At least annually

February 27, 2008

A few days ago a friend and I, basking in the afterglow of Bach’s Mass in B Minor, were discussing music that ought to be heard at least once each year — not, of course, from a sense of abstract duty, but because it has something essential to give. Not only does this music delight the mind and thrill the heart, but if the wind (which blows, remember, where it will) is blowing just right, it can awaken the desire for that elusive joy, sweeter than pleasure, which we cannot name, but which is the end of all our striving. That is surely one of the great gifts of great art.

Nothing could be easier than compiling a list of such pieces: if there is any doubt, leave it out. These are the pieces the mere mention of which makes the heart leap. My friend and I very quickly settled on the following:

To this list he (imbued as he is with Italian blood) added Verdi’s Requiem, but I (imbued with Welsh) demurred. My own list would include (and, in practice, does include) the following:

A few of those items are, perhaps, idiosyncratic, but I’m being honest. I note with mild surprise a preponderance of choral works — or is it religious works? I’m not at all surprised by the repeat appearances of Bach. When you’re the best, you’re the best.

6 Responses to “At least annually”

  1. Matthew Says:

    Excuse my perhaps pedestrian tastes, but I can’t help but add

    Holst, The Planets (especially Mars and Jupiter)
    Dvorak, The Four Seasons
    Orff, Carmina Burana

    And my personal favourite, Alanis Morrisette’s fantastic parody of the Black Eye Peas’ My Humps. I realize it is sort of out of the parameters of the rest of the music listed but it’s good for a once a year belly laugh. If you can, see the video.

  2. cburrell Says:

    Those aren’t pedestrian at all. I don’t know the Holst well, and if you think that highly of it, it deserves another listen. Many composers have written something called The Four Seasons, but I didn’t know that Dvorak was among them (perhaps you meant to say Vivaldi?). I do love Dvorak, though; his music is the sort that one can love deeply. As for Orff, well, to each his own. Certainly there’s something thrilling about it, but I’ve sung the piece, and living inside the music through all those rehearsals killed my desire to hear it again.

    I’ve never heard of the Alanis Morrisette video, but I’ll try to find it. It’s the least I can do for a local gal.

  3. "Docto' G" Says:

    I am the friend that Craig speaks of. I believe these “at least annualy” pieces should have a quality of transcendence or timelessness to them – as Craig has alluded to in his usual elegant and eloquent manner.

    To the first five pieces Craig wrote down, I would add:

    Beethoven – Missa Solemnis
    Verdi – Messa da Requiem
    Bach – Toccata and Fugue in D minor (if possible, both the original organ piece and the Stokowski transcription for orchestra)
    Mahler – Symphony #3
    Verdi – La Traviata

  4. cburrell Says:

    Thank you, G. Excellent choices. I love Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, but it falls down in the Agnus Dei movement, in my opinion. All that marching music and all those charging horses are entertaining, but not sublime. Still, I can see why you would choose it.

  5. Matthew Says:

    I’m blushing. I did mean Vivaldi. I was thinking at the time that I did NOT want to recommend the Slavonic Dances by Dvorak, but that the other piece by him on the CD I have is also good. I can’t remember what it is, but it is certainly not the Four Seasons, but I wrote down Dvorak anyway. 🙂

    The Slavonic Dances have similar associations for me as Orff does for you. The University of Ottawa plays them during convocation and I went to so many convocations as a student representative that it completely turned me off the music.

  6. cburrell Says:

    That makes sense. I looked for Dvorak’s Four Seasons, but I couldn’t find it. You might have been thinking of his Serenade for Strings, which is a popular and very lovely piece.

    I did view the Alanis Morrisette video you mentioned. It didn’t make the least bit of sense to me, so then I watched the “Humps” video by the Black-Eyed Peas. If I remember correctly, the lyrics reached such sublime heights as:

    My humps, my humps
    My lovely lady lumps

    So this is what it’s come to? Honestly, I found the original video funnier than Morrisette’s parody. Talk about a theatre of the absurd!

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