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Hi Evan -- very cool to learn there's another fan of classical music here! You're right about Brahms' symphonies: they really are masterpieces, and I could never do without the whole cycle. 

A few years ago, I started exploring Debussy's piano music as well: the etudes, the preludes, Images, etc., although I've not heard his suites. I'll check those out.

Andrew, I second Evan's suggestion to give Nielsen a listen; I particularly like his 4th and 5th symphonies.

I think I've got some Joan Tower recordings on one of my Amazon wish lists, but I've not heard her work before. I have it in mind to listen to more of Jennifer Higdon, another living woman composer, whose Violin Concerto, written for Hilary Hahn, is a real marvel. There are some mind-bending passages in it that Higdon wrote specifically because she knew that Hahn is technically capable of performing them. One of my favorite compositions of this early 21st century.

Just for kicks, here are some of my recent album purchases:

  • Adams' Violin Concerto, mentioned in an earlier post
  • Shostakovich's 2nd, 7th, and 8th string quartets by the Pavel Haas Quartet (who sort of have a Midas Touch in just about everything they've recorded).
  • "Final Piano Pieces" of Brahms, Stephen Hough on the piano
  • Soprano Veronique Gens' "Nuits", a collection of songs by Faure, Berlioz, Massenet, Saint Saens, Liszt, and others
  • Prokofiev's 6th, 7th, and 8th piano sonatas, Steven Osborne on piano (really good Scottish pianist who has a confident command of a wide range of repertoire).
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Hi Michael, by suites I meant Images and Pour le Piano, and of course Suite Bergamasque, all of which are technically suites.

If you like Debussy, I'd suggest checking out Tournemire's music. I've played a fair amount of his organ music, one recording which I'll shamelessly self-promote here, but he also has a handful of symphonies that are worth listening to.

 

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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2 hours ago, Evan C said:

If you like Debussy, I'd suggest checking out Tournemire's music. I've played a fair amount of his organ music, one recording which I'll shamelessly self-promote here, but he also has a handful of symphonies that are worth listening to.

Please, shamelessly share away!  I'm woefully unfamiliar with the organ repertoire, so that was a delight to listen to.

And thanks to both you and Michael for the recommendations.  The only thing I miss from my former 25 min commute was the chance to listen to good recordings daily.  So I've resolved as of today to listen to at least one new piece of music weekly.

Michael, unlike you, I think I lack the aural apparatus to appreciate most contemporary pieces of classical music.  I gave a Salonen cello piece a try a while back, and I couldn't wrap my mind around it.  At least, thanks to the Sticky Notes episodes on Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern, as well as Professor Greenberg's lectures on them in the Great Courses series, I can appreciate what they're doing, even if I don't necessarily take pleasure in the listening.  (One recent exception is Dutilleux's Cello Concerto "Tout un monde lointain," which used verse by Baudelaire as a springboard, which blew my mind.  Here's a link to an online performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2qmECLxnCY&t=1105s .)

As far as the multiple recording question, I'm still enough of a listening amateur that I haven't progressed that far.  I tend to read multiple reviews before deciding on a representative recording, or go with an artist I've come to trust.  For instance, much as I love and admire Yo-Yo Ma, I prefer Mstislav Rostropovich's recordings, for reasons I lack the musical vocab to articulate.  Similarly, I'll go with a Vladimir Ashkenazy or Emmanuel Ax recording any day.  And since coming across his playing on YouTube, I've purchased a couple of Jan Lisiecki recordings; his performance of Chopin's "La ci darem la mano" Variations always puts a smile on my face.

 

 

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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Evan, thanks for the clarification, re: Debussy. I hadn't realized the two were the same. Also, as Andrew mentioned, by all means shamelessly plug away! :) I admire anyone who can play an instrument (especially one like the organ), and I really enjoyed your performance. I grew up playing electric guitar, but, aside from copying a bunch of Van Halen's riffs and solos, I didn't get too far with the instrument. :) 

Andrew, something about me that relates in a way to your thoughts about contemporary music: for many years, I never listened to any composers who lived after the Romantic era (I just stuck with the big guys from Bach through Brahms). A Mahler symphony, for example, seemed overly dynamic and too cacophonous and just too anxiety inducing. Then, for reasons I can't explain, my tastes changed as I got older. Now, I deeply appreciate Mahler's work, Shostakovich's, Bartok's, etc., and the only Baroque music I can tolerate now is solo music, such as Bach's French Suites (and only on modern piano). With a few exceptions (such as Mozart's late piano concertos), I just don't have the taste anymore for Classical era music, whether it's Mozart, Haydn, or the like. In other words, I can see what you're saying about an "aural apparatus" or tastes. (Thanks for the Dutilleux link, by the way.)

With recordings, I'm sort of like (if this analogy works) the baseball fan who loves sabermetrics and enjoys comparing different teams and how they work, and so with certain pieces of classical music, I'll seek out other recordings to hear how others might interpret something. Having said that, I always say the most important thing is to just listen to what I enjoy and not necessarily think or even worry about other renditions all the time. I do like your tastes. As good as Yo-Yo Ma is, I'd take Rostropovich over him any day, and I love Ashkenazy's piano playing -- his recordings of the two Brahms piano concertos (with Bernard Haitink) introduced me to those works, while his early recordings in the 60s of pieces by Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev are wonderful.

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Andrew, I listened to Dutilleux's Cello Concerto (the one you linked to) and enjoyed it so much that I bought a recording of it -- and not simply any recording, but Rostropovich's original studio recording of the work, which, by the way, Dutilleux had written for him specifically. Rostropovich was also the recipient of Witold Lutoslawski's Cello Concerto, featured on the same recording. I did a little searching before plunking down my cash and learned that Warner Classics reissued the album in 2017 with an additional cello concerto, one by French composer Andre Jolivet. So that's the one I bought. It's great. Thanks for the recommendation.

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That's awesome - I'm glad you enjoyed it.  The Dutilleux/Lutoslawski recording by Rostropovich is the one I purchased (without the Jolivet, alas).  Of course, Rostropovich is marvelous, but the sonic landscape of the Lutoslawski grated on me.  Another one of those 20th C composers who isn't in my wheelhouse (yet).  By the way, Elizabeth Wilson's oral history of Rostropovich was a very interesting read; a professional cellist as well as biographer, she was a student of his in the USSR.  It was enjoyable to hear of his teaching technique (extraordinarily demanding but unforgettably inspiring), to read of his friendship with Shostakovich, and to learn of his heroism in the Brezhnev era.

This week, I plan to start listening to Sibelius' symphonies - I'll be sure to report back!  (Tower and Higdon are on my radar, too.)

Edited by Andrew

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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I sometimes feel the same way about Lutoslawski's music ( that grating feeling, as you mentioned), but I like his symphonies. For what it's worth, Salonen and the L.A. Phil recorded all four for Sony Classical, available in a single set, if you're ever interested in hearing good performances of them.

I'll have to keep an eye out for Wilson's oral history of Rostropovich -- he's definitely a musicians who's life I'd love to know more about.

Definitely report back whenever you can, re: Sibelius. I'm interested in hearing your take on his symphonies!

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Thank you both for the kind words. I'm happy to share more organ music if you're interested in exploring that repertoire. Maybe I'll start a thread for that.

If you have mixed feelings about Lutoslawski, what are your feelings about Penderecki? I think Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima has been used stunningly as underscoring, and his St. Luke Passion is quite the experience to hear.

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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Evan, I'd like to hear more organ music. Aside from some of the organ music that Bach wrote, I've never heard much else written for that instrument. So it'd be a nice learning experience.

I've probably heard more Penderecki than I'm aware of, given that his music has appeared in a variety of films, but I never recognized the music or sought out who composed it. But I do have a recording of the violin concerto he composed for Anne-Sophie Mutter in the 1990s (a piece called "Metamorphosen"), and I've enjoyed it for a long time, even though I don't listen to it often. He's a composer I feel I should know more about -- so I'll check out his Hiroshima piece and the St. Luke Passion.

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18 hours ago, Michael S said:

I've probably heard more Penderecki than I'm aware of, given that his music has appeared in a variety of films, but I never recognized the music or sought out who composed it. But I do have a recording of the violin concerto he composed for Anne-Sophie Mutter in the 1990s (a piece called "Metamorphosen"), and I've enjoyed it for a long time, even though I don't listen to it often. He's a composer I feel I should know more about -- so I'll check out his Hiroshima piece and the St. Luke Passion.

What Michael said.  Looking at Penderecki's IMDb profile, his music has shown up in a lot of late 20th C films, including The Shining, Fearless, The Exorcist, and Shutter Island, so I've heard his music without being conscious of doing so.  (And he was a Yale prof for a while!  I used to love going to their School of Music's noontime concerts, back in the day.)  I look forward to giving him an intentional listen.

(At the risk of stating the obvious, this is one of the things I love so much about classical music.  There are always greater depths to be found in re-listening to the masters, but no shortage of music to discover for the first time.  To state one recent example for me, after reading Alex Ross dismiss Copeland's El Salon Mexico as kitschy and recommending Silvestre Revueltas for authentic Mexican compositions, I gave La noche de los Mayas a listen and was fascinated by its sound world - and great percussion, too!  No doubt one could say similar things about all art forms and musical genres, but for the way I'm wired, cinema and classical music are the bottomless wells that I happily return to over and over.)

Edited by Andrew

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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4 hours ago, Andrew said:

At the risk of stating the obvious, this is one of the things I love so much about classical music.  There are always greater depths to be found in re-listening to the masters, but no shortage of music to discover for the first time.

Exactly! Even when I think, "haven't I head more than enough Beethoven?" I then realize, wait, he wrote string trios, piano trios, string quintets, an opera, and more -- none of which I've taken the time to listen to. And then there are contemporary composers who continually come out with new music, not to mention "overlooked" composers in other parts of the world whose music hasn't been picked up by Western orchestras or is only gradually beginning to take notice here. Classical music really is boundless. One of labels that's really great at issuing recordings of lesser known composers and works is Naxos. I'm often surprised by what I can find in their catalogue. 

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  • 1 month later...

This is a gut punch of a choral piece.  Today's NYT had an article about/interview with the composer, a black Jamaican-American who's now a student at the Yale School of Music.  He wrote this piece in 2014, but for obvious reasons it's garnering more attention in 2020.  It's interesting but not surprising to read how polarizing this piece was for the first audiences who heard it; the saying about art comforting the afflicted, afflicting the comfortable comes to mind.  And I guess audiences used to a restricted diet of classical chestnuts forget how political and polarizing compositions often were in the moment of their creation (Beethoven's "Napoleon" Symphony and his opera Fidelio, the Rite of Spring, pretty much everything by Shostakovich, etc.).

 

 

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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I don’t know much about Wagner beyond a couple of his best known compositions, but I’m aware of how divisive a figure he is. Now Alex Ross has published a book about Wagner, and Michael Dirda gives it a rave review in today’s Washington Post. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/if-ever-there-was-a-moment-for-richard-wagner-it-is-2020/2020/11/03/0ecd5664-1d23-11eb-ba21-f2f001f0554b_story.html%3foutputType=amp

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I loved Ross' book on the multifarious directions of 20th C classical music, The Rest Is Noise.  There's simply nothing else like it.  However, t I don't enjoy Wagner's music and find the man abhorrent, which I know Ross addresses in his newest.  Nonetheless, I'll probably be giving this book a miss.

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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Christian, thanks for posting that link to the Post review. I'll check it out. I've been curious about Ross' book ever since it was released, and have been curious as well about its reception. Like Andrew, I'm personally not keen on Wagner's music (except for some of his overtures and non-vocal music) and never liked the guy himself (based on what little I've learned about him), but Ross is an excellent critic, so I might give the book a try at some point in the future. If I can find an excerpt somewhere (there might be one in a recent issue of The New Yorker), I'll probably try that first.

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To my surprise, while at Barnes & Noble tonight scarfing up Blu-rays with birthday money, I saw this book and bought a copy! It’s expensive, but I had just enough money to get it (after returning two Blu-rays to the shelf; both were upgrades of Chaplin films I love but already own on laserdisc). That Dirda review really had me thinking I might enjoy this book, even though Ross’ previous book, which was widely acclaimed, was a swing-and-a-miss for me. Still, about every 10 years, I decide that it’s time to Give Classical Music Another Try and see if it takes. I’m at that point now, and I’m thinking this book might lead to deeper interest. This thread has been fueling the rethinking as well, so thanks to all of you for the good discussion here.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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11 hours ago, Christian said:

To my surprise, while at Barnes & Noble tonight scarfing up Blu-rays with birthday money, I saw this book and bought a copy! It’s expensive, but I had just enough money to get it (after returning two Blu-rays to the shelf; both were upgrades of Chaplin films I love but already own on laserdisc). That Dirda review really had me thinking I might enjoy this book, even though Ross’ previous book, which was widely acclaimed, was a swing-and-a-miss for me. Still, about every 10 years, I decide that it’s time to Give Classical Music Another Try and see if it takes. I’m at that point now, and I’m thinking this book might lead to deeper interest. This thread has been fueling the rethinking as well, so thanks to all of you for the good discussion here.

Please let us know your thoughts on Ross' Wagner book; I could easily be persuaded into giving it a read.

This thread has definitely inspired me as well.  I gave a Mahler symphony (#4) a close listen and actually loved it; tastes really do evolve and shift over time, so I'm now curious to work through his symphonies.  Likewise, I listened to a number of Schoenberg pieces for the first time ever (his chamber symphonies, Transfigured Night, and especially Pierrot Lunaire) and was captivated, enough that I purchased a boxed set of his works conducted by Pierre Boulez (a steal at $13 for 11 CDs.  And reading about Ligeti in Ross' book, hearing an interview on Sticky Notes about him, and recalling his contributions to the score of 2001 inspired me to pick up a boxed set of his works.

But I think my next dig will be into Chopin's life and work.  Over the past year, I've been dipping periodically into Argerich's boxed set and Lisiecki's renditions of his orchestral pieces.  Then my curiosity was further piqued by Lafarge's delightful book-length rumination on his life and work, complete with a fascinating digression into the evolution of pianos over the past 150 years or so.  This spurred me to pick up a set of his solo pieces played on an 1845 Pleyel (Chopin's preferred piano) to hear the lighter, more sensitive playing its construction permits.  I expect I'll be starting Alan Walker's biography soon, as I do a simultaneous chronological listen to Chopin's most significant pieces.

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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On 11/6/2020 at 6:27 PM, Christian said:

To my surprise, while at Barnes & Noble tonight scarfing up Blu-rays with birthday money, I saw this book and bought a copy! It’s expensive, but I had just enough money to get it (after returning two Blu-rays to the shelf; both were upgrades of Chaplin films I love but already own on laserdisc). That Dirda review really had me thinking I might enjoy this book, even though Ross’ previous book, which was widely acclaimed, was a swing-and-a-miss for me.

Definitely let us all know what you think of the book, Christian. If you end up really liking it, I might pick it up.

On 11/7/2020 at 5:47 AM, Andrew said:

I gave a Mahler symphony (#4) a close listen and actually loved it; tastes really do evolve and shift over time, so I'm now curious to work through his symphonies.  Likewise, I listened to a number of Schoenberg pieces for the first time ever (his chamber symphonies, Transfigured Night, and especially Pierrot Lunaire) and was captivated, enough that I purchased a boxed set of his works conducted by Pierre Boulez (a steal at $13 for 11 CDs.  And reading about Ligeti in Ross' book, hearing an interview on Sticky Notes about him, and recalling his contributions to the score of 2001 inspired me to pick up a boxed set of his works.

Mahler's 4th is an absolutely beautiful piece of music. Glad that you enjoyed it. Each one of his symphonies is a masterpiece in its own right, not necessarily something music listeners would say about other symphony cycles (even Beethoven). I've not listened to a lot of Ligeti (I think, for me, he's a bit too cerebral sometimes) but I really like his etudes for solo piano. 

 

On 11/7/2020 at 5:47 AM, Andrew said:

But I think my next dig will be into Chopin's life and work.  Over the past year, I've been dipping periodically into Argerich's boxed set and Lisiecki's renditions of his orchestral pieces.  Then my curiosity was further piqued by Lafarge's delightful book-length rumination on his life and work, complete with a fascinating digression into the evolution of pianos over the past 150 years or so.  This spurred me to pick up a set of his solo pieces played on an 1845 Pleyel (Chopin's preferred piano) to hear the lighter, more sensitive playing its construction permits.

This will be a great adventure, Andrew. Some of Chopin's music is indispensable, in my opinion -- the preludes especially, but also the nocturnes, the waltzes, the four ballades, and the sonatas. (I'm not as keen on his piano concertos because I don't think he was a particularly good orchestrator.) I never warmed to the sound of period-correct pianos; my ears are just too modern when it comes to that instrument, but I envy listeners who enjoy it, in part for the reasons you mention.

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On 11/6/2020 at 9:27 PM, Christian said:Ross’ previous book, which was widely acclaimed, was a swing-and-a-miss for me

By “previous book,” I meant Ross’ “The Rest Is Noise” - he released another book before the Wagner volume - and while I didn’t engage much with it, I struck today when I saw that the ebook is just $2.99 (for Nook - haven’t checked Kindle). I don’t re-read often, but seeing the kind comments here about “Noise” made me think it’s worth at least one more shot.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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