Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Operas and Songs Without Words

"Fruitless effort to separate the two. Words and Music are fused into one … bound in a new synthesis. Secret of the hour… one art redeemed by the other!" - Countess Madeleine's soliloquy at the end of Richard Strauss' final opera Capriccio.

That being said, the language barrier is still keeping many classical music fans, including me, from fully appreciating the art of opera. Attending opera performances, watching operas in DVD/Blue-ray with subtitles, or at least listening to recordings with a libretto at hand seem to be required for understand the medium, so we cannot listen to operas while reading or rearranging furniture. Before I can find more time to dig into operas, I listen to operas without words occasionally, simply because there are some of the best orchestral music ever written among them.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Opera Without Words (311 tracks, total time: 22 hours) Highlights including Tannhäuser Without Words - A symphonic synthesis by Lorin Maazel, String Quartet version of Mozart's Don Giovanni, and Arturo Toscanini's rehearsal of Die Walküre without singers. It may work better in Album view.

I also included some arrangements of famous lieder cycles. The difference with Liszt's piano transcriptions is here an instrument, other than the piano, sings the vocal part. Try this playlist if you fancy hearing a cello singing Schubert's Winterreise or a viola singing Schumann's Dichterliebe.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Do You Know You Can Subscribe To My Playlists?

Instead of copying them into a new playlist of your own?


1, I update my playlists constantly. New releases or newly available recordings in a series, new works that fit into a themed playlist, I add them once I find them on Spotify. For example, for the Michael Gielen Mahler cycle playlist, the Symphony No.2, 3, 8 were made available on Spotify after I posted that playlist, and Das Lied von der Erde was released just recently, I updated that playlist accordingly. If you subscribed to it, all those newly added recordings will appear automatically.

2, And if you use Spotify Social, your friends may discover my other playlists through your Spotify profile once you subscribed. You can help me spreading the music by simply doing less. Clicking Subscribe is actually easier than "select all, copy, create new playlist, input name, paste", isn't it?

3, You can also browse other subscribers' profiles, to look for their interesting playlists. I discovered Harry Partch through one of the subscribers mreddington.


1, You cannot update the playlists yourself (except for collaborative playlists) . 2, Cannot change their names either.

Unless you do that a lot, I suggest you to subscribe. You can always leave a comment to suggest a update for certain playlist that I overlooked, or just send the recording you want to add into my Spotify inbox. Since all playlists are stored in the Spotify servers, I don't think there will be any performance difference (loading speed, etc.) between subscribing and copying into your own playlists.

And here's how to for those of you who don't know (believe me, one of this blog's most ardent supporters just told me that he didn't know he could subscribe). OK, click a playlist link: Radiohead Office Charts, to open it in Spotify, as you see  in the pic above, to the right of the playlist image (a mash-up of album sleeves most of the time), under the playlist name, in this case, "Radiohead Office Charts", there is a "Subscribe" button, click it and, done. By the way, the Radiohead playlist is a great mix of classical, world music and contemporary pop, and updated regularly, well worth subscribing.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Piano Transcriptions of Famous Symphonic Works

 "To compare Gould's piano version [of the Beethoven 5th] to an orchestral version would be like comparing a great wine to a great meal." - an Amazon reviewer

Well they are not all symphonic works, but Piano transcriptions of famous works for a solo instrument or voice, an ensemble of instruments and/or voices, or even a piece originally for solo or ensemble piano doesn't look like a more adorable title.

This playlist features piano transcriptions of Beethoven's nine symphonies (by Liszt), Dvorak's New World Symphony, late symphonies of Mozart and Schubert, Mahler's Symphony No.1 "Titan", Bruckner's 2nd, Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, Debussy's La Mer and his arrangement of Wagner, Tchaikovsky's Symphony No.4 and 6 "Pathétique", Stravinsky's Rite Of Spring, Prokofiev's Symphony No.1 "Classical", Smetana's symphonic poems My Country, Shostakovitch's Symphony No.10 (played by the composer) and his piano arrangement of Honegger's Symphonie Liturgique. And Glenn Gould's last recording, his piano transcription of Wagner.

As well as chamber works such as Mendelssohn's Octet, Franck's Violin Sonata (by Cortot), Richard Strauss' Serenade For 13 Wind Instruments (by the composer), Schumann's piano quartet (by Brahms) and quintet (by Clara Schumann). Amazingly, there are even piano arrengments (reductions?) of Fauré and Verdi's requiems, Mozart's Masonic Funeral Music, and Beethoven's Missa Solemnis.

Too many Liszt transcription of romantic lieders out there, so I only put in some hightlights, for Bach it's the same (virtually all Bach played on piano are transcriptions). In my other playlists you can find Brahms's own transcription for most of his symphonic and chamber works, and piano four-hand version of Mozart and Beethoven operas. I left them out of this one to avoid duplication.

I don't think there would be an organ transcription playlist so I also included organ transcription of the Mahler 5th and Bruckner 8th.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Piano Transcriptions (335 tracks, total time: 1 day) It may work better in Album view (easier to tell one piece from another) If you find other interesting transcriptions please leave a comment or send to my Spotify inbox. Thanks.

If you find this one too overwhelming, go to the end of the playlist and listen to James Rhodes play the solo piano version of the Romance from Chopin's Concerto No.1.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

100 Greatest Rock Debut Singles

I was listening to Liszt's piano transcription of Beethoven symphonies while reading the Guardian Music blog today, until this post, Readers recommend: debuts, and the Ramones album sleeve gave me a sudden craving for Blitzkrieg Bop. I held out until the end of second movement of Symphony No.9, and... "Hey ho, let's go!" I wonder if Beethoven himself will get some kicks out of blasphemy at such scale too.

I made a playlist for debut singles according to this Digital Dream Door page, their choices are excellent, dominated by pre-rock stuff and obvious choices are few (even no Brown Eyed Girl). Much more interesting than the Guardian playlist (maybe that's why it only has 30 subscribers while the number of comments is approaching 2000).

Here's the Spotify playlist: DigitalDreamDoor: 100 Greatest Rock Debut Singles (112 tracks, total time: 5 hours.) 100 singles plus 15 Honorable Mentions, only three are missing. I used single versions of the tracks where possible. Click the playlist to browse in Spotify or read the complete list below. Don't worry, more classical playlists are on the way.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Beethoven Complete Chronological Catalogue on Spotify

 "People whose sensibility is destroyed by music in trains, airports, lifts, cannot concentrate on a Beethoven Quartet." - Witold Lutoslawski

With more than 300 subscribers, Beethoven Op.1-138 is the most popular playlist on this site to date. Arranging works by opus numbers makes the playlist look neat, and it presents Beethoven's major works by publication orders. But it is nowhere near a satisfactory presentation of Beethoven's artistic development. Publication dates are not always consistent with completion dates - Op.103 was finished earlier than Op.1, and Piano Concerto No.2 is actually No.1, to name just a few. More importantly, hundreds of works, including most of his youthful compositions in Bonn, bear no opus numbers. Many of them are crucial to the understanding of how Beethoven found his own voice(no, he wasn't simply Born This Way…dressing like an idiot or becoming Beethoven are both lifestyle choices). Death of a hero, the prime component of his musical vocabulary, made it first appearance in a Bonn composition, the Joseph Cantata, WoO (Works Without Opus-number) 87, on which Brahms wrote:

"Even if there were no name on the title page none other could be conjectured—it is Beethoven through and through! The beautiful and noble pathos, sublime in its feeling and imagination, the intensity, perhaps violent in its expression, moreover the voice leading and declamation, and in the two outside sections all the characteristics which we may observe in and associate with his later works." 

The music played at Beethoven's funeral is a choir arrangement of the little known WoO 30, and, his "greatest hit" Für Elise is a WoO too.

In an attempt to chronologically order all of Beethoven's musical output in Spotify, I compiled another playlist based on the Biamonti Catalogue. Some other sources were also consulted, including Beethoven Reference Site's Works by Date page, and the books I have. The six quartets of Opus 18 are arranged as 3,1,2,5,4,6, according to Maynard Solomon's biography. Both versions of Fidelio are included, as well as various arrangements done the composer himself, and the "realized" Symphony No.10. The Op.130 string quartet ends with its original finale,The Grosse Fugue. And the new finale, the last finished movement of Beethoven is the penultimate track of this playlist.  The end result is a fascinating journey from 1782 (Dressler Variations WoO 63 by a 12-year-Beethoven) to 1826 (surviving piano score of a unfinished string quintet, his last musical thought). Not every piece is a masterwork, but, excepts for a few dances and blockbusters written just for the money, all the pieces matter.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Beethoven: Complete Chronological Catalogue (1155 tracks, total time: 4 days) It may work better in Album view (easier to tell one piece from another). I will keep on updating it as I continue reading on Beethoven, and if you find any error or omission, please leave a comment. For beginners, there's a helpful Naxos audiobook on Spotify: Life And Works: Beethoven.

Update (2011/12/16):  Playlist has been updated, now most tracks are also available on Spotify USA.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Rolling Stone 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time

I am surprised that no one has done this playlist properly before, at least I cannot find it through Google, so I decided to publish it here. The electric guitar is undoubtedly the most important instrument emerged from last century, and the Rolling Stone list offers a fairly decent overview of the mainstream canon. Note that it's for guitar songs not solos, so not many metal stuff here (not a complain!)

Here's the Spotify playlist: Rolling Stone 100 Greatest GUITAR Songs of All Time (100 tracks, 8 hours). All tracks are from their original albums, as selected by RS, if they are available. Some ten tracks are not on Spotify yet and I used my local files to complete the list. For unknown reasons RS deleted this list and feature article from their site, but it's still available on Web Archive. I pasted the whole article below for those of you who are interested (lest you would have to click "next page" 40 times to wade through). Enjoy.


This is what makes a great rock & roll guitar sound: an irresistible riff; a solo or jam that takes you higher every time you hear it; the final power chord that pins you to the wall and makes you hit "play" again and again. Every song here has those thrills. But these are rock's greatest guitar moments because of what's inside the notes: hunger, fury, despair and joy, often all at once. You hear the blues, gospel and rockabilly that came before, transformed by the need to say something new and loud, right away. Rock & roll has been the sound of independence for half a century. The guitar is still its essential, liberating voice. These are the 100 reasons why.

1   "Johnny B. Goode"
Chuck Berry (1958)

"If you want to play rock & roll," Joe Perry told Rolling Stone in 2004, "you have to start here." Recorded 50 years ago, on January 6th, 1958, at the Chess Records studio in Chicago, Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" was the first great record about the joys and rewards of playing rock & roll guitar. It also has the single greatest rock & roll intro: a thrilling blast of high twang driven by Berry's spearing notes, followed by a rhythm part that translates a boogie-woogie piano riff for the guitar. "He could play the guitar just like a-ringing a bell," Berry sings in the first verse — a perfect description of his sound and the reverberations still running through every style of rock guitar, from the Beatles and the Stones on down. "It was beautiful, effortless, and his timing was perfection," Keith Richards has said of Berry's playing. "He is rhythm man supreme." Berry wrote often about rock & roll and why it's good for you — "Roll Over Beethoven" in 1956, "Rock and Roll Music" in '57 — but never better than in "Johnny B. Goode," a true story about how playing music on a guitar can change your life forever.

2   "Purple Haze"
The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1967)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Deutsche Grammophon Panorama Series on Spotify

"What really are the most important works by this or that composer? What are the recordings that assure one of a definitive interpretation? Panorama, a 2-CD series, is designed to help one make a start, using as its material the treasure-house of music, performances and artists that is the DG catalogue.

Panorama steers a tour of the great composers and their very best music: works by Bach and Handel, by Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, by Verdi and Wagner, by Rimsky-Korsakov and Prokofiev. Not only that, Panorama traverses the important epochs of musical history: the mysteries of Gregorian chant, the fascinating sound-world of the Renaissance, the splendours of the Baroque era." From DG's official page.

Here's the Spotify playlist: DG: Panorama Series (842 tracks, total time: 2 days) This playlist works better in Album view. My first Liszt album is the Panorama set, a great introduction indeed.