Saturday, March 31, 2012

20th Century Concerto Grosso Revival on Spotify

The concerto grosso (Italian for big concerto) is a form of baroque music in which the musical material is passed between a small group of soloists (the concertino) and full orchestra (the ripieno). This is in contrast to the concerto which features a single solo instrument with the melody line, accompanied by the orchestra. - Wikipedia

The neo-Classical movement of the early 20th century reintroduced the concerto grosso as part of a "Back to Bach" campaign. [...] This form of 20th century concerto grosso is viewed as a reaction against the flamboyant display of the typical Romantic era solo concerto and often makes much the same effect as it did in the Baroque: a balanced conversation between the two major textures rather than a contest between them. - AllMusic

This playlist is a collection of concerti grossi written in the 20th century and onwards: Gian Carlo Menotti's Triple Concerto a Tre; the Palladio suite from the 1966 album Diamond Music by Karl Jenkins; Béla Bartók's Divertimento for String Orchestra; Krzysztof Penderecki's Concerto Grosso No. 1, for three cellos and orchestra; Concerto in E-flat (Dumbarton Oaks) by Igor Stravinsky; Edward Elgar's Introduction and Allegro and concertos by Ernest Bloch, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Bohuslav MartinůAlfred Schnittke, Andrei Eshpai, Eino Tamberg, Ernst Krenek and more. I only selected one piece from every composer, except for Martinů. These are all remarkable works, so I did not include Peter Breiner's Beatles concerti grossi.

Get this collection in one Spotify playlist: 20th Century Concerto Grosso Revival (58 tracks, total time: 6 hours) Ctrl (CMD) + G to browse in album view. In case you missed it, a similar playlist from 2010: The Art of 20th Century Fugue.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Georges Bizet: Complete Thematic Catalogue

"Known for one of the world's most popular operas, Carmen, Georges Bizet deserves attention as well for other works of remarkable melodic charm. Many of his works received cool receptions on their premieres but are now considered central to the repertory of classical music." - AllMusic

Works in this playlist:

Orchestral, piano and vocal works: Symphony in C (the very existence of this brilliant work was not known to the world until 1935, 60 years after Bizet's death), Overture in A, Roma Symphony, Petite suite, Overture Patrie, Vasco de Gama, Agnus Dei, Te Deum and cantata Clovis et Clotilde; L'Arlésienne (complete incidental music and suites); other suites from operas; various songs and piano works, including Variations Chromatiques and Jeux d'enfants (Children's Games).

Operas: Le docteur Miracle, Don Procopio, Ivan IV, Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers; both the amended and original versions), La jolie fille de Perth, Djamileh, Carmen (four versions performed with spoken dialogue as originally intended or with recitatives added by other composers; plus three tracks from a 1908 recording sang in German). Arranged in chronological order.

Get this collection in one Spotify playlist:  Georges Bizet: Complete Thematic Catalogue (460 tracks, total time 28 hours).  Ctrl (CMD) + G to browse in album view. In the Naxos Educational playlist you can find an audiobook introduction to Carmen.

A playlist for the greatest French Composer ever will be posted next week.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Felix Mendelssohn: Complete Works on Spotify

"Mendelssohn never outgrew his precocious youthful style. [...] He remained stylistically conservative [...] feeling no need to attract attention with a display of 'revolutionary' novelty. Throughout his short career he remained comfortably faithful to the musical status quo – that is, the "classical" forms, as they were already thought of by his time. His version of romanticism, already evident in his earliest works, consisted in musical 'pictorialism' of a fairly conventional, objective nature (though exquisitely wrought)." - Richard Taruskin

This playlist is a collection of Mendelssohn's complete works available on Spotify. An early violin sonata (from 1820, composed when he was 11) and the exquisite string symphonies (taken from a dozen different recordings) are put at the beginning. Then follows works with opus numbers, Op.1 - 121 (only the opus numbers 1 to 72 were assigned by the composer, the later ones by publishers. The opus number sequence does not therefore always accord with the order of composition). Other works without opus number, including such notable ones like Concerto for Violin in D minor and Double Concerto for Violin, Piano, and Orchestra, are placed at the end.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Felix Mendelssohn: Complete Works (716 tracks, total time: 55 hours). Ctrl (CMD) + G to browse in album view. See list of compositions here. If you don't know where to begin, try this Naxos sampler: Mendelssohn: His Life and Music first.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Pierre Boulez as Composer & Mahler Conductor

Two playlists to celebrate the 87th birthday of Pierre Boulez, French composer, conductor and winner of 26 Grammys. First one collects his compositions in reverse chronological order, with a brief and appropriate intro at the beginning: seven extracts of his most important works, from the DG compilation Pierre Boulez at 80: The Conductor and The Composer. Boulez often rework and expand earlier works dramatically; I included all the versions available on Spotify.

Works in this playlist includes (with dates of completion/revision):
Second playlist is the complete Mahler recordings Boulez made with DG, including the ten symphonies (plus an individual recording of Totenfeier from "Resurrection"), Das Lied and two albums of other songs; arranged in the order of composition date. I also put Boulez's only Bruckner recording to date, a monumental 8th, at the end.

Here are the Spotify playlists: Boulez as Composer: Reverse Chronological Collection With Intro (111 tracks, total time: 14 hours); Boulez Conducts Mahler & Bruckner (99 tracks, total time: 16 hours). Ctrl (CMD) + G to browse in album view.

Happy 87th birthday; still waiting for Godot.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Easy Listening Classical For Study, Work, Relaxing, Chillout, Anything But Serious Listening, On Spotify

If you never went to the opera house but don't mind a bit of refreshing Vivaldi after a hard day's work, this is the classical music that you may love the most. And albums in this playlist are the best of its kind.

Nice try. Now give me back Marvin Gaye.
If you just saw Amadeus and were surprised that some classical music were less boring than those you heard before. This playlist is for you.

If you haven't decided if you really want to hurl yourself into a bunch of dead white Europeans or ask you grandpa about how to pronounce Furtwängler, but still want a taste of classical music. Look no further.

If you normally get your annual dose of classical music by picking up albums with delightfully subtle and tasteful names (like Make Out To Mozart) in Spotify's search results for "classical music". Thank whoever leads you to this place.

If you are a true hipster that collects all kinds of aural wallpapers but so far hasn't found a classical one (or you have a compilation like The Most Relaxing Classical In The Universe but your freckle-faced cousin already liked it on Facebook), today is your lucky day.

Phew. I never thought that I could talk like Lang Lang's PR.

Seriously, this playlist offers some of the best easy to access classical compilations, including: Deutsche Grammophon's four Yellow Lounge releases (classical mix albums for real, all the peaceful movements transition smoothly between one and the next) and Classical Choice series (15 albums featuring famous composers and their works as well as different topics e.g. Meditation, Good Morning or Love´s Dream.); Decca's Set Your Life To Music series (Bach at Bedtime, Debussy For Daydreaming etc.) and Bluebird - Music Of Contemplation; Serene Journeys Through Classical Music and Horizons - A Musical Journey from Delos; Mystic Classics - Visionary Choral and Orchestral Masterpieces from Naxos; the Atmosphere series from Analekta (Night, Morning, Winter and Fall); and Berceuses: Evening Music for the Whole Family from Aeon.

I only included albums that 1, offer excerpts (i.e. the big tunes) and single movements from multiple-movement works; 2, organized upon moods and pragmatic themes; 3, performed by top-notch artists. There's many other fine albums for classical newbies, like Naxos's recent "My First Mozart/Bach/etc. Album" series, but I intended to make this playlist as barbarian-friendly as possible. This playlist is just meant to help you to get used to the sound of classical warhorses, not to get you into Bach or any composer. I am really not sure if you want to know Bach and get your "first Bach album", but I suppose you go to bed every day and Bach At Bedtime may come handy when Red House Painters can't get you to sleep anymore. These compilations present classical works as well constructed, lushly orchestrated and out-of-this-worldly catchy pop music, for newbies, there's nothing wrong with this approach. It's as nature as introducing people to Elton John with Tiny Dancer. Hand on heart, how did you feel when you first heard the 11-minute opening track in Yellow Brick Road, when you were eight?

Here's the Spotify playlist: Easy Listening Classical For Study, Work, Relaxing, Chillout, Anything But Serious Listening (523 tracks, total time: 41 hours) It works better in Album view. I will add more fitting albums when I stumble upon them; suggestions are welcome and appreciated.

Hope you enjoy the music. After a while, maybe you will find yourself just can't get a certain tune off your head and decide to dig more about that composer, use Google or the library, and come back here to get the dude's complete works in one playlist. Most likely you will find him in the composer list here. I look forward to see you around.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bach Works Catalogue (Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis) on Spotify

"Perhaps the most serious complaint you could make about Bach is that he has every quality of humanity except imperfection." -Jeremy Denk

I made a playlist of Hänssler's Complete Bach Edition before (duo to a temporary glitch, most recordings from that playlist became unavailable since this week; Hänssler's digital distributor Naxos told me they were re-delivering them to Spotify). The performances in that Edition were very fine, but few of them are first choices. So I compiled another playlist for the complete works of J.S. Bach, using the best non-Hänssler recordings, from DG (Helmut Walcha, Martha Argerich), Decca (András Schiff), EMI (Pierre Hantai), Sony (Glenn Gould, Murray Perahia), Warner (Nikolaus Harnoncourt), BIS (Masaaki Suzuki), SDG (John Eliot Gardiner), Nonesuch (Lorraine Hunt Lieberson), Harmonia Mundi (Richard Egarr), CPO (Gerhard Weinberger) and many other labels that I could find.

Works in this playlist are sorted by BWV numbers, from BWV 1 to 1128 (discovered in 2008). Works with Anhang ("Appendix") numbers are attached at the end. The BWV catalogue itself is sorted by genre; see detailed list of works in this Wiki page.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Bach Works Catalogue (Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis) (3488 tracks, total time: 168 hours) It works better in Album view. All tracks are available on both Spotify UK and US. There is no such thing as a definite recording of Bach's work, so I used as many recordings as possible (six recordings for the six unaccompanied cello suites, for example), and I will keep on updating this playlist to include more outstanding albums. Look forward to your suggestions.

Happy 327th birthday.

Christian Carey's Sixty Postwar Pieces to Study on Spotify

Christian Carey, composer and Sequenza 21 editor, made an interesting list of important postwar classical works yesterday. The selected music here are not as formidable as you might think; a degree in music theory surely helps you to see more beauty in Babbitt or Ferneyhough, but most of them only require your attention and open mind. Quote from his original post:

"Note that I am not attempting to give them the “greatest hits” of the past sixty-five years. Instead I strove for a diversity of selections, both watershed masterworks and vibrantly interesting pieces that merit attention, even if they may not be the first ones that come to mind for the given composer. On a different day, we could come up with sixty different pieces: a composer must be prepared for a lifetime of listening, score study, and learning. Even after that, they must also be humbled by the fact that they will only get to a fraction of all the good stuff out there!"

Here's the Spotify playlist: Christian Carey's 60 Postwar Pieces to Study (341 tracks, total time: 28 hours). Ctrl (CMD) + G to browse in album view. See full list and original article here. Thanks Mr. Carey, now, what about making another list of postwar pieces to listen to for us amateur music fans (example), or even postwar pieces to study to for those who think classical music is only tolerable when an exam is coming up?

Note: 14 pieces: No. 4, 6, 18, 20, 22, 23, 26, 32, 35, 36, 50 and 60, are not yet on Spotify.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Guest Post: Bach's 133 Arias For Tenor

Jon Ploug Jørgensen is a young Danish classicist, or teacher of classics, with a strong proclivity for all things classical.


It was only a year ago that I discovered Bach's arias. I always knew they were there and have enjoyed them when I heard works such as the Christmas Oratorio, St. Matthew Passion, etc. But it was only when I started to use Spotify that I learned about the hundreds of other arias which Bach composed as a small part of his hundreds of cantatas - an achievement I still find it hard to comprehend! Perhaps the greatest discovery here was that these arias - composed at a furious pace - were as good as the arias from the large and more famous oratorios.

It was especially the arias for tenor that caught me, and I must admit that I almost never listened to any other music for the last six month. For convenience, I set up a playlist in Spotify, where I gathered all Bach’s arias for tenor, which I hear present.

When you stumble upon something great you want to share it and I am therefore pleased that Ulysses will present them on his excellent blog. A blog, which also has brought me lots of inspiration for classical listening.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Bach's Arias for Tenor (133 tracks, total time: 9 hours) Ctrl (CMD) + G to browse in album view

Guest Post by Jon Ploug Jørgensen.

P.S. There are at least six complete or semi-complete sets of J.S. Bach's cantatas on Spotify, you can get them in six playlists here and here.

Friday, March 16, 2012

St. Patrick's Day Playlist: W.B. Yeats In Music

For St. Patrick's Day I compiled a playlist of songs and classical works based on the writings of the great Irish poet, William Butler Yeats.

Some of Yeats' poems have become part of the Irish folklore: Down By The Salley Gardens has been performed by hundreds of singers, from James Joyce's friend John McCormack, to contemporary folk singer Maura O'Connell (both renditions are included here). First part of this playlist is consisted of non-classical works: it opens with The Waterboys' heartrendingly beautiful musical treatment of The Stolen Child; then continues with Joni Mitchell's majestic Slouching Towards Bethlehem (based on The Second Coming); besides Yeats songs from renowned Irish acts like Van Morrison (Crazy Jane On God), The Chieftains (Never Give All The Heart), Christy Moore (Song Of Wandering Aengus), Sharon Shannon (A Song Of The Rosy Cross), it also features a full album dedicated to the poet: The Waterboys' An Appointment with Mr. Yeats.

Second part starts with Donnacha Dennehy's Yeats song cycle That the Night Come, commissioned and performed by Dawn Upshaw. Songs from dozens of composers including Barber, Elgar, John Tavener, Tippett and Vaughan Williams are followed by Harry Partch's opera King Oedipus (based on Yeats' translation of the Greek drama), and Jonathan Harvey's piano piece Four Images After Yeats.

Here's the Spotify playlist: William Butler Yeats in Music (128 tracks, total time: 8 hours) Ctrl (CMD)+G to browse in album view. Some song texts can be found here. In my previous playlist The Poet Speaks, you can hear Yeats reads and talks about The Lake Isle Of Innisfree.

Below is a video of Leonard Cohen reciting the first lines of Yeats' In Memory Of Eva Gore-Booth And Con Markiewicz, in Lissadell House.

The light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Krautrocksampler: Julian Cope's 50 Kosmische Classics on Spotify

Krautrocksampler: One Head's Guide to the Great Kosmische Musik - 1968 Onwards, written by musicologist and former The Teardrop Explodes singer, Julian Cope, is a book describing the underground music scene in Germany from 1968 through the 1970s.

The book comprises a narrative of the rock and roll culture in post-WWII West Germany, along with chapters focusing on individual major artists, including Faust, Tangerine Dream, Neu!, Amon Düül I and II, Ash Ra Tempel, Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser and the Cosmic Jokers and advocate of psychedelic drugs Timothy Leary. It also has an annotated appendix of "50 Kosmische Classics." - Wikipedia

Spotify's Germany team is definitely doing a great job: on day one I already discovered many newly added recordings from German labels: as far as I know, German language version of Kraftwerk (Computerliebe sounds more like the future than Computer Love) and Sergius Golowin appeared for the first time today, and I also saw more recordings from Faust and NEU!. I made this playlist in 2010, when only 24 albums out of Cope's 50 choices were available; today I found 10 more.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Krautrocksampler: Julian Cope's 50 Kosmische Classics (226 tracks, total time: 46 hours) Ctrl (CMD)+G to browse in album view. I haven't read Krautrocksampler (because it's long been out of print and a used copy goes for $200), but Cope's Japrocksampler was such an eye-opener and a great pleasure to read. Get them when  a copy at reasonable price appears, you will find music that other people don't dare to tell you.

Welcome to Spotify, Germany! And Happy 60th Birthday, Wolfgang Rihm

Spotify launched in world's fourth biggest music market Germany today. It is also the 60th birthday of German's leading composer Wolfgang Rihm, whose music is "unpredictable, with wide mood swings and shocking juxtapositions between harsh utter violence and gentle, lovely sounds" (AllMusic).

SpotifyClassical site traffic of the past 24 hours
I put together a playlist for recordings of Rihm's works on Spotify. It includes the Rihm Edition on Hänssler; his twelve string quartets; the energetic Jagden und Formen (Hunts and Forms); probably his best known work the violin concerto Gesungene Zeit ("Sung Time")played by Anne-Sophie Mutter, and many more. I grouped the tracks by record labels. At the end of the playlist there are three tracks tagged without the composer's name - so you will not be able to find them by searching for Rihm. They are a solo violin piece written for the memory of Yehudi Menuhin; a 32-minute piece for 5 violas composed in 2008, and a farewell march.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Wolfgang Rihm: Discography (296 tracks, total time: 36 hours) Ctrl (CMD)+G to browse in album view.

For new visitors from Germany, please check out my other German composers playlists for complete works of J.S. Bach, Beethoven, R. Strauss, Wagner, Stockhausen; Bruckner and Mahler symphonies, and many more. And of course you should also search Spotify's amazing library to look for your own favourites and forgotten gems; they have almost everything, from Rilke's poetry set to music, to the unparalleled Marlene Dietrich sings Sag Mir Wo Die Blumen Sind (Where Have All The Flowers Gone).

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Giuseppe Verdi: Complete Operas & Other Works

"Giuseppe Verdi was to opera in the Italian tradition what Beethoven was to the symphony. When he arrived on the scene some had suggested that effective opera after Rossini was not possible. Verdi, however, took the form to new heights of drama and musical expression. Partisans see him as at least the equal of Wagner, even though his style and musical persona were of an entirely different cast. In the end, both Verdi's popular vein -- as heard in Rigoletto, Il trovatore, and La traviata -- and his deeper side -- found in Aida, Otello, and Falstaff -- demonstrate his mastery and far-reaching development of Italian opera." AllMusic

 "Through care taken over trends, the desire to be novel and affectation knowledge, we repudiate our art, our instinct, our own way of doing things; it is absurd and stupid" - Giuseppe Verdi

This playlist gathers the complete works of Verdi together: first the 28 operas in chronological order, as listed here; then other works including songs, the String Quartet and the Requiem. After every complete recording of opera, I put in a highlights album, or a couple of famous choruses or arias from star soloists like Callas and Caballé (the only exception being Falstaff, for which I added a 2-hour recording of Toscanini's rehearsals). I also included significant alternative versions like Le trouvère (Paris version of Il trovatore with a ballet added), and 1865 version of Macbeth. For Don Carlo I used Giulini's recording of the 1886 unabridged 5-act version, Muti's recording of the 1884 4-act version, and also included two arias from Pappano's recording of the 1867 original 5-act French version.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Giuseppe Verdi: Complete Operas & Other Works (1443 tracks, total time: 90 hours) Ctrl (CMD)+G to browse in album view. Most tracks are available on both Spotify Europe and USA. Also check out my previous Naxos Educational playlist for audiobook introductions to Verdi's life and works, including four of the most famous operas. To those who are looking for a manageable guide to the King Of Opera, I recommend this book Verdi With a Vengeance.

Below is La Traviata performed live in Zürich Main Train Station .