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Music about the unusual, the exotic, the strange

Dear Colleagues
I'm currently programming an a cappella concert for a enterprising and ambitious amateur chamber choir in London.  
I have the seed of an idea for a programme focusing on the exotic and the weird - things beyond the composer's (or the author of the text's) experience.  (Not simply composers from exotic places!)  To better explain what I mean, I'm thinking of works such as Weelkes: Thule/The Andalusian Merchant (the faraway and exotic), Steve Martland: Skywalk (an astronaut looking down from space), Toch: Geographical Fugue, Schuman Talismane etc.  Perhaps also settings of Kubla Khan / Ozymandius.  There is a possible religious strand too (Let All the World in Every Corner Sing; Whither Shall I flee from thy Spirit (Muhly) etc).  
I'm making steady progress but would be most grateful for any ideas you might have.  Possible keywords/lines of thought might be mountains/oceans/jungle/desert/sky/underground.  Music could be from any period, for any a cappella scoring (we are a choir of about 35).
on August 29, 2012 8:24am
Dear Andrew,
This might fit the criteria you listed - my setting of "O Magnum Mysterium":
Best wishes,
Frank La Rocca
on August 30, 2012 12:29am
Sounds like a great plan. I love "Thule"! May I suggest NZ composer David Hamilton's excellent and evocative setting of "Noises, Sounds, and Sweet Airs" from The Tempest?
best wishes,
on August 30, 2012 5:31am
Andrew -- If you'd count a musician delving into "science" -- or perhaps a snail experiencing classical music -- you might find that Eine Kleine Snailmusik fits your bill with a whimsical touch.  I wrote it for a suite of pieces with musical reference, Evening Music:  Five Sarton Poems, but it works alone.  Have fun,
Christopher J. Hoh
on August 30, 2012 11:15am
A number of years ago, one of my adult choruses performed a "Musical Menagerie" concert with lots of strange songs. The program is as follows:
Ola! O che bon eccho!               Orlando Di Lasso
An Admonition                           Joseph Haydn
Le Chant des Oyseaux (selection) Clement Janequin
Sweet Suffolk Owl                       Thomas Vautor
Duetto Buffo di Due Gatti (DUET) attrib. Rossini
The Green Dog (SOLO)                Herbert Kingsley
Bachianinha No. 1                        Paulinho Nogueira
Parade of the Wooden Soldiers   Leon Jessel, arr. Vaccaro
When the Saints Go Marching In   Walter Schumann
The Prune Song                           arr. Charlene Archibeque
Bagels and Biscuits                       Theodore Lucas
Banquet Fugue                            John Rutter
A Mule Named Sal                         Gwyneth Walker
Swinging on a Star (SOLO)           Jimmy Van Heusen
Rubber Duckie (SOLO)                 Jeffrey Moss
Little Miss Muffet                           arr. Hal Hopson
The Teddy Bears’ Picnic                John Bratton, arr. Carter
Brother Will, Brother John (SOLO) John Sacco
Cohen Owes Me 97 Dollars (SOLO) Irving Berlin
Applauded by an audience of 1
on August 30, 2012 11:49am
Dear Andrew,
This will doubtless be a very entertaining concert!  If you're open to something a bit more weighty in subject matter, I have a piece that might be of particular interest to you and your choir as Brits: a piece called A Strange Sweetness, which is a setting of Wilfred Owen's "Has your soul sipped".  It was commissioned and premiered by the Whitman College Chamber Singers (Jeremy Mims, conductor), and subsequently performed by ChoralNet titan Allen Simon and his group, Soli Deo Gloria.  If you're interested in seeing a perusal score, I'd be happy to e-mail you a .pdf.
I will also shamelessly piggyback on Frank's idea and offer an O magnum mysterium of my own, also available for perusal as a .pdf.
Best of luck in putting together your program!
Joseph Gregorio
on August 30, 2012 12:47pm
If you are considering an SSA piece - consider Aglepta - Millnas
Good luck,
on August 31, 2012 8:06am
Dear Andrew,
Co-incidentally, my chamber choir is just about to start rehearsing for a concert which was originally entitled "Music of the Spheres" and has now morphed into "Sounds of Heaven". The original theme was a vague trip through existentialism and Zen; a final balance between the reality of filling an auditorium and my somewhat wooly aspirations has yet to be found. 
The repertoire is as follows:
Veri solis radius                   11th C. Aquitanian Organum
Salvator Mundi                   Tallis           
Miserere nostri                    Tallis           
Ave maris stella a4               Victoria
A Cosmic prayer Op 460       Cooman
The Lamb                          Tavener
Tiglet                                Swayne
Song for Athene                 Tavener
Let all mortal flesh keep silence             Bairstow
O magnum mysterium                          Lauridsen
Totus Tuus                                        Gorecki
Sleep                                                Whitacre
Her sacred spirit soars                          Whitacre
Nunc dimittis                                      Pärt
Hope this helps.
Peter Gambie
The Renaissance Choir (U.K.)         
on September 1, 2012 11:48am
How about some pieces set to Lewis Carroll? Fantastic, bizarre, exotic, weird. Many composers have settings, but one composer's setting i have particularly enjoyed (both as performer and conductor) is by Karen P. Thomas. She has a set of four, including "Turtle Soup", "Father William" and "Jabberwocky" (don't remember what the fourth is right now). Anyway, you should look her up! 
on September 4, 2012 10:01am
What about Lassus's Prophetiae Sibyllarum?  They are certainly exotic...and some might even call them weird.
on September 5, 2012 12:17pm
Let me suggest a few of my pieces that might fit your theme:
Three Gnostic Poems are three settings of poems written by my father, who was a test pilot in WWII, that speak to his experience of things well beyond my experience. 
The Fervid Hokey Poke is a setting of the hilarious poem by Jeff Brechlin and Leo is a setting of excerpts from an ancient horoscope, both rather exotic and weird.
You may listen to recordings and download pdf perusal scores on my website at
on September 6, 2012 2:10pm
Hello, Andrew,
Two suggestions from Musica Russica's catalog:
Sergei Taneyev's "Suddenly, Music Sounded Out of Eternity" (Iz vechnosti muzïka vdrug razdalas) from his Op. 27, on a text by Yakov Polonsky.
and, since you mentioned the text, Victor Kalinnikov's "Where Can I Go from Thy Spirit?" (Kamo poydu ot Duha Tvoyego).
This latter piece is part of a collection, but if you contact us, we would be happy to send you a PDF preview copy.
Vlad Morosan
Musica Russica
on September 6, 2012 5:21pm
Hi Andrew,
You might consider my "Aprile/April," with its reference to the"Babylonian Kaiser, Prester John."  Texts are Italian (Folgore da san Gimignano 1250-1317) and its translation by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  The piece is available from Colla Voce Music at  Their site includes an audio sample.
Best of luck with your search,
Carol Barnett
on September 7, 2012 4:01am
Hello Andrew
Exciting theme. A few more suggestions,

Edward Elgar   (Yes, THE Edward Elgar)

Owls (An Epitaph) op. 53, No. 4     Very Weird and very wonderful


Edward Elgar

My love dwelt in a northern land:      Strange and wonderful faraway places


Mátyás Seiber: There was an old man in a tree:      A nonsense song - with a buzz


Jakko Mäntyjärvi: Double, Double Toil and Trouble:      Strange but wonderful Shakespeare


When and where's the concert?


All the best 


Alec Barnfield

Applauded by an audience of 1
on September 7, 2012 7:59am
Hi Andrew:
If you have never commissioned a piece of music before, why not consider doing so now and work with a composer in creating a truly unique piece that fits your unusual theme? Right now 34 composers (who are also "enterprising and ambitious"!) are participating in a first-time, time-limited Commission Project, and are offering their talents at very low- or no-cost to choirs who have never commissioned a piece of music before, primarily for lack of funds to do so.  See for the list of participating composers and all the details. This project is only open to choirs who have never commissioned a piece of music, and the offer ends on October 15.
Best wishes for what sounds like a very interesting concert!  
on September 11, 2012 6:51am
I just remembered: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi's setting of 'Full Fathom Five' from 4 Shakespeare Songs.
on February 28, 2013 7:22am
Just wanted, somewhat belatedly, to thank you all for these helpful suggestions!
The programme has morphed rather over time (far enough in fact that my original idea remains for another occasion) and has turned into a programme called 'Revelations'.  I thought I'd post it here in case it is of interest.  The concert is in London on 22nd March.  It was prompted in part by the passing of Jonathan Harvey, who is so wonderful at conjuring religious ecstasy.
Rorem: Canticle of the Lamb
Lassus: Extracts from the Prophetiae Sibyllarum (interspersed throughout programme)
Harvey: The Angels
Philips: Ecce vicit Leo
Messiaen: O Sacrum Convivium
Hildegard: O Virtus Sapientiae
Ferko: Hildegard Triptych
Byrd: O quam gloriosum
Stravinsky: The Dove Descending
Tallis: Loquebantur
Harvey: Come, Holy Ghost
MacMillan: Alpha and Omega
Applauded by an audience of 2
on March 1, 2013 11:06am
Hello Andrew,
If you are interested in songs from creatures other than humans, consider "Prayers from the Ark" by Ivor R. Davies, published by Goosey & Hawkes.  There are prayers of the Little Bird, Cat, Mouse, Raven and Dove, as well as Noah's Prayer.  They are set for SATB a cappella, and are quite listenable.  Each prayer is published as a separate octave.
on March 5, 2013 2:53pm
"Delusional Paths" is a setting of Stephen Crane poems concerned with paths that lead to unexpected places. Perhaps it would fit your theme.
Here is the premiere performed by Volti, with Robert Geary conducting. The text is included on the YouTube page.

on March 6, 2013 9:52am
Hi Andrew:
To the suggestions already tendered I'll add:
Jabberwocky, commissioned by Wellington High School, Palm Beach Florida and just premiered this past weekend.  A youtube performance has been posted:
and Witches' Blues (a setting of the text from Macbeth).  An excerpt of a performance by Chicago a cappella can be heard at this link:
If you would like perusal copies of either piece let me know.
Bob Applebaum
on July 30, 2013 6:49am
One more post on this one: in case it's of interest to colleagues here, here's a second programme related to this subject which I recently conducted with Londinium.  This one specifically related to imaginary/fantastical travel, and/or ways of travelling.

ERNST TOCH    Geographical Fugue

THOMAS WEELKES    Thule, the period of Cosmography The Andalusian Merchant

ROBERT SCHUMANN    Der KÖnig von Thule

THEA MUSGRAVE    On the Underground (Set 2: The Strange and the Exotic)




JOHN WILBYE What needeth all this travail? / O Fools! Can you not see?

EDWARD ELGAR My Love dwelt in a Northern Land



ERIC WHITACRE Leonardo dreams of his Flying Machine


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