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:


Bing Crosby - It's Been A Long, Long Time
Béla Bartók - Piano Concerto No.3
Charlie Parker - Ornithology
Francis Poulenc - Chansons françaises
Gene Autry – Here Comes Santa Claus
Schönberg - A Survivor from Warsaw
Lonnie Johnson - Tomorrow Night
Richard Strauss - Vier letzte Lieder
Frankie Laine - That Lucky Old Sun
Sergei Prokofiev - Cello Sonata
Patti Page - The Tennessee Waltz
John Cage - String Quartet in Four Parts
Nat King Cole - Unforgettable
Stravinsky - The Rake's Progress
Jo Stafford – You Belong To Me
Olivier Messiaen – Le Merle noir
Hank Williams – Your Cheatin' Heart
Karlheinz Stockhausen – Kontra-Punkte
Dean Martin – Sway (Quien Sera)
Ligeti – String Quartet No. 1, "Metamorphoses Nocturnes"
Bill Haley & The Comets – Rock Around The Clock
Harry Partch – Ulysses at the Edge


Chuck Berry – Roll Over Beethoven
Bruno Maderna – Notturno
Buddy Holly – Not Fade Away
Leonard Bernstein – West Side Story
Frank Sinatra – It's A Lonesome Old Town
Britten - Nocturne for tenor, 7 obligato instruments & strings
Bobby Darin – Mack The Knife
Scelsi – Quattro Pezzi (Su Una Nota Sola)
Fats Domino – Walking To New Orleans
Shostakovich - String Quartet No.8
Roy Orbison – Crying
Krzysztof Penderecki – Threnody To The Victims Of Hiroshima
Tony Bennett – (I Left My Heart) In San Francisco
Samuel Barber – Piano Concerto
The Kingsmen – Louie Louie
Howells – Take Him, Earth, For Cherishing
Them – Gloria
Nono – La Fabbrica Illuminata
The Mamas & The Papas – California Dreamin'
Ligeti - Requiem


The Beach Boys – God Only Knows (Stack-O-Vocals)
Dmitri Shostakovich - Cello Concerto No.2
The Kinks – Waterloo Sunset
Tōru Takemitsu - November Steps
Otis Redding – [Sittin' On] The Dock Of The Bay
Luciano Berio - Sinfonia
Fairport Convention – Crazy Man Michael
Elliott Carter – Concerto for Orchestra
Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water
Crumb – Black Angels
Marvin Gaye – Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)
Leonard Bernstein – Mass: The Lord's Prayer
The Rolling Stones – Tumbling Dice
Virgil Thomson– Symphony No. 3
Stevie Wonder – Visions
Iannis Xenakis – Evryali
Tom Waits – The Heart Of Saturday Night
Messiaen - Des Canyons aux étoiles
Smokey Robinson – Quiet Storm
Dmitri Shostakovich– Sonata For Viola And Piano


Joni Mitchell – Amelia
Schnittke – Piano Quintet
Suicide – Rocket USA
Arvo Pärt – Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten
Kraftwerk – Neon Lights
Malcolm Arnold – Symphony No. 8
The Fall – Muzorewi's Daughter
Witold Lutoslawski – Novelette for Orchestra
Joy Division – The Eternal
Terry Riley – Anthem of the Trinity
Laurie Anderson – Big Science
Robert Simpson – Clarinet Quintet
Michael Jackson – Human Nature
Toru Takemitsu - Rain Spell
Talking Heads – Girlfriend Is Better
Morton Feldman – String Quartet No. 2
Prince – When Doves Cry
Pierre Boulez - Répons
Dire Straits – Brothers In Arms
Dutilleux – L'Arbre des Songe


George Michael – A Different Corner
William Bolcom – Symphony No.5
Suzanne Vega – Tom's Diner
Steve Reich – Electric Counterpoint
Everything But The Girl – These Early Days
Sofia Gubaidulina– String Trio
Depeche Mode – Personal Jesus
John Tavener – The Protecting Veil
Pet Shop Boys – Being Boring
Thomas Ades – Five Eliot Landscapes
Massive Attack – Unfinished Sympathy
Henryk Gorecki – String Quartet No. 2
Snoop Dogg – Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang
Peter Lieberson – King Gesar
Björk – Venus As A Boy
John Adams – Violin Concerto
Aphex Twin – Blue Calx
György Kurtág – Stele
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – My Heart, My Life
Harrison Birtwistle - Panic


Stereolab – Cybele's Reverie
Stockhausen – Orchesterfinalisten: Klarinette
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Into My Arms
Thomas Adès – Asyla
PJ Harvey – The Wind
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich – Violin Concerto
Blur – Tender (Cornelius Remix)
Karl Jenkins – The Armed Man
OutKast – B.O.B.
John Adams – El Niño
Gorillaz – Clint Eastwood
György Ligeti - Etudes Book 3 : IV Canon
Johnny Cash – Hurt
Henri Dutilleux - Sur le même accord
Radiohead – Skttrbrain (Four Tet Remix)
Paul Moravec – Tempest Fantasy
Modest Mouse – Float On
Osvaldo Golijov – Ayre
Antony – If It Be Your Will
Peter Lieberson – Neruda Songs


  1. Absolutely fantastic contribution to the world wide web Ulysses! This kind of eloquent enthusiasm and general love-sharing is what the internet is/should be all about. Many thanks for sorting my festive season playlists.

    Ed P

  2. Unbelievable! Am discovering your site with great gratitude.