Friday, February 26, 2010

The Spotify Brahms Playlist Part 4, Op. 91-122

This is the Spotify Playlist: Johannes Brahms: Op. 91-122

Alex Ross just revealed the dazzling cover and table of content of his new book, Listen To This. The last chapter is called: Blessed Are the Sad: Late Brahms. Check out the Spotify Playlist for his last book, The Rest Is Noise here.

An excellent article on Brahms' last songs. Stay tuned for part 5, yes we still have some unfinished Brahms business!

Below is the Counter Currents chapter from Paul Henry Lang's Music in Western Civilization, one of the best books I've read on classical music.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

New Release: Thomas Adès – Tevot, Violin concerto, Couperin Dances

"One of the most accomplished and complete musicians of his generation."  - The New York Times on Thomas Adès, June 2005 

Let's take a break from Brahms and breathe some fresh air. Here's a brand new release from EMI Classics, out on this Monday!

World premiere release of four of Thomas Adès' new works recorded live, partly conducted by the composer himself, and, in the case of Tevot, by Sir Simon Rattle with the BPO.

More details on EMI's official site.

I heard about this release from EMI Classics on Twitter earlier this week then did a search in Spotify, at that time no result, so I listened to Adès' Powder Her Face instead that night... Today I was browsing through Afront's New On Spotify Page and saw this one. Kudos to EMI, for bring the classics as well as exciting contemporary works to music lovers worldwide, and syncing with spotify so efficiently:)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Spotify Brahms Playlist Part 3, Op. 61-90

During this period Brahms composed three great symphonies, at that time the best of this genre since Beethoven's 9th, and arguably the greatest violin concerto ever.

I cannot resist to put multiple recordings of these works into this playlist. For the violin concerto, besides the supreme performance from Jascha Heifetz, I also added in the recording of the prominent Russian violinist Maxim Vengerov, accomplished by Daniel Barenboim and Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Yehudi Menuhin's recording with Wilhelm Furtwängler. Barenboim has always been an admirer of Furtwängler, the length of each movements in the last two recordings are almost identical. It's the same for the symphonies so I included both.

Some might say that Brahms's Op.83 is the grandest piano concerto. Well, think about Mozart's 21st, K467, and Beethoven's 4th. Do they even belong to the same type of music? In Schiff's lectures on the Beethoven sonatas, I heard him saying:"Beethoven goes to heaven, but Mozart comes from heaven." Where does Brahms belong to? I'm not sure. I think this kind of explains why I am seldom fully convinced by him. Brahms seemed always busy perfecting the craft of his art, for the sake of perfection, and to honour the art that he loved. But he is also a far cry from Oscar Wilde, or the romantics like Chopin and Schumann. Beethoven comes down, grabs you shoulders and shouts:"I'm going to tell you something VERY important." And most of the time it really is. Mozart just reveals the heavenly grace from where he comes from so naturally that you don't even wonder why we are privileged to hear his music on earth. But Brahms? Sometime I feel that Brahms is trying to say through his musc:"Listen, here I am, the great composer". Luckily his genius always keeps this hypothetical intention from doing any harm to his music, and his endless effort to hide from egotism indeed made his best works timeless, well, at least till this day.

Sorry, rant over:-)

Here's the Spotify playlist: Johannes Brahms: Op. 61-90

Stay tuned for part 4, and check out how the oboist steals the thunder from the real soloist at the beginning of the adagio:)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

All Flesh Is Grass: The Spotify Brahms Playlist Part 2

Johannes Brahms: Op. 31-60(Spotify Playlist link).

English text for Op. 45, Ein Deutsches Requiem – A German Requiem:

I. Chorus

Blessed are they that mourn:
for they shall be comforted. Matthew 5:4

They that sow in tears
shall reap in joy.
They that go forth and weep,
bearing precious seed,
shall doubtless come again with rejoicing,
bringing their sheaves with them. Psalm 126:5-6

II. Chorus

For all flesh is as grass,
and all the glory of man
as the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower thereof falleth away. I Peter 1:24

Be patient therefore, brethren,
unto the coming of the Lord.
Behold, the husbandman waiteth
for the precious fruit of the earth,
and has long patience for it,
until he receive the morning and evening rain.
Be patient therefore. James 5:7

But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. I Peter 1:25

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with songs
and everlasting joy
upon their heads:
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Isaiah 35:10

III. Baritone & Chorus

Lord, make me to know
mine end,
and the measure of my days, what it is:
that I may know how frail I am.
Behold, thou hast made my days
as an handbreadth;
and mine age is as nothing before thee.

Verily every man at his best state
is altogether vanity.
Surely every man walks in a vain show:
surely they are disquieted in vain:
he heaps up riches, and knows not
who shall gather them.
And now, Lord, what wait I for?

My hope is in thee. Psalm 39:5-8

The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God
and there shall no torment touch them. Wisdom of Solomon 3:1

IV. Chorus

How lovely are thy tabernacles,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yea, even faints
for the courts of the Lord:
my heart and my flesh cries out
for the living God.
Blessed are they that dwell in thy house:
they will always be praising thee. Psalm 84:1,2,4

V. Soprano & Chorus

And ye now therefore have sorrow:
but I will see you again,
and your heart shall rejoice,
and your joy no man taketh from you. John 16:22

Behold with your eyes, how that I have
but little labour,
and have gotten unto me much rest. Sirach 51:35

As one whom his mother comforts,
so will I comfort you. Isaiah 66:13

VI. Baritone & Chorus

For here have we no continuing city,
but we seek one to come. Hebrews 13:14

Behold, I show you a mystery:
we shall not all sleep,
but we shall all be changed, in a moment,
in the twinkling of an eye,
at the last trump:
for the trumpet shall sound,
and the dead shall be raised incorruptible,
and we shall be changed.
Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written,
Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is thy sting?
O grave, where is thy victory? I Corinthians 15:51-55

Thou art worthy, O Lord,
to receive glory and honour and power:
for thou hast created all things,
and for thy pleasure they are
and were created. Revelation 4:11

VII. Chorus

Blessed are the dead, which die in the Lord, from henceforth.
Yea, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours;
and their works do follow them. Revelation 14:13


Deutsche Grammophon's Complete Edition of Brahms is still available in Amazon, 100 USD for 46 CDs, great bargain. Grab this beautiful box-set before Spotify makes it streamable;)

And thanks to Afront for nominating this blog in the Spotify Community Site Awards 2010, go vote for your favourite sites if you appreciate what Spotify and all those people who help to build this community are doing to spread the joy of music. Thanks.

Get the playlist at the beginning of this post, and stay tuned for part 3, our good old Johannes was finally going to write symphonies:)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Johannes Brahms: Complete Works With Opus Numbers on Spotify Part 1

Johannes Brahms's letter to Clara Schumann: "Art is a republic. You should take that as a motto. You are far too aristocratic. . . . Do not place one artist in a higher rank and expect the others to regard him as their superior, as dictator. His gifts will make him a beloved and respected citizen of this republic, but will not make him consul or emperor."

Clara Schumann's reply: "It is true that I am often greatly struck by the richness of your genius, that you always seem to me one on whom heaven has poured out its best gifts, that I love and honor you for the sake of many glorious works. All this has fastened its roots deep down in my heart, so, dearest Johannes, do not trouble to kill it all by your cold philosophizing."

Robert Schumann's last words to Clara: "My... I know..." He was trying to say: "My Clara, I know you." He couldn't speak Clara's name since a suicide attempt two years before his death in an asylum, Clara and Brahms was with him during his final days.

I read some 200 pages of Jan Swafford's fascinating biography of Brahms while travelling during the holidays. Before this I never looked closely into the heartbreaking story of Brahms' relationship with Robert and Clara Schumann. It's such a sad thing to see beauty decay. It's sadder still, to see Brahms developed into a mature artist at the same time when Schumann's inspiration and health torn away. Brahms denied both Robert's prediction and Clara's love, meanwhile all his life he promoted Schumann's works and dedicated his chief muse Clara many masterpieces. What a total, um, what's the word, well, dude.

To coordinate with the reading, I'm in the process of making a chronicle playlist of Brahms' works. Here's part 1: Johannes Brahms: Op. 1-30

I included both the original 1854 version of the Piano Trio No.1, and the 1891 revised version. For the piano music, beside the modern recordings I also added in some historical recordings from Backhaus and Kempff, both were born while Brahms was alive and noted for their Brahms interpretation.

The Op. 9 Schumann Variations might be Brahms' most personal composition. In the tenth variation he used a Clara theme, which Schumann himself also used in his Impromptu. Brahms sent it to Schumann in the clinic. Schumann loved the music but couldn't remember that theme.

In the Swan Songs playlist there's Schumann's last composition, a set of variations for piano put down days before his collapse. Brahms wrote a subtle set of new variations on Schumann's theme for piano four-hand.

One last word for the String Sextet No.1 Op. 18, if I was going to make a "I've known Four Seasons, For Elise and Eine kleine Nachtmusik etc. Now what?" playlist, I'd definetely put the 2nd movement, the Andante in it.

Happy listening, and please stay tuned for part 2.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Spotify Classic Albums For Valentine's Day

Tomorrow I'm going back to my hometown in southern China for Chinese new year, the Spring Festival. So there will probably be no new posts in the next ten days.

Here's two albums that might come in handy for your Valentine's Day plans:

Plus a very beautiful compilation album of traditional and classical songs: A Song in my Heart(Spotify Link) by bass-baritone Bryn Terfel. Schumann's "Mein Wagen Rollet Langsam", set on Heine's poem, is probably my favourite Schumann song, the lyrics is kind of sad for Valentine's Day, but as Frank Zappa put it:

"There are more love songs than anything else. If songs could make you do something we'd all love one another."

So just enjoy the music and make a little more love for the ones you love, through your mind, and action. See you in the Year of Tiger:)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Jazz Goes Classical

We've done film scores and pop songs, so why not jazz played by classical ensembles and orchestras?

This time the playlist consists of Quartet San Francisco Plays Brubeck, Kronos Quartet Plays Music Of Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans, Nigel Kennedy Plays Jazz, and Duke Ellington played by City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle.

Besides a lovely wind trio performance of Take Five from Berlin Dreiklang Ensemble, also included are Detroit Symphony Orchestra plays Blue In Green and the Gillespie classic A Night In Tunisia, with Turtle Island String Quartet. And a beautiful classical guitar rendition of the last part of Keith Jarrett's legendary Koln Concert, by Manuel Barrueco.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Jazz Goes Classical. If there's more albums of this kind that you would like to recommend, please kindly leave a comment and I will add in, thanks:)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Pop Songs Based On Classical Works: An Open Spotify Playlist

This playlist consists of pop songs and the classical works they borrowed from.

To me some of the best examples are Paul Simon's American Tune, one of my favourite songs, which borrowed a tune from Bach's St Matthew Passion(OK Bach got this hymn from someone else and used it multiple times but this is probably the most famous one), The Orb's dance classic Little Fluffy Clouds, which sampled Steve Reich's Electric Counterpoint, Elvis' Can't Help Falling Love, which is based on Martaini's aria Plaisir d'amour, and Ella Fitzgerald's My Reverie, which took the tune from Debussy's Rêverie. I have collected 23 pop songs, so 46 tracks in total. For more information you can check out this wikipedia page.

Here is the Spotify playlist: Pop Songs Based On Classical Works. It's an open playlist so you can add tracks to it yourself. If you're going to add songs which sampled classical music, please only include songs in which the classical samplers is an important element, as Kelis' Like You in this playlist which sampled Mozart's famous Queen of the Night aria through out the whole song, on the other hand, Beatles' Revolution 9 won't qualified because of its one second sampler of Sibelius Symphony No.7. And please follow the format that I use: Put the pop songs before the classical tracks. Two more simple rules:

1, Mika's Grace Kelly is not allowed:)

2, No Pachelbel's Canon In D either. Reason? Watch the video below:

See full playlist below, or just click the link above to load it into your Spotify and browse from there. Happy weekend and happy listening.

Paul Simon – American Tune
Bach, JS : St Matthew Passion BWV244 : "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden"
The Orb – Little Fluffy Clouds
Ensemble Modern – Electric Counterpoint - Fast
Tony Bennett – Stranger In Paradise
Paavo Jarvi – Prince Igor, Polovtsian Dances: Dance II
Elvis Presley – Can't Help Falling In Love
London Symphony Orchestra – Martini: Plaisir d'amour
Kelis – Like You
Mozart : Die Zauberflöte : Act 2 "Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen"
Barry Manilow – Could It Be Magic
Evgeny Kissin – Prelude No. 20 in C Minora
Mario Lanza – And This Is My Beloved - From Kismet
Borodin Quartet – String Quartet No.2 In D Major: Notturno: Andante
Tony Martin – Here
Kurt Eichhorn & Lucia Popp – Rigoletto: "Caro Nome" (Verdi)
Della Reese – Don't You Know?
Rolando Panerai – La Bohème: Quando me'n vo soletta
The Toys – A Lover's Concerto
Gustav Leonhardt – Minuet in G major, BWV Anh. 116
Van Cliburn – Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18: Adagio sostenuto
Jem – They
Glenn Gould – Prelude & Fugue No. 12 in F minor, BWV 881: Praeludium
Eric Carmen – All By Myself - Digitally Remastered 1997
Annie Lennox – A Whiter Shade Of Pale
BWV 140 - Wachet Auf, Ruft Uns Die Stimme: Choral: Zion Hört Die Wächter Singen
Frank Sinatra – I'm Always Chasing Rainbows
Yundi Li – Chopin: Impromptu No.4 in C sharp minor, Op.66 "Fantaisie-Impromptu"
Eric Carmen – Never Gonna Fall In Love Again
St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra – Symphony No. 2 in E minor Op. 27: III. Adagio
Monty Python – Oliver Cromwell (Monty Python Sings)
Martha Argerich – Polonaise No. 6 in A flat 'Heroic' Op. 53
Ella Fitzgerald – My Reverie
Zoltán Kocsis – Debussy: Rêverie
The Crew Nuts – Mostly Martha
Orchestra – Martha (1997 Digital Remaster): M'appari tutt'amor
Perry Como – Hot Diggity (Dog Ziggity Boom)
The Philadelphia Orchestra – España
Jo Stafford – No Other Love
Murray Perahia – 12 Études, Op. 10: Étude No. 3 in E Major
Patti Page – All My Love
Daniel Barenboim & Chicago Symphony Orchestra – Ravel : Bolero
Xzibit featuring Dr. Dre – Symphony In X Major - Explicit Version
Ton Koopman – Bach, JS : Brandenburg Concerto No.3 in G major BWV1048 : I Allegro
Janet Jackson – Someone To Call My Lover (Single Edit)
Francine Kay – Gymnopedie No 1 (Satie)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Classical Music In The Films: An Open Spotify Playlist

Inspired by Alex Ross' latest blog entry Lo and Behold! I made a Spotify playlist of soundtracks and film scores.

It includes the soundtrack from Martin Scorsese’s new film “Shutter Island”. You can read about it on the page linked above. And Bernard Herrmann's classic scores for Hitchcock's Psycho and others, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Of course there are film scores by Shostakovich and Prokofiev, and Nino Rota's fascinating sonic landscapes and circus melodies for the Fellini films. Also included are Piero Piccioni’s score for Francesco Rosi’s Hand Over the City and Roberto Gerhard’s score for Lindsay Anderson's This Sporting Life. In the end there's Takemitsu's Suite from Akira Kurosawa's Ran, one of the most memorable films and scores ever.

I think most of the original films scores in this playlist, especially Gerhard and Takemitsu's, are modern masterpieces. By modern I mean constantly seeking new technique of expression and reinventing the musical language, not just bigger IMAX screen and more bombastic surrounding sound system. Yes I do enjoy Avatar, but as long as we live on planet earth rather than Pandora, I think it is better to spend more time on the works of art that intrigue us to think about our relationship with the real world, instead of hiding from the, admittedly not that good, reality. That's what Woody Allen films do, aren't they? So I also put a complication of classical music used in Woody Allen films in it.

I cannot find Giovanni Fusco’s score for Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Eclisse. It's like the Pierrot Lunaire in films, watch the extracts below. Nowadays they don't make films like this anymore, and no one can carve another Pietà either.

And this joke just made my day:)

Why is Dmitri Shostakovitch the worst composer of the XXth century?Because he is the worst imitator of the twentieth century, imitator of Prokofiev and of Mahler and of Satie and of whoever else's scores he'd lay his paws on; and because his imitations are of poor quality, coarse, vulgar, thick, unimaginative, repetitive and narrow-minded: an artificious world he fabricated, imitated of the nineteenth century, in the image of the artificious society constructed by the Bolshevists.

You have successfully described John Williams!!!

OK, here's the Spotify playlist for Classical Music In The Films. I made this a collaborative playlist, so you can also add your favourite classical film scores and soundtracks into it. Looking forward to hear from you:)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Swan Songs of Great Composers

Last Sunday morning I enjoyed a rare moment of listening to music through the speakers at maximum volume, as my musically conservative wife, here conservative means music written by dead people are dead, had gone skiing. I played Schubert's last string quintet and piano sonata, and once again they made me speechless. Both are composed in the last months of Schubert's 31 years on earth, by that time his opus number has nearly reached 1000. Sometime the thriving vitality and the outburst of creativity in these last works just makes me sad. What if Schubert lived to Beethoven's age, that's just 56 but it will give Schubert another 25 years! What would you expect from that? Another thousand of lied? A string of symphonies and piano sonatas that exceed Beethoven's late masterworks? Something that would totally change the landscape of the romantic period? We will never know.

What we do know is, if Schubert lived to Elliott Carter's current age, he would have witnessed the premiere of Mahler's 3rd. Oh my, isn't it kinky just to think about that?

One thing that classical composers beat the pop acts is the lasting of creativity. Name me one pop musician whose works at age 60 is not hopelessly overshadowed by their works at 25. Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell's late works are fine, but they are also highly predicable if you know their early works well. And Bob Dylan doesn't count either, I'd rather consider him as a genius artist who accidentally, but not necessarily, adopted the form of pop music, rather than a pop musician. That's why he is the only one in pop that exceeded the break through albums from younger years. No one made better albums than a 25 years old Bob Dylan (Blonde on Blonde), except the 60 years old Bob Dylan (Love & Theft).

On the other hand, it is common in classical music that the final works of composers stand well besides their best compositions, if not they are actually the summit of their creative career themselves. Mozart's clarinet concerto and requiem, Bach's Art of Fugue, and Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances, that just to name a few. Time takes its toll on everyone, but I guess the old fashioned composers are lucky to keep themselves unharmed from groupies, drugs and endless tours of the same setlists;)

OK enough rant this time, here's the Spotify playlist of Swan Songs. Besides the aforementioned works, it also includes Tchaikovsky, Bruckner, Mahler, Sibelius, Lutoslawski and Schnittke's last symphonies, Berg's violin concerto in memory of Alma Mahler's daughter, Mendelssohn's last string quartet written after the death of his much beloved sister and female composer Fanny, and many others. It starts with Schubert's c major string quintet, and closes with Alfred Brendel's performance of Schubert's last piano sonata D.960 in his farewell concert in Vienna, 2008. I put two versions of Debussy's g minor violin sonata in it, one modern recording and one historical recording played by József Szigeti and  Béla Bartók. For Beethoven I chose the last movement of the b-flat sting quartet Op.130, the substitution of the Grosse Fuge.

You can load the playlist of the last works of great composers to your Spotify by clicking Swan Songs, and enjoy this video from 20 years ago while waiting for the farewell concerts to be released on DVD. Now we have a lovely answer when the kids ask why we listen to music written mostly by dead people, we can ask them this instead:

"When you are 64, would you prefer to try to yell out 'I hope I die before I get old' on stage like when you were 24, or be able to play, even write a piece of music like this?";)

Monday, February 1, 2010

2010 Grammy Winners for Classical Music on Spotify

Let's do a quick one, here's the full list of winners for classical music.

And here's the Spotify playlist: 2010 Grammy Winners for Classical

MTT's Mahler is not on Spotify yet, neither does Levine's Ravel nor David Lang's The Little Match Girl Passion which won him a Pulitzer in 2008. I collected all the available winner albums, plus three albums under the Classical Producer Of The Year catalog. The new recording of Bernstein's Mass from Naxos is such a treat, just listen to the Lord's Prayer you will know why Steven Epstein won the producer award.

I wasn't going to do this playlist, as I have posted about one of the favourite of my then nominees, and now winner, Higdon's Percussion Concerto, untill I saw this retweet:

#classsicalmusic Refresh your palates from the drivel of the #Grammys with a Britten fugue. Stunning from @BerlinPhil

So now enjoy these wonderful albums on Spotify, and this great fugue:)