Monday, December 13, 2010

A Brief History of Post-World War II Music

I am always fascinated by the seemingly incongruous worlds of music and other historical events. Isn't it a bit surreal that the last guardian of the classical tradition, Johannes Brahms, could have met the amateur violinist Albert Einstein? The latter was 18 years old when Brahms died. Richard Strauss, who was born in the year of Second Schleswig War, lived to see the ashes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and composed arguably the last great late romanticism piece Four Last Songs three years after the bomb. Britten wrote his splendid yet shadowy Suite For Harp, "it is rather 18th century harp writing" as he put it, around the same time they put men on the moon. And Shostakovich was composing the formidable Viola Sonata when John Lydon joined the Sex Pistols. This bewitching conflict came all the way into the new millennium, when Gorillaz's single Clint Eastwood was released in 2001, the 71 years old Clint Eastwood himself had yet to make Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Letters From Iwo Jima, Flags Of Our Fathers, Gran Torino, and Changeling. That single could come out today and still sounds utterly fresh, by the way.

A couple of months ago, I had this idea of trying to make a playlist that reflects, and plays with this surface conflict, by choosing one popular song, and one piece of classical works from every post-WWII year. Before long I realized that it's simply impossible to pick up "best songs of the 1960s" or "most representative composition of the year", so I just let my personal taste take the lead, while sticking to some simple principles: The micro-interplay of consecutive tracks is most important. Classical tracks should be less than 10 minutes long in order to maintain the flow of the playlist, except for tracks at or towards the end. And of course I tried to embrace as many styles and genres as I could. Needless to say, the title of the post is exaggerated, but History of Post-WWII English-Language Pop Music and Western Classical Music would be just too dull.

I like the way this aerial survey begins with Bing Crosby's It's Been A Long, Long Time from 1945, is there a more appropriate title to start with? And the fact that Bruno Maderna's Notturno For Tape came out at the same time with Chuck Berry's Roll Over Beethoven makes the former sounds more bold - classical composers were quietly experimenting electronic instruments when the pop musicians just began to realise that they could challenge the old LvB too. The slow movement of Barber's piano concerto works surprisingly well as a postlude to Tony Bennett's I Left My Heart In San Francisco. The triumphant ending of the heroic Bridge Over Troubled Water makes the violent striking of Crumb's Black Angles that "sail right behind" even more frightening. Reich's Electric Counterpoint works great as an prelude to EBTG's ode to nostalgia. Listen to the Snoop Dogg track and Peter Lieberson opera extract back to back, you probably would have a hard time figuring out which is the rapper. Both are from 1992. The interlacing of different kinds of music adds an inexplicable charm to the whole listening experience.

Here are the Spotify Playlists: 1945-1955  1956-1965  1966-1975 1976-1985  1986-1995  1996-2005

I stopped at 2005 as it's hard to find classical works from the last couple of years in recorded version. For the sake of usability I broke it down into 10-year, 20-track playlists. You can put them into a folder. Every playlist is within 2 hours, and offers much more fun when you listen to it from the beginning to the end. Pop songs are selected according to their initial release years, and classical works are according to the date of completion, not the premiere. I've double checked to make sure that all tracks are available in the UK and Sweden.

So, that's all for the Christmas Special. I may not post new playlists until 2011, and after three days I will set that Personal Appeal post sticky for the rest of the year. Don't worry about whether the books could be delivered in time for Christmas, the Chinese New Year is in February this year:) Thank you all for helping me share the music that I love. Best wishes for Christmas 2010 and the New Year to come.

I pasted the tracklists below, with Wikipedia or other useful links to each classical work:

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Personal Appeal from SCP Founder Ulysses

Sorry to make you go through this again... I just cannot resist putting up Jimmy Wales' piercing eyes that might have been following you around the interenet during the last few months on my site. Look into them, you may get very sleepy, and want to donate all your money to him.

OK, joking apart, here's a personal appeal from me:

This blog, Spotify Classical Playlists, is about to celebrate its first birthday at the end of this month. I have been sharing my Spotify playlists with you for almost a year now. Spotify is such an amazing service in so many aspects, and one of its virtues especially make this site possible: it makes sharing so easy, and fun. I compiled my playlists for my personal pleasure, but with a little effort, I can also share them to music lovers all around the spotified countries, and hear feedback from you, even get recommendations that has helped to broaden my taste, to which I am truly grateful.

If you find my site useful and want to give something back, you can buy a book for me from my Amazon Wishlist (US, UK), or send an Amazon Kindle gift card to my email (spotifyclassical at I live in China and lead a slightly above average life, which means all those books are extremely expensive to me. I am fortunate to live very near to the National library, but some books are not for circulation, like Hermann Abert's Mozart, and some books really belong to the "basic issue item" list that I want to keep them at hand, like The New Bach Reader. Thank you.

Lastly, I still have 17 Spotify invites left. If you want one, drop me a line at the email address above, or on Twitter, I will send/DM you the code. Enjoy, and beware, a storm of playlists is about to begin for the Christmas season.

Update: Another note from 2011.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

New Yorker: Songs of the Years 1925-2010

This was not part of the Christmas Special plan, but when I saw this songs of the years list this morning on The New Yorker, I couldn't help to make a playlist for it. The Yankees got good taste, though it could be a bit tedious to listen through the whole thing as it's mostly American music. I will offer you a more refined one based on an more interesting idea next week. Stay tuned.

Here's the Spotify playlist: New Yorker: Songs of the Years 1925-2010 (86 tracks, 5 hours) For pre-1960 tracks like Art Tatum's Tea for Two, there might be many recorded versions, and I only chose the one from the year that matches the New Yorker list. The Digital Underground track from 1993 is not available and I replaced it with Wu-Tang Clan's C.R.E.A.M. released from the same year. And for the Beatles track I put in a cover version by Jimi Hendrix. Check out The New Yorker page for song list. I also pasted the song list below.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Amazon 100 Greatest Jazz and World Music Albums on Spotify

The Amazon editors listed 100 greatest albums of all time in a variety of categories. I use their Jazz and World Music lists to explore these genres. 98 of the Jazz albums and about 90 of the world music albums are on Spotify. I replaced the missing ones with other albums of the same artists.

Here are the Spotify playlists: Amazon: 100 Greatest Jazz Albums (1066 tracks, total time: 3 days) Amazon: 100 Greatest World Music Albums (1092 tracks, total time: 3 days) Press Ctrl (CMD on Macs) + G to browse in album view.

Check out the Amazon pages, Jazz and World Music, for album lists and reviews. The Christmas main course will be served next week. Don't worry about overeating, it will be organic food.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My Guesswork On What's Going On Between Naxos And Spotify

Yesterday I read an unexpected and dreadful news that Naxos and ECM were threatening to leave Spotify. If it happens, the classical library of Spotify would be savagely damaged: both labels are specialized in their sub-genres and offer the only available recordings for many (often unfairly) obscure works.

Here are some facts: 1, Spotify is now making more money for rightsholders than Apple's iTunes Store, according to label sources, including UMG and Sony Music in Sweden. 2, Yesterday Spotify CEO Daniel Ek announced that they now have 750,000 paying subscribers. The number is tripled since Naxos joined Spotify. 3, By doing a few searches in Spotify, you will see that Naxos is clearly the most popular classical label in Spotify. I guess this has something to do with the fact that Naxos use the composer names to tag their recordings. A curious layman who wants a taste of Beethoven might not be able to choose between Kleiber and Karajan, but more likely to pick up a Beethoven symphony played by "Ludvig van Beethoven".

Hence raises the question: why Naxos is unhappy then? To be more precisely: why Spotify is not making enough money for Naxos in Sweden, like they are doing for UMG and Sony?

I guess the possible reasons are: 1, Spotify never revealed the details of how they pay the labels. If I spend 80 minutes to listen to a four-movement (track) symphony on Spotify, then I listen through a 5-track math-rock EP in 20 minutes, how do Spotify split my money for these two labels? 80:20 or 4:5? This is a very crucial element for classical labels, and if Spotify is using the latter paying mode, by all means they need to change.

2, Classical music still holds an amazing 5.5% market share of the recorded music sales, if Naxos and other classical labels could get 5.5% of Spotify's whole payout to labels, I guess they would be happy. But I'm afraid even if the paying mode is adjusted correctly by listening time, they might still not be getting that share. Why? A curious listener might buy a Naxos Best Of Chopin on a whim, so he contributes to the 5.5% share, but it's also very likely that he listens to the Naxos disk through once and then plays the new Kanye West album which he bought with the Chopin, all day long. It is a hypothetical example, but it might not be far from the truth. Popular music fans are more likely to give repeated listens to the music they purchased, than casual classical fans. When this comes to Spotify, it simply means that no matter how you calculate the royalties, classical labels would get less share than they have in physical sales. Classical music's identity crisis is the result of our music education, not the fault of Spotify. And you can only make the situation worse if you choose to make your music less accessible on technically the best music service in the world.

So what should Spotify do to comfort Naxos and ECM? It's really a big question for the Spotify team. I think at least they should try to make the payment method more impartial to the labels if need be, and transparent to the users (surely Spotify are not obligated to do so, but as an inovative start-up based on a totally new business model, it might a good move to let the users know how they benifit the music makers exactly, becuase when you keep it as a secret, the immediate assumption is often "not so good"), and ask the labels to be a bit more patient. If they chose to join Spotify when they only had 250,000 paying subscribers, there's no reason for them to leave now. Actually, I think Naxos should cherish the fact that their recordings beat all those full-price major classical labels in popularity on a free platform, Spotify, where the Naxos disks' price advantage means nothing. People now love you for the quality and broad range of your music, Naxos, don't fail us, please.

BTW, here's the Spotify playlist: Alex Ross 2010: Most Memorable Recordings (131 track 14 hours). Half of his choices are available. The Nico Muhly recording is another "hidden" album that you cannot find under the composer's name on Spotify. Original New Yorker post here. Enjoy, and looking forward to hear your opinions on the Naxos crisis.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

2011 Grammy Classical Nominations on Spotify

Check out the official site for a complete list of the nominated recordings.

I guess the Salieri: Overtures & Stage Music disk nominated for best orchestral performance is actually Vol.2 which was release in 2010, though it's not noted on the Grammy page. I put in Vol.1 as Vol.2 is not available. Plenty of new discoveries for me here, 20th century harp sonatas? Brazilian chamber works with guitar? One has to wonder why the Grammy pop juries seem can only appreciate teen pop and stadium rock. The new Ligeti quartets recording from Naxos is so fantastic that makes me want to dance to it. No I haven't, the wicked beat would sprain my ankle. And the 65-year-old Jessye Norman's splendid live recording Roots: My Life, My Song makes most other crossover albums sound like a crying shame, especially that Michael Bolton in disguise of a violinist;)  

Here's the Spotify playlist: 2011 Grammy Classical Nominees (319 tracks, total time: 1 day) Press Ctrl (CMD on Macs) + G to browse in album view. More Christmas Special playlists coming soon.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Deutsche Grammophon Christmas Series on Spotify

I'm gonna make this the shortest post of this site...

Here's the Spotify playlist: DG: Christmas (814 tracks, total time: 1 day) Check out DG's official page for full discography.

The real Christmas playlists feast is yet to come.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Navona Records on Spotify

I stumbled upon composer Kile Smith through Kenneth Woods' blog, and found out that the label which released Smith's Vespers, the Navona Records, had made a series of contemporary classical recordings, and most of them are on Spotify.

Links to the composers featured on this label: Hans Bakker, Donald Martino, Allen Brings, John Carollo, Jonathan Sacks, Lawrence Siegel, Keith Kramer,Jason Barabba, Shawn Crouch, Stephen Yip, James Romig, Tasos Stylianou, Margaret Fairlie-Kennedy, Sally Reid, Marty Regan, Kile Smith, Hee Yun Kim. And ensemble Piffaro.

Here's the Spotify playlist: label:Navona (173 tracks, total time 14 hours) Press Ctrl (CMD on Macs) + G to browse in album view. Give the Vespers a try, it may reverse your view on contemporary classical music. And if you want to buy records to support this innovative indie classical label, here's a good news: the Navona CDs come with PDF study scores, session photos, and information about composers and performers as bonus enhanced CD content.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hidden Michael Gielen Recordings on Spotify

Michael Gielen is one of the leading Mahler interpreters today, but if you search for "Gielen Mahler" in Spotify, the reslut is empty. The Haenssler label, or Spotify themselves, seem to have tagged most Gielen recordings without the conductor's name, so I compiled a playlist for the Gielen recordings that you cannot find on his Spotify artist page.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Michael Gielen: Hidden Recordings (156 tracks, total time: 22 hours) Press Ctrl (Command on Macs) + G to browse in album view. It includes all recordings from the Mahler cycle that are available on Spotify, a Bruckner 8th coupled with Morton Feldman's Coptic Light, a bunch of modern classics, and the most avant-garde of them all: Beethoven's Grosse Fuge.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Winter Music, When You Dream of Springtime

Mozart: Schlittenfahrt (Sleigh Ride)
Michael Finnissy: Snowdrift
Howard Blake: Walking In The Air
Prokofiev: Cinderella -The Winter Fairy
Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker - Waltz of the Snowflakes
Debussy: Preludes for Piano, Book I: Footprints in the Snow
Holst: In the Bleak Mid-winter
Chopin: Étude Op. 25, No. 11,"Winter Wind"
Leroy Anderson: Sleigh Ride
Rimsky-Korsakov: The Snow Maiden
Charles Griffes: Winter Landscape
Ned Rorem: Winter Pages: II. The sun that brief December day
Raff–Symphony No. 11 "Der Winter": III. By the fireside
Josef Strauss: Winterlust Polka
Tveitt: Piano Concerto No. 4, II. Sparkle In The Winter Sky And
Astor Piazzolla: Estaciones Porteñas - Buenos Aires Winter
John Cage: The Seasons - : Prelude 1, Winter
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons, Winter: II. Largo
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.1  "Winter Daydreams"
Franz Schubert: Winterreise - Frühlingstraum (Dream of Springtime)

Here's the Spotify playlist: Winter Music (20 tracks, total time: 1 hour) I especially like the way Mozart's sleigh crushes into Finnissy's snowdrift in this playlist. Have a nice winter weekend.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Beatles, Not on Spotify (yet)

Amazon is now selling the Beatles box sets at 50% discount, and beats the iTunes store by more than $20. If you are still searching for advice for what Christmas presents to buy, I'm telling you the right thing to do is getting them these box sets now! Even if they were asking for Twilight books;) And you can support me by using the links below to buy. The price includes postage charges from is still lower than Amazon UK, which hasn't offer such discount yet. Need more persuasion? Read this Beatles meme, which listed all the wrong reasons why people love the Fab Four.

(Amazon links seem don't show in RSS Readers so please click back to the original post)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Nonesuch Explorer Series on Spotify

Before world music was "World Music", there was Nonesuch's Explorer Series. To quote wikipedia:

"In the late 1960s, the Explorer Series made the label a pioneer in the field of world music before the term had even been coined. The series, which Nonesuch released from 1967 to 1984, consisted of field recordings made primarily in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and Eastern Europe. For American non-travelers, it was the first exposure to musical idioms such as music produced by a gamelan. In 1977, a few of the recordings were chosen for the Voyager Golden Record, and sent into outer space aboard the Voyager spacecraft."

Here's the Spotfiy playlist: Nonesuch: Explorer Series (488 tracks, total time: 1 day) Press Ctrl (Command on Macs) + G to browse in album view. The albums are arranged geographically. Check out the official site for detailed information, and an interview with the man behind these recordings.

P.S. I think it's always necessary to learn about the culture where the music originated, as we listen. Otherwise it won't be too much different from a pop record producer sampling some African drumbeat into a "hit" without knowing where did it come from or in what context that sound was used. It might work as a cool beat, but it's still a careless simplification of a wonderful sound and a whole world that's unknown to most of us.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The 94-CD Arthur Rubinstein Collection on Spotify

"The Arthur Rubinstein Collection is a 94-CD set containing 106 hours of music documenting this seminal pianist's entire recording history. Rubinstein was one of the pivotal pianists of the 20th century, with his life spanning from 1887 through 1982. This collection will be central to the teaching and scholarly examination of the development of piano performance, the piano repertoire and Rubinstein's own musical idiom. This Collection features includes all studio recordings made by Rubinstein, four previously unreleased recordings and over 200 recordings on compact disc, and also includes two live recitals and two special discs, which contain unreleased recordings and interviews." - introduction from musicweb

OK, now you can go to Amazon and buy this mammoth boxset, "1 new from $4,147.00"(only 200 sets were manufactured since it was released in 1999). Or you can grab it on Spotify in no time, and starts to listen right away.

Here's the Spotify playlist: The Rubinstein Collection (1073 tracks, total time: 3 days) All 82 volumes and one highlights sampler disk are here, except for Vol. 8, 10, 13, 24, 34, 57, 61, 62, 82. Press Ctrl (Command on Macs) + G to browse in album view. P.S. This playlist is also a perfect showcase of the outrageous stupidity of the current digital copyright law, which is still busy creating territory restriction in the age of cloud computing. I hope Spotify make all albums available to all users soon (or at least to premium users?), and please, don't tag Maestro Rubinstein, and Horowitz as "various artist", even though they might sound like they have at least 17 hands at some point.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Worst Composer Ever?

"I was a composer well before becoming a conductor, and that all my life I have considered myself as a composer who conducts, but never as a conductor".- Wilhelm Furtwängler.

No it's not my idea, the title was inspired by Alex Ross, again. And maybe it's also because of his vigorous attact, "the label has choose to make the Piano Quintet unavailable", on Spotify. (Un?)Fortunately, all the rest of Furtwängler's major compositions are still there.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Furtwängler The Composer (68 tracks, 17 hours) Go to the end of the playlist and listen to Edwin Fischer play the slow movement of the Piano Concerto with the "composer who conducts", you won't regret it.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Sony Masterworks Classic Library on Spotify

Another wonderful collection for classical newbies: 71 of 80 titles from Sony BMG Masterworks' Classic Library, formerly RCA's Classic Library Series, are available on Spotify. For seasoned listeners this is also a must have treasure chest, numerous classic recordings are collected here, Horowitz's Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.3 with Ormandy, Heifitz's Brahms Violin Concerto with Reiner, to name just a few. It also offers a broader range of repertoire than DG's entrée Series. Check out this Amazon page for detailed information for every album.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Sony: Classic Library Series (959 tracks, total time: 3 days). Albums are arranged by composers' names. Press Ctrl (Command on Macs) + G to browse in album view.

Monday, November 1, 2010

More Complete Sets of Bach Cantatas + An Open Playlist

No it's not an unhealthy obsession, the Bach Cantatas deserve all these different recordings: HIP or modern instruments, sopranos or boy sopranos, one voice per part or choirs, you should listen to them all and judge for yourself. They all reveal the numerous possibilities in Bach's works in their own unique way. Thankfully Spotify will also protect you from bankruptcy while offering you all the music.

Here are the Spotify playlists:

Bach Cantatas - Harnoncourt & Leonhardt (1239 tracks, all 60 CDs are in here) "A major project, shared with Gustav Leonhardt, to record all Bach’s sacred cantatas was launched in 1971 and completed in 1990. Each director revealed his own distinctive approach in the series, with Harnoncourt the more demonstrative, exuberant, and mannerist in his musical expression. The enterprise established a landmark in Bach recording, both for its challenging of previously accepted interpretative conventions and for the use of a boy’s voice to sing almost all the soprano solos." -

Bach Cantatas - Leusink (1219 tracks, all 60 CDs are in here) Recorded by Conductor Pieter Jan Leusink, Holland Boys Choir and Netherlands Bach Collegium. "In 1999 and 2000 all Bach's sacred cantatas were recorded within 15 months, a tremendous achievement, considering the fact that it was accomplished with the same amateur (read literately: music-loving) choir, soloists and orchestra throughout the project, in itself deserving an entry in the Guinness Book of Records. The project aroused storms of criticism in The Netherlands on alleged grounds of inferior haste-work (Recording at this speed must be superficial and lacking depth) and commercialism (imagine! Culture with a capital C on the shelves of a drugstore: how low can you go!), even before anyone had heard a single note! Since the release of the first boxes, reviews have become more and more favorable, especially from foreign critics from all over the world" -

Bach Cantatas - Koopman (956 tracks, 14 out of 22 volumes that are available on Spotify, are in here) 13 volumes actually, and I put in all the non-duplicate cantatas from other Koopman recordings, approximately one volume's worth. "Koopman's directing vitality keeps the music spontaneously alive, with no sense of over-refinement or scholarly rectitude; the recording is first class, and the documentation could hardly be more informative. In short, this is a more enjoyable and rewarding series that will give much satisfaction" - Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music, 2008.

And here's an open playlist for Bach Cantata fans:

Listen to Bach Cantatas (14 tracks at this moment, continuously growing.)

Please add you favourite tracks, or the movement that really moves you as you listen through those Cantata playlists, into this open playlist. Bach Cantata recordings from albums other than those six complete sets are welcome too, and I've already put in many of them. Newcomers to the cantatas can also use this open playlist as an introduction to this magnificent new world. Yes, 300 years after they were written down, they are still much more fresh than most, if not all, of the "new music" that are fresh out of the oven everyday. One more useful link: notes and translations for all the cantatas.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Complete Sets of Bach Cantatas on Spotify

Places in which Bach lived throughout his life
During J.S.Bach's tenure in Leipzig it was part of his job to perform a church cantata every Sunday and Holiday, so he composed a new work every week and conducted the first performances. Three annual cycles of cantatas survived. Here are three Spotify playlists for three complete recordings of these cantatas, one of the greatest achievements in the history of art.

Bach Cantatas - Rilling (1383 tracks, total time: 2 days) Performed by Helmuth Rilling and Bach-Collegium Stuttgart, recorded during 1969-1985. Sorted by BWV number. The most complete set on Spotify so far.

Bach Cantatas - Suzuki (986 tracks, total time: 1 day) Performed by Masaaki Suzuki and his Bach Collegium Japan. An ongoing project. The latest recording, Vol. 47 was released last month. Arranged in numerical order of the recordings.

Bach Cantatas - Gardiner (1029 tracks, total time: 2 days) Performed by Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists. All recorded during Gardiner's transcendental Pilgrimage in year 2000, the releasing progress in still going on. Arranged in numerical order of the recordings. Press Ctrl (Command on Macs) + G to browse in album view

Update: Three more complete sets on Spotify, by Harnoncourt & Leonhardt, Leusink, and Koopman.

Some useful sites: the Wiki page, the "official" Bach Cantatas, A Listener's Guide, Haenssler page for the Rilling set, BIS page for the Suzuki set, and Cantata Finder for the Gardiner set.

BTW according to Spotify, they are "currently experiencing some problems with playlists not loading normally". If you find these playlists empty or incomplete, just subscribe to them, then restart Spotify. Enjoy the eternal blessings of Bach, with Spotify.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Sampler of Brahms's Solo Piano Music

"For me, the slow movement is the most beautiful love music after Tristan, and the most erotic." Claudio Arrau on Brahms' Piano Sonata No. 3.

I am not sure if Arrau temporarily lost his mind to the beauty of that slow movement, because actually it was written 12 years before Tristan. Anyway here is another playlist to throw off the Friday fever. Lately I grew a fondness for 20-track playlists, which you can listen through in one sitting, and get a good overview on one theme or genre, so you can investigate further by yourself. And this Brahms playlist is my first try that I want to share. Brahms is by no means my favorite composer, but just as Britten said that he played through all of Brahms' music every year just to see if he still disliked it as much, I constantly find myself listening to Brahms. Even when my heart still resents the marble coldness on its surface sometime, I have come to realize that he is perhaps very underrated as a composer for solo piano. The Op.10 Ballades, which Brahms wrote before the age of 22, are up there with the masterpieces of Chopin. And Op.116-119 as a whole is in the same league with Beethoven's last three piano sonatas.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Brahms Solo Piano Music (20 tracks, total time: 1 hour). It features 20 pianists from Michelangeli to Yuja Wang playing 19 pieces. The only duplication being the C-sharp Minor Intermezzi, both performance from Gould and Pogorelich are included. The bookends of the playlist are a enchantingly beautiful A minor waltz and the last of Paganini Variation Book I. I know the four-hand waltz is not strictly solo piano music but I like the current shape of this playlist, hope you enjoy it too. Have a nice weekend.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Better Way to Browse Coltrane Albums on Spotify

Imagine one day, some boy in his early adolescence wants to express his individuality by listening to some music of that wild-eyed guy, whose poster was on the wall of Alex DeLarge's room in the Clockwork Orange, what would he do? Maybe he would type Beethoven into the Spotify search box, then click the first result: Ludwig van Beethoven. Then, if he had the patience to wait for over one minute for the artist page to load, he would be totally bemused by the hundreds of albums under Beethoven's name. The same thing could happen to a Jazz fan too, almost every famous artist's page is a jumble of studio albums, re-issues, re-packaged box-sets, live albums and all sorts of compilations. Try John Coltrane yourself.

For pop artists this is not a problem, most of the time. As their catalog are normally not as formidable as jazz or classical composers, and sometime it's nice to find an obscure cover song for some unknown soundtrack or tribute album in the compilations sections. But for jazz and classical artists, the artist page are pretty much useless. You have to know what you want exactly, otherwise you'll get lost. Therefore I suggest Spotify to modify the way the artist page was presented: do not load the compilation albums by default, but put them into a drop-down menu under the main studio releases. And only load the highlight albums for the artists that have too many albums under their name, at the first click. Then give the users options to explore their whole catalog. It would save the users more time, and also help Spotify to reduce server load and to save bandwidth, IMHO.

I compiled some Coltrane playlists for my own pleasure, grab them if they can save you some time as well:

Coltrane: Prestige Albums (99 track 13 hours)
Coltrane: Atlantic Albums (181 tracks, 17 hours)
Coltrane: Impulse! Albums (182 tracks 1 day)
Coltrane: Live Albums(152 tracks, 1 day)

Albums are filed in chronological order. Press Ctrl (Command on Macs) + G to browse in album view. You may subscribe to these playlists and then put them into a Coltrane folder.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Spotfiy Index For EMI's Icon Series

All 36 gorgeous box-sets in one Spotify playlist. I put one track per set into the playlist so that you can browse the whole series at ease, or listen to this playlist as a sampler. Check out the official site for detailed information.

Here's the Spotify playlist: EMI: Icon (36 tracks, total time: 2 hours) Press Ctrl + G to browse in album view.

P.S. If you have the slightest interest in this year's laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize, Liu Xiaobo, please read this great article. I wish Mr. Liu regain his freedom asap, and I hope one day, people in this country will all know his name and his propositions, till no one could ever imprison them again.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Great Conductors of the 20th Century

Check out the official site for detailed information, and Classical Notes for an exquisite survey of this wonderful series.

Here's the Spotify playlist: EMI: Great Conductors of the 20th Century (516 tracks, total time: 2 days) Press Ctrl + G to browse in album view.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Argo Collection On Spotify

"Argo was originally established as an independent label in 1951. Although Argo’s initial intent was to record British music by British musicians, this innovative philosophy and constant quest for originality meant that the range of recordings expanded rapidly. In the end Argo became synonymous with a broad mix of recordings. Whilst this may not seem unusual to an audience in the 21st century, in 1950s Britain this was bold and innovative, paving the way for the rich array of musical genres now available in our record shops and provoking interest in hitherto unexplored realms of music, pushing the boundaries as to what could be regarded as ‘classical’ music.

Thus Argo’s catalogue came to include world music: gamelan music from Bali was among the company’s first recordings. Contemporary music by composers such as Reich, Birtwistle and Hindemith also featured in the increasingly rich catalogue.

As well as becoming a showcase label for artists, Argo was largely responsible for encouraging the popularity of Renaissance and Baroque music and bringing many unknown but spectacular works by composers such as Vivaldi, Palestrina and Monteverdi to the listening public. The famous recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons conducted by Neville Marriner, was first released on Argo. Similarly, Argo’s recordings of organ music with the great British organist Peter Hurford brought less popular but no less brilliant musical gems to a broader audience."

Check out full introduction and discography on Argo's official site.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Decca: The Argo Collection (640 tracks, total time: 1 day) It features all 50 releases from Argo, plus a sampler disk at the beginning of the playlist. Press Ctrl + G to browse in album view.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Renewable Music Landmarks

I've been following Germany-based American composer Daniel Wolf's enlightening blog Renewable Music for some time now, and I got to know many hidden masterworks, from medieval to contemporary classical, through his "Landmarks" series. I compiled a Spotify playlist after this series. For the compostions that are not yet available on Spotify, I replaced them with other works of the composer that Mr. Wolf mentioned when possible. I strongly recommend you to read the articles as well as listening to these music, so I linked every title to the corresponding blog post below:

Here's the Spotify playlist: Renewable Music Landmarks (94 tracks, total time: 13 hours) I will add in more stuff as Mr. Wolf continues this series.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

37 Ways to Play the Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin

1720 Autograph of the Adagio
Naturally, after the WTC playlist, I compiled another one for the supreme masterwork for the queen of all instruments: Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin. So far I found 37 recordings by 32 artists, from Schumann and Brahms' lifelong friend Joseph Joachim, who made the Bach recording in 1903, to the talented young Dutch violinist Janine Jansen, who was born 147 years later than Joachim. Just like the WTC playlist, this one can also function as an index of great violinists on Spotify. Only significant missings seem to be Joseph Szigeti and Adolf Busch.

I put the opening movement of the first sonata, the adagio from every recording to this playlist, you can compare the first notes of every recording at ease, or, much better than that, simply brower the artist names and pick up one recording for two hours of sublime music.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Bach: Sonatas & Partitas for Solo Violin (37 tracks, total time: 2 hours) You can find some useful notes and reviews here. My favourite recordings for now are Grumiaux, Mintz, Milstein and Szeryng's.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

30 Ways to Play the Well-Tempered Clavier

Today's post is about a 30-track playlist of music's most fascinating and intriguing work, The Well-Tempered Clavier composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. I chose 30 different recordings of this work made by 30 distinctive artists, and put every C Major prelude BWV 846 in this playlist. The result is great fun, you can listen to 30 different interpretations of this profoundly charming prelude in a row, or simple browse the artist names and pick up one complete recording of the WTC and listen to the full album.

Most of my favourite recordings are on Spotify now, Edwin Fischer, Glenn Gould, András Schiff, Till Fellner, Sviatoslav Richter, and Rosalyn Tureck. And in the progress of compiling this playlsit I found a truly great recording that was unknown to me, the complete WTC by Australian pianist Roger Woodward, here's a very informative blog post about him. Another stimulating recording is from Olli Mustonen, who mixed the Old Testament of piano literature with Shostakovich's 24 Prelude and Fugue Op. 87. The only important missing recordings of WTC I can think of are Pierre Hantai, Kenneth Gilbert and Angela Hewitt's. I hope Spotify makes a deal with Hyperion soon.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Well-Tempered Clavier (30 tracks, total time: to infinity and beyond). You can find lots of helpful reviews on these recordings here. And this video below clearly demonstrates the importance of interpreters in Bach's music:)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Debussy, Mahler, and Scriabin Played By Themselves

Spotify just added some of the most important piano roll recordings from Pierian Recording Society, including the complete known piano rolls of Debussy, Ravel, and Scriabin. You can find some raving reviews for the Debussy disk here, and detailed informations for the Scriabin and Ravel recording.

Also from this amazing series: piano rolls of Lizst's students plays Liszt, Respighi plays Fountains of Rome, and Granados plays his own works. Recordings from other label in this playlist: a Mahler piano roll recording realised with Mahler's own piano, and Shostakovich plays his piano works, including a piano duet arrangement of his Symphony No.10, recorded in 1954.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Composer as Pianist (144 tracks, 10 hours)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Classical Music Inspired By The Sea

For this playlist I only selected music that actually depicts the sea, waves or a voyage, so no tone poems about Nereid or Neptune, nor operas like Riders To The Sea, but Wagner's overture to The Flying Dutchman fits in nicely. Here are some of the hightlights in this plyalist: Debussy's La mer and the Sirens movement from his Nocturnes, Ravel's Une barque sur l'océan (A Boat On The Ocean), Britten's Four Sea Interludes, Frank Bridge's Sea Suite, Delius' Sea Drift, Hugo Alfvén's symphony no.4 "From the Outermost Skerries", Takemitsu's Toward the Sea, Sibelius' The Oceanides, Bax's The Garden of Fand, and, don't yell you purists;) the dolphins are dancing, Herbie Hancock's most beautiful album Maiden Voyage. Over two dozens more composers are covered, and looking forward to your suggestions.

Here's the Spotify playlist: The Sea (141 tracks, 16 hours)
, enjoy the voyage.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Greatest 20th Century String Quartet Composer?

I'm still in the progress of making a 20th century string quartets playlist, on a one-quartet-per-composer basis. But I feel that I have to make a separate playlist for Heitor Villa-Lobos. This Amazon review summed it up really well:

"Few people know Villa-Lobos wrote more string quartets (17 as far as I know from this label) than Shostakovich, works with the comparable originality and intensity. His earlier quartets are heavily influenced by Faure and Ravel, but already have his own voice, very uniquely southern-hemispherenisque and with sublimely lyrical slow movements.

Later the works, the more original and more personal just like Shostakovich. But nature of the music is completely different. In his music you hear birds and animals in a way no other composers on our side of the planet could express. Some works have extraordinary organic complexity which sounds almost too daring.

Danubius Qt plays like any top class ensemble in the world, with vivid imagination and warm & firmly centered tone. Actually they play far better than those famous quartets with major classical labels. I wish Malco Polo keeps these amazing 6 volumes permanently in cataloge."

Here's the Spotify playlist: Villa-Lobos String Quartets (70 tracks, total time: 6 hours) Check out here for detailed information on every quartet.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Spotify Variations On The Theme Of 4'33"

Another Alex Ross copycat playlist, this time inspired by his new blog post: 4'33" Playlist. To celebrate John Cage's 98th birthday this Sunday, I composed my own variations on the theme of 4'33". See the manuscript below, and use I Ching to determine the play order.

(click to enlarge)
Here's the Spotify playlist: 4'33" (23 tracks, total time: 4'33"*23)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Chacona, Lamento, Walking Blues: A Spotify Playlist

Alex Ross just published an audio guide for the second chapter of his new book Listen to This on his blog, but now the post is gone (though you can still find the tracklist here). If you haven't read it yet, subscribe to The Rest Is Noise in Google Reader or other RSS readers, and you should be able to find it. I quote the first paragraph below so you can get an idea of what this playlist is about:

"In "Chacona, Lamento, Walking Blues," the second chapter of my new book Listen to This, I tell of a story of pattern recognition—simple repeating figures that can be found in the music of many centuries and many genres. While I don't believe in the idea of music as a "universal language"—try telling that to a tired mom who is being forced to listen to her teenager's hip-hop, or, for that matter, the teenager who has to sit through his grandmother's Mozart records—there is, in fact, much common ground in the world's musical cultures, strands of DNA that appear everywhere. I'll focus on two such figures: a dance form called the chaconne and a pair of bass lines associated with lament. We'll go from Renaissance madrigals to Led Zeppelin, by way of Monteverdi, Purcell, and Bach, whose great Chaconne for solo violin is at the heart of the chapter. It's a story both of radical transformation and of surprising continuity."

Here's the Spotify playlist for all the music that was mentioned in this chapter: Alex Ross' Listen To This: Chapter 2 (27 tracks, total time: 2 hours) And by chance I revisited the playlist for The Rest Is Noise yesterday, here's the post, and the playlist: Alex Ross' 20th Century Limited.

I will make Spotify playlists for other chapters as well. Thanks to the new playlist folders feature, it's easy to put all the Alex Ross playlists in one place. Looking forward to getting the book soon.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Complete Karajan Gold On Spotify

Intro from DG's official site: "The compact disc, as a medium for sound, was still on the horizon when Herbert von Karajan urged his record company to utilize the new digital technology for his recordings. Consequently Karajan's Magic Flute, recorded in 1980, became the first release of a Deutsche Grammophon digital production and was first released on LP.

By the time the maestro died in 1989, the CD had replaced the LP as the primary medium for sound, yet he was realistic enough to know that the pioneering early stages of the digital era would be followed by further technical development. This is reflected in Karajan Gold.

In this series, refinements of the digital process occurring after Karajan's death were applied to enhance the Maestro's own recordings. Thirty releases from the early digital era were remastered for this series using DG's special Original-Image Bit-Processing technology. They were originally issued between 1993-1995."

It's all too easy, and it was quite fashionable to bash Karajan's conducting, but this man was really good at what he's doing. His late romantic recordings are usually safe first choices, and his 4th Beethoven cycle included here has a beauty of its own. Indeed the first cycle from the 60's is still preferred, but why not try them all when you've got Spotify?;) Click here for the full list of albums and details in this series.

Here's the Spotify playlist: DG: Karajan Gold (272 tracks, total time: 1 day) I put his last recording, a deeply spiritual Bruckner 7th with VPO at the end. Press Ctrl(Command on Macs) + G in Spotify for album view to browse this wonderful collection.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Art of 20th Century Fugue

A perfect playlist to shake off the Friday fever: 30 fugues written in the 20th century. Starts with the solemn E minor fugue from Shostakovich's 24 Preludes and Fugues, then the grand double fugue from Hovhaness' Mysterious Mountain Symphony, the sonic earthquake from Boulez's 2nd piano sonata, Salgán's lovely A fuego lento, fugue meets tango, played by Daniel Barenboim, Sergei Taneyev's beautiful prelude and fugue in G sharp minor, and many other charmingly profound fugue pieces.

Here's the Spotify playlist: 20th Century Fugue (30 tracks, 3 hours). I will add in more interesting pieces when I find them on Spotify, and looking forward to your suggestions.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Spotify Hidden Feature: Album View

Press Ctrl (or Command on Macs)+G in playlist to enable album view. Works great especially for playlists consist of mainly full albums like this one below. Thanks Alexanders Blogg for leaking this great news:)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Classical Music Used In Stanley Kubrick Films

A film is - or should be - more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what's behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later. - Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick's obsessive and perfectionist nature is wholly reflected in his choice of music for his films. Without the eerie Bartok and violent Penderecki music, Jack Nicholson's Jack Torrance would only be a jumpy lunatic, but never a convincing and truly frightening psycho as we see in The Shining. The Handel theme perfectly indicate the implacable working of impersonal fate in Barry Lyndon. And, besides the famous use of Strauss and Ligeti in 2001, even the lesser known Gayane's Adagio from Khachaturian beautifully conveyed a lonely and mournful quality into the sections that introduce the spacemen aboard the Discovery One.

I compiled a playlist for the classical music used in five Kubrick films: 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, and Eyes Wide Shut. And subgrouped the music by films in chronological order, by inserting Wilco's 23 Seconds Of Silence. Here's the Spotify playlist: Classical Music Used In Stanley Kubrick Films (38 tracks, total time: 3 hours) And here's an interesting Q&A, including "Why did Kubrick use classical music for his films?"

Update: Great bargain on Amazon, 9 Kubrick films, 10 blue-ray disks for $63.

See the full list of classical music used in Stanley Kubrick films below:

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Khachaturyan: Gayaneh Ballet Suite
Ligeti: Atmosphères, Lux Aeterna, Requiem (The Kyrie section), Aventures
Richard Strauss: Thus Spoke Zarathustra (The Einleitung section)
Johann Strauss: An der schönen, blauen Donau, op. 314 (The Blue Danube)

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Purcell: March from Funeral Music for Queen Mary
Rossini: The Thieving Magpie Overture, William Tell Overture
Elgar: Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 & 4
Beethoven: Symphony No.9 (2nd and 4th movements)

Barry Lyndon (1975)

Schubert: Piano Trio in E-flat, Op.100 (second movement), 4 Impromptus, Op.90, D.899 - No.1 in C minor, German Dance No.1 in C major
Vivaldi: Cello Concerto in E minor (3rd. movement)
J.S.Bach: Concerto for 2 harpsichords and orchestra in C minor, BWV 1060 (adagio)
Giovanni Paisiello: The Barber of Seville (cavatina)
Mozart: Idomeneo (march)
Frederick The Great: Hohenfriedberger March
Händel: Sarabande from the Suite for Harpsichord No. 4 in D minor, HWV 437

The Shining (1980)

Ligeti: Lontano
Bartók: Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (3rd movement)
Penderecki: Utrenja (the Ewangelia and Kanon Paschy movements),Als Jakob Erwacht (The Awakening of Jacob), De Natura Sonoris No. 1 and 2, Kanon For Orchestra and Tape, Polymorphia.

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Shostakovich: "Waltz 2" from Suite for Variety Stage Orchestra (often misidentified as the composer's Jazz Suite 2)
Ligeti: Musica Ricercata (2nd movement)
Liszt: Nuages Gris (Grey Clouds)
Mozart: Requiem (Rex Tremendae)
In the ritual, the incantations in the background are part of a Romanian Orthodox Divine Liturgy recorded in a church in Baia Mare, played backwards.