Tag Archives: 1001 classical works

馃幓鈾櫔 – Cantus Arcticus by Einojuhani Rautavaara

List Item: Listen tohalf of the聽1001 Classical Works You Must Hear聽Before You Die
Progress:
聽40/501Title:Cantus Arcticus
Composer: Einojuhani Rautavaara
Nationality: Finnish
Year:
1972

Thanks to the buzzing of a very persistent bumblebee – it was a bit of an early start today. Having finished the final episodes of聽Great Teacher Onizuka,聽I felt the need to lay down for a bit and try to relax to something a bit more classical and a little less high energy. So I pretty much pulled a classical piece at random and felt vindicated once the bird sounds started.

Honestly, I am not sure if I have ever heard anything quite like聽Cantus Arcticus.聽In summary, it is a short classical piece with three movements where prerecorded birdsong does a sweeping dance with the orchestra. Whilst the entire orchestra is used, this is predominantly a piece for the woodwind and strings sections; likely because of those instruments’ ability to create a flowing sound that provides a perfect environment for the birds.

The central figure of this classical piece is undeniably the birdsong, which was recorded at a bog in Northern Finland. The first movement (“The Bog”) is a free and chilled out piece where we take wing with the birds before being led into something more dark and mysterious (the second movement, called “Melancholy”). Then things get a bit more frantic in the final movement (“Swans Migrating”) as are lead to a subtly climactic finish that reminds me of some sections of The Rite of Spring.

This is not the first time I have heard a classical piece that uses sampling (Different Trainsbeing one of them), but it still feels like an incredibly fresh idea to me. Where this is a first for me is that, when I close my eyes, I can imagine my own staged narrative. This is just such a vivid and beautifully done piece, which helps to demonstrate (at least to myself) that doing this list was a great idea.

 

 

Einojuhani Rautavaara

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馃幓鈾櫔 – The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra by Benjamin Britten

List Item: Listen tohalf of the聽1001 Classical Works You Must Hear聽Before You Die
Progress:
聽39/501Title:The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra
Composer: Benjamin Britten
Nationality: British
Year:
1945

I have previously spoken about my love of Wes Anderson and how Moonrise Kingdom features highly on my list of favourite movies. I mention this as聽The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra both inspired elements of the Moonrise Kingdom聽soundtrack as well as appearing on it (or at least parts of it did).

Whilst I don’t know too much about the聽1001 Classical Recordings聽list, I cannot imagine there being another piece like this for me to listen to. For starters, the basis of聽The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra聽is another classical piece (an incidental piece from a 17th century play) that is repeated a number of times – each time by a different section of the orchestra.

The idea of this piece it to educate people (or specifically children) about the different instruments that appear within the orchestra. Depending on the version you listen to, each section is narrated at the beginning with the name of the instruments – with the opening and ending featuring the entire orchestra.

What makes聽The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra聽all the more interesting聽is how well it illustrates how a full orchestral piece not only splits into multiple parts, but also how these parts have their own nuances. I know it should be obvious, but the idea that each group plays something different in order to create a cohesive whole… well it makes the whole composition all the more impressive.

Having done the final set of motets so recently before listening to this, the contrast is incredible. I look forward to the point where I am done with the older church music.

馃幓鈾櫔 – Motets by Orlande de Lassus

List Item: Listen tohalf of the聽1001 Classical Works You Must Hear聽Before You Die
Progress:
聽38/501Title:Motets
Composer: Orlande de Lassus
Nationality: Franco-Flemish
Year:
1555-1604

So, it would seem that this set of works from Orlande de Lassus (whose nationality is rather complex thanks to how often borders have shifted in the last 500 years) will be the last set of motets that I will be listening to for the sake of this list.

Thing is… these just felt like the other motets that I have listened to for this list so far. If you you read around about聽Orlande de Lassus liked to do different things with his compositions. However, I couldn’t really get any of these in the collection of motets that were highlighted by the book.

In the end, I guess that I don’t know enough about motets to get some of the weirder stuff that de Lassus was doing here. Considering just how long motets had been around at the time of these being written it makes perfect sense that someone has tried to play with the format. Retrospectively, I guess I can see some of it… or I’ll just take the word of the internet at this point.

In other exciting news for this list – due to how much I enjoyed聽The Sleeping Beauty,聽I booked tickets to see聽Salome聽live in a few months time. This will be my third opera I’ve ever seen, so I cannot help but wonder if I’ll enjoy it (like聽Manon) or not (like聽La Traviata).

馃幓鈾櫔 – The Sleeping Beauty by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

List Item: Listen tohalf of the聽1001 Classical Works You Must Hear聽Before You Die
Progress:
聽37/501Title:The Sleeping Beauty
Composer: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Nationality: Russian
Year:
1889

It has been two years since I saw聽Swan Lakelive at the Royal Albert Hall… so it really is about time for me to see another ballet (it’s also high time that I saw another opera, but these things cost money). These tickets were a present for the hub as, apart from a brief version of聽The Tin Soldier聽in Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, he had never seen a ballet before. Thankfully he really enjoyed it and I think we’ll be seeing some more of these when good (cheaper) tickets are available.

With this that’s the third of the three聽Tchaikovsky ballets done. I’ll probably end up seeing聽The Nutcrackerat some point in the future – even if it is just to complete the trilogy. Of the three ballets, this one was probably the weirdest of the three to listen to (and watch) properly. Why? Well, as with a lot of the classical pieces so far, I know most of this music via Disney.

Having grown up with聽Disney’s聽Sleeping Beauty聽on VHS, I am really well acquainted with a lot of聽Tchaikovsky’s score. The weirdness came not from the difference in the narrative (although that was a bit discombobulating), but the context for the music. For example, in the film there is music that is linked to the princess being hypnotised and, eventually, pricking her finger on the spindle. In the ballet, however, this is a dance done in the final act by two dancers dressed as white cats… who happen to be guests at the wedding.

With the two stories being fundamentally different it makes sense that music was being used for different plot beats – although some, like the entrance of the evil faerie, can still be found in remarkably similar contexts.

Anyway, the music for聽The Sleeping Beautyis excellent and, as you would expect for a ballet,聽so much is gained by having the dancing as a narrative context for the music. I know that with ‘The Dance of the Garlands’ I would have still thought of the iconic ‘Once Upon A Dream’ sequence – which would have still be fun, but also a pity as I would have missed out on the proper storyline.

I would honestly like to write more, but it’s getting to 2 am after a long week at work. So I’ll end by saying that I am so glad that I was able to see this live and get the most out of the music. I also loved the idea that the ballet wrote in a dance between Red Riding Hood and the Wolf – such a weird idea to shoehorn this into this ballet, but I’m glad they did.

The Great EU Quest: Poland – The Many Faces of Krak贸w

It’s one of those travelling truths that whenever you want to properly get to know a city, you need to find and experience a number of its different personalities. This is even more important when you are in a city that is at least 500 years old. I think that, with today’s packed itinerary, I have gotten to know a few of the many sides of Krak贸w.

After a small breakfast at the hotel, composed of a bunch of things we found in the local Carrefour Express, we made a beeline straight for the second of the four Lonely Planet sites that I plan to see whilst in Krak贸w.

List item:聽Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet鈥檚聽Ultimate Travelist
Progress:聽77/100Sight:聽Wawel Castle
Location:聽Krak贸w, Poland
Position:聽#487

It’s located at the southern tip of the old town and is at the top of Wawel Hill, overlooking the city and the river. The whole complex is huge and also contains Wawel Cathedral (more on that later).

Now if there is one piece of advice that I want to pass on, because no one told me, it’s this: do not buy your tickets from the ticket office on the slope – instead head inside and buy it at the ticket office near the tower. Why? More open windows, it’s inside away from the blazing sunshine and the visitors come in ones and twos rather than large groups buying conflicting tickets. We wasted nearly an hour because we did not know this, so you are welcome.

I can see how people can spend pretty much an entire day here. There are plenty of things to see, do and eat – all at the typically inexpensive Krak贸w prices (I mean 3zl for a scoop of ice cream in a castle caf茅 is loving the Krak贸w dream). Since we had no desire to be led around by the nose, we went for most of the things that did not require a guided tour (except the Oriental art exhibition, because timing and money).

For good views of the surrounding city, you’ll want to pay a visit to the Sandomierska Tower (and for 4zl it’s a bargain) – but that’s hardly one of the big ticket items here. For that you’ll want to head to the State Rooms, houses a large number of tapestries, paintings and come of the most interesting ceiling work that I have seen in a European stately home. It’s a real shame that, throughout the castle complex, they are militantly anti-camera – otherwise I’d have posted a picture of one the weirdest ceilings I ever saw (imagine a bunch of heads peering down at you and you’ll get an idea).

This trip around the State Rooms really made me wish I knew more about Polish history before coming to Krak贸w (aside from the story of St Hedwig and her many water glasses). At least today I’ve managed to pick up a few stories about King Stephen Bathory and some of the other monarchs that came before him.

After the State Room was a visit to the ‘Lost Wawel’ exhibition that contains archeological remnants from excavations. This is fine enough, but the real point of interest is near the end where you descend down a ramp and see parts of the first church built on Wawel Hill, which dates to around 1000 AD. Utterly astonishing and so well preserved considering how much restoration work is having to be done on other areas of the castle.

Before leaving the hill, you have to pay a visit to Wawel Cathedral. The ticket includes a trip around the cathedral itself, a bell tower (where you get to see the heaviest bell in Poland) and the royal tombs (which lacked the grandeur of Vienna’s Habsburg coffins, but were still good to see). The interior of the cathedral itself is a real mix of different styles with a large number of chapels to different saints – the largest being to St Hedwig herself. Again, wish I could have taken pictures.

We left the castle via the Dragon’s Den, which is a small limestone cave that is the best way to exit. It’s one of the most famous caves in Poland because it is attached to the myth of the Wawel dragon… which explains all the dragon paraphernalia in the Krak贸w souvenir shops.

It was already getting to the mid-to-late afternoon so it was time to march on to Kazimierz (aka the Jewish Quarter) and pick up some lunch along the way. We ended up in a pub-restaurant en route and, between us, had a pile of three types of pierogi (meat, cabbage and Russian) and a plate of bread, lard and pickles. Honestly I am falling more and more in love with the food in this city/country plus any restaurant that allows three guys to order a carafe each filled with different fruit juices (mine was blackcurrant) is alright by me. Also, these pierogi and that lard was delicious. Hopefully I can find more of this before I leave for London.

We roamed the Jewish Quarter for a bit before reaching the Galicia Jewish Museum. It’s not that big, but it houses some really interesting photographic exhibition is about Jewish life in the Galicia region (which included Krak贸w) pre and post Holocaust. The photographs and the initial exhibition about the importance of blood in Jewish lore really helped open my eyes and my heart in preparation for tomorrow’s devastating visit to Auschwitz. I’d really recommend the Galicia Jewish Museum if you need a bit more context of you need a bit of a history lesson about how Jews were seen in Europe before the Holocaust happened.

From here the idea was to pay a visit to the Oskar Schindler factory, but they had sold out of tickets by the time we got there – so we stared at the outside before slowly making our way back to the Old Town. After all, I booked us tickets to a concert.

List Item: Listen tohalf of the聽1001 Classical Works You Must Hear聽Before You Die
Progress:
聽36/501Title:Ballades
Composer: Fr茅d茅ric Chopin
Nationality: Polish
Year:
1835-1841

Despite having nothing to do with the city of Krak贸w, there is an hour long Chopin concert every day at 7pm for the low price of 60zl (which comes with a free glass of sparkling wine). It starts with a short talk about the life of Chopin before moving into an hour long recital of a number of Chopin pieces – including some mazurkas, a nocturne, a waltz (which was mesmerising) and enough of his ballades for me to consider is crossed off.

Aside from loud Italians in front of us, the experience of seeing a piano virtuoso playing these pieces live completely beats listening to them via headphones. It’s utterly breathtaking to see someone with so much talent and has worked so hard to learn this skill. He was also easy on the eyes, which helped to make the waltz he played just that extra bit dreamy.

After this was dinner at a steakhouse across the road called Ed Red. It’s one of the higher rated restaurants in Krak贸w and sometimes you just want to have steak. It also helps that it had two food items on the menu.

List Item:聽Try three quarters聽of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress:聽739/751Food item: Bull’s Testicle

I’m really getting through the offal at the moment aren’t I. Since I didn’t want two starters to myself, I managed to convince my husband to order the plate of assorted veal offal whilst I order the ‘mountain oyster’ for myself.

Just to start off, this ‘oyster’ was served with a smoked white chocolate sauce – which may be one of the more unusual and delicious sauces that I have ever had. It really went well with the ‘oyster’ which was surprisingly delicious. I has expected something more chewy and gelatinous, when it was actually very delicate and tender with a vaguely beefy taste. It’s a bit like if leberkase contained pur茅ed steak alongside the pork. At least that’s what I think. It’s weird to say this, but I would happily have bull testicle again in the future.

List Item:聽Try three quarters聽of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress:聽740/751Food item: Veal Sweetbread

On my husbands plate was veal sweetbreads (which is thymus gland or pancreas), brain, tongue, cheek and liver. First and foremost, the veal brain was so much nicer than the lamb brain that we had because it had been seasoned really well. But that’s by the by – the best veal offal on the plate was the sweetbread. It was like eating a very subtly flavoured white sausage that took on the flavour of the mustard underneath it. It’s one of those pieces of offal that I have been very curious to try it with different sauces.

As a main we all had some excellent Polish sirloin steak with a a number of different side dishes in the middle. For the price of the whole dinner (拢24 each) we had some really good food and tried some really interesting things. If I am ever in Warsaw, I might have to hit up the other Ed Red location.

So tomorrow is going to be a trip to Auschwitz. It’s a long return journey and it’s looking to be a harrowing day. Will podcasts for the bus journey and a good meal take the sting out of it? Who knows, I guess I’ll just find out tomorrow.

馃幓鈾櫔 – Rodeo by Aaron Copland

List Item: Listen tohalf of the聽1001 Classical Works You Must Hear聽Before You Die
Progress:
聽35/501Title:Rodeo
Composer:聽Aaron Copland
Nationality: American
Year:
聽1942

I blink and it’s been a month where I have not touched any of the entries on the classical list. Considering that so many pieces come in at under half an hour (although many also take more than two hours) I have to chalk a lot of this up to just forgetting to put the time in for this.

So for today I thought I would go for one of the later entries on the list… and one that just sounded interesting. As the title suggests,聽Rodeo聽is a classical piece set in the old west that takes the form of a cowboy ballet. The piece itself is a fusion of where classical meets Broadway and was one of the first truly American ballets with folk style music being melded into a more formal orchestrated setting.

I can only imagine the first time critics saw聽Rodeo聽being performed. I mean you go in with an idea of what a ballet is and then, in the first movement, you have professional ballet dancers miming horse-riding. As the piece goes on there is a woodwind section playing with a honky-tonk piano and it all culminates in a hoe-down.

Credit where credit is due to Aaron Copland, this really is an idea that should not have worked or, at least, had a more humours bent in the music. But no,聽Rodeo聽is a solid piece that (much like the sampling in聽trains?) shows just how versatile the classical genre can be when it comes to moving with the times. After all, this is an area of music that has survived for nearly 1000 years thanks to its ability to adapt – so why should that stop now?

馃幓鈾櫔 – The Firebird by Igor Stravinsky

List Item: Listen tohalf of the聽1001 Classical Works You Must Hear聽Before You Die
Progress:
聽34/501Title:The Firebird
Composer:聽Igor Stravinsky
Nationality: Russian
Year:
聽1910

As I was cooking my Russian Easter food聽we decided to go a bit further. We had a side table with a disassembled Russian doll and, as I was prepping the Kulebiaka for the oven, we put on some Russian music – which meant listening to The Rite of Springand聽The Firebird.聽Of course a lot of this was covered by kitchen noises, so I listened to a different rendition of it from YouTube where you see the conductor get more and more dishevelled at the piece progresses.

When first listening to聽The Firebird聽I didn’t know it was by聽Stravinsky (just as a note, I wasn’t the one who put it on, I was just told this was Russian classical music), so I am very proud of myself for recognising that this piece has a frenetic kinship with聽The Rite of Spring.聽I know it’s a small thing, but me being able to link these pieces together by the sound of them really shows that this 1001 list is starting to educate me.

This is another piece of music that I have listened to for the list that originated as a ballet. As a piece, it tells the Russian folk tale of聽The Firebird聽(for a good re-telling of this, I would recommend the聽Myths and Legendspodcast episode); something that is lost when just listening to it.

Still,聽The Firebird聽is notable for being the piece that brought Stravinsky to wider attention and helped him to become viewed as one of the (then) new generation of Russian composers. It will be interesting to see how he will develop from here and after The Rite of Spring聽whereupon he became more independent and delved into Neoclassicism… but I probably won’t get there for a long time.

馃幓鈾櫔 – Symphony No. 6 by Ludwig van Beethoven

List Item: Listen tohalf of the聽1001 Classical Works You Must Hear聽Before You Die
Progress:
聽33/501Title:聽Symphony No. 6
Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Nationality: German
Year:
聽1808

Well, I did say that I was going to try and cross off all the聽Fantasia聽pieces before progressing further in the聽1001 Classical Works聽list – so today’s post will be awash with multi-coloured pegasi and centaurs depicting racial stereotypes.

Symphony No. 6聽has the secondary title of the聽Pastoral Symphony聽as it is meant to evoke thoughts of the goings on in the countryside. Each movement (of the five in total) is written to depict events; unusual for Beethoven who worked more melodically and abstractly.

If you have seen聽Fantasia聽you’ll know exactly the images that Beethoven tried to create, but even without the help of Disney there is a lot you could get when given the secondary title. The fact that the first three lead into a grand party celebrating the great outdoors (I imagined it as a celebration of the first blossom as a signifier of the end of winter) is showcased by the jubilance of the woodwinds and brass section.

It’s the fourth section, which depicts a thunderstorm, where I fell back into the Disney images. The infant pegasus being tossed about by the wind and the unicorn foal trapped by the rising river were images too strong to be ignored (probably because I used to find them upsetting). Even with those images in mind it’s hard to deny the power of the timpani in it’s role of the striking lightning (all the more powerful as this is the only movement featuring percussion).

Did I get more out of this listen because this is a piece I knew and could focus on more minute details? Maybe, but that doesn’t stop this being an interesting, enjoyable and worthy piece of classical music. There’s still a lot more聽Fantasia聽to go, so let’s see which way I go next time.

馃幓鈾櫔 – The Nutcracker by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

List Item: Listen tohalf of the聽1001 Classical Works You Must Hear聽Before You Die
Progress:
聽32/501Title: The Nutcracker
Composer: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Nationality: Russian
Year:
聽1892

There are times where the only thing that helps me concentrate at work is some classical music (or ambient music like聽Digital Rain聽by Johnny Jewel). I have pretty much done Chopin’s聽Etudes聽and Beethoven’s聽Kreutzer聽to death by this point so, for whatever reason, I decided to pop on聽The Nutcracker.

Despite only writing three ballets, it is hard to deny that Tchaikovsky didn’t write three classics. With聽The Nutcracker, Swan Lake聽and聽Sleeping Beauty (which I’m actually seeing in a few months) to his name, it makes me wonder why he didn’t write more of them. He obviously has an incredible talent for them and having listened to聽The Nutcracker聽on Spotify… well I just want to see it live now.

Having read up on the story that the music is written for, I do wonder whether knowing this even matters. In the end, for a ballet like聽The Nutcracker,聽it really is a bunch of beautifully composed and choreographed set pieces loosely stuck together with a narrative thread.

I mean, it is easy enough to deduce from the music alone that the second act of the ballet is the more fanciful and far more interesting than the first one. I’m likely not alone in saying that my favourite section of music in this ballet is the聽Divertissement in the second act – where the different residents of the Kingdom of Sweets dance for the heroine (the Chinese and the Russian dances being my favourites).

Now, I swear that I’ll be done with the聽Fantasia聽music soon. It might make sense for me to prioritise it over the rest of the list; just so that I am able to listen to more music with fresh ears and fresh images in my brain. Don’t get me wrong, it was great to have the dancing thistles in my head for the ‘Russian Dance’, but I like to be able to think of my own interpretations rather than remember someone else’s.

At least when I see聽Sleeping Beauty聽live I will be able to associate that music with the live ballet more than the animated film. Well, live in hope.

馃幓鈾櫔 – Music for the Royal Fireworks by George Frideric Handel (Post #1000!)

List Item: Listen tohalf of the聽1001 Classical Works You Must Hear聽Before You Die
Progress:
聽31/501Title: Music for the Royal Fireworks
Composer: George Frideric Handel
Nationality: German/British
Year:
聽1749

Yet another piece of music that, once it started playing, I easily recognised. It really speaks to the power of music that memories of primary school came flooding back to me once the Overture got into full swing. You see, whenever we had school assembly there would be classical music playing on a portable stereo at the front of the room. I bet that I’ll be getting a few more flashes from the past as I go through this list – it’ll be interesting to see what the next piece will be.

The name聽Music for the Royal Fireworks聽doesn’t leave much up to interpretation as to the purpose of Handel’s composition. Similarly, the title immediately flags up who send forth the commission. So, when listening to this piece, I tried to imagine how this would pair with fireworks – which means that this would have been more a good piece of background music than something that emulated the fireworks. This makes sense as that would have been a nightmare to sync up.

What makes this very different from the other pieces I have done so far is the amount of brass and woodwind. The version I listened to was the orchestral one that Handel created after the original stringless piece had served its purpose. It doesn’t take away from the strength of the blown instruments by having some of them replaced with strings; the brass and woodwind are still very much the centrepiece.

I know that I’m probably going to have to do a longer piece again soon… maybe an opera? That could be fun if I found a way to listen to one with a crib sheet.


This was a complete coincidence, but music for fireworks does feel rather apt for this landmark. When starting this blog back in March 2014 I, to be completely honest,聽did not fully expect to have kept it up for a whole year – let alone reach the 1000th post as I have done today.

Compared to the original idea of the blog, where I would be going through a more specific list of things, the scope really has exploded into a huge number of lists that I can only hope will be completable in my life. Still that’s kinda the fun isn’t it.

Thinking back on my headspace when I started this blog, things were incredibly different. It was a few months after my depression diagnosis and I was looking for some sort of meaning (having been in effective life hibernation for 3 years). Boy, am I in a better place now. Sure, I could still afford to physically healthier – but I have a a great marriage, a mortgage, a job I adore and money to follow my travel passion. For the moment life is good, and I’m going to make the best of it that I can.