Saturday, December 31, 2011

Vienna New Year's Concert: A Collection

The New Year's Concert of the Vienna Philharmonic (German: Das Neujahrskonzert der Wiener Philharmoniker) is a concert of classical music that takes place each year in the morning of January 1 in Vienna, Austria. It is broadcast around the world to an estimated audience of 50 million in 72 countries (as of 2010). The music always includes pieces from the Strauss family—Johann Strauss I, Johann Strauss II, Josef Strauss and Eduard Strauss—with occasional additional music from other mostly Austrian composers. - Wikipedia

Here's the Spotify playlist: Vienna New Year's Concert: A Collection (513 tracks, total time: 46 hours) Ctrl (CMD)+G to browse in album view. It features all recordings of the New Year's Concert available on Spotify: 1941 & 1952-54 (Clemens Krauss), 1979 (Willi Boskovsky), 1987 (Karajan), 1989 & 1992 (Carlos Kleiber, if you had to own only one Strauss family album, the 1992 concert would be a safe choice), and everything from 1996 to 2011, sorted in reverse chronological order. I also included four highlight compilations at the end of the playlist.

Happy New Year, and look forward to add the 2012 concert soon.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Hiatus

2011 has been a good year for this blogger. I saw Bob Dylan and The Barber of Seville for the first time; saw Spotify became a even better service since I started to use it in 2009 (though I slightly worry about their alliance with Facebook) and kept innovating; got to know many interesting online personalities since Spotify launched in five new territories this year, and learned a lot from those who kindly send me emails or contributed guest posts; and all my family are well. I hope it's a good year for you too, and I hope what I did on this site was helpful.

If you enjoyed this blog and want to give something back, you can buy me a book from my Amazon wishlists: (US, UK), or send an Amazon Kindle gift card to my email. Thank you. Here's a longer appeal from last year. The National Library, which is just one block away from my apartment, closed for innovation  (though I am sure that's just an excuse, they did that just like they blocked Twitter, Youtube or Blogger, where this blog is hosted) this year, so any help with books would be much appreciated. Please choose Standard International Shipping for the minimum postage. Getting the books before or after Christmas makes no difference to me, and they always arrived within two weeks though Amazon states 17-28 days.

I fear that might be too much to ask, in this economic turndown. So I also propose this, that I believe most of you can do: if you have any relative or friend who's interested in classical music but hasn't discovered Spotify, please show him/her what Spotify can do for a classical music fan. I truly appreciate your help on spreading the word for this greatest music service, and all the wonderful music it offers.

Thank you all for reading. Happy holidays, and see you in two weeks.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Richard Strauss: Complete Chronological Catalogue by TrV Number

Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949) was a leading German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. He is known for his operas, which include Der Rosenkavalier and Salome; his Lieder, especially his Four Last Songs; and his tone poems and orchestral works, such as Death and Transfiguration, Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Also sprach Zarathustra, An Alpine Symphony, and Metamorphosen.

Strauss, along with Gustav Mahler, represents the late flowering of German Romanticism after Richard Wagner, in which pioneering subtleties of orchestration are combined with an advanced harmonic style.  - Wikipedia

Richard Strauss working on Die schweigsame Frau (The
Silent Woman) at his villa outside Munich, 1932
This playlist was compiled after the 3rd version of Franz Trenner's chronological catalogue of Strauss's works. The version was revised by his son Florian Trenner in 1999. This catalogue lists 298 works and each has been assigned a TrV number. See full list here.

It starts from Trv 2-4, three songs date from 1870-71, when the composer was six/seven years old, when Germany, or Kingdom of Prussia, was fighting Napoleon III; and ends with Four Last Songs, completed in 1948, by then the composer had seen, among many others, two world wars that took over 100 million lives.

Der Rosenkavalier, photo of a 1911
performance. Elisabeth Böhm van Endert
as Oktavian, Erna Denera as Sophie
2011 is both the 100th anniversary of the death of Mahler and the premiere of Der Rosenkavalier. I always feel this opera is something like the last glimpse into a lost world. A world in which death is not just cold numbers, and sentiment in art music was not deemed cliche because the artists and the audience still shared a lot of common emotions. You can almost see the grim faces of the generals behind those grand waltz tunes. If Mahler survived into the war time, I highly doubt if he would continue to write symphonies that lament over life and death of individuals.

One year before the premiere of Der Rosenkavalier, Arnold Schoenberg wrote: "Art is the cry of distress uttered by those who experience at first hand the fate of mankind. Who are not reconciled to it, but come to grips with it... Who do not turn their eyes away, to shield themselves from emotions, but open them wide, so as to tackle what must be tackled. Who do, however, often close their eyes, in order to perceive things incommunicable by the senses, to envision within themselves the process that only seems to be in the world outside. The world revolves within-inside them: what bursts out is merely the echo-the work of art."

And indeed the composer of Rosenkavalier might be one of the last great artists who turned their eyes away from this most violent century in human history - because he had seen better times - while kept their integrity and created profound art.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Richard Strauss: Complete Chronological Catalogue by TrV Number (999 tracks from more than 150 albums, total time: 71 hours) Ctrl (CMD)+G to browse in album view. I compiled the playlist in October on my Spotify UK account, and revised it on a Spotify US account this week, to substitute recordings also available on Spotify US with those only available on Spotify UK (like Solti's Strauss opera recordings on Decca). You can see from the "Added" column that nearly half of the tracks were added recently.

Some interesting curiosities in this playlist: Strauss's Interludio from his revision of Mozart's Idomeneo (in which he dispensed with Electra, maybe his own opera and wife were enough for him); 1912 version of Ariadne auf Naxos, with its prolog, musical-theater version of Bourgeois Gentilhomme; the complete chamber music (including many early, Brahmsian works); Karl Anton Rickenbacher's The Unknown Strauss series including the unfinished singspiel, Des Esels Schatten (1949), orchestrated and completed by Karl Haussner; orchestral versions of songs for piano and voice, and piano version of Four Last Songs (not arranged by the composer, but very interesting to hear nevertheless). I also included the suites, symphonic fragments and popular concert pieces from the operas (sextet from Capriccio, Dance of the Seven Veils etc), placed after the full recordings.

Please leave a comment if you find something that I left out. Thank you.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Guest Post: The Art of Horn

Kathryn Zevenbergen, a Spotify fan who is studying horn at Zurich University of the Arts, emailed me in July to ask me "how much do you pay attention to or value the use of original instruments when you make your playlists", and I confessed I couldn't judge recordings from that angle. That's how I got this idea about guest posts by professional musicians. I asked Kathryn to compile some playlists for her instrument, and suggested to include the slow movement of Hummel's Piano Concerto No.3 (four horns accompany the piano throughout while the rest of the orchestra go for vacation). She just sent me two great playlists with an intro. Here's Kathryn.


The Horn Highlights playlist is my attempt to make a short playlist with the best movements written for horn.  It has a little bit of everything--obviously there are concerto movements, but there’s also some chamber music.  Now, I have to admit, I have a grudge against only listening to one movement of a piece.  If you have that bias as well, the complete version of everything on the Horn Highlights list can be found on the aptly named Horn list.  This list is everything I can think of, but if you subscribe, I will be continually adding to it, because I know for a fact that it is in no way complete.  The Horn list is not in chronological order, I prefer to listen to things mixed up a bit.  I also didn’t want to have six Mozart pieces in a row. 

A couple notes about the horn:  the first horns had no valves, and thus could not play a complete scale.  Some of the recordings I found are played on similar instruments (such as the Bach Brandenburg Concerto recording), but I couldn't always find historically informed performances performances. You can maybe hear the difference, because some notes will sound with more of a buzz than others.  The buzzy notes come from the player moving his/her hand in the bell to cover the hole, and thus the pitch changes, creating a note the instrument shouldn’t actually be able to play (this is maybe most obvious in the recording of Mozart's concerto K. 447). 

Another cool thing about horn is the amount of chamber music we can play.  I didn’t put a whole lot on this list (only my favorites) because if I put every quintet, the list would be about a year long.  Horns are very versatile in the chamber music world--although we are a brass instrument, we also play in most woodwind ensembles.

Here are the Spotify playlists: Horn Highlights (21 tracks, total time: 2 hours), and Horn (159 tracks, 14 hours) Hopefully these playlists give you a taste for everything horn!  Enjoy!

Guest post by Kathryn Zevenbergen

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Olivier Messiaen: Complete Chronological Catalogue on Spotify

"A true music, that is to say, spiritual, a music which may be an act of faith; a music which may touch upon all subjects without ceasing to touch upon God; an original music, in short, whose language may open a few doors, take down some yet distant stars." - Olivier Messiaen, in the preface of his Technique de mon Langage Musical (Technique of my Musical Language)

Olivier Messiaen was a French composer, organist, teacher, and ornithologist whose music is distinguished by his deep devotion to Catholicism, exoticism, and nature. - AllMusic

On the fall of France in 1940, Messiaen was made a prisoner of war, during which time he composed his Quatuor pour la fin du temps ("Quartet for the end of time") for the four available instruments—piano, violin, cello and clarinet. It was first performed by Messiaen and fellow prisoners for an audience of inmates and prison guards.

He found birdsong fascinating, believed birds to be the greatest musicians, and considered himself as much an ornithologist as a composer. He notated bird songs worldwide and incorporated birdsong transcriptions into most of his music. His innovative use of colour, his conception of the relationship between time and music, his use of birdsong and his desire to express religious ideas are among features that make Messiaen's music distinctive. - Wikipedia

Here's the Spotify playlist: Olivier Messiaen: Complete Chronological Catalogue (357 tracks from more than 60 albums, total time: 36 hours) Ctrl (CMD)+G to browse in album view. Méditations sur le mystère de la Sainte Trinité in this playlist was recorded on the organ of Trinité Church, where Messiaen served as organist for 61 years. You can also hear the composer plays the piano in Poèmes pour Mi in the previous playlist Composer As Pianist. For newbies, try 4 Etudes de rythme, Zion Park et la cité céleste, Quartet For The End Of Time and Vingt Regards Sur L'enfant Jesus first.

Messiaen is Elliott Carter's senior by one day, happy 103rd birthday too.

Below is a list of works in this playlist, including English translation for the original French titles. All works are linked to introductory articles.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Elliott Carter: A Reverse Chronological Collection

"One of the most significant post-WW II American composers, Elliott Carter remains a forceful and eloquent voice into his 10th decade. From an early, quasi-neo-Classical style, Carter has forged his own complex, dramatically oriented adaptation of serial methods."  - AllMusic

"He has been extremely productive in his later years, publishing more than 40 works between the ages of 90 and 100, and over 14 more since he turned 100 in 2008." - Wikipedia

Happy 103rd birthday, with many more to come.
It is my first playlist for a living composer this year, though Carter is actually older than Britten, Cage, Schnittke, Stockhausen and Xenakis. His great Indian summer still lives on, and recordings of his new compositions are coming out steadily, so I compiled this playlist in reverse chronological order. If you are not familiar with Carter, you may start with the first few tracks of his most recent works, then try String Quartet No.1 (it quotes from Ives, whom Carter befriended in the 1920s), Cello Sonata, and the Clarinet Concerto.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Elliott Carter: A Reverse Chronological Collection (211 tracks from more than 50 recordings, total time: 18 hours) Ctrl (CMD)+G to browse in album view. To accompany your listening: an informative article on Carter's 101th birthday, from two years ago, including pictures of Carter with Bernstein, Cage and Stravinsky; Richard Taruskin's article on Carter, a standalone chapter from The Oxford History of Western Music, on Google Books.

Below is a list of works in this playlist, all linked to introductory articles. The Bridge Carter Edition will appear on Spotify soon, and the post/playlist will then be greatly expanded.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

NPR Music's 50 Favorite Albums Of 2011

"Given that it was compiled by a score of NPR Music staffers and public radio DJs, and that it spans more than a dozen genres and embraces artists both well-known and brand-new, one might reasonably wonder what principle ties together this list of our favorite albums of 2011. How about this: They’re the albums that opened our ears to something new, ones that we enjoyed from beginning to end, ones that challenged us, ones we fought over and treasured quietly. Most of all, they're the albums that made us hand our headphones over a cubicle wall and say, 'You have to listen to this."" From NPR Music

Here's the Spotify playlist: NPR Music's 50 Favorite Albums Of 2011 (562 tracks, 46 out of 50 albums) Ctrl (CMD)+G to browse in album view. See complete list of albums here (it left out Watch The Throne). Their classical choices are excellent (Alexandre Tharaud's Scarlatti sonatas is one of the favourite albums of all time) and look forward to catch up with some music made by people of my age.

And you can sample the unavailable albums on BandCamp: Dwellings by Cormorant, Chancletas y Camisetas Bordada by Los Rakas

Monday, December 5, 2011

Guest Post: Not Just Another Classical Christmas Playlist

Last week I discovered a surprisingly enjoyable Christmas playlist on Twitter, and got in touch with its maker, writer Jack Spearing. Jack writes about classical music for indie music sites including Spotify's buddy Drowned In Sound. He is so generous that not only allows me to share his playlist here, but also wrote a hugely informative introduction to it. Here's Jack:


Hello - my name is Jack Spearing. I'm an art historian by training, but I write on a freelance basis about classical music, film and art. Recently I've been writing a series of articles introducing the work of different composers for various websites who usually focus on indie music. My aim is to help people who want to know more about classical music but don't necessarily know where to begin. Spotify is a spectacularly helpful tool for me, and a brilliant resource for organising and passing on classical music in general, and I always include Spotify playlists in my articles. You can find some of my articles here and here.

Some music is made for Christmas, other music achieves Christmassyness, and sometimes music has Christmas thrust upon it. As such, Christmas music is a very loose category into which all manner of things can fall – choral religious works, winter symphonies and Christmas concertos, or just anything which happens to include jingle bells. This playlist includes all of these things, no matter how tenuous their connection to the festive season, but is purged (for the most part) of Christmas Carols and cheesy Christmas albums put out by particular singers. Music, despite its programmatic and associative possibilities, remains a fundamentally abstract medium, and as a result doesn’t always lend itself particularly well towards illustrating particular times of the year, so certain tropes do surface time and time again – falling snow, sleigh rides, chanting, evocations of winter, and so on. I’ve started the playlist with a selection of odd and ends, extracts and freestanding pieces, before moving onto a series of condensed versions of larger Christmas classics, and then ending with a few slightly less serious selections.

This is a link to the playlist (138 tracks, 8 hours), and here's a quick run-down of some of the pieces included:
  • Prokofiev – Troika from the Lieutenant Kije Suite. A troika is a kind of Russian folk dance in which people imitate a carriage and horses, and in this case comes just after the wedding of Lieutenant Kije, a character taken by Prokofiev from a Russian folk story which satirises Tsarist bureaucracy. Lieutenant Kije himself is entirely fictitious – he is created as the result of a clerical error, and the Christmas association here is equally odd – the jingle bells were borrowed by Greg Lake (of ELP fame) for his song "I Believe in Father Christmas", and the link has persisted ever since.
  • Delius – Sleigh Ride. English composer Frederick Delius, whose best known tone poem is probably ‘On hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring’ also provided a cheery little number for a colder season. The liberal use of jingle bells accompanying a chirpy folk melody makes this one of the most enjoyable of all Christmas pieces.
  • Josef Strauss – Winterlust. Pretty much self-explanatory. A standard issue Strauss family Polka Schnell, with added jingling to tell you it’s Christmas.
  • Rameau – Various extracts from orchestra suites. These are a bit of a cheat – there are no jingle bells here, only Tambourines. But if you don’t think about it too much, they do have a vague Yuletide feeling to them.
  • MozartThe Sledge. Composed in the year that he died, Mozart’s three German dances K605 mark the end of the composer’s long interest in dance. The sledge or “Schlittenfahrt” is the final piece in the set, beginning with a bumpy downhill journey before moving into a lilting section with prominent parts for angelic trumpets and, you guessed it, jingle bells.
  • Michael Praetorius – In dulci jubilo. Some time before Mike Oldfield arrived on the scene, Praetorius produced what is perhaps the definitive choral setting of this medieval carol, which also includes a thunderous brass section.
  • Rimsky-Korsakov – The Snow Maiden. This has nothing to do with Christmas. But it has “Snow” in the title, so draw your own conclusions.
  • Perotin – Alleluia. Nativitas. Perotin isn’t a name that’s hugely familiar to most people, or even to a lot of classical listeners, but it ought to be. His vocal music is fantastic, particular pieces like Sederunt Principes, which show off his trademark technique of spending minutes on individual syllables of each word, intermingling and overlapping the voices in a complex, but nonetheless melodious, sonic texture. This piece, in case you haven’t guessed, celebrates the birth of Christ. 
  • Bach – Sheep May Safely Graze. Although the link to sheep might have you thinking that this piece is about the Shepherds who visited Jesus in his manger, it was originally part of a strictly secular work, nicknamed the Hunting Cantata. It was only much later when eccentric composer Percy Grainger created his own much more festive arrangement, entitled ‘Blithe Bells’, that the piece came to be associated with Christmas. As we’ll see in the rest of the playlist, Bach wrote quite a few other pieces which have much stronger links to Christmas, but this is still one of the prettiest melodies he ever penned, so who cares?
  • Corelli – Christmas Concerto. Normally the slow movements of Baroque Christmas concerti are extracted for their evocative qualities, and if you want to hear them in full then Naxos’ many and varied releases of this material are worth investigating, but I think that this anxious minor-key fast movement is better for calling to mind all the rushing and anticipating that the festive season brings.
  • Tchaikovsky – The Seasons: December. Ordinarily it’s the June Barcarolle which is highlighted in this exquisite piano suite, or occasionally November, which was a favourite encore of Rachmaninoff’s. But this doesn’t really do justice to what is, I think, the best solo piano piece from Christmas composer par excellence – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
  • Johann Strauss II – Die Fledermaus Overture. Again, really nothing to do with Christmas at all. But somehow it sounds as if it should be Christmassy.
  • Charpentier – Noel sur les instruments. Charpentier wrote a comparatively large amount of Christmas music in the 1670s, including a cantata telling the story of the nativity, which can be found on the same album that this extract is taken from. The piece I’ve chosen is one of his lively arrangements of what were, even then, traditional carols, again with a tambourine.
  • Waldteufel – Les Patineurs (“Skater’s Waltz”. Not to be confused with a work by Meyerbeer of the same name, Les Patineurs was inspired by a real ice-rink in Paris. Waldteufel, being a composer of light dance music, immediately saw the parallels between the elegant skaters and the denizens of the ballroom.
  • Offenbach – Barcarolle. Originally this piece was an aria from an opera of Offenbach’s which had flopped, but the composer recycled the piece for his final masterpiece – The Tales of Hoffman. It has since become one of his most famous works, aside, of course, from the ubiquitous Can-Can. The Christmas connection comes from ETA Hoffman himself, because his story “The Adventures of New Year’s Eve” was incorporated along with others in Offenbach’s work.
  • Respigi – Siciliana. Sicilianas are a kind of Baroque dance – slow and frequently in a minor key. Italian Baroque revivalist and deeply underrated composer Ottorino Respighi, who is best known for his spectacular Pines of Rome suite, was naturally drawn to this form in his collection of Ancient Airs and Dances, from which this piece is taken. As with Baroque Christmas concertos, it’s the pastoral quality to the music which is important here, as German and Italian composers of the time associated this style with Christmas Eve.
  • Debussy – The Snow is Dancing. Taken from Debussy’s small set of solo piano pieces ‘Children’s Corner’, this miniature piece is one of many examples of the composer’s effortless ability to summon up images – in this case, the gentle, almost soundless falling of snow, buffeted by the winds.
  • Bach – In dulci jublio. Music of a more explicitly festive bent from Johann Sebastian, this time on his instrument of choice – the organ. This piece is frequently played at the end of Christmas church services.
  • Ryba – Bohemian Christmas Mass. Unusually for Christmas music, this is actually the composer’s best known piece, and it’s also the only work on this playlist sung in Czech. It employs the structure of a standard Latin mass, but also works in various elements of the Nativity story, and was supposedly written to mark Ryba’s reconciliation with local church authorities, who he was always pestering.
  • Liszt – Chasse Neige (Snow Plough). The last of Liszt’s transcendental etudes, Chasse Neige is also one of the most difficult and programmatic in this set, which is one of the composer’s greatest achievements. The nearly constant cascade of trembling notes gives the effect of the ever present snow.
  • Chopin – Winter Wind Etude. One of the last of Chopin’s Opus 25 Etudes, and another programmatic work, although admittedly less to do with Christmas and more to with the season as a whole, or perhaps the difficulties and obstacles of life in general.
  • Mendelssohn – Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. Another initially secular piece adopted for Christmas use due to its catchy tune. I’ve included this not because I enjoy carols, but purely to remind listeners of how many ubiquitous tunes that we assume have always existed actually had to be written by someone – the wedding march from a Midsummer Night’s Dream, also by Mendelssohn, being just one of many examples.
  • Mahler – Symphony No.4, 1st Movement. Another cheat – nothing to do with Christmas, just jingle bells. But Mahler can always do with being a bit more popular, so that’s reason enough for me.
  • Tchaikovsky – Symphony No.1 ‘Winter Daydreams’ – 3rd and 4th Movements. Tchaikovsky always struggled with sonata form and development, especially at the outset of his career, but his first symphony is still surprisingly accomplished. Don’t listen to those who say that only the 4th, 5th and 6th are worth hearing – his transformations of folk tunes into vast orchestral statements here are fantastic.
  • Tchaikovsky – The Nutcracker. The Ultimate in Christmas Music. Despite being endlessly cannibalised for use in adverts this ballet is refreshing and thoroughly enjoyable. Obvious highlights include the Waltz of the Flowers and Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy, but the whole work is permeated with Tchaikovsky’s particular genius for musical fun.
  • Bach – Christmas Oratorio. One of Bach’s crowning achievements, and another of the finest pieces of true Christmas music. The work is actually a compilation of several different cantatas which were performed at different dates around the Christmas period. Along with the St Matthew and St John Passions, it ranks amongst Bach’s best choral compositions. John Eliot Gardiner’s interpretation of this piece is absolutely superb.
  • Handel – Messiah. The Messiah is not strictly Christmas music, as it only deals in part with Christ’s actual birth, focusing instead on various aspects of his life and the Old Testament prophecies with which it had been connected. I’ve picked out a few of my favourite sections as well as some more obvious highlights, such as the endlessly repeated Hallelujah Chorus. John Eliot Gardiner again brings his excellent direction to the piece, restoring it to the more intimate number of performers for which it was originally intended.
  • Vivaldi – Winter from the Four Seasons. I’m pretty sure Bernard Hermann stole ideas from Mendelssohn’s 4th Symphony, but I also wonder if he took motifs for the iconic Psycho score from the opening movement of Vivaldi’s Winter, which had been gaining in popularity in the decade before the film came out. Vivaldi himself, of course, was simply aiming to recreate a few seasonal sound-effects. To me, Winter’s three movements bring to mind sleet, followed by snow and fog, and ending with a fully-fledged blizzard. 
  • Prokofiev – Cinderella. Once again, a piece which has nothing in particular to do with Christmas, but I felt like including it anyway. My tenuous excuse being that Cinderella is a very popular subject for that most bizarre of phenomena, Pantomime, which despite being English I have thus far managed to avoid.
  • Rimsky-Korsakov – Christmas Eve Suite. Various orchestral extracts from the composer’s opera of the same name.
  • Humperdinck – Hansel and Gretel. Before Engelbert Humperdinck beat the Beatles to Number One in the charts, he existed in rather different incarnation as a 19th century classical composer. Based on the classic children’s tale by the Brothers Grimm, the piece has enjoyed a Christmas association since its very first performance was given by none other than Richard Strauss on December 23rd 1893.
  • Leopold Mozart – Toy Symphony. Although this work was essentially a novelty piece, it is now the best-known work from Mozart Senior, and includes a variety of bizarre effects, including bird calls, noisemakers and drums, overlaid onto what is otherwise a fairly straightforward piece.
  • Rossini/Respighi – The Magic Toy Shop. This one is more or less self-explanatory, but on a musical note I should explain that this piece is made up of piano compositions by Rossini which were later orchestrated by Respighi and used in a production by the Ballet Russes.
  • Poulenc – Four Motets for Christmas time. Francis Poulenc was one of the finest 20th century composers of Latin choral music, with his Gloria being particularly well-regarded. Although his works are often light and playful, these motets are marked by their seriousness, and sound simultaneously ancient and modern.
  • Britten – A Ceremony of Carols. Don’t be fooled by the names – these are carols as you’ve never heard them before. The use of Middle English texts, harp accompaniment and a choir of boy sopranos make this a highly distinctive, beautiful and idiosyncratic piece, which ranks alongside War Requiem as one of Britten’s best choral works.
  • Schutz – The Christmas Story. German is often dismissed as an ugly, guttural language, but nothing could be further from the truth. As if Bach’s oratorios and cantatas weren’t proof enough of this, Heinrich Schutz’s own version of the Nativity puts to bed the idea that German cannot be beautiful. Works like this would also later encourage Brahms to write in German too.
  • Prokofiev – Battle on the Ice. I have no real excuse for the presence of this piece here. Not only is it not associated with Christmas, it is also irrevocably associated with a very different historical event. But it has “ice” in the title, and it’s a truly awe-inspiring piece.
  • Schubert – Der Leiermann. The chilling final song of Schubert’s monumentally depressing ‘Winterreise’ (Winter Journey) Song Cycle. The piano mimics the sound of the hurdy-gurdy man of the title, while lieder master Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau describes him to the listener. A reminder, perhaps, that this is not always a happy time of year for everyone.
Guest post by Jack Spearing

    Friday, December 2, 2011

    2012 Grammy Classical Nominees on Spotify

    Check out the official site for the full list of nominees in the classical category, and NPR for a detailed report on Grammy's classical cutback.

    Among the 35 classical-category nominees, 26 are available on Spotify. I also included 16 albums whose producers or engineers are nominated for Classical Engineering and Producer of the Year.

    Here's the Spotify playlist: 2012 Grammy Classical Nominees (837 tracks, total time 64 hours) Press Ctrl (CMD)+G to browse in album view. See full nominees list below, with links to Spotify (if available).

    Best Orchestral Performance
    • Bowen: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2, Andrew Davis, conductor (BBC Philharmonic)[Chandos]
    • Brahms: Symphony No. 4, Gustavo Dudamel, conductor (Los Angeles Philharmonic) [Deutsche Grammophon]
    • Haydn: Symphonies 104, 88 & 101, Nicholas McGegan, conductor (Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra) [Philharmonia Baroque Productions]
    • Henze: Symphonies Nos. 3-5, Marek Janowski, conductor (Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin) [Wergo]
    • Martinu: The 6 Symphonies, Jirí Belohlávek, conductor (BBC Symphony Orchestra) [Onyx Classics]
    Best Opera Recording
    • Adams: Doctor Atomic, Alan Gilbert, conductor; Meredith Arwady, Sasha Cooke, Richard Paul Fink, Gerald Finley, Thomas Glenn & Eric Owens; Jay David Saks, producer (Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; Metropolitan Opera Chorus) [Sony Classical]
    • Britten: Billy Budd, Mark Elder, conductor; John Mark Ainsley, Phillip Ens, Jacques Imbrailo, Darren Jeffery, Iain Paterson & Matthew Rose; James Whitbourn, producer (London Philharmonic Orchestra; Glyndebourne Chorus) [Opus Arte]
    • Rautavaara: Kaivos, Hannu Lintu, conductor; Jaakko Kortekangas, Hannu Niemelä, Johanna Rusanen-Kartano & Mati Turi; Seppo Siirala, producer (Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra; Kaivos Chorus) [Ondine]
    • Verdi: La Traviata, Antonio Pappano, conductor; Joseph Calleja, Renée Fleming & Thomas Hampson; James Whitbourn, producer (Orchestra of the Royal Opera House; Royal Opera Chorus) [Opus Arte]
    • Vivaldi: Ercole Sul Termodonte, Fabio Biondi, conductor; Romina Basso, Patrizia Ciofi, Diana Damrau, Joyce DiDonato, Vivica Genaux, Philippe Jaroussky, Topi Lehtipuu & Rolando Villazón; Daniel Zalay, producer (Europa Galante; Coro Da Camera Santa Cecilia Di Borgo San Lorenzo) [Virgin Classics]
    Best Choral Performance
    • Beyond All Mortal Dreams - American A Cappella, Stephen Layton, conductor (Choir Of Trinity College Cambridge) [Hyperion Records]
    • Brahms: Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45, Patrick Dupré Quigley, conductor; James K. Bass, chorus master (Justin Blackwell, Scott Allen Jarrett, Paul Max Tipton & Teresa Wakim; Professional Choral Institute & Seraphic Fire) [Seraphic Fire Media]
    • Kind, Kjetil Almenning, conductor (Nidaros String Quartet; Ensemble 96) [2L (Lindberg Lyd)]
    • Light & Gold, Eric Whitacre, conductor (Christopher Glynn & Hila Plitmann; The King's Singers, Laudibus, Pavão Quartet & The Eric Whitacre Singers) [Decca]
    • The Natural World Of Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, Paul Hillier, conductor (Ars Nova Copenhagen) [Dacapo Records]
    Best Small Ensemble Performance
    Best Classical Instrumental Solo
    Best Classical Vocal Solo
    • Diva Divo, Joyce DiDonato (Kazushi Ono; Orchestre De L'Opéra National De Lyon; Choeur De L'Opéra National De Lyon) [Virgin Classics]
    • Grieg/Thommessen: Veslemøy Synsk, Marianne Beate Kielland (Nils Anders Mortensen) [2L (Lindberg Lyd)]
    • Handel: Cleopatra, Natalie Dessay (Emmanuelle Haïm; Le Concert D'Astrée) [Virgin Classics]
    • Purcell: O Solitude, Andreas Scholl (Stefano Montanari; Christophe Dumaux; Accademia Bizantina) [Decca]
    • Three Baroque Tenors, Ian Bostridge (Bernard Labadie; Mark Bennett, Andrew Clarke, Sophie Daneman, Alberto Grazzi, Jonathan Gunthorpe, Benjamin Hulett & Madeline Shaw; The English Concert) [EMI Classics]
    Best Contemporary Classical Composition
    Best Engineered Album, Classical
    • Aldridge: Elmer Gantry, Byeong-Joon Hwang & John Newton, engineers; Jesse Lewis, mastering engineer (William Boggs, Keith Phares, Patricia Risley, Vale Rideout, Frank Kelley, Heather Buck, Florentine Opera Chorus & Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra) [Naxos]
    • Glazunov: Complete Concertos, Richard King, engineer (José Serebrier, Alexey Serov, Wen-Sinn Yang, Alexander Romanovsky, Rachel Barton Pine, Marc Chisson & Russian National Orchestra) [Warner Classics]
    • Mackey: Lonely Motel - Music From Slide, Tom Lazarus & Bill Maylone, engineers; Joe Lambert, mastering engineer (Rinde Eckert, Steven Mackey & Eighth Blackbird) [Cedille Records]
    • Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos Nos. 3 & 4, Arne Akselberg, engineer (Leif Ove Andsnes, Antonio Pappano & London Symphony Orchestra) [EMI Classics]
    • Weinberg: Symphony No. 3 & Suite No. 4 From 'The Golden Key', Torbjörn Samuelsson, engineer (Thord Svedlund & Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra) [Chandos]
    Producer Of The Year, Classical

    Blanton Alspaugh
    Manfred Eicher
    David Frost
    Peter Rutenberg
    Judith Sherman

    Thursday, December 1, 2011

    John Cage: A Chronological Collection on Spotify

    "What I'm proposing, to myself and other people, is what I often call the tourist attitude - that you act as though you've never been there before. So that you're not supposed to know anything about it. If you really get down to brass tacks, we have never been anywhere before." - John Cage

    Even after his death, John Cage remains a controversial figure. Famously challenging the very notion of what music is, Cage remained on the leading edge of both playful and profound experimentalism for the greater part of his career, collaborating with and influencing generations of composers, writers, dancers, and visual artists. One of his best-known and most sonically intriguing innovations, the prepared piano, had become an almost commonplace compositional resource by the end of the twentieth century. Years before the invention of the synthesizer, he was in the forefront in the exploration of electric and electronic sound sources, using oscillators, turntables, and amplification to musical ends. He pioneered the use of graphic notation and, in employing chance operations to determine musical parameters, was the leading light for one cadre of the avant-garde that included Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff, Earle Brown, and Pauline Oliveros. Cage produced works of "performance art" years before the term was coined, and his 4'33'' (1952) -- in which the performers are instructed to remain silent for four minutes and thirty-three seconds -- takes a place among the most notorious touchstones of 20th century music.  - AllMusic

    This playlist is a chronological collection of John Cage's works on Spotify. I only included one recording for every work, except for the Sonatas and Interludes, which I used recordings from eight artists, including dedicatee of this work, Maro Ajemian. Different versions of the works are also included, like In A Landscape played on harp and guitar, orchestra version of The Seasons, and Lou Harrison's arrangement of the Suite for Toy Piano. Nowth Upon Nacht (1984) is intended to be performed right after The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs (1942) so I included the latter song twice.

    Here's the Spotify playlist: John Cage: A Chronological Collection (479 tracks from 100 albums, total time: 53 hours) Press Ctrl (CMD)+G to browse in album view. If you are new to Cage, try the String Quartet, Prelude For Meditation, In A Landscape and Sonatas and Interludes first. Then Four Walls, and the Number Pieces.

    Below is a list of works featured in the playlist, all linked to introductory articles on AllMusic, Wikipedia and John Cage Database.

    Apprenticeship period (1932–36)
    Modern dance, prepared piano, and the transition to chance (1937–51)

    Thursday, November 24, 2011

    Franz Schubert: Complete Chronological Catalogue D. 1 - 998 In One Spotify Playlist

    Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828) was among the first of the Romantics, and the composer who, more than any other, brought the art song (lied) to artistic maturity. During his short but prolific career, he produced masterpieces in nearly every genre, all characterized by rich harmonies, an expansive treatment of classical forms, and a seemingly endless gift for melody. - AllMusic

    This playlist was compiled after the chronological catalogue of Schubert works by Otto Erich Deutsch, sorted by the D Nnumbers. Some composition has an extra letter after the number, like D. 124b (second version of D. 124) and D. 1a (newly discovered piece since the Duetsch Catalogue was completed, composed around the same time of D. 1). All works available on Spotify were collected into this 113-hour chronological playlist, through more than 2,000 searches.

    As with my other composer playlists, my goal is to feature as many fine recording as possible. And since Spotify launched in America, I also have to make sure all the tracks are available on Spotify USA, unless the sole recording of a piece is only on Spotify UK, which I use. Still, about 200 track in this playlist are not currently available on Spotify USA, please make sure you have unchecked "Hide unplayable tracks" in Spotify's Preferences to browse the full list.

    When the playlist is fully loaded in your Spotify, press Ctrl (CMD on Macs) + G to set it to album view. Then you can use the filter bar (Ctrl + F) to browse by genre or find specific works your are looking for.
    • Type in symphony to browse the 13 symphonies:

    No. 1 (Menuhin/EMI), No. 2 (Wand/RCA), No. 3 (Zender/Hänssler), No.4 "Tragic"(Davis/RCA), No. 5 (Harnoncourt/Warner), No.6 "Little"(Beecham/EMI), Symphony in D (Marriner/Decca. Sketches orchestrated by Brian Newbould, D. 615), Symphony in D (Gülke/Berlin Classics. D. 708a), No.7 (Litschauer/Naxos. Completed by Weingartner), No.8 "Unfinished" (original version: Abbado/DG; 4-movement version: Mackerras/EMI), No.9 "Great" (Bernstein/Sony), Symphony "Gmunden-Gastein" (Samuel/Centaur. D. 849, reconstructed by G. Elsholz, probably spurious), No. 10 (Gülke/Berlin Classics)

    D. 708a and D. 936a (No. 10) were tagged not as symphony but sinfonische, and D. 615 symphonic, you will have to change the keywords. Wand, Zender, Marriner, and Abbado's recording are from their complete sets of the symphonies, so you can also click the album title and browse other symphonies in those albums. I wanted to include Brüggen's compete set but it's not on Spotify USA.
    • Type in piano sonata to browse the 22 piano sonatas:

    E major, D. 157 (Oppitz/Hänssler), C major, D. 279 (Klien/Vox), E major, D. 459 (Klien/Vox), A minor, D. 537 (Nebolsin/Naxos), A-flat major, D. 557 (Kempff/DG), E minor, D. 566 ((Oppitz/Hänssler), E-flat major, D. 568 (Pludermacher/Transart), F-sharp minor, D. 571 B major (Schiff/Decca), D. 575 C major (Uchida/Philips), D. 613 F minor (Keller/MGB), D. 625 C-sharp minor (Badura-Skoda/Genuin), D. 655 A major (Damerini/Arts Music), D. 664 A minor (Richter/BBC Legends), D. 784 C major (Endres/Capriccio), D. 840 A minor (4-movement version, Gothoni/Ondine), D. 845 D major (Uchida/Decca), D. 850 G major (Andsnes/EMI), D. 894 C minor (Sokolov/Opus 111), D. 916b "Sonata Oubliée" (Knauer/Berlin Classics), D. 958 A major (Pollini/DG), D. 959 B-flat major (Perahia/Sony), D. 960 (Richter/Alto)

    D. 613 and D. 894 were tagged not as "piano sonata", you may use their D numbers to filter. D. 916b was not even tagged with its D. number, filter with the artist name Knauer instead. I wanted to use more recordings from Kempff, Uchida, Lupu and Schiff, but most of them are not on Spotify USA yet.

    You can also type in piano to browse works with piano. In addition to the sonatas, you will see dozens of other works, including 6 Moments musicaux (Brendel), 12 German Ländler (Goode) and the Impromptus (D. 899 Perahia; D. 935 Serkin).
    • Type in string qu to browse the string quartets and quintets:

    Ensembles in this section include Melos Quartet, Kodaly Quartet, Borodin Quartet, Tokyo String Quartet, Belcea Quartet (Death and the Maiden), Kim Kashkashian/Gidon Kremer/Yo-Yo Ma/Daniel Phillips (Quartet No. 15, D. 887), Heinrich Schiff/Alban Berg Quartet (String Quintet D. 956) and others.
    • Type in lied or song to browse the lieder:

    This section features dozens of singers, including Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Fritz Wunderlich, Hermann Prey, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Elly Ameling, Peter Pears, Janet Baker, Anne Sofie von Otter, Ian Bostridge, Mark Padmore, and Thomas Quasthoff. The tracks were taken from over 100 albums. A few lied recordings do not have those two keywords in their titles, you may try recital, sings or simply Winterreise.
    • Type in hand or duet for piano four-hand works. Pianists in this section include: Kissin/Levine, Richter/Britten, Perahia/Lupu, Eschenbach/Frantz and more. 
    • Type in fragment for the odds and ends.
      • If you are looking for a specific work and you know the D number, simple type in the D number xxx, if you can't find it, then try Dxxx. Most tracks in this playlist are tagged with either format of the D number, except for the Wanderer Fantasy and very few others.
      For the Arpeggione Sonata, besides the popular cello transcription, I also included a recording on an early 19th century arpeggione and a 1824 Conrad Graf pianoforte from the Beethoven House in Bonn.

      I started this playlist in early 2010, until last week there was only one track in this playlist: D. 1, the 24 minutes fantasia for piano four-hand. It is Spotify's Austria launch that gave me the determination to fulfill this huge task. I hope this playlist can help you to enjoy this greatest native Viennese composer's gigantic output. (The current file of D. 1 has a transcoding problem and it's not streamable, though it still works in my place. I have informed Spotify and hopefully they will fix it soon).

      Here's the Spotify playlist: Franz Schubert: Complete Chronological Catalogue D. 1 - 998 (1605 tracks, total time: 113 hours) Press Ctrl (CMD)+G to browse in album view. See this page for over 700 songtexts set by Schubert, many of them with English translations. You can also download the 422-page Schubert songbook from Hyperion for free.

      I am not knowledgeable enough to choose the best recording for every work, but as you flip through this playlist, you probably would agree that, no single label can ever release such a thoroughly comprehensive Schubert box-set with such a great diversity of performers, not to mention the ability to locate and start to play any piece within seconds. My effort is nothing but some 10 hours of searching, and I am but an amateur music fan. What is evident here is the sheer power of Spotify, and its advantage over CD/digital downloads is even more evident than CD/MP3 over cassette/vinyl (as mass distribution medium, not just collectable items for analog/hi-fi fans only). Maybe its business model is not perfect yet, but there is no going back. I hope the music industry, especially the classical heads get ready for this soon. Why keep pondering which box-set (EMI, 50-CD, $78; Brilliant, 40-CD, $94) is a greater bargain? Get this 100-CD Spotify edition and start to listen now.

      Please leave a comment if you find something that I left out, thank you.