Friday, April 27, 2012

Gaetano Donizetti: Complete Operas & Other Works

Gaetano Donizetti was among the most important composers of bel canto opera in both Italian and French in the first half of the nineteenth Century. Many of Donizetti's more than 60 operas are still part of the modern repertoire and continue to challenge singers for their musical and technical demands. Donizetti stands stylistically between Rossini and Verdi; his scenes are usually more expanded in structure than those of Rossini, but he never blurred the lines between set pieces and recitative as Verdi did in his middle-period and late works. Often compared to his contemporary, Bellini, Donizetti produced a wider variety of operas and showed a greater stylistic flexibility, even if he never quite achieved the sheer beauty of Bellini's greatest works. - AllMusic

This playlist gathers 39 of Donizetti's operas available on Spotify in chronological order (from L'ajo nell'imbarazzo, to Dom Sébastien, the last opera that Donizetti completed before going insane as a result of syphilis), as well as his orchestral works, chamber music (including 19 string quartets), songs and sacred vocal works, in one place.

Get this collection in one Spotify playlist here: Gaetano Donizetti: Complete Operas & Other Works (1238 tracks, total time: 86 hours) Ctrl (CMD) + G to browse in album view. See this Wikipedia page for list of works, and the previous Naxos Educational playlist for an audiobook introduction to Donizetti's most famous opera L'elisir d'amore(The Elixir of Love).

Monday, April 23, 2012

Spotify Orchestra: Four Playlists for Percussion

Spotify Orchestra is an ongoing series that focuses on the instruments, featuring playlists curated by professional players. Previous posts including Horn, Trumpet, Harp and Theremin. Below is a guest post by percussion virtuoso Thad Anderson. Thad made four wonderful playlists that cover lots of exciting percussion music from drum improvisation by Glenn Kotche (of Wilco fame) to Steven Schick's breathtaking performance of Xenakis. I discovered many unknown gems in his playlists, and hope you find them helpful as well. 


Percussion music is incredibly eclectic. Not necessarily eclectic as in taste, but eclectic in style and instrumentation. A violinist plays one instrument, a violin, but a percussionist plays hundreds, maybe even thousands. The word percussion, by definition, does not refer to a single object or instrument. It describes a family of instruments, which then includes sub-categories, such as keyboard percussion, multiple percussion, accessory percussion, membranophones, idiophones; the list goes on and I still haven't even mentioned a singular instrument. This is all to say that classical or contemporary percussion music is vast and wide-ranging.

The following four playlists represent suggested listening. They are not intended to be a catch-all of everything that has been recorded, but rather some of the most creative and significant works composed for percussion instruments (listed in no particular order).

Percussion - New Releases (79 tracks, 8 hours)

The past year or so have been particularly good for listeners seeking great percussion recordings. Here are some of the best new releases from the genre. I will continue to update this list as new albums become available.

Percussion - Solo (26 tracks, 2 hours)

Artistry as a solo percussionist takes on many forms. I kept this list short, but it represents a good variety what is possible as a soloist behind a percussion instrument or multi-percussion set-up.

Percussion - Ensemble (71 tracks, 9 hours)

The Percussion Ensemble is a 20th-century invention. It has really turned into an incredible compositional tool and means of expression.

Percussion - Mixed Chamber (54 tracks, 6 hours)

Percussionists make for great collaborators and there is no better example than in chamber music. This playlist includes great works that feature percussionist with a mixture of non-percussion instruments.

Guest post by Thad Anderson, a member of the percussion faculty at The University of Central Florida. In addition to the percussion area, he also teaches courses in music composition and technology. Anderson is a versatile performer and pedagogue with interests that span contemporary music, historic percussion ensemble literature, design, conducting, and technology.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Spotify As Stage: Shakespeare Plays and Poems on Recordings

This playlist features recorded performances and dramatized readings of Shakespeare's plays; recordings of the sonnets and other poems; as well as selected overtures and incidental music for the plays.

Sir John Gilbert's 1849 painting: The Plays of Shakespeare
The rightly legendary Arkangel Shakespeare is not on Spotify yet, but many other great recordings make up for that: Sir John Gielgud's Old Vic performance of Hamlet with a one-hour introduction and his famous reading of the sonnets; Orson Welles' radio show of the same play; Dylan Thomas reads King Lear, to name just a few. Many performances from The Marlowe Society are highly listenable too. The plays are arranged chronologically (roughly), followed by the sonnets and other poems.

The playlist opens with a prologue from Celebrating Shakespeare: This World's Globe, played on period instruments from the playwright's time, and ends with the ending theme from the soundtrack of Shakespeare in Love. Some famous overtures, symphonic poems and suites, and incidental music are included, put along side of the plays. For more Shakespeare-inspired music, see this previous playlist.

Get this collection in one Spotify playlist here: Shakespeare Plays and Poems on Recordings (365 tracks, total time: 70 hours) Ctrl (CMD) + G to browse in album view.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Classical Music That Imitate Or Use Birdsong

"Birds are the opposite of time. They represent our longing for light, for stars, for rainbows, and for jubilant song." Oliver Messiaen

Hitchcock works with composers Remi Gassman and Oscar Sala on the soundtrack for The Birds. This keyboard was used to created a large variety of sounds, from the birds' shrill caws to a subtle, electronic silence as they prepare to attack.
This playlist only features works that are - for lack of a better description - heavily influenced by the birds. There are brief passages in Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony and various of Mahler's symphonies that mimic bird calls, but I did not include them here. Some obvious and overplayed choices were also skipped, like Vivaldi's Four Seasons (instead I included his flute Concerto "Il gardellino", or The Goldfinch).

Two tracks from Janáček's On an Overgrown Path bookend this playlist: about people chatted like swallows and the barn owl that did now fly away, respectively. In between them are 42 other works, from Mozart's starling to Saint-Saëns' Swan. Among my personal favourite are Xenakis' Nuits (Night) and Vasks' Plainscapes, both employ choir forces to create bird-like sounds in unforgettable ways. For practical reasons I only put in three tracks from Messiaen, and a recording of Blackbirds singing as a postlude. You can find more recordings of various European and Israel birds, which Messiaen quoted, in that BIS album (scroll down to end of the playlist and click album title).

Get this collection in one Spotify playlist: Classical Music That Imitate Or Use Birdsong (45 tracks, total time: 5 hours) Ctrl (CMD) + G to browse in album view. See full tracklist in embedded Spotify Play button below. Further readings: Bird vocalization and Our Sonic Environment and the SoundScape on Sound Research.

P.S. The Spotify app for this blog is live today, it's called Ulysses' Classical. Please add to your Spotify sidebar and share with friends if you like it, thanks. More news to follow soon.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Bridge George Crumb Edition & A Few More

George Crumb was one of the most distinctive compositional voices to emerge in the second half of the twentieth century. A charter member of the "New Virtuosity" movement, Crumb developed an expansive musical palette noted for its emphasis on extended instrumental and vocal techniques, its rich and sophisticated musical allusions, an evocative theatricality, and a poet's sense of sonorous detail. - AllMusic

...Examples include seagull effect for the cello (Vox Balaenae), metallic vibrato for the piano (Five Pieces for Piano), and using a mallet to play the strings of a contrabass (Madrigals, Book I), among numerous others. He is not an electronic music composer, however many works call for amplification of instruments, such as Black Angels (string quartet) or Ancient Voices of Children (mixed ensemble). Crumb's music contains an intense humanism, which is reflected in his personal definition of music: "a system of proportions in the service of spiritual impulse." - Wikipedia

"Bridge's decision to embark on a complete edition of George Crumb's music remains one of the most significant recording projects currently in progress, as well as one of the most artistically successful." - ClassicsToday

Bridge Records added many recordings to Spotify this week, all eight released volumes of the Elliott Carter Edition are available now (last week there were only three); I have incorporated them into the Carter playlist from last December.

Today's playlist gathers all 15 volumes of the ongoing George Crumb Edition, except for vol. 14 which is a DVD, in one place; together with some significant Crumb recordings on other labels, such as Anne-Sophie Mutter's Four Nocturnes, Kronos Quartet's Black Angels, and Eighth Blackbird's Voice of the Whale. Start with these works and Music For A Summer Evening if you are not familiar with the composer. Vol. 9, featuring the hauntingly beautiful Ancient Voices of Children, is also a good starting point.

Get this collection in one Spotify playlist here: Bridge George Crumb Edition & More (315 tracks, total time: 19 hours) Ctrl (CMD) + G to browse in album view. See the Bridge site for more information about this edition, which the composer has not only supervised all of the recordings, but has also taken part in them as pianist, percussionist and narrator.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Alexander Scriabin: Complete Chronological Catalogue on Spotify

The pianist Athur Rubinstein recalled a visit to a café with Alexander Scriabin:

"Who is your favourite composer?" he asked with the condescending smile of the great master who knows the answer. When I answered without hesitation, "Brahms", he banged his fist on the table. "What, what?" he screamed. "How can you like this terrible composer and me at the same time? When I was your age I was a Chopinist, later I became a Wagnerite, but now I can only be a Scriabinist!" And, quite enraged, he took his hat and ran out of the café, leaving me stunned by this scene and with the bill to pay.

- Arthur Rubinstein, My Young Years

Scriabin is the Russian counterpart of Chopin, though much darker and outlandish even by Russian standard. This playlist is a collection of his complete compositions, arranged (mostly) in chronological order: first opus 1 to 74; then a few works without opus number (including the unfinished Mysterium); at the end I also put in four preludes by Scriabin's son, Julian, composed before drowning at the age of 11.

The playlist features  more than 50 pianist, from Vladimir Sofronitsky (played at the composer's piano in Scriabin museum) to Vladimir Horowitz (Scriabin heard the then 11-year-old pianist play and had an enthusiastic reaction).

Get this collection in one Spotify playlist here: Alexander Scriabin: Complete Chronological Catalogue (262 tracks, total time: 16 hours) Ctrl (CMD) + G to browse in album view. You can also hear Scriabin's own piano roll recordings in the previous Composer As Pianist playlist.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Guillaume de Machaut: Complete Recordings on Spotify

Notre-Dame de Reims (Our Lady of Rheims)
Guillaume de Machaut (c. 1300 – 1377) was a Medieval French poet and composer. He is one of the earliest composers on whom significant biographical information is available.

According to Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, Machaut was "the last great poet who was also a composer". Well into the 15th century, Machaut's poetry was greatly admired and imitated by other poets, including Geoffrey Chaucer. - Wikipedia

Machaut is the first in the line of great composers; this playlist gathers all recordings of his works available on Spotify in one place. Machaut tracks from medieval music compilations (like Where Beauty Moves And Wit Delights) are put at the beginning. They are followed by albums feature only Machaut's works (loosely arranged by genre: Lais, Mass, Motets, etc.). The playlist ends with New York Polyphony's beautiful paraphrase of Ma fin est mon commencement (My end is my beginning) from 2012.

Get this collection in one Spotify playlist: Guillaume de Machaut: Complete Recordings on Spotify (415 tracks from more than 60 albums, total time: 26 hours). Ctrl (CMD) + G to browse in album view. More about Machaut on, and more pictures of Reims Cathedral (where Machaut worked From 1338 until his death) here.

This brings the French Composer series to an end. Adieu.