writers and advocates Larry and Arlene Dunn, recommend “How Important It Must Be,” a kind of lifelong-love song by Maria Schneider on a text by Ted Kooser. While this particular song from Scheider’s Winter Morning Walks isn’t available for free streaming, the equally beautiful “Walking by Flashlight” gives a taste of the song cycle’s tender jazz sensibility.

Finally, for those ready to face the question of love and mortality, I offer up the sad and gorgeous musical legacy of perhaps the greatest contemporary music love story of the past decade. Composer Peter Lieberson was married with three children when he met mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt; they fell in love while working on the premiere of his opera, Ashoka’s Dream. After their marriage, he wrote his Neruda Songs for her. The piece was recorded just eight months before she died of breast cancer; sadly, Lieberson himself has also since passed away. The final Neruda Song begins with this text:

My love, should I die and you don’t
let us give grief no more ground:
my love, should you die and I don’t
there is no piece of land like this on which we’ve lived.

Hold your loved ones close, dear readers, and read a poem or two. Happy Valentine’s Day.