Track of the Day: ‘Proserpina’ by Martha Wainwright

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

From a long-time and beloved reader, Barbara:

At this season, I love listening to Christmas music (except in stores and offices and elevators and out in public, where the same things play over and over again and must surely drive retail workers crazy). It’s always a relief to hear instrumental music without words on a store soundtrack. I would be totally willing to shop without listening to Christmas music for the aural and mental health of retail employees everywhere.

But whatever religion or non-religion one ascribes to, the turn of the year brings the solstice. Here’s Kate McGarrigle talking about why she was inspired to write “Proserpina.” The song is based on the legend of Persephone, beloved of the lord of the underworld, and is a fable about the origin of the seasons. Leave aside the confusion I suffer from the names (I am more used to hearing about Persephone, and I know Proserpina is an alternate name, but I thought her mother was Ceres, and Hera sounds good in the song but where did that come from?). I need some version of a family tree to navigate all those variations, I guess. Anyway, [embedded above] is a version of “Proserpina” sung by McGarrigle’s daughter, Martha Wainwright. (My favorite version of the song, which I couldn’t find online, is from the double CD collection Sing Me the Songs: Celebrating the Work of Kate McGarrigle.)

Here’s some background on the song from the official YouTube page:

Taken from her forthcoming album Come Home to Mama, the track was recorded in Sean Lennon’s New York home studio and continues a lifelong musical dialogue between Wainwright and McGarrigle, who passed away in 2010. “It’s the last song my mother wrote, and of course I also think that she wrote it for me, and for Rufus,” explains Wainwright, referring to her critically acclaimed crooner brother, Rufus Wainwright. “We wrote songs together, ever since we were children. As we sing her songs, I think her voice can be heard in ours, literally through our pipes.”

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)