Anton Bruckner was an odd, awkward little man who wrote huge grandiose symphonies in the late 19th century. Like his student Gustav Mahler, there's more than a hint of megalomania in the sheer size of his conceptions, symphonies that run to 80 minutes.
Each of us has a preferred method for listening to music, whether it's earbuds on a smartphone, or headphones at a desktop computer, or loudspeakers hooked up to an old-style component stereo system. For some, high fidelity is crucial. For others, convenience trumps fidelity.
I'm perplexed by how the classical music world receives American music of the 20th century. Why is Puccini's “Nessun Dorma” considered one of the great, inspirational arias, and Richard Rodger's “You'll Never Walk Alone” considered some sort of Velveeta cheese?
I don't necessarily remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but I remember grade school. And for nearly as long as I can remember, Robert Schumann's music has been part of my life. Few composers (perhaps only Bach) have stayed on my playlist so long.
The concept behind “Just Listen” was for The Day's music writers to share favorites. Composer birthdays make convenient way points to focus the topic (so much music!), and the next 10 days contain birthdays for three composers who are always on my active rotation: Edward Elgar, Robert Schumann and Richard Strauss.
Why, we're almost halfway through 2014! It's time, then, to take stock of music that's been released so far this year and quantify the Good Stuff and make sure that you – the Sainted Listener – are aware of it all.
Prokofiev was, quite simply, The Natural. He began writing music before anyone taught him how to write musical notation, and he had that same gift of endless melody as the likes of Mozart and Tchaikovsky. Whenever Prokofiev would get stuck, he had a tune. But he was also a Modernist, and he relied time and again on motor rhythms to drive music forward. When proselytizing on classical music with rock music fans, I often start with Prokofiev.
The Brahms I enjoy most is perhaps his least serious, not the “masterpieces” but the more purely recreational fare. The Brahms I listen to most often are his string quintets and string sextets, music that is free and flowing and as songfully melodic as Schubert.
We like to envision artists we admire as having lived vivid, melodramatic lives, starving in garrets, battling personal demons, struggling against the Philistines in a world not ready for them. It's a compelling narrative. That's probably why you'll never see a biopic on one of the greatest of all musicians: Franz Joseph Haydn.
With a name that sounds like sneeze and a body of work that's willfully weird and unsettling, composer Alfred Schnittke was the most unlikely of musical heroes. Yet at the time of his death in 1998, he was the world's most widely performed and recorded living composer.
Sometimes you just need to immerse yourself in beauty, like a soothing soak in a tub. For me, there's no substitute for the voice – and for composers who understand the power of the voice to touch us as no man-made instrument can.
When you stand next to a giant, it's hard to get noticed. When music lovers look back the height of the Classical era, the musical expression of The Enlightenment of the 18th century, we tend to notice the two giants: Haydn and Mozart. And then there's Luigi Boccherini, born on this day, Feb. 19, 1743 …
My mom grew up the The Depression, and a common phrase in her household was "Use up, make do, wear out." Back in the days before recordings (that is to say, for most of human music-making), musicians and composers used to recycle freely. And the music they were recycling often wasn't their own.
It's hard for me to hold the music of Schubert at arm's length to assess it, because his music is the most personal, the most narrative, the most descriptive of a living character of any composer I know. So on his birthday, Jan. 31, 1797, I offer this playlist (embedded below) with a sense of how arbitrary it is. Of my thousands of CDs at home, my Schubert stack is the biggest.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born 258 years ago today, and what more can we say about one of the greatest and most admired musicians ever? So much music to enjoy: 41 symphonies, 27 piano concertos, 36 violin sonatas, 23 string quartets, and, oh those operas! If Mozart had written only operas or only piano concertos or only symphonies, he would still be beloved today.
It annoys me to hear classical radio stations tout their music as “relaxing.” Does anyone ever call a book or a movie or a painting “relaxing”? To me, the best in music is exciting or, at least, transporting. If something written by Beethoven or Mozart or Brahms relaxes you, you’re probably not paying attention.
I often listen to the music of that wonderful second-rater, Johann Nepomuk Hummel. As a composer living in Vienna in 1810, this talented musician was doomed to be viewed as B-List by the presence of a couple fellow residents:
Handel's "Messiah" is America's best-loved chorale work for so many reasons … First of all, the text is in English, second, it's tied to the Christmas season, when music fills the air, and third, Handel is one of the finest composers for the voice who ever lived.