Tag Archives: 1001 classical works

🎻♫♪ – Boléro by Maurice Ravel

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 27/501Title: Boléro
Composer: Maurice Ravel
Nationality: French
Year:
 1928

I have been in the market for a new educational podcast for a long time and, for whatever reason, decided to take the leap into the Radiolab back catalogue. One of the first episodes I listened to was a short from 2012 entitled ‘Unravelling Bolero‘, where they talk about Ravel and a painter called Anne Adams and the mental deterioration that they both went through before dying. In this podcast the experts posit that there are signs in Boléro that provide a hint of the neurological disorder Ravel would eventually die of.

With this in mind it was extra interesting to listen to this piece of music. You see, in the 15 minutes of Boléro we have the same melody repeated over and over and over again by various sections of the orchestra. As the repeated melody circulates around the orchestra 17 times you can just feel it build and build until the end where it feels like they are going to explode.

There is a limit to how much you can repeat the same melody and I think Ravel pretty much hits this with Boléro. However there is a hypnotic beauty to it, which was used to brilliant effect in this clip from Allegro non troppo (an Italian pastiche of Fantasia) which depicts a fictional sequence of evolution:

 

This will not be the last piece of classical music of Ravel that I listen to for this list – far from it in fact – but this is one of the final pieces of his music to be featured. Considering his mental decline after creating Boléro, this feels all the more poignant.

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🎻♫♪ – Diferencias by Antonio de Cabezón

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 26/501Title: Differencias
Composer: Antonio de Cabezón
Nationality: Spanish
Year:
 1560s

It’s safe to say that, according to the chronology of this list, we are now firmly in the renaissance. I say this because suddenly this has gone from music you’d expect to hear in a church to something that would form the soundtrack of computer games like Civilization or Crusader Kings II. Probably not the best place to be setting the bar, but these are my still touchstones of mine.

It’s so refreshing to be in the earliest reaches of the classical music list and finally come across something where I don’t have to listen to an hour of vocal harmonies engaged in a loudness war. Okay, that was harsh… but now that this list seems to be moving into the more instrumental territory, there is more incentive for me to pick up a copy on YouTube or Spotify and give it a go.

So, to give a bit of context to this, the composer of these classical pieces was blind from early childhood. Despite this difficulty he still found himself under the patronage of the Isabella of Portugal, the wife of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Thanks to both his talent and connections de Cabezón became one of the most important Spanish composers of this era.

Listening to these Diferencias is just feels so incredibly different to a lot of the music that has come before it. Maybe because this doesn’t feel like music that would have been played for religious ceremonies. Instead of vocals we have lute, clavichord and a woodwind instrument I can’t quite work out (I want to say fife, but I’m probably wrong).

This feels like music that would have set the scene at a formal gathering at court. I’m not sure whether this necessarily music that people would have attended a recital of but it was clearly known enough to influence the next composer on the list: Thomas Tallis

🎻♫♪ – Lieutenant Kijé Suite by Sergei Prokofiev

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 25/501Title: Lieutenant Kijé Suite
Composer: Sergei Prokofiev
Nationality: Russian
Year:
 1934

Another classical piece so soon? And one that broke the streak of different blog entries? This should be a special piece of music! Well to me it is and, now that I have listened to the whole suite, it has become even more so.

To start of with, I picked Lieutenant Kijé Suite as the next classical piece as it’s ‘little grey dove’ refrain from the Romance movement is the only piece of classical music that I was actually able to memorise during the mandatory school music lessons (I am not counting ‘Hot Cross Buns’ on the recorder as a classical piece’). Now that I hear this refrain within the context of this classical piece I love it all the more.

What I did not realise was that the Lieutenant Kijé Suite also contained the classic ‘Troika’ movement. So when I first listened to this at work and this piece of  Christmas classical music started to play I became a mess of goosebumps for a solid four minutes.

The whole suite itself has a rather weird history. Originally the Lieutenant Kijé Suite was music to a 1934 film of the same name. So impressed with Prokofiev’s work on the soundtrack, the Moscow Opera Symphony Orchestra commissioned him to turn his fragmented musical pieces into a fully fledged piece for an orchestra. It was part of the Soviet Union happily welcoming Prokofiev back into the fold after his return to his homeland after spending a lot of his time Paris.

As a suite of music it is split into five distinct movements, with the whole piece lasting 20 minutes. Since this being derived from different parts of a movie soundtrack it feels like an EP of 5 distinct tracks than a suite of music… or maybe I just need to start getting used to this terminology as I investigate more classical music.

In any case, for the merit that it gave me incredible goosebumps and it almost made me cry out of joy the Lieutenant Kijé Suite is easily one of the best pieces that I have heard so far for this list. I’ll probably be back in the world of church music for the next classical piece… so someone please pray for me.

🎻♫♪ – Motets by Cristóbal de Morales

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 24/501Title: Motets
Composer: Cristóbal de Morales
Nationality: Spanish
Year:
 1545-1547

Okay, so I didn’t start out with the best frame of mind. I heard the harmonies and the phrase ‘oh more of this shit’ just flew out. This is exactly why I shouldn’t watch UNHhhh right before listening to choral music; I’m meant to be listening to something pious and I have Katya laughing at the back of my mind.

Yes people, this is how far I have come from my drag queen phobia, I now spend my time trolling the internet looking for the latest from my favourite Drag Race contestants. I am proud, horrified and marvelling at the lack of relevancy of this non-sequitur.

Seeing as how we are still in the world of 16th century motets, this is a purely choral offering. Layers of voices upon voices upon voices. At several points I was wondering whether they would switch gears and go into Mozart’s Requiem.

I cannot fathom how someone would go about writing this and then getting a group of people to actually sing it. In many of these you have the voices harmonizing, then cross-harmonizing and somehow it all still sounds effortless. It’s a lot down to who you get performing it (i.e. a professional choir, not your local church group) as this is something that would sound like a massacre in a henhouse if poorly done.

Since this blog is a place of honesty I will fully attest to the fact that I do not get these choral classical pieces. If it wasn’t for the hub wanting to alternate between listening chronologically and freeform… well I probably would never have gotten to come of these earlier pieces.

I can sit and appreciate the merits, but if I was to go after classical music to listen to it would be more along the lines of Water Music or The Planets. Maybe it’s because I cannot help but separate this style of music from it being church music whereas the others feel more like pieces that I can just have on whilst I am cooking the dinner or containing the rage as I answer work e-mails.

Still, this is all part of the journey.

🎻♫♪ – Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso by Camille Saint-Saëns

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 23/501Title: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso
Composer: Camille Saint-Saëns
Nationality: French
Year:
 1863

It’s been about a year since I saw Your Lie In April and yet it’s reach has yet to diminish. I believe that with this piece I am done with all the music from this series. In terms of the show Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso isn’t as iconic as Chopin’s Etudes or the Kreutzer but few pieces could match their use in the show.

Still the point where we transition from the introduction and into the main body of the piece just has so much energy that it fits Kaori’s character so well. For me, that is an instant win. Another instant win: that this is a duet between piano and violin with the violin at front and centre.

To use a term from the gay sphere (because I am currently watching Season 5 of Drag Race and it’s encroaching on my brain) this violin in Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso is fierce. It is strong-willed, independent and, at times, cold. It draws you in and commands you to love it, which I do.

Whilst it lacks the urgency of other pieces there is something aloof about it. I can appreciate that in a piece of classical music.

🎻♫♪ – Finlandia by Jean Sibelius

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 22/501Title: Finlandia
Composer: Jean Sibelius
Nationality: Finnish
Year:
 1900

Since my visit to the Baltics I knew that the next classical piece that I needed to listen next was Finlandia. Why? Well, my time in the museums of Tallinn, as well as the ubiquitous Estonian Song Festival, really demonstrated the power of music in the national awakenings of this region. Finland is no exception with Sibelius’s Finlandia being the most important piece.

The significance of Finlandia is so much that the final movement of this 7-9 minute song, which is known as the Finlandia Hymn, has become a song in its own right and is an important national song – like Jerusalem has in England. However… unlike Finland, we in Britain haven’t had to look to music to reinforce our national identity as our country was occupied.

In a similar fashion to The Isle of the Dead Finlandia is a tone poem where most of the piece is a orchestral tumult that highlights the subjugation of the Finnish people as their national identity was quashed.

The release of Finlandia also coincides with the Russification of Finland whereby the Russian Empire were attempting to impose their own culture on Finland whilst erasing the native ones. It speaks to the power of music that Finlandia emerged as a form of resistance – especially since this piece went by a number of tongue-in-cheek names in order to prevent the Russians from censoring it.

Truly the power of music.

🎻♫♪ – Motets by Nicolas Gombert

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 21/501Title: Motets
Composer: Nicolas Gombert
Nationality: Franco-Flemish
Year:
 1530-1550

Excuse me, but I think I’m suffering from a bout of motet blindness. I think I am getting to the point with this classical list that I am starting to find it difficult to tell some of these earlier pieces apart. This isn’t a slight at any of the performers whose recordings of these pieces I have heard up to this point.

The thing is – when you have this sort of choral music it can be hard to distinguish between composers if months have passed between pieces. What I can tell from listening to Nicolas Gombert in isolation is that these motets are an example of polyphonic choral music – something that we didn’t have in some of the earlier pieces of music.

Other than that I’m out. The problem with this in particular is that there didn’t necessarily feel as if there was any underlying story or throughline for each of the motets. It just felt like voices coming in, choosing whether to harmonize or not.

Hey ho, as with 1001 it isn’t a guarantee that you’ll like all the stuff that’s early in the chronology. It just helps with that overall learning experience.

🎻♫♪ – The Isle of the Dead by Sergei Rachmaninov

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 20/501Title: The Isle of the Dead
Composer: Sergei Rachmaninov
Nationality: Russian
Year:
 1909

Now, here we have a piece that is so far and away from The Western Wynde Mass that it’s hard to think of them being in the same category together. I guess that speaks to the breath of classical music as a genre.

Where most of what I have written about so far is based on some aspect of religion, The Isle of the Dead is actually inspired by a black and white photograph of the painting of the same name. Apparently Rachmaninov was disappointed when he later saw a colour version of the painting as it didn’t quite fit the music he’d created.

For the first time in this list I have come across a tone poem – a classical piece that musically tells a short story. In the case of The Isle of the Dead it tells the story of the journey to the titular island.

The entire piece feels mysterious and almost macabre. Seeing how the destination of the piece is the Isle of the Dead it makes total sense that there is a grand and almost maudlin feel to it. Most of the time Rachmaninov uses the music to feel of rowing and breathing through an almost regular rhythm. It remains because most of the piece is spent actually getting to the island.

Nearer the end of the piece it swells and grows into something more euphoric, which is a bit odd considering what the piece is called. Then again the picture is partially based on a good looking Greek island, and who wouldn’t be euphoric at reaching a gorgeous destination after a long time rowing. I have seen some interpretations that paint this as an escape, but I like the idea of it being a sense of relief after a period of toil and/or dread.

It was nice to listen to something different again. I guess next time it’s back to some motets.

🎻♫♪ – The Western Wynde Mass by John Taverner

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 19/501Title: The Western Wynde Mass
Composer: John Taverner
Nationality: English
Year:
 1530s

It didn’t take too long until I got to the first (chronological) English composer on this list. Whilst it does opens up the world of classical music a little bit more, we are still very much in Western Europe. In fact, you have to get a fair bit into the list before you venture into Eastern Europe and then a lot further for pieces from outside of Europe.

For the moment, being the 1530s, classical music is still synonymous with choirs and chanting. It is based around a single verse in Middle English that reads:

‘Westron wynde, when wilt thou blow,
The small raine down can raine.
Cryst, if my love were in my armes
And I in my bedde again!’

The entire classical piece is a mass written around this, which is impressive when you consider that the piece is between 23-29 minutes long (depending on the rendition). When compared to some of the other earlier pieces I have listened to from this list it doesn’t feel that a lot has moved on in 400 years. I guess this is why the list has been able to some up 3-4 centuries of classical music within 10 entries.

I find myself wondering how much will have moved on until I get to the 24th entry, the first classical piece in the book where the title features the main instrument. Okay, so it’s a lute, but at least it shows that there will be some more instruments entering the fold of classical music very soon.

🎻♫♪ – Symphony No. 5 by Anton Bruckner

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 18/501Title: Symphony No. 5
Composer: Anton Bruckner
Nationality: Austrian
Year:
 1775-1778

As I sat in the box seats that I bought my husband as a birthday present and awaited the concert to start I was struck by one thought: if I hadn’t read Nodame Cantabile we would not be here right now.

I have mentioned it before as to how my reading of this manga series inspired both my husband and myself to start on the 1001 Classical Works list. It’s just cool that because of a manga we ended up watching the Philharmonia Orchestra perform live in a box at London’s Royal Festival Hall.

This is the first time that either of us had been to see a classical piece live (not counting ballet or opera because of the extra theatrical component) so I did wonder how I would end up doing with 80+ minutes of just watching an orchestra play. Honestly, I didn’t expect to be so transfixed, the time just flew by.

Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 marks the first symphony that I have listened to for the list, as well as the first symphony that I made a conscious effort to listen to. Therefore this has been a real learning experience. I now know that a symphony is usually split into a number of movements (usually four) and features pretty much a whole orchestra. I know it’s silly, but I got a real kick of seeing someone actually playing a bassoon and developed a minor crush on the timpani player whilst watching him pay such loving attention to his massive drums.

I know it’s a cliche to say this about a piece of classical music, but I was genuinely moved whilst watching and listening to this. I listened to this the next day on Spotify and it really wasn’t the same. It did, however, help me to notice just how often the same motif is played in the whole symphony.

Now that I have seen a live orchestra play a symphony it feels like something has split open in my brain. Like, I am already looking for what I could be watching next. Maybe I won’t spring for box seats again right away, but it feels like a waste living in London and not really making proper use of affordable culture.