A Few of My Favorite Things
I'm back. Well, obviously.
Jaquandor, bless his long-haired heart, has passed on a very fun classical-music-focused meme, in which the responder is to list his favorite works from within a whole slew of categories, but I can't complete it as posited. See, while I like me my classical music just fine, I'm not nearly a deep enough listener to be able to name, for example, my favorite "concerto for wind instrument." Still, it's a fun game, so I'll jump in and answer what I can, while adding my own categories as the whims take me (these, following Jaq's lead, have been marked with an asterisk).
So, my favorite:
Beethoven's 9th is, not merely my favorite symphony, but easily my favorite work of art, ever. Were I banished to that proverbial, power-supplied island, with the dictate to take not ten albums, not ten books, but one work of art, this is the one I'd choose. It astonishes me on a regular basis. In fact, one of my most cherished memories is of this piece--when in college I performed it with the University orchestra and an amalgam of several of the University's choirs (I was a baritone in the Glee Club, and so ended up singing bass in the choir for the performance). I can still remember the palpable feeling of awe when I sung, in as fortissimo as fortissimo as I could muster, some of those big, imperial, lusty pieces. And I don't mean awe as in how great I was--I was, at best, a mediocre singer. But being part of that music gave me as close to a religious feeling, a feeling of being a part of something so much bigger than myself, as I've ever had.
Tone Poem, or other non-symphony long-form orchestral work
John Adams' Naive and Sentimental music. OK, this is for all intents and purposes a symphony, but this way I get to mention it too. A remarkable piece of music, and the heir apparent to the title of "the great American symphony" (see here). Probably the most moving and impressive piece of contemporary music I own.
Gershwin's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. I've no doubt that the next hundred years will see Gershwin elevated to an even higher status than he already has. That he died at a mere 34 is as tragic a fact as the art world has produced. I've yet to hear a composer combine jazz, popular, and classical musical thoughts into as seamless and cohesive a whole as Gershwin did, and this concerto is a shining example of it.
Overture or other short classical work (less than 12 minutes long):
The overture to Bernstein's Candide is like Mary Poppins--practically perfect in every way. A sublimely fun and giddy piece of writing.
An area where I'm woefully undereducated, but Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, cliched as it's become, is as moving a piece of music as I've ever heard. The man could plumb such primal emotions in so stark and simple terms.
Latin choral work (mass, requiem, Stabat Mater, etc.)
Faure's Requiem. Ethereally beautiful. I keep meaning to get more of Faure's stuff, and keep forgetting. Consider this a reminder.
Choral work in a language other than Latin
David Conte's Canticle (from the Rising of the Sun). We sang this in Glee Club and I've since adored it. A modern piece with some 20th century touches atop some beautiful choral writing. Conte isn't too well-recorded, as far as I can see, but I do have this one with the Glee Club (myself included) singing it.
Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes. The only opera I've ever seen in a real professional production. Stark, bleak, and very powerful. The triple-fff "Peter Grimes!!!" bellows from the choir give me chills every time I've heard them.
Classical work composed after 1950
In addition to some of the stuff mentioned above, Arvo Part's Te Deum, or really pretty much any of Part's stuff--he's real good.
My favorite score of all-time? In the end, it would have to go to the predictable choice of Williams' Star Wars score (the original), sad to say. An unoriginal choice, but sometimes there ain't nothing you can do about that. For a less obvious choice, I'd list Thomas Newman's powerful, subtle score for The Shawshank Redemption.
Musical theater score*
Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd is the form's ultimate expression. Opera companies are grabbing it, but it remains Broadway's best.
I like plenty of TV themes, but almost always only in the context of the show. The only TV theme I can think of wanting to own just to listen to, even if I never see another episode, is the pitch-perfect piece of melancholia that opened every episode of Taxi.
U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name" For a look at why, see here:
Other? Let's opt for the elegant and pristine ABBA tune "Like an Angel Passing through My Room" Seriously. Go check it out. Listen to 30 seconds on iTunes. I'll wait.
Song, musical theater*
Sondheim's "No More," from Into the Woods. A simple, direct, and powerful song about taking responsibility in life, or not.
Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are." Sung at my wedding, thank you very much. (I wish the rendition Willie Nelson offered up some years back on a PBS Hammerstein special was available).
Coltrane's "A Love Supreme." Ecstatic praise to God through a sax. Inspiring to this atheist.
Jazz, short piece*
Dave Brubeck's Blue Rondo a la Turk. It's square of me to name a Brubeck piece, but Jimmy Crack corn and I do not care.
Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Waters of March." Mandy Patinkin did this in a concert I attended a decade or so ago, and I've been hoping for him to record it ever since. In the meantime, Cassandra Wilson's version is good stuff.
For pure melody, nothing beats "Silent Night," but overall a good rendition of "O Holy Night" edges it out.
Guitar, rock, blues, country or other
Stevie Ray Vaughn's instrumental cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing." Perfect.