Favorite Music Pieces

on May 25, 2013 in Journal

The Twenty-Fourth of May 2013


It has come to my attention that with any artistic endeavor in the modern arena there is an accompanying clamor for a bevy of biographical information. Every submission, whether poetry or prose, has a corresponding dialogue box patiently waiting for the life story of the submitter. At best it’s an attempt on the part of promoters to find a marketable trait or unique bit of history that will catch the interest of customers and at worst it’s some sort of benchmark for the fitness of the artist. The latter is quite frightening as all who can write are fit to write and should do so. However, I understand that my pathological need for privacy and my hope that future success, of which I hope to have some, be divorced from anything that could be labeled personal fame are more than lofty goals in the age of information. So, though I believe that everything of biographical significance that could be furnished by me can be found with ease within my body of work, I have decided to compromise with that ego that must be restrained daily and offer by way of opinion and general thought that biography that I have refused to write for book and album cover alike.

I have always thought that what a person enjoys says a lot about them. In part this is why I love to look at a person’s bookshelf whenever I visit their home for the first time. I will be offering up my bookshelf for scrutiny at a later date, but with that same premise in mind I thought it would be interesting to fist explore my musical library through the prism of the now famous top ten list, my ten favorite musical pieces to be precise. Now as important as it is to make the distinction between songwriter, which I am, and composer, which I am not, I would like to emphasize the difference between favorite and best. In so far that these works are my favorite they are the best, however I’m not seeking a theory debate on the quantitative value of these pieces. My musical theory has always been a shameful weak spot in my studies and I am ill suited to converse intelligently thereon. So I would ask for leniency on account of my lay interpretation of, and entirely emotional response to, these great works. One final point before I begin, I do not wish by this list to imply that I have no fondness for contemporary music. However, I’ve decided to leave a discussion of my favorite albums, therein being the distinction, for another time. Likewise, the music portions of operas and ballets were not considered as I believe the stage performance of these works are an integral part of their existence so to weigh them on orchestration alone is to do them a great disservice. All of that being said these are my current favorite pieces of music.


10. Vivaldi Concerto in D major RV 228: I think it is pieces like this that suffer most from the romanticization of symphonic programs (at least in regards to my experience over the years with the Florida Orchestra perhaps the baroque works are more popular elsewhere). From the vibrant first notes through the pensive longing of the second movement and energetic finish there always seems to be something hiding just beneath the surface here that my ear ever feels just on the edge of hearing. It’s a wonderful little mystery that I can listen to over and over again.

9. Rachmaninoff  Piano Concerto #3: I never get tired of defending this piece against its titanic predecessor, but one of the finest performances of live symphonic music I’ve ever had the privilege of attending was Lilya Zilberstein’s flawless playing of this work so I don’t know if I have been unduly biased in that regard. Granted everything that Rachmaninoff wrote for the piano makes me wonder how anyone can reproduce his works, as an amateur piano player this one is particularly humbling. I’ll never forget the moments of power and moments of simplicity that I can only call sweet with a purely Rachmaninoff ending.

8. Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor: Already being a great fan of the violin makes loving this piece easy. Unlike other concertos Mendelssohn leads with this beautiful instrument which catches my ear in the first seconds and doesn’t let go until turbulent and triumphant end. This work has several themes that have just stuck with me ever since my first time hearing it, particularly the supremely romantic andante. It’s perhaps this unbelievably lovely movement that helped me decide between Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto #2, which would be in this space, and Mendelssohn’s wonderful work. The internal debate on this point was furious.

7. Saint-Saens Piano Concerto #2 in G Minor: Like the Mendelssohn concerto already listed this work dives right into the featured instrument and begins one of the most riveting, mysterious, and almost threatening pieces that I know of. There is a strange sadness to the opening that seems to haunt the work. This sadness is relieved in part by the lightness of the second movement though not losing the hints of mystery it hides before thundering into its concluding movement. This piece has been my companion for many years especially when I’m feeling particularly pensive.

6. Dvorak Violin Concerto in A minor: Like many of the other composers on this list I have been forced to pick one piece for fear of having only three or so artists even represented. Dvorak, being one of those composers with several works I would consider favorites, could very well have had three entries of his own with his ninth symphony and cello concerto in addition to this one. That being said for some reason the violin concerto has a singular effect on me particularly the joyous and exuberant finale. I always seem to get swept away by the vitality of this piece and often find myself starting it over once I’ve finished it.

5. Corelli Concerto Grosso #2 in F major: I could just as easily have selected Corelli’s entire sixth opus for this entry but I forced myself to pick just one of the twelve concertos. I love them all but find myself listening most frequently to this one. It is uplifting and beautiful and everything I love about baroque music. Its third movement opens quite gravely but opens up into a wonderfully forward looking theme that feels hopeful and fulfilling. It’s one of those elegantly simply phrases that catches my heart strings every time I hear it.

4. Handel’s Messiah: As a musician and a Christian it is hard not to be stirred to the very foundations merely at the mention of this work. Like another piece that is coming up on this list its length prohibits regular listens and I always have to set aside time to delve into the emotions that this work conjures. Though I’ll admit to cherry picking movements on occasion with Ev’ry Valley Shall be Exalted, Hallelujah, and Worthy is the Lamb being the principle offenders. There might be some ethnocentric bias seeing as it is written in English but regardless it is one of those works that profoundly altered the way I listen to music.

3. Mahler Symphony #2: This piece is a monster no two ways about it. From its nearly ninety minute running time to the sheer scope of its themes everything about this work is huge. Aptly referred to as “The Resurrection” this piece explores musically death, the meaning of life, and the hope for an everlasting transcendental existence after earthly death. Having first experienced this symphony live I can barely hope to express the thunderclap this work produced for me. I can remember leaving the building not even quite sure what had happened to me, not unlike the unfortunate car wreck I was in recently, only in a more jubilant and thrilling way.

2. Bach Mass in B minor: If I was a tenth as good at anything as Bach was at writing music I would have cured cancer by now. There are so many of his works that I honestly believe I cannot live without that I don’t even know where to start. However, I feel that in some ways this piece is in a way a dictionary of the baroque era of music. This is the lexicon of words with which the composers of the age wrote their masterworks and for me this is what makes it the sure choice for my list. There is more musical and emotional depth here than I would ever be able to summarize or even paraphrase. Like the Messiah this work requires an investment of time, nearly two hours, but is worth every single minute.

1. Beethoven Symphony #9: At the risk of sounding cliché, it begins and ends here. I’m ashamed to say I had a debate with myself about picking a different Beethoven piece simply because of this work’s unimaginable renown. Thankfully I came to my senses and realized that not picking this piece because everyone knows it to be one of the greatest creations of mankind is as sophomoric as those who believe things are valuable because no one has heard of them. While there is little to be said about this supreme achievement that someone has not already said for my own part the first seconds of this monument warned me that what was to come was unlike anything I’d ever experienced and in every way that was true. Light and dark, agony and ecstasy, three movements of supreme unsolvable mystery followed by pure revelation in its simplest form this work breaks me down and builds me back up every time I listen to it. And never was there sweeter heartbreak my life.



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