It has been ages and ages since I last wrote about music (here’s the most recent post). Thanks to Sarah’s comment on the blog’s Facebook page sharing that she liked my posts with musical clips, and hoped I would do more, I’m doing more! This one’s for you, Sarah.
I’ve also been greatly enjoying Sarah Zadok’s musical posts (different Sarah) over at Hevria (which you should totally check out), and seeing her put together actual playlists, I have followed suit. You can scroll to the bottom of this post if you want to listen to the entire set uninterrupted.
Saint-Saëns, Organ Symphony (Symphony no. 3), finale
It seems the pieces that I played in my earlier years left a larger impact on my heart and mind than those which came later. Maybe because I had less mental clutter back then? Who knows. This is a piece I played with the Iowa All-State Orchestra back in 1997. I’m just including the finale in the playlist. The whole symphony is about 36 minutes long, and well worth listening to in its entirety, but for brevity’s sake, I’m just going to highlight this one particularly geshmack section.
The piano part in the opening, which you can hear if you listen very closely (starting around 0:34), is reminiscent of the piano in the Aquarium movement of the Carnival of the Animals. There’s an eerie, enchanting quality that always gets me.
And yeah, that’s an organ. It is called the Organ Symphony after all. In the 1997 concert, the organist played an electric organ (we were performing in a massive gym on the Iowa State campus, so no actual organ was readily available on site, but I’m sure it’s amazing when performed with a proper pipe organ), and the way it was hooked up to the sound system caused a bit of a blowout when the organ came in with its bombastic entrance. Ha! Oh well. It all worked out, even with one (at least?) blown-out speaker.
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Yann Tiersen, Amélie Soundtrack, Sur le Fil
I would include this entire soundtrack if it were feasible. It is one of my absolute favorites. This particular track evokes a certain grey melancholy that one might feel while walking in the rain up the hills of Montmartre. Or something like that. Yann Tiersen, the composer, certainly seems to be channeling Erik Satie here, what with the waltzy form and the sparseness of the score.
And this is fitting, since Erk Satie lived in Paris and for a period of an entire year only wore grey velvet. My only regret with choosing this particular track is that there’s no accordion, because the accordion on the soundtrack is so wonderful. Including accordion in general is almost a surefire way to get me to like a piece. It’s on my bucket list of instruments to learn.
I’m reminded of my senior year in college, when I had the most lovely roommate, who happened to have an accordion. Once, a jazz trio was in town, set to play at some local dive. I was there while they were setting up, as I was involved in the jazz department which led to perks like helping musicians set up, or hanging out after the concert. On this day, something was wonky with the accordion player’s instrument (yes! jazz accordion! so much goodness!!), and he called out to those of us milling about:
“Does anyone have an accordion?”
and I, through association with my roommate, was actually able to answer,
I ran home, fetched the instrument, and saved the day. I’m shaking my head at this eclectic memory. It seems so contrived, but it really happened.
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Schubert, Impromptu no. 3 in G-flat minor, Op. 90
Ahhhh, this piece. I practiced it on the piano in the cafeteria on the Neve campus in Jerusalem. Initially, it was strange to practice in front of an audience (those eating lunch), as it were, but at least my back was to everyone, so after I got into, I could kind of ignore the other people in the room. Ideally, I would find times other than lunch to play, but my schedule didn’t always work out that way, and also, there were other girls who also wanted the piano. Hopefully I didn’t monopolize it too much.
I am such a sucker for the romantic period of composition (late 18th to early 19th century). Schubert’s Impromptus (there are eight of them) were written in 1827, and they are totally representative pieces of this period, meaning, I love them. But I really love this one. It’s just shmaltz the whole time. Mmmmmm.
I actually ate shmaltz for the first time not that long ago, at Citron and Rose in Philadelphia. It was exquisite. Just like this piece.
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Rachmaninoff, Prelude in G minor
I’ve been working on this piece since forever. It’s hard. I don’t practice that much, so I don’t make much headway. When my husband heard this recording, he exclaimed, “it’s supposed to be that fast?” Yes. Because I do not play it at this speed. Even if I never get it up to tempo, I thoroughly enjoy myself (when I’m not frustrated at how slowly I’m progressing), because it is great fun to play.
The middle section, starting around 1:23, is completely sublime, in true Russian tradition, providing a heart-wrenching, emotionally charged and impossibly gorgeous melody. How do they do it? All those winters, those years of oppression (this was written back in 1901, so life was marinating in the pre-revolution turmoil)? I don’t know the secret, but there’s enough Russian composers who create these melodies that I can confidently say it’s a quality of Russian composers. It just slays me. Especially this part of this prelude.
And how much do we love Evgeny Kissin’s hair in this video?
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Brahms, Intermezzo Op. 118, no. 6
As long as we’re listening to dark, brooding and gorgeous pieces, let’s move to another famous shmaltz-maker, Johannes Brahms. A curmudgeon capable of writing music that gets right down to the soul, he is right up there with the romantic composers I cannot resist.
I played this piece my senior year of college, back when I actually had hours of time to devote to practicing (though, really, I should’ve been practicing clarinet, not beautiful piano intermezzi, but whatever, that’s how I procrastinated back then). Like with the Rachmaninoff, the middle section of this piece is what really gets me, though the character is completely different. It starts at 3:20 and is so satisfying to play, especially if you’re feeling angsty about something, which was something I felt A LOT while in college.
Mr. Kissin again brings this piece to life for us. With the hair.
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Poulenc, Sonata for Clarinet and Piano
Lest you forget that I actually majored in clarinet, not piano, performance, let me include a classic piece from the clarinet repertoire. Francis Poulenc, quirky French composer and part of Les Six (a group of him and five other quirky French composers from the 1920s).
I’ve actually played both the clarinet and the piano for this piece, and they are both enjoyable and challenging. How I came to play the piano part of this piece was because my piano skills were discovered (they’re not that great, but they exist) maybe my junior year, and the music faculty snatched me up and assigned me to accompany much of the clarinet studio.
It was a great match because I could coach the clarinets on the pieces they played, and I got paid to accompany. Nice, right? The only downside was that I had a lot more on my plate, which ate into the brooding-at-a-coffee-shop time in my schedule. I survived that challenge, somehow.
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Pachora, Ast, Freaky Person
When I was auditioning for the master’s program at the Eastman school of music, I met a student who burned me a copy of this album (Ast) while I was auditioning. Like, literally while I was auditioning. I met the student pre-audition, and when I came out, he was waiting for me with this album in hand. Even though really that’s piracy and we shouldn’t do that, and I can’t condone it, I’m glad I was introduced to Pachora. And I was touched by the gesture.
Pachora satisfies my love for jazz, middle eastern influences, and hello, wonderful clarinet playing. They also have a cover of the Man Who Sold the World on this album, which I both enjoy and get a kick out of. Because it’s kind of random, but it’s also a really good cover.
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Well, that was a nice trip down memory lane. Thanks, Sarah, for the suggestion! I think I’ll try to do this on a more regular basis, maybe once every two months or something. Truly, my time spent immersed in the world of music feels like a very different life than the one I’m currently living, though thankfully music is still an active part of my life.
But it is very, very different. There are a lot of interesting memories hiding within these favorite pieces of mine, and by my sharing them with you, I get to uncover them, bit by bit. I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed remembering them.
Here’s the playlist, if you want to listen successively to all these pieces:
And now, what’s one of your favorite pieces? Or, in the colloquial (i.e. non-music major lingo), songs? (Woe to you if you called a classical piece a “song” in music school. Someone was bound to tell you off. Songs are for the radio! Pieces are how we describe art! I don’t miss that aspect of music school one bit, thank you very much.)
(I have an obsession with parentheses)