from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The greatest music? 

Crossposted from dailykos, which is a political blog, which will explain at least some of the verbiage,

XM Radio Channel 110 played what its two hosts, Paul Bachman and Martin Goldsmith (who is a dailykos participant) considered the top 25 classical works of all time. I have to admit that much of my Friday was consumed by listening. Especially when they got to the last 8, about which I will talk a bit anon.

I am by background, by training, by instinct, more of a musician than I am anything else. It has consumed more of my life and my energy than anything else, even reading. And yet this evening was the first time in a long time that I actually sat and just listened with a score in front of me, as I used to do as a child and adolescent.

I learned to read a full score by the time I was 8. I still have a substantial collection of scores, full and piano, of many works that I love. Growing up I also often learned to play piano reductions of symphonies. But it was far more pleasing to put on a record and follow along with the score. Somehow I rarely seem to find the time to do that nowadays, although after today, I think I will seek opportunity to do so.

We can argue over what we think are the greatest pieces - certainly I do not find myself in total agreement with their selection, although there are many pieces included that I love. The last 8 affected me particularly, and took over my evening.

Before I discuss further, here’s the list, which I found listed at this site:
XM Classics Classical Countdown – Top 25 Classical Works of All Time

#25 - Handel: Music for the Royal Fireworks (Aradia Ensemble/Kevin Mallon) Naxos
#24 - Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 21 in C (Helen Huang, piano; New York Philharmonic/Kurt Masur) Warner Classics
#23 – Bernstein: Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story” (New York Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein) Sony Classical
#22 – Mahler: Symphony No. 1 in D (Concertgebouw Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein) Deutsche Gramophone
#21 – Mendelssohn: Octet in E-Flat (Emerson Quartet) Deutsche Gramophone
#20 – Palestrina: Pope Marcellus Mass (Westminster Abbey Choir/Simon Preston) Archiv
#19 – Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G (St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble) St. Luke’s
#18 – Schubert: Piano Quintet in A, “Trout” (Frank Braley, Renaud Capucon Ensemble) Virgin Classics
#17 – Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, “Pathetique” (Vienna Philharmonic/Valery Gergiev) Philips
#16 – Mozart: Clarinet Quintet in A (Benny Goodman, cl; Boston Symphony Quartet) RCA
#15 – Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherezade (Kirov Orchestra/Valery Gergiev) Philips
#14 – Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue (Christopher O’Riley, piano; Royal Philharmonic/Barry Wordsworth) Royal Phil Collection
#13 – Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (Vienna Philharmonic/Zubin Mehta) Orfeo
#12 – Schubert: Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, “Unfinished” (Cleveland Orchestra/George Szell) Sony Classical
#11 – Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor (Arthur Rubinstein, piano; Chicago Symphony/Fritz Reiner) RCA
#10 – Sibelius: Finlandia (Philharmonia Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy) Decca
#9 – Copland: Appalachian Spring (Boston Symphony/Aaron Copland) RCA
#8 – Brahms: Symphony No. 3 in F Major (Vienna Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein) Deutsche Gramophone
#7 – Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Minor (Lang Lang, piano; Chicago Symphony/Daniel Barenboim) DG
#6 – Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C Minor (Minnesota Orchestra/Osmo Vanska) Bis
#5 – Vivaldi: Four Seasons (Concerto Italiano) Naïve
#4 – Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, “From the New World” (London Symphony/Istvan Kertesz) Decca
#3 – Mozart: Symphony No. 41 in C Major, “Jupiter” (Prague Chamber Orchestra/Charles Mackerras) Teldec
#2 – Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor (Pilar Lorengar, s; Yvonne Minton, a; Stuart Burrows, t; Marti Talvela, b; Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Georg Solti) Decca
#1 – Bach: Mass in B Minor (Margaret Marshall, s; Janet Baker, a; Robert Tear, t; Samuel Ramey, b; Academy & Chorus of St. Martin-in-the-Fields/Neville Marriner) Philips

I recognize that there are those who will already criticize this diary. They will definitely not be happy about what I am going to do now, explain the meaning to me of the final 8 on the list above.

The Brahms 3rd was the very first symphony that I learned to play from a pino score. The Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto, the first movement of which I learned as a junior in high school, probably represents one peak of my piano ability, although I think my performance of Bach was probably more heartfelt, and more musical. I first followed a symphonic score with the Beethoven Fifth, back when I was 8, and as a result persuaded my parents to buy me many more miniature scores. I have on vinyl that performance of the Vivaldi, records on which the grooves are well-worn from many times being played. And I can remember loving the Dvorak before the Symphonies were renumbered, and I can remember playing it in the Orchestra at National Music Camp.

But it is the last three that are so significant to me. I don’t need a score for the Jupiter - it has been so much a part of my life that I can almost visualize the open score, although I could not, as did one of those in my class on the symphony, when asked for an example of invertible counterpoint ,write out the whole coda from memory. And yet every note seems engraved in my mind, the sounds, the rhythm.

The Chorale Symphony simply blows me away. To think that Beethoven never heard it, except in his mind. He conducted the premier, and was still conducting well after the performance was done, when he was turned to face the overwhelming applause of the audience. My wife sang in a performance with the Philadelphia Orchestra when she was at prep school. It is the only Beethoven Symphony I have never performed in an Orchestra, and yet I admire it so much. It, like the Missa Solemnis, shows me that Beethoven conceived of things for the human voice that others might never have dared, because he treated like yet one more magnificent instrument.

But the Mass in B Minor - I have sung multiple times, and like the Verdi Requiem, about which I wrote last Spring, have had occasion to do so as my voice changed over time. Thus I know both the tenor and bass choral parts. It is not even clear if Bach wrote this intending it to be performed. Tonight I went and got my score, and at first sang along, but then decided to again become the child fascinated by music, by the relationship between the markings on the page and the sounds I heard. I just listened with the score, as I had so often done so many years ago. But in my mind I was singing, I could feel the sense of being a part in my throat and my lungs, even as I remained silent.

I cannot rank pieces of music, or books, or movies. There are those I had I not experienced my life would be greatly impoverished. Clearly Bach’s Hohe Mess in H Moll falls in that category. When singing the entire piece (it is often, like the Messiah, only partially performed), by the final low A for the basses in the Dona Nobis Pacem one realistically does not have the voice left to hit the note, and yet somehow one does.

Tonight I listened and followed the score. It reminded me of the childlike delight I used to take in music, something I have not been experiencing enough recently.

Perhaps in our busy lives some are too much like me, taking on too much, not taking the time to just listen. As I have passed yesterday my half year annivesary in this my 61st year, I realize that I must make the time to just listen - to music, to my cats, to the sounds of nature. But most of all to music, to listen without distraction.

As I write this now I have to stop momentarily- on XM is a recording of the final adagio from Mahler’s 9th, in a performance by Bruno Walter and the Vienna Philharmonic recorded only weeks before Hitler took over. It is excruciatingly beautiful, as is often true of Mahler slow movements.

This is a political blog. But music is relevant, as it also should be relevant in our schools, in our lives. I choose to use the words of our 2nd president to explain why, and to end this diary. The version I will quote appears in a letter to Abigail in May of 1780. I hope
I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.


Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
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