Wednesday, January 16, 2008
A New Era: Part 3
Hello Funkidians! We're back with part 3 in a series about music that I care about. Why do you read this stuff? I don't know, but I'm flattered. So far I have discussed the impressionable days of my youth with Top 40 one hit wonders and albums and artists that have inspired and impressed me with their creative output, specifically on albums. Today, we switch gears to: Classical Music. Hope I didn't just lose some of you.
Yes, classical music, which by the way is almost a silly label being that "classical" refers to a time in history (1750-1820) that now somehow applies to all academic composition from the Middle Ages to today. What's the story behind that and why it stuck? I have no idea, and no one else really does either. I know its roots are in the early 19th century, but that's about it. Anyway, on to the show.
Classical music compositions have been such a huge part of my life by the fact that I took piano lessons for 15 years, participated in youth symphonies, went to music camps, and majored in piano and composition in school. I've always been surrounded by the 3rd echelon of geeks. The 2nd level is engineering students, and the 1st level is engineering students who play Dungeons and Dragons as ADULTS. I'm quite happy on level 3, thank you very much. We are the musically literate. Do you know that 98% of the world learns music by ear? Music is to be felt and shared, and people are not often turned on by the idea of writing it down, analyzing it, or thinking of new ways to approach it. However, thank goodness these composers did not think this. The following list is the top ten classical compositions that have forever changed how I listen to and love music. If you know the pieces, you'll notice the popular nature of the selections. If you don't know them, I highly encourage you to check them out.
10. Chopin piano works: Nocturnes, Polonaises, Etudes, Preludes, Mazurkas
O.K., so I'll start with a broad range of pieces. Chopin is my favorite composer for the piano so I foundit difficult to choose only one from these collections. Chopin wrote so much for the piano that it's pretty much all he's known for. However, one listen to a nocturne or prelude and you understand why. He simply makes the piano sing. Some of the most famous and honestly, depressing music comes from Chopin, but then he couples those pieces with some of the most brilliantly exciting and difficult piano music as well. Check out: Fantasie Impromptu, Etude #12 (Revolutionary), Prelude #4, and Polonaise in A. You will not be disappointed.
9. Bartok: Mikrokosmos
A 6 volume collection of short works for the piano. Eclectic to say the least, Bartok based much of his compositions on Hungarian folk songs. He was one of the greatest 20th century composers for his use of the folk melodies and for his bold new approaches to string quartets and orchestra music. Dissonance plays a huge role in his music and is almost solely responsible for my own compositional use of dissonance. I loved Bartok as a child because I excelled at playing his music. People looked to me as the 20th century guy. While the other kids were sweating Brahms, I was knee deep in Bartok, Dello Joio, and Shostakovich. Don't hate.
8. Copland: The Tender Land
I simply love opera. It's hard to pick the ones I love the most, but I do recall sitting in Symphony Hall listening to an excerpt from this opera and crying. Enough said.
7. Mozart: Piano Sonata no. 14, K 457 in c minor
I played this piece in high school and at the recital, I messed up so bad that it was shameful. I never forgot that and continued to work on the piece until . . . I'm still working on this piece. I can play it practically perfect now, but it still remains a powerful memory for me. I don't want to mess up in front of people again - especially after working on it so much. Ask me to play it sometime.
6. Beethoven: PianoSonata no. 8, Op. 13 in c minor (Pathetique)
When the Allegro movement begins, you realize why this is such a famous piece of music. Beethoven wrote some of the most dramatic and interesting music to date, and to quote Billy Joel "The beginning of Beethoven's 5th Symphony is not just a briliant composition, it's a great riff."
5. Beethoven's Piano Sonata no. 14, Op. 27 in c# minor (Moonlight)
O.K., so I like piano sonatas! Can you blame me? I was forced to play them half of my life. But everyone knows this one - perhaps the most famous piece of music ever. However, what gets me is not the famous first movement but the awesomely fast and crazy third movement. If you haven't heard this, check it out. Highest recommendation. Very fun to play too.
4. Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue
Again with the clichés! Well, you can hate, but there's a reason these pieces are popular. Rhapsody in Blue is an amazing fantasy that melds ragtime harmonies with orchestral and pianistic virtuosity. You want to call it classical, you want to call it jazz. But in the end, it's Gershwin, and what greater compliment is there for a composer?
3. Schumann Piano Concerto
This piece made me love that I practiced all those years. A beautiful, timeless melody that transports me to every fantasy I ever had to being a concert pianist. I loved playing this piece and I secretly still want to perform it with a real orchestra. O.K., well it WAS a secret.
2. Mozart's Don Giovanni
This would be number one if not for the emotional rollercoaster the next piece takes me on. This is my favorite composition, period. It's by my favorite composer in the genre I respect the most. It has ghosts, sword fights, demons, and lots of women - every comic book lover's dream come true. But it's the music that I love. Every aria and recitative are the perfect stage for the penultimate scene where Don Giovanni (Don Juan in Spanish) defies hell itself supported by some of the most frightening sounding music ever written at that time. Too cool.
1. Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto no. 2, Op. 18 in c minor
You may have not noticed that several pieces on this list are in c minor. Maybe it's like Spinal Tap - "I find that d minor is the saddest of all keys." LOL I don't know what connection c minor has to my life, but I can tell you that this composition makes me cry EVERYTIME I listen to it. That's amazing. That's why this is number 1, often referred to as "Rocky 2," (Rachmaninov pictured above). The entire piece is about 25 minutes long, but the third movement has a theme that tears right through me, and as it builds up throughout the movements, by the time it reaches the climax, I'm literally weeping. So much passion. So much emotion. Darn those Russians! I've never even tried to play this one, but I think I'm going to go listen it to it right now.
Whew! Thas was a heavy, boring blog. Hope you're still here next week. I'll lighten up.