Curated Playlists - Classical
The Power of Influence - Who’s Your Teacher? - Focus on the Spectralists of Finland
What we accumulate as familiar in classical music is built on a synthesis of everything we’ve ever heard. The composer’s voice is similar in nature as an idea seems to germinate from an elusive or intuitive realm often recognized to sound like someone from the past. The musical lineage from teacher to student is a captivating connection as we discover the power of influence. Methods of composition are often verbal instructions including a deterministic process to move an idea forward for creative development. To exemplify our highest sound quality, we present an off-shoot of the spectralists initially formed with the French Ensemble l’Itinéraire that gave us Gérard Grisey and Tristan Murail, but there were others later including the Romanian composer Rădulescu and building further on that spectral idea in Finland with Saariaho, Lindberg and Salonen all having a connection to the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki with the obvious influence of Einojuhani Rautavaara. We begin the playlist with his flute concerto which many wish to avoid, but in this case, the quality of sound comes forth with extra color and light. You will hear the apparent layering of a natural sound feeling expansive but somehow safe within a spectral soundscape. The spectral idea refers to compositional methods that are often informed by mathematically generated spectra. These spectral features which naturally occur in the overtone series are interconnected and transformed. Some composers like Saariaho use computer-based sound analysis of audio signals which are treated to result in timbral representations of sound using instruments after the fact as in Asteroid 4179 presented here. Next a colleague of Saariaho and a student of Rautavaara and Paavo Heininen - Magnus Lindberg, the leading Finnish composer of the post-Sibelius generation with his Jubilees. Lindberg was so invested in the spectral lineage, he moved to Paris to study further with Gerard Grisey who was at the heart of spectralism. Lindberg, Saariaho and Salonen were a part of Finland’s Open Ears Society. Lindberg and Salonen were successively Composers in Residence with the New York Philharmonic. I have included the full work to immerse fully in Lindberg’s aesthetic world both full of spectral color, rhythmic complexity and an almost embarrassing amount of emotional heights and depths. Enjoy Finland!
2. The End Is Near - Last Pieces
When pondering the music dedicated to death, it beckons our investigation of why we choose to connect to music or why we even care. The imaginative quality of the unknown is the grandest gift to a tortured soul or a desire for a special longing that we are sometimes desperate to feel. These musical efforts offer this potential and our historical examples in their last moments gave their last efforts, finding the strength to finish and to share their plank-walkings toward this dark, but meaningful journey. Some of the works are known as works composed on actual deathbeds and others are last works or even unfinished works pieced together by pupils or other passion artists inspired by the their lost efforts. We start with the intro to Firebird from Stravinsky who allegedly had hypochondria to the extent that in his later years saw his doctor on a daily basis and hiked 2 miles home. His Requiem Canticles says it all… Beethoven’s death famously exemplified by a thunder clap and a raising a fist in the air, as if to hold on to just another moment doesn’t at all reflect his last writings. His late quartets composed on his deathbed speak of this transitory state with tremendous calm and the best example of this is with opus 131. The first movement pulls every ounce of longing out as the title suggests - slowly and expressively. Messiaen’s Eclairs sur l'au-delà ("Flashes on the beyond”) displays an interminable expression of doomsday and the 6th movement - "les sept Anges aux sept trompettes”, (seven angels with 7 trumpets) trumps the 4 horseman and clearly knocks on death’s door. Schoenberg, after nearly suffering a fatal heart attack, reacts by composing his “Last String Trio” (Stream of Consciousness) giving his full intensity. At this point I remind the listeners who are exploring the departure of the comforts of tonality that you are now entering a new world. This 12-tone utilization may seem abstract and even unreasonable, but I ask the listener if fear and the unknown are familiar or are dreams in the night clear and consonant? Part 1 is enough of a taste of this and I think you will connect with the universal experience of tension, confusion and other disturbing emotions that tell one man’s truth. The best of luck to you! Continuing with Chopin, you might expect a Nocturne, but a deathbed alternative garners a Mazurka finished Posthumously, but as you will see, this piece in F minor gives the predicable longing that this composer reliably delivers. 3 breaths and you are contemplating the great beyond. Franz Liszt’s Orpheus starts with long sustained notes as if the tunnel of white light is pulling us in... yet comfort and familiar tonality gently comfort us for a while until about halfway through where we are pulled into darkness and deep questioning. Passion is defined as suffering and we use this language as a means to give pleasure to the pain. Liszt is committed to this here with a full range of experiential beauty. It’s a poem after all. A Symphonic Poem! For a taste of hellfire and brimstone, the Dies Irae from the Grande Messe de Morts, 1837 by Berlioz lays down the gauntlet. This traditional Latin Mass set to Orchestra, chorus and 4 brass ensembles in the four corners of the hall. Actually in the premiere, the conductor put down the baton and took a pinch of snuff prompting Berlioz to rush on stage to save this Dies Irae from disaster! He finished the score 2 years before his death. After a quick visitation of Mozart’s Requiem aeternam arranged for string quartet and sidestepping Death and Transfiguration, we give you No. 3 of the 4 last songs of Richard Strauss entitled "Beim Schlafengehen” - (At Bedtime). This song more than anything else pulls one into a truly blissful state of nostalgia for life as the lyrics translate “like a tired child… And unattendedly the soul wants to take wings freely to live on deep down and thousandfold in the magic circle of the night”.
3. Quiet Please! - Music Begging for a Silent Mind
Quiet invokes a removal of sense awareness. Musically, this longing for quiet can be experienced as an entry into inner states separate from the outer world and all of its sounds. Charles Ives invokes an ultimate atmosphere of longing: quiet contemplation. What is it that we ask for? What is it that we don’t understand fully about our experience here? The Unanswered Question is peaceful serenity as a single melodic note hovers outside our comfort asking for everything unknown. A quiet confusion interrupts with its harmonic complexity then returns to the simple familiar harmony... As the complexity and complications of life keep us perpetually amplified, the noise, the chaos, the traffic and social media, it all needless to say, quite loud. For those in urban environments, it’s even worse with train noise, neighbors, city streets and construction projects that never seem to end. Quiet spaces are in demand and an inner quiet is the result of tremendous investment. This playlist is about quiet. Quiet ideas that attempt to take the outer phenomenon and turn it inward for deep questions or simplistic acknowledgement of the quiet that needs to exist. Before the descent, the departure moves this transition into unknown territory, somewhat vulnerable yet willing to inquire about what is before us which we have yet to feel, touch or experience. Aaron Copland begins with Quiet City, originally incidental music for the play by Irwan Shaw, the piece out of this context, Copland reflects "Quiet City seems to have become a musical entity, superseding the original reasons for its composition,” giving much more weight to the deep desire to get away from the intended context. Yes, we have little time to reflect for a few hours lying on a grassy hill staring at the clouds going by wondering what our 2-week vacation was all about. Quiet City takes us away from something… Next Stravinky’s Intro to Firebird reminds us that silence almost immediately breeds rumination and the first part of letting go is to watch thoughts settle into a fertility of reflection. This 3 minutes sounds like that. The quiet, the effort and the failure to remain quiet then the success of quiet again… but then the thoughts jump in with a vengeance. Holst brings us The Planets and Neptune offers us “The Mystic”, the seeker of non-physical reality. One interpretation concluded that all of the planets were mirror images of Jupiter and therefore Neptune was static, unmoving… quiet! Nothing provokes inner quiet like a reverie or a nocturne. As the music itself allows mental space to expand into a freedom of contemplation, Debussy pulls you into that with his Rêverie, Jimbo’s Lullaby from Children’s Corner and the Nocturne. We finish with an Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, whose “sacred minimalism” has epitomized the quiet mind. He was once quoted as saying that he spends most of his free time hanging out in cathedrals. I think you’l agree that these spaces if nothing else, take the chatter down to the most possible quiet. We offer his Für Alina (1976) for solo piano and the choral work Nunc dimittis. Inhale….. Exhale….