Sunday, 21 October 2012

September 2012 - Classical Music

Bach, J.S.
  • Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (Now come, saviour of the heathen)
  • Christen, ätzet diesen Tag (Christians, engrave this day)
  • Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn (Prepare the ways, prepare the road)
  • Erschallet, ihr Lieder (Resound, you songs)
Beethoven - Symphony No.2
Beethoven - Piano Sonatas 19 to 22
  • Songs, Opuses 1 to 8
  • Duets, Op.10
  • Puisque j’ai mis ma lèvre (Since I've pressed my lips)
  • Tristesse d'Olympio (Sadness of Olympio)
  • L'aurore (The Dawn)
  • Cantique de Jean Racine
  • Violin Sonata No.1
Heller - 25 Etudes for Developing a Sense for Musical Rhythm & Expression, Op.47
  • Kairos
  • Sinfonia 2
  • Chamber Symphony No.1
  • String Quartets 1 to 3, 7, 8, 12 to 14
  • Violin Sonata No.2
  • Primavera
  • Gioco
  • Sonata for solo flute
  • Bagatelle No.1 'Arabesque'
  • Molto allegro scherzando for solo violin
Janacek - Sinfonietta
Janacek - Glagolitic Mass
Liszt - Anees de Perelinage, 1st year: Switzerland
Magnard - String Quartet
  • Suite pour piano
  • Nocturnes
  • Villageoises
  • Presto in B flat
  • Two intermezzi
  • Intermezzo in A flat
  • Humoresque
The answer to that question about Holmboe's Kairos was that yes, I do like the four Sinfonias when they're all combined.  In all honestly I feel it drags a little in the centre, the problem being that Sinfonia 2, the longest, is generally at a slow pulse (although with fast episodes) and so is Sinfonia 1 before it.  The much more vigorous Sinfonia 3 provides a welcome change afterwards.

There was plenty more brand new Holmboe this month, with the string quartets being prominent.  Trying quartets from different parts of his career certainly brings out the changes in his style.  For example, quartets 7 and 8 come from a period of 'tougher' works, whereas quartets 13 and 14 are marvellously light and delicate.  I'd say those two are among the favourites thus far, along with number 2, but of course it's going to take a long time to properly digest all the different works.

Elsewhere in Holmboe's chamber music I easily warmed to the light touch of both Primavera (for flute, violin, cello and piano) and Gioco (for string trio).  Although it's not entirely clear to me why a Danish composer should be so keen on using Italian titles.  I suppose he was tapping into the previous centuries where Italian essentially was the language of music.

Elsewhere I was frequently tapping into French.  Magnard was a brand new composer to me.  His string quartet is quite dense, full of notes and full of different ideas in the outer movements especially, and it did take me several listens to get into it.  I realised that my knowledge of string quartets basically jumps from Schubert to Shostakovich and completely bypasses the Romantic period, so this was really my introduction to what a string quartet from late Romanticism would sound like.  And after several listens, I was in fact quite taken with it.

And then there's all the new Faure songs.  I bought the Hyperion/Graham Johnson collection of complete songs (although I now think it's possible they may have missed a work - outrageous!) which, rather than being purely chronological, scatters the songs thematically while keeping acknowledged 'song cycles' intact and being fairly chronological within each theme.

I have mixed feelings about this.  In the case of the early songs I have no problem, because it's known that these first 10 opus numbers were assigned fairly randomly after the fact.  But even then, the CDs sometimes separate songs that logically belong together, and there are later examples where it's clear from the series' own timeline that songs were written and published together but they still appear on separate discs.

The beauty of iTunes is that it enables me to reassign songs to new 'albums' to correct this in cases where I feel there's a benefit to hearing a group of songs together.

As for the actual songs... my goodness, but Faure could write a melody!  These early songs include some of his most popular.  And it's worth bearing in mind that 'early' in Faure's career includes works written in his 30s.  There are some teenage songs here, of variable quality, but there are also works of a quite mature composer.

Après un rêve (After a dream) deserves its fame, but the Sérénade Toscane (Tuscan serenade) in a similar style is just as wonderful.  Other songs I found bouncing around in my head hours or days after heaing them included Chanson du pêcheur (Song of the fisherman - lamenting a dead wife), L'absent (The absent one), Tristesse (Sadness) and Puisque j’ai mis ma lèvre which was never even published.

Having decided to unravel the chronology and grouping of the Faure songs, I then decided I was going to listen to all my Faure in opus number order - perhaps a somewhat mad decision given how much new music I have to listen to anyway.  But he's one of my favourite composers, and thanks to this new purchase I now have recordings of much of his work.  It will be interesting to hear the gradual changes of style, and indeed it might lead me to appreciate even more the complexities of his later, more 'difficult' style as the easy soaring tunes of the earlier work start to disappear.

Let's face it, I probably just wanted an excuse to listen to the marvellous 1st violin sonata again...

Now I've written a fairly long post without even mentioning that my Beethoven listening took me as far as the 'Waldstein' piano sonata, Op.53.  The entire point of this listening in opus number order is to hear stylistic developments, and the Waldstein is, quite simply, a revelation.  Within half a minute you realise you're hearing something that is not only radical for Beethoven, it's probably unlike anything written for piano by anyone up to that point.  It is truly astonishing, and truly a masterpiece.


  1. Useful and interesting observations, thank you. I tried to engage with Holmboe through his symphonies 7 and 8, but without connection so far. Based on your insights it might be worth approaching Holmboe through his string quartets.

    1. Well, personally I would say it's worth a shot, although I would also provide the caveat that Holmboe is recognisably the same composer in different mediums. His music does include a lot of dialogue between different musical lines, so the quartet texture highlights that.