Classical music thread

Magnus

Pica Serdica
Estonian conductor.
Undeniable fact. Father of two more Estonian conductors as well, for bonus points. But did you like the music?
These are my four favourite symphonies (more into tone poems from this time interval usually), and my favourite renditions thereof, and I fell in love with Mr. NJ years ago after seeing this on Mezzo TV:
 

Saapanael

Ancient Mariner
Undeniable fact. Father of two more Estonian conductors as well, for bonus points. But did you like the music?
These are my four favourite symphonies (more into tone poems from this time interval usually), and my favourite renditions thereof, and I fell in love with Mr. NJ years ago after seeing this on Mezzo TV:
Yes, I liked it but I think it’s not my favourite period of classical music.
 

SinisterMinisterX

Illuminatus
Staff member
I saw the new version of West Side Story. Spielberg left most of Leonard Bernstein's original score unaltered, and it's still a jaw-dropper. His Latin-influenced arrangements and jazz-tinged harmonies still deliver shock when the gang-fight story needs it and lush backgrounds when the love story needs that. "America" is still a show-stopper, with the main melody being traded between all the instruments in the orchestra just like how every singer gets a line.
 

jazz from hell

Ancient Mariner
Undeniable fact. Father of two more Estonian conductors as well, for bonus points. But did you like the music?
These are my four favourite symphonies (more into tone poems from this time interval usually), and my favourite renditions thereof, and I fell in love with Mr. NJ years ago after seeing this on Mezzo TV:

@Magnus An interesting short documentary which focuses on how Arvo Pärt created his signature tintinnabuli style while living in a very ordinary Soviet concrete apartment building. Half of it is in Estonian but there’s English parts in the beginning and towards the end.


Nielsen and Pärt are "composers of beginnings" for me.
Nielsen 3rd Symphony starts with repeated and accelerating hits, really fun:

Pärt's Passio starts with the choir announcing the title above the pedal point of the organ, and it's amazing:

I lose interest after a while, but these beginnings are just great.
 

jazz from hell

Ancient Mariner
Funny story I learned today: G.F. Handel’s “Solomon” is like all of his most famous vocal works in English. The libretto calls the two women who fight for the newborn baby two “harlots”. But in the first edition that got published with a German translation in the 19th century, these “harlots” get called “Jungfrauen” (“maidens”).
 

Murder of Rue Morgue

Educated Fool
Funny story I learned today: G.F. Handel’s “Solomon” is like all of his most famous vocal works in English. The libretto calls the two women who fight for the newborn baby two “harlots”. But in the first edition that got published with a German translation in the 19th century, these “harlots” get called “Jungfrauen” (“maidens”).
Good ol' censorship... there is a funny anecdote although not related to music: in the 19th century, classical scholars started to widely publish classical literature translated in modern languages. Not that it didn't happen before, but not that frequently.

But, when it came to obscene passages like those you can find in some Greek epigrams, they translated them into Latin because it seemed more... polite, so to say. This led to a paradox: in editions of Latin poetry, when it came to obscene verses, they printed the exact same words on both pages. So they didn't actually translate them.
 

Murder of Rue Morgue

Educated Fool
By the way, last year marked three anniversaries:
  • 30th anniversary of Helmut Walcha's death.
  • 40th anniversary of Karl Richter's death.
  • 110th anniversary of Gustav Mahler's death.
The first two were renowned Bach interpreters in their days. The latter was one of the greatest composers of the late 19th century.



Walcha, born in Leipzig, was blinded by an infection in his adolescence, but nonetheless became a master organist (and harpsichordist) and taught organ at Frankfurt's Conservatory and Frankfurt's University of Music and Arts. He never moved from Frankfurt and died here.
He focused almost exclusively on Bach's organ works. He most notably recorded the complete organ works by Bach for Archiv Produktion, a subsidiary of Deutsche Grammophon, both in mono and stereo – but also the Well-Tempered Clavier and a collection of organ works by north European composers before Bach. His Bach stereo cycle, recently reissued by DG, includes the complete transcription of The Art of Fugue and the completion of the last fugue by Walcha himself. Also a composer, he published four volumes of chorale preludes for organ and edited Handel's Organ concertos opp. 4, 1–6 & 7, 1-6; he also published the complete score for his transcription of The Art of Fugue (including the final fugue completed by himself) and an organ transcription of Ricercare a 6, from the Musical Offering.
What's really astonishing is that he, being blind, played the entire Bach catalogue by memory. And yet, his precision and perpetual attention to the clarity of counterpoint (which reflects in some technical choices) make his recordings – both of them, but particularly the stereo one – one of the finest achievements of Archiv.
His complete catalogue for Archiv has been reissued in a 32 CD set last summer as a celebration for the anniversary of his death.
Some examples:
Buxtehude's Passacaglia in D minor BuxWV 161 (from Organ Masters Before Bach, 1977): this is perhaps Buxtehude's most famous work and it is considered one of the sources from which Bach drew inspiration for his own Passacaglia BWV 582.​
Bach's Allabreve in D major BWV 589 (from the mono cycle): although not one of Bach's most known works, this little fugue is one pleasant and somehow optimistic piece influenced by Italian Baroque music.​
Bach's "Little" Fugue in G minor BWV 578 (from the stereo cycle): also transcribed for several instruments (most notably the orchestral transcription by Stokowski), it's one of Bach's most known and catchy fugues. It ends with a picardy third.​
Bach's Chorale partitas BWV 768 (from the stereo cycle): one of the great chorale partitas for organ by Bach, it starts with the G minor theme of the Lutheran chorale Sei gegrüßet, Jesu gütig (Hail to You, o sweetest Jesus) and then builds eleven variations on it. It's dated to the year 1705, which means Bach was only 20 years old when he composed it.​

Richter was born in Plauen. He studied under Günther Ramin, who some 20 years before taught to Walcha, and became organist of St Thomas in Leipzig, where Ramin was Kantor (i.e. music director) as Bach himself had been for 27 years. In 1954 he founded the Munich Bach Orchestra and the Munich Bach Choir and started an intensive series of recording of Bach's orchestral and vocal works. When Ramin died in 1956 Richter was offered to become his successor, but refused, considering himself too young. He died in Munich, from heart conditions. In his last decade he had increasing sight difficulties and spent his time by memorizing all the music he could before blindness could hit him.
A virtuoso harpsichordist and organist, he recorded a wide amount of vocal works by Bach, including the three major works – Mass in B minor, St Matthew Passion, Christmas Oratorio – the Magnificat and all the surviving cantatas. As of instrumental music, he recorded the Musical Offering, the Brandenburg Concertos (an extract of the 2nd was included in the Voyager Golden Disk), several harpsichord and organ pieces. He also recorded concertos by Handel, works by Bach's sons Carl Phillip Emanuel and Johann Christian, by Gluck, by Mozart, by Liszt and Reger and even Beethoven's Mass in C major.
Richter didn't compose original music, but raised to prominency as one of the finest Bach interpreters of his time, although the raise of the historically informed performances in the late 70s put some question marks on his work and eventually obscured them after his death. His recording of the Musical Offering was highly praised, as were his Christmas Oratorio and the Mass in B minor, a work to which he felt significant attachment. His playing and conducting remain undoubtedly admirable for the expressiveness of the phrasing and the true understanding of music as a "rhetorical discourse", a fundamental concept in Baroque music.
Some examples:
Bach's Passacaglia and Fugue (or, thema fugatum) in C minor BWV 582 (the audio is taken from Richter's recording of 1978 because the audio of the video was damaged; here you have the actual audio, restored, but without the images): one of Bach's masterpieces, also orchestrated, for example, by Stokowski and Respighi, it's one of Richter's finest recordings and shows one of the most creative use of registers for this piece. It's the only passacaglia for organ written by Bach and builds 20 variations on an 8-bar ostinato; it's considered one of Bach's masterpieces (Robert Schumann described it by saying «the variations are intertwined so ingeniously that one can never cease to be amazed»). The passacaglia is followed by a double fugue built on the same ostinato, the first one on the first half of the theme and the second on the second part (with slight variations). It is thought that Bach may have composed it between 1706–13, shortly after he met Buxtehude.​
Bach's Chromatic fantasy and Fugue in D minor BWV 903: one of Bach's most popular works for harpsichord, also frequently recorded on piano, it's a virtuosistic phantasy followed by a fugue which bear their nickname from the heavy use of chromaticism, although the name didn't origin from the author.​
Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565: maybe Bach's most famous work with the Air on G string. Richter's interpretation comes from a series of performances he recorded in Ottebeuren Abbey, where he played both the organs of the church and recorded Bach's Toccata and Fugue BWV 565, Passacaglia and Fugue BWV 582 (linked above) and Pastorale in F major BWV 590.​
Bach's Brandenburg concerto n. 5 (I linked the start of the concerto; you can also listen to the other concertos, it's a great recording): perhaps the most known Brandenburg concerto by Bach, it includes a long and virtuosistic harpsichord cadenza in the first movement. It presumably was never performed during the author's life due to its technical difficulties, as the other concertos weren't.​
Handel's Organ concerto op. 7, n. 1: one of Handel's posthumous organ concertos, it was originally composed as an interlude during the oratorios. It was composed in 1740 but published only after the composer's death, in 1761.​


Mahler was born in Bohemia, in a Jewish family – something he ironically reflected on: «I am three times without a homeland: a Bohemian between Austrians, an Austrian between Germans, and a Jew between people of the entire world». Naturally gifted in music, he quickly graduated from the Vienna Conservatory and became a renowned conductor. In 1897 he was appointed director of the Vienna Symphony and held the position until 1907, when he moved to New York. He died in Vienna in 1911, from endocarditis and a blood infection.
Although he was beyond question as a conductor (particularly for his interpretations of the German Romantic opera), his music became popular only after his death, exceptions being his 2nd Symphony and more notably his 8th Symphony, which himself led in a triumphant premiere in 1910 – attended, among the others, by a then 28 years old Leopold Stokowski. He didn't live to see his 9th Symphony performed, nor his song cycle Das Lied von der Erde, both of which are now considered among his best works.
His major contribution to the symphonic genre (Mahler's works are almost exclusively symphonic) is the fusion of song and symphony: out of his nine symphonies (he was working on his 10th symphony when he died), three include at least one movement sung by choir and solo, and the 8th is entirely sung – for this reason, and for its unconventional scheme, some questioned the definition of symphony for it. He also wrote several song cycles, most notably Das Knaben Wunderhorn (The Boy's Magic Horn), Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children) and Das Lied von der Erde (Song of the Earth; someone consider this as his actual 9th symphony: Mahler was superstitious and feared the "curse of the 9th", so some people think that he refused to call this work a symphony and number it as one, although he actually subtitled it as "symphony for Tenor, Alto (or Baritone) and Orchestra").
Mahler's works are often very long (his 3rd is the longest symphony in the standard Western repertoire: around 110 minutes) and scored for exceptionally large orchestras: his 8th symphony is nicknamed "symphony of a Thousand" for the forces it calls, although Mahler disproved the name which was a choice by the impresario to raise ticket sales. Also, several symphonies of him are tonally progressive, which means they start in a tonality but close in another (for example, his 9th starts in D major but closes in D-flat major) or that their tonality isn't clear and is difficult to indicate (for this reason, he refused to specify the tonality of his 5th symphony to his editor – the symphony starts in C# minor but eventually closes in D major).
Mahler's revival was due most prominently to American conductor Leonard Bernstein, who recorded his complete symphonic works – including 10th symphony's only complete section, the Adagio.
Some examples:
"Die I shall in order to live", the finale of the 2nd symphony: it was Mahler's most famous work during his life – although he conducted his first Symphony more than any other – and his first choral symphony, and it started a leitmotif in Mahler's works: the beauty of afterlife and hope for resurrection.​
"Chorus mysticus": the finale of the 8th symphony: Mahler's most singular work and the last symphony he premiered before his death, it's not divided in movements but in two parts, it's uncommonly stable in tonality for a Mahler work (it always come back to E-flat major) and most of all it is entirely dominated by choirs and solo singers. It also calls for unprecedented orchestral forces (sometimes described as a "symphonic universe"), a complete set of keyboards (piano, celesta, harmonium and the organ which opens the symphony), several doubled instruments and including 3 sopranos, 2 altos, tenor, baritone and bass solos, 2 SATB choirs and a children's choir. The first part puts in music the 9th century Christian hymn Veni, creator spiritus and the second is a setting of the closing scene of Goethe's Faust (each solo singer in this section is assigned to a character); the two sections are unified musically (by common themes and recurring leitmotive – for example, the "veni creator" theme heard at the beginning returns triumphally after the final chorus) and lyrically (by the common idea of redemption through love). Mahler himself, firmly believing in this work's quality, conducted the triumphant premiere.​
"Dying away": the Adagio from the 9th symphony: the final movement of Mahler's 9th, it's also the longest of the four. It's uncommonly slow and dark for a final movement and Mahler himself wrote on the score that the last pages were to be played "dying away"; the last two last averagely for 6 minutes, an unprecedented length for so few notes. Leonard Bernstein, a Mahler specialist, speculated that the composer was prophesying three deaths at once: his own (Mahler had a heart condition and the Symphony starts with a syncopated, irregular rhythm which Bernstein interpreted as a transposition of Mahler's irregular heartbeat), the death of tonality in Western music and the death of Faustian culture in arts.​
 
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jazz from hell

Ancient Mariner
Buxtehude's Passacaglia in D minor BuxWV 161 (from Organ Masters Before Bach, 1977): this is perhaps Buxtehude's most famous work and it is considered one of the sources from which Bach drew inspiration for his own Passacaglia BWV 582.​
Also: Jan Dismas Zelenka. Compare the beginning of his Miserere with the beginning of Bach's St. John Passion, especially when the chorus enters. Quite striking to me.


Although... I just found out Bach was first...
 

Murder of Rue Morgue

Educated Fool
Also: Jan Dismas Zelenka. Compare the beginning of his Miserere with the beginning of Bach's St. John Passion, especially when the chorus enters. Quite striking to me.


Although... I just found out Bach was first...
It's not that uncommon, Bach had a singularly wide musical culture for a man of his time and drawing inspiration from multiple sources was a common practice.
The ostinato of the Passacaglia BWV 582 shares similarities with two sacred works by André Raison (it's basically a sum of two ostinati taken almost note-per-note from Raison's works), the first variation is similar to Buxtehude's Passacaglia beginning (also, Bach once traveled nearly 450km only to met Buxtehude and hear him play the organ). And, one of Bach's most famous organ works – the "Great" Fantasia and Fugue in G minor BWV 542 – is based on an improvisation Bach played for an audition; the judges gave him a theme on which he was required to improvise, and the theme was that of a popular song. Also some airs from Bach's Mass are taken from "popular" airs, IIRC.
 
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