Tag Archives: 1001 classical works

🎻♫♪ – Keyboard Sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
98/501Title: Keyboard Sonatas
Composer: Domenico Scarlatti
Nationality: Italian
Year:
1740s

When I think of the word ‘keyboard’ my mind immediately went to something new and electronic – so I got a bit lost when scouring the book for this particular piece. It makes more sense that ‘keyboard’ is just a generic name for instruments like the piano, harpsichord and synthesizer that operate using pressed keys. Feels so obvious now, but also built up some hopes of something that was like a classical David Bowie.

Over the course of his life, Domenico Scarlatti wrote over 550 keyboard sonatas – so listening to all of them would take me days. Luckily the 1001 book lists a specific collection, which is also available on Spotify, so that meant I could hear whatever it was the list makers decided were the best representation.

Like with last week’s Mystery Sonatasthis is another batch of ridiculously complex sonatas – although this time it’s for the piano rather than the violin. They were a baroque treat for an hour of classical music, but I don’t think that I would have been able to listen to his entire keyboard sonata oeuvre. That would be a bit much.

🎻♫♪ – Mystery Sonatas by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
97/501Title: Mystery Sonatas
Composer: Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber
Nationality: Bohemian
Year:
1674

I guess when a piece gets as old as this one, it’ll accumulate a few names. In the 1001 book they are referred to as the Mystery Sonatas, the version I listened to called them the Rosary Sonatas and then they can also be called Copper-Engraving Sonatas. I guess that the name Mystery Sonatas comes from the repeated phrase ‘the mystery of faith’ rather than the fact that they were only really discovered over two centuries after completion.

The entire piece is made 16 sections, the first 15 being short sonatas and then a final closer. These are all religious in nature, with the 15 short sonatas being three equal groups of five dealing with the early life, the crucifixion and then the resurrection of Jesus. These are all violin centric and sound hideously complicated to perform, which makes for a very good listen, even if it takes more than two hours to get through them all.

 

🎻♫♪ – The Bells by Sergei Rachmaninov

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
96/501Title: The Bells
Composer: Sergei Rachmaninov
Nationality: Russian
Year:
1913

Three and a half years, that’s how long it’s been since I listened to the last Rachmaninov piece for the classical list (The Isle of the Dead). It feels like I start a lot of these classical music posts with a similar sort of sentiment, but wow this list is taking a while. Probably should listen to more than one a week if I want to make proper headway.

So let’s get to The Bells a choral symphony – based on a Russian adaptation of an Edgar Allen Poe poem of the same name – in four movements. Each movement is based on a verse of the poem, which get darker and darker as the piece progresses and feature different sets of vocalists.

We start with sleigh bells (which was my favourite because it was remotely Christmassy) and then get to a darker more melancholy piece which, on first listen, had a repeated section that reminded me of ‘Moon River’. Most interesting of the bunch are the penultimate set of bells. This movement, where the male voices take over, it titled ‘The Loud Alarm Bells’ and that’s a pretty accurate summation of how it sounds. Actually makes for a more effective contrast when the pieces ends on the downbeat of the ‘The Mournful Iron Bells’.

🎻♫♪ – I Puritani by Vincenzo Bellini

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
95/501Title: I Puritani
Composer: Vincenzo Bellini
Nationality: Italian
Year:
1835

Seems like the universe really does like to engage in some balancing. After having the last classical piece be a brief collection of brief pieces by Reynaldo Hahn, the music gods decided to send me a three hour opera. Not just any three hour opera, an opera set in England during the Civil War that features characters with well known English (and not at all Italian) names like Gualtiero and Elvira. I don’t really mind the name thing – I just find it a bit adorable and I know that the English are very much guilty of the opposite.

I Puritani (or The Puritans) is the final opera written by Sicilian composer Vincenzo Bellini, he died not long after it premiered… at the age of 33. Me, being 31, sees something like this and it terrified that at two years older than me, there is a classical composer who has a lovely tomb in the cathedral of his hometown (which I will have seen on my final day in Sicily).

Being his final opera, and that I haven’t heard any of his previous works, it is hard to judge this compared to his other works like Norma and others that I don’t actually know the names of. It’s hard to overplay how much of an initial success this was upon its Parisien premiere.

I guess there is something to the actual presentation to it other than the music, especially as I had no idea about the story without the occasional trip to Wikipedia. I don’t really know anything about opera, but compared to some of the others that I have listened to for this didn’t exactly make me want more.

 

🎻♫♪ – Mélodies by Reynaldo Hahn

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
94/501Title: Mélodies
Composer: Reynaldo Hahn
Nationality: French
Year:
1887-1947

It’s nice to be nearly 100 into the classical list and to find something that I haven’t come across before. With these Mélodies by Reynaldo Hahn it almost feels like I’ve listened to something that bridges the gap between classical music and popular music – whilst also being the completely natural modern form of those vocal pieces (oh, how many motets I’ve listened to) that make up a lot of the earlier sections of the list.

These Mélodies that Hahn wrote over the course of his life, are musical accompaniments to poems. Pretty much the classical music equivalent to what Bob Dylan does – only that Hahn didn’t write his own poems. What I really enjoyed about this was that within half an hour you have a lot of smaller 1-3 minute pieces, which is a nice change of pace from some of the concertos and sonatas that I have listened to recently. Wish there were more pieces like this to come.

🎻♫♪ – Piano Concerto no. 1 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
93/501Title: Piano Concerto no. 1
Composer: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Nationality: Russian
Year:
1875

The beginning of this piano concerto is so famous. I remember when my nan used to watch quiz shows on Challenge TV, there was recurring advert for a classical music collection and this beginning would always play when Tchaikovsky appeared on screen. I think it would always be followed by ‘Morning Mood’ by Grieg (I’ll get to that eventually when I listen to Peer Gynt).

Given how the beginning is all brass and string, it’s difficult to immediately see how it would become a piano concerto. Then suddenly in comes the piano and my word doesn’t pianist Martha Argerich do amazing work with this. It’s one of those concertos that I think most people would know, although it is more than the pomposity of the beginning – a beginning that makes up the most of the piece. It’s a good one, but I do miss the whimsy that I hear in his ballets.

🎻♫♪ – Nocturnes by Frédéric Chopin

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
92/501Title: Nocturnes
Composer: Frédéric Chopin
Nationality: Polish
Year:
1829-1847

It’s been two and a half years since I saw a Chopin recital in Krakow, which was also the last time that I listened to Chopin for the classical list. Since then I have almost tripled the number of classical pieces that I’ve heard and still the Chopin pieces rank as some of the best that I have come across so far. Guess this makes him one of my favourite composers – although I probably need to get further into the list before I can say that with any conviction.

This piece, well a collection of pieces as it’s made up of 21 individual that was composed over nearly 20 years, made for a perfect background as I played a game of Heaven’s Vault and did some glyph translation. These are all written as solo piano pieces and, as the name Nocturne would suggest, are inspired by the night.

Listening to all 21 in succession, you start to notice how they are thematically in groups of 2-3  and that there is a development in how they’re composed. By the end, some of the individual Nocturnes begin to sound like something that you would hear played in classic Hollywood movies. So, in the end, it was a good two hours of a listen and helped me solve a lot of glyph puzzles.

🎻♫♪ – Symphony no. 3, “Rhenish” by Robert Schumann

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
91/501Title: Symphony no. 3, “Rhenish”
Composer: Robert Schumann
Nationality: German
Year:
1850

Okay so I am becoming a bit more regimented to make sure I actually start making some headway through this classical list – which makes this another week, another symphony. At least one thing I can say today is that, thanks to Symphony no. 3, “Rhenish”, I have heard my first Schumann piece. I mean, sure, I probably heard him somewhere (apparently in Frasier) but this is the first piece I have sat down to listen knowing it is by Schumann.

The issue I have, however, is that as nice as this piece is – I am not sure what there is to say about it. It’s a symphony in five parts that has a very joyous overall feel to it. Apparently it was inspired by a lovely holiday that Schumann took with his wife, which probably explains the positivity in it.

Other than that, I can’t really comment about how this is structured compared to other symphonies. All I know is that I like the strong presence of woodwinds and the lighter strings compared to some of the darker more piano and dark string symphonies I tend to hear for the 1001 list. The fourth section is a bit of a departure from this more positive outlook as it becomes a bit more solemn in order to bring the idea of an archbishop being promoted to cardinal, but there is still this general feel of uplift.

After the new Sufjan Stevens album gave me anxiety, this was the right classical piece to have in the chamber.

🎻♫♪ – Piano Sonata in F minor, op. 57, “Appassionata” by Ludwig van Beethoven

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
90/501Title: Piano Sonata in F minor, op. 57, “Appassionata”
Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Nationality: German
Year:
1805

After a run of some of the more recent entries on the classical list, it is time to venture backwards into the earlier throngs of the list. This also marks a return to Beethoven in what feels like an extremely long time.

When I saw that we had pulled out ‘Appasionata’ I, for some reason, cast my mind back to a video game I used to love as a child called The Lost Mind of Dr Brain. It had this musical minigame where a rat in a powdered wig would play a piece of classical music out of order and you had to rearrange it to make sense. As a 6-7-year-old I was never able to do it, but it’s a strong image. Now that I have listened to ‘Appasionata’, I realize that it had nothing to do with this game, but it was too weird to not share.

Anyway, so ‘Appasionata’ (or ‘Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor’) is one of those pieces where my hands ache by just hearing the gymnastics that the pianist had to go through. I listened to the version played by Daniel Barenboim and… wow how he was able to play the ‘Allegro assai’ section is beyond me. The final few minutes of the whole piece are also a mindfuck when it comes to playing.

It is interesting to note that this is a piece that has since been arranged to be a duet, I guess due to the ridiculous level of complexity. It’s a great piece that has made me really eager to listen to ‘Hammerklavier’ as soon as possible. I mean, how much more difficult can Beethoven get!?

🎻♫♪ – String Quartet no. 3 by Alexander Zemlinsky

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
89/501Title: String Quartet no. 3
Composer: Alexander Zemlinsky
Nationality: Austrian
Year:
1924

You would have supposed that, by the time I was 89 entries into the classical music, I would have started to pick up some terminology that would have helped me discuss the pieces. Nope, barely a sausage – especially when it comes to pieces like this string quartet which, unlike a tone poem or an opera, I am unable to onto much unless I hear it multiple times and take notes like a proper review.

But I’m not a proper reviewer – just someone trying to expand some horizons.

In the world of classical music, there are few instrument groupings that seem to have inspired more works than the string quarter. So, Zemlinsky’s String Quartet No. 3 follows a long line of works – a number of which I have heard before. The thing that seems to set this apart from other earlier quartets that I have heard on the list was the use of dissonance.

I am so used to a string quartet flowing freely, whereas in this piece from 1924 the instruments have moments where they are at odds with each other. We don’t go completely off key, unlike what you start to see in pieces around this time, but there is a gentle hand guiding it to the edge of tonality (okay maybe I have picked up some words) before reigning them back in. On the whole this is not going to be a favourite piece as I tend to prefer the more flowing and tonal, but it was interesting to hear a halfway house.