Monday, 28 February 2011

Why I like classical music...

In a previous post, I've shared some thoughts on why music's so important. My favourite bits of classical music are truly great works of art. My definition for that is something whose pleasure and significance with repetition. Something you can live with for life and still find new things in it.

At this moment in time, these make the final cut of my top ten musical works are:

Richard Wagner’s Overture to Tannhauser
I love the cascading strings, the march that comes in, the solemnity of the trumpets. It has such power and provides me with inexhaustible pleasure.

Handel: Messiah
Mozart once said, “Handel understands effect better than any of us. When he chooses, he strikes like a thunder bolt.”  That’s quite a complement. Handel has such control - knowing when to hold back because  restraint is important, and when to turn up the power of the music to full notch.

He works to the utmost to convey the emotion of a text and his word painting is part of that.
Perhaps the most famous and oft-quoted example of the technique is in, "Every valley shall be exalted", the tenor aria early in Part I of Messiah. On the lyric "...and every mountain and hill made low; the crooked straight and the rough places plain". The notes climb, descend and alternate together with the text.

I also really like Serse - Accompagnato: Frondi tenere.

J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion Erbarme Dich, Mein Gott
Bach’s St. Matthew Passion shows human achievement at its greatest and most humbling. I also really like the cello suites

Vaughan Williams – The Lark Ascending
There is something so very English about The Lark Ascending. The softness and warmth of the French horns coming in evoking a delicate pastoral scene. The violin has a whimsicality and complete sense of freedom. Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis comes a close second.

Mozart’s Requiem, Mass No. 19 in D minor, Sequenx: Lacrimosa

Mozart's Requiem is one of the most personal, impassioned and profound of his works, despite the fact that the composer died leaving it unfinished.

Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto no. 1 in G minor
It was as a prodigy on the violin that Bruch began jotting down ideas for his First Violin Concerto at age nineteen. It was nearly eleven years, however, before the piece was finalized in the form published in 1868 in Wiesbaden. The resulting work, in the words of American music writer Jonathan Kramer, “is a virtuoso's dream...dramatic, fiery, and melodic.” 

Gustav Mahler’s 2nd symphony – The Resurrection Symphony.
Mahler’s second begins with doubt and ends in massive optimism. The grand choral finale is outstanding.

Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides Overture
The Hebrides Overture captures the restlessness of the sea perfectly. It conveys a sense of excitement with danger lurking. Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and Midsummer Night's Dream are also pretty amazing too. The Fingal’s Cave overture of the Hebrides symphony holds a special place in my heart though as its the home of my ancestors.

Allegri Miserere
The unaccompanied choral setting of the Miserere ("Have Mercy on Me, O God") from Psalm 51 is truly beautiful. It was composed for the Sistine Chapel in the 1630s for the Tenebrae Holy Week service, as candles were extinguished one by one, leaving the faithful in darkness. More than a century later, Mozart marvelled at it. The sound of a boy treble, soaring to a top C, is near miraculous. It’s so beautiful that the Vatican even banned it at one point.

Piazzolla’s Milonga Del Angel
There is a languidness and playfulness about Piazzolla’s Milonga Del Angel. I particularly love the version by Yo-Yo Ma. The Libertango is also pretty amazing too.

No doubt there are gaping omissions in this list, but it’s a good start for a desert island long list!

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