Classical for Claire

I am not sure if I am ordering this by preference, or alphabetically...
I am leaving a lot out...
Do check out my Spotify playlists as well. But, they are just playlists with no annotations, like Windows Media Player had about 30 years ago. But why should Spotify indulge any creative impulses in its hundred million listeners, eh? It's not like HTML editors are a dime-a-dozen these days or anything. Oh wait, they are!

While I am ranting, may I just say it is a crime how music has become divorced from commentary. LPs used to have lots of explanatory information on their back covers and in booklets. Now you are lucky if the tracks are even labeled with the right titles, keys, and performers.


Dramatic, bonkers, deaf, super-famous. "Music 1" at Harvard used to focus on him, until they managed to wrench free. I listened to almost everything by him when I was young. I often think that his music is like travelling, with lots of new experiences and discoveries coming along.

String Quartets

Many people claim that Beethoven's last quartets, the last works he ever wrote, are the most sublime and complex music ever written.
At university, I constantly listened to all his quartets by the Quartetto Italiano. More recent performances by the Takács Quartet are highly praised. I listened to some bits and found the tempo rather fast.
Don't ignore the earlier quartets. The named ones are great as well.


There are nine of them, like ringwraiths. The biggest is the ninth, which ends with the scorchingly beautiful "Ode to Joy". The seventh is often called "the apotheosis of the dance". The sixth, "pastorale", is as sweet as a summer's day. The fifth is so famous, that it is almost embarrassing to listen to. The third, "Eroica", was written for Napoleon, when he still looked like a good guy. The other symphonies are pleasant.

In my childhood I listened to my parents' LPs by Toscanini. The sound is very scratchy though, and probably monaural.
Herbert Von Karajan's recordings on Deutsche Grammophon are probably definitive. I notice that the ninth is live on this album though -- Spotify often steers you to crappier performances, I guess to save money. Aha! Use this link instead.
Can't get enough of that "Ode to Joy" sound? Then the Missa Solemnis is for you! Crank up the volume!


The Moonlight and Apassionata sonatas are famous.
The fifth piano concerto, "Emperor" is the big one. I think I used to adore the fourth. Haven't listened to these in ages.
Paul gave my mother a music/jewelry box that played this theme.

Various Concerti

Triple Concerto

Chamber Music

Listen to the sprightly flute on track 7!
The Octet is peppy. And the Septet.


Crystalline, contrapuntal, Bach churned out great music like no one else.

Chamber Music

Who doesn't like the Brandenburg Concertos? Still, it doesn't stop people from arguing about two things: tempo and original instruments. I like these moderately slow, probably because that's how I first heard them. And I kind of like the harpsichord, unlike many people, who point out (justly) that since it plucks rather than hammers the strings, it is impossible to play loud or soft (unlike the fortepiano). Harpsichordists defend themselves by saying it's all about phrasing. In these concertos the keyboard is mostly support anyway.


Speaking of speed, Glenn Gould can play the Goldberg Variations either fast or slow. Which do you prefer? Gould was an odd man, and you can often hear him humming or groaning along with his performances, which were almost always in the studio.
Don't forget the Well-Tempered clavier.
You will recognise the Toccata and Fugue in d minor from many a horror movie. If you try different versions of this, the differences among organs will start to fascinate you.


The Cello Suites are wonderful, especially after you watch this curious movie. Which cellist do you think the film-maker fancied most?
When I commuted to Cambridge, I needed to blot out everyone's phone conversations, so I started listening to music a lot more. A stand-out discovery from this time was Isabelle Faust playing the Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin. Wow! Definitely not background music. I went to see her at the Wigmore Hall. Check out Joshua Bell playing some on the NYC subway.


There are so many Cantatas! Wachet Auf (Sleepers Awake) is one of the most beautiful: you will recognise the tune in track 4.
Very famous are the St Matthew Passion, Christmas Oratorio, and B Minor Mass, but I guiltily have not listened to them much.
For a bit of fun, try the Swingle Singers.


The third "B". Getting pretty Romantic.


Paul repeatedly called the first symphony "Beethoven's Tenth".
The Academic Festival Overture is good fun. You will recognise the rousing tune at the end.
Hungarian Dances also fun.


I used to tell dismayed listeners that I thought that the tempo change in the second piano concerto (middle of second movement) was a musical orgasm. Maybe only for guys?

Josquin Des Prez

"He is the master of the notes. They must do as he wills; as for the other composers, they have to do as the notes will." -- Martin Luther
The Beethoven of the Renaissance.

Louise Vosgerchian played Josquin's Ave Maria in Music 1 at Harvard and my obsession was born.
I visited the Basilica of Saint-Quentin to see where he sang. On the crumbling wall behind the choir stalls was painted some early music. There was a chunk of masonry on the floor from the ceiling. I walked the labyrinth.
I tried and failed to see his signature carved in the Cantoria at the Sistine Chapel.
His best mass is the Pange Lingua. The "suscipe" (Gloria, track 4, two-thirds in) makes all my hair stand on end. (The A Sei Voci people don't get it perfect, maybe this one is better. Spotify doesn't have the full range of performances.) I set this music to a movie of you opening your arms to cherry blossom-fall in Japan.
I like this album of his motets. The piercing opening bars of "Dominus Regnavit" are my ringtone.
Best songs: Mille Regretz, Adieu Mes Amours.


Tish Aym Tee! I will always remember watching Amadeus on our first skiing trip together.

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is ubiquitous, like the Brandenburgs or Four Seasons.
The 40th Symphony theme sounds like "It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a Mozart!" (Thanks, Adam Knee). I can still smell the lovely fragrance of that Karl Böhm Deutsche Grammophon vinyl.
I like the Clarinet Concerto.
You really have to watch the Queen of the Night aria. Yelling at the kids!
John Hirsch successfully attempted the Piano Sonata #11 in A in the Dunster House library. The Alla Turca is very lively.
Piano Concerto #21 is famous as the soundtrack to Elvira Madigan, a movie no one has ever seen.


The German who moved to London


Oh, jeez, The Messiah! Kiri singing I know That My Redeemer Liveth always brings tears to my eyes. And of course everyone loves the Hallelujah Chorus. Meanwhile, the words alone of "There were shepherds abiding in the field" are overwhelming to Adorers of the Mystic Lamb like us. I prefer it with a boy's voice rather than a muscular soprano's, but it's all good. All we like sheep.
I went with mom to see Farinelli and the King, a play written by Claire van Kampen (who happens to be Mark Rylance's wife). To my annoyance, I was sitting in the front balcony next to a man with a glass of wine in each hand, who was swaying and humming along with an aria which turned out to be Lascia ch'io pianga. I soon forgot about him! Watch the crazy lush movie scene. Supposedly sung by a castrato, this movie version is a digitally-created monster, but it works for me.
Mom digs Zadok the Priest.

Chamber Music

The Water Music is one of the few classical pieces that I can listen to while working. Lovely but not too distracting, especially after you get to know it well.


The excitingly dissonant Hungarian


I used to listen to a lot of classical music at Albert and Rosalie's house in Nantucket. One day I found Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra among Albert's albums. It was so exciting! It reminded me of the symphony scene in The Phantom Tollbooth. I ran to discuss it with grandpa Albert, and he said "Your uncle Carl gave me that disc. I never could listen to the cacophony all the way through." Tastes differ.

In my Interrail summer, after parting with my sister, I decided to go to Budapest even though it meant standing up John Hirsch, with whom I had arranged a meeting (in those pre-phone, pre-Internet days) on the roof of Milan Cathedral. He waited for hours. Oh, well, I had a great time behind the Iron Curtain, changed money on the black market and lived like a king. I bought a big wicker basket and filled it with cheap communist LP's of Bartók. I particularly enjoyed the songs, like I'll ride my Horse like a Hussar and Wandering. Back in those days, records often had huge amounts of useful text (zilch of that on Spotify!), and I was keen on the Hungarian language. Vowel Harmony! Also, cherry soup.


Mr Syncopated.
"The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one's self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution."


The Rite of Spring is most famous. You have probably heard the story of how fights broke out at the premiere. (But not at the previous night's dress rehearsal -- one suspects some good PR.) Supposedly Rimsky-Korsakov stood on his seat to see what instrument was playing the opening bars. If you can, watch Bernstein rehearse it -- a revelation. "It's all about sex, and reproduction, and the smells from out there". And watch some of the dancing, too.
The Firebird (same album), and Petrouchka are also exciting orchestral music. The Pulcinella suite (same album) is really catchy music based on themes by Pergolesi (1710-1736).

Chamber Music

Dumbarton Oaks is kind of a Klangfarbenmelodie take on the Brandbenburgs.
The Etudes and Miniatures are in a similar vein. How delightful to find these again.
I love this nifty little Pastorale; also sung.


I used to listen to the Mass and Symphony of Psalms a lot, but not for ages.
If you learn the Latin for the Mass, it will help you appreciate the amazing variety of musical settings for it over the ages.


There was an interesting New Yorker piece about him recently.
La Mer really does sound like the ocean.
I love the Sacred and Profane Dances. It makes me think of Cocteau's film Beauty and the Beast.
Supposedly, when Nijinsky danced to Prélude à l'après midi d'une Faune, dreaming of those luscious nymphs, he masturbated onstage, or appeared to.
Syrinx, for solo flute, is similar.
This album of chamber music is a favorite.
Debussy wrote a huge amount of innovative piano music, not least this Claire moon music...


Carl Orff is known almost exclusively for his Carmina Burana. I set that home movie of you blowing bubbles by the pond to Stetit Puella because it seemed to match your beauty in that moment. The album is best if, while listening, you can read the song translations, or know Latin! It's medieval Latin, so pretty easy. Once you know the "O Fortuna" lyrics, compare them to this version!
Back when your mom and I lived in NYC, our answering message, for a while, was me saying "Patricia is in the shower right now and can't come to the phone", with Dulcissime playing in the background. Ah, if only.
Orff's xylophone pieces are nice too.


A specialist in Americana.


My favorite is Appalachian Spring, played with a chamber rather than full orchestra. So sweet, with the gorgeous "Simple Gifts" woven in. I used it as a soundtrack for this silent family movie of the old Schlaikjer homestead in South Dakota. (Amazingly, YouTube hasn't cracked down on the music for copyright reasons, as it did on the Totoro soundtrack for our 2004 Japan movie.)


It took Moonrise Kingdom to really burn Benjamin into our memories. After that I couldn't get enough of The Young Person's Guide theme (although the actual movie version, as so often, seemed to have more MSG). Also the Simple Symphony's Playful Pizzicato.


Symphony From the New World is justly famous. Maybe I am just suggestible, but it does sound like wide open spaces.
The Slavonic Dances are a lot of fun. Also in piano form.


I love the Ancient Airs and Dances. It makes me think of lords and ladies in fantastic costumes doing complicated galliards and pavanes. I used one air as a soundtrack to some old movies of Paul and Jay: Susan told me that it brought a tear to his eye, which made me proud.
The Fountains of Rome and The Pines of Rome are almost movie music, but who cares? Really colorful.


Scheherazade! You will never look at Connor's girlfriend the same way again.
Capriccio Espagnole will get you dancing.

Vaughan Williams

Super British.
The Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis is about as yearning as it gets.
Love the Folksongs. Wassail!
The Lark Ascending is the most-chosen Desert Island Disc, apparently. Strikes some chord in the English. Not actually my favorite, but ok.


Supposedly, instead of being convicted as a homosexual, Tchaikovsky was encouraged to commit suicide by drinking water contaminated with cholera. Anyway he died aged 53, a loss to music.
Swan Lake, Nutcracker.
Pathetique Symphony.

Carl Nielsen

He has a particular wavy/drumming style. The soaring theme from the Fifth Symphony often sticks in my head. Third Symphony good, too (same album).


Symphony #5 is a corker, especially the zippy finale.
The Swan of Tuonela is pleasantly mournful.


Everybody loves Peer Gynt. (I liked it so much that I read the very weird Ibsen play, which has recently been revived.)
Solveig's Song is particularly ravishing.
The Piano Concerto in a is very fine. I remember a girl playing it in the Exeter library (although, where was the orchestra?).


Many Jewish themes.
At Exeter I had many an argument with my friend Adam Knee about the best composer. He always said it was Mahler.
The singing in the Fourth Symphony is divine.


Harold in Italy, the best concert piece for that neglected instrument, the viola. Based on Byron.


The Four Seasons is so good, they named a hotel after it. L'Estro Armonico is more of the same. Actually, that Karajan performance is kind of floppy. Maybe this one is better?
I love his Mandolin music. This album has a few more pieces. Or this album.
Good oboe stuff too.


Peter and the Wolf has excellent tunes. (Everyone narrates it -- in this case, Sting.) And look! Here is Mr P himself, with Walt Disney.
When I first heard the Classical Symphony I laughed with delight. Frisky!
The satirical Lieutenant Kije Suite is also fun.
I like Piano Concerto #3, iirc.


Everyone listens to the Ravel orchestration of Pictures at an Exhibition, but the original piano version is worth a listen as well. This piece really deserves some explanatory notes. Don't listen without knowing who Baba Yaga is.
Come Halloween, everyone will be playing Night on Bald Mountain.


The Flower Duet from Lakmé is gorgeous (as are those singers).
The bell song later in the opera is pyrotechnic.


Carmen is by far the easiest to like of the Big Operas.


Slow, sad, and gorgeous is the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. Holocaust music, mother music. The girl's words inscribed on a Gestapo prison wall always make me weep: "Oh Mamma do not cry, no. Immaculate Queen of Heaven, you support me always". Another piece where you have to read the notes.


Those boys sure hit the high notes in the Miserere. It was allowed to be played only in the Sistine Chapel, until a 14-year-old Mozart transcribed it from memory. And here's more than you wanted to know about Falsobordone.


Mom picked the Canon as our wedding music. Nice as piano, too.


The Adagio for Strings. (Also check out Copeland's Quiet City on that album.) If you prefer voices, check out the Agnus Dei, which I first heard at a candle-lit Compline service at Clare College Cambridge. Wow.


The Requiem, especially Pie Jesu.


I felt great déjà vu when I first heard the Unfinished Symphony. I probably had heard it before, since Boston's classical radio stations play a constant stream of old war horses. Still great, though.


Symphony #5, ka-bang, ka-boom.


On some road trip I found a used CD of the Organ Symphony and impatiently listened to this colorful old friend in the car. But the soft parts were inaudible, and the loud parts caused your mom to complain. Classical music insists on a wide dynamic range, while pop music tends to be uniformly loud. There is probably a way to compress a piece's dynamics when playing back on a computer. But in the car?


Oh, you know, the Nocturnes and stuff.

Franz Schmidt

Giovanni called The Book with Seven Seals "late German shouting music". But, boy, if you want to hear a tenor belt something out, listen to Ich bin das A and das O at top volume. Also, the finale. Wer is würdig?


Midsummer Night's Dream is very fairylike. Skip the Wedding March. I love Frederica singing the lullaby. Oh weird, this album has it in English -- the Germans think Shakespeare is better in German.


Really just for Kiri singing Bailero.

Villa Lobos

Really just for Kiri singing Bachianas Brasilieras.


I love Sweet Sir Walter


Tant Que Vivray. So cute in this video!


I like his Recorder music.


It may be movie music, but The Mission and other pieces are very good.


Sullivan is the composer to witty librettist W.S.Gilbert. You may remember visiting Grim's Dyke with your grandparents, not far from our house. We had tea and listened to singing. Gilbert lived in this fine manor with the wealth from his operettas. He had a pet lemur, and a "flirtorium" where he took sopranos.

Their most famous piece is The Mikado. I saw a brilliant production of this at the Savoy many years ago. Your mother kindly accompanied me to a whole series at the Savoy -- people either love Gilbert and Sullivan or cordially hate it. I hated the ENO version which was silly without any sincerity; you have to produce the pieces with just a little real pathos. As with A Midsummer's Night's Dream, the jokes can be ancient and tired, or inspired, depending on the production. With the Mikado, it is common to update the Little List with topical references.

I believe your great grandfather Albert was in a production of The Mikado in Nantucket, at least 50 years ago. Afterwards the charming male lead tied his luggage to his legs and threw himself off the night ferry. This memory always adds a bit of heft to the operetta for me.

Mike Leigh's film Topsy Turvy is very good.

I saw an all-male version of Pinafore, which was very funny indeed. Their Mikado was less so. I guess I really need a pretty woman to sing the Madrigal.


Sometimes I would wake all you children up in the morning with Also Sprach Zarathustra. It's best at full volume, and my little desktop amplifier wasn't quite up to it. This tone poem is also familiar from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which also has the Blue Danube waltz by the unrelated Johann Strauss II (whose "Die Fledermaus" is just as fun as Gilbert and Sullivan). "Thus Spake Zarathustra" was inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophical novel.


I didn't want to do it, but here is Bolero, "orchestral tissue without music".
Piano stuff too.


Margot labourez les vignes. I loved the ancient album "Love and Dalliance in Renaissance France" by Joel Cohen, but it has vanished from the face of the earth. It had a lot of songs like this, which were the pop music of their time.


I sure loved "Au Joly Bois" on this album. Kiss me, jig me up and down! And I will be votre amie. Nearest thing on Spotify is this.

Nothing is so personal as musical tastes -- even more so than in literature. I hope you like some of these, and that they lead you to discover related pieces that become important to you.
Love, Dad.