Essential Classical Music for Postmoderns, Part 1

james

“Next to theology, I give music the highest place of honor.”  –Martin Luther

I finally found a Martin Luther quote that I liked (and that wasn’t grotesque or funny like, “If the wife won’t, the barmaid will,” etc., et al.)  It is true that for most people, music has a special ability to move us emotionally and, dare I say it, spiritually.  Usually in ways that we don’t really understand.  The ancients (and in the turn the medievals) saw Music as a category far greater than just beautiful sounds made by instruments or the human voice.  They saw all the movements and motion of Creation as a sort of divine symphony, always playing; the universe in perfect harmony with God.  This is what is famously called the music of the spheres.  In this theology of music, sin is discordance and discordance is sin. For those composers who were devout (especially those of the early Renaissance, together with people like Bach), the real purpose of the music of men was to be a pious and reverent homage to the Music of God.

Below I post my annotated  “canon” of classical music which is too good not to listen to.  Much of classical music is considered boring by many, especially of my generation.  Much of classical music is boring.  However, there is a remnant, so to speak, of music called classical, that is so beautiful, so simple and complex at the same time, so transcendent of history and geography that only a fool would ignore it.  Here is some of that music.

There is no particular organization to this list.  The list is broken into two parts (the second coming soon) because otherwise it might be a bit cumbersome.  These are all examples of the pieces of music in question which I have found on youtube, and are obviously not going to be the best quality.  Go buy them at iTunes, or better yet on vinyl.  They sound better in vinyl.

J.S. Bach’s Fugue in G minor “Little”

All of Bach’s fugues are incredible.  They turn the mind to the infinite, to the impossible made possible.  They will blow your mind, and if you listen to them long enough, you’ll start to sound like a pothead.  Here’s one of my favorites.

A version played on a really old pipe organ:

A version for the piano with a very cool representation of what is happening.  Bach will blow your mind, man:

Mozart’s Requiem

A more haunting piece of music you’ll be hard pressed to find.   A pinnacle of sacred music, never mind that it was written by a complete reprobate.  Will someone make sure it’s sung at my funeral?  Here is the Introitus and Kyrie:

Chopin’s Nocturne Opus 9, Number 2

Billy Clanton: [as Doc Holliday is drunkenly playing a somber piece on the saloon piano, Clanton speaks, just as drunkenly] Is that “Old Dog Trey? Sounds like “Old Dog Trey.”
Doc Holliday: Pardon?
Billy Clanton: Stephen Foster. “Oh, Susannah”, “Camptown Races”. Stephen stinking Foster.
Doc Holliday: Ah, yes. Well, this happens to be a nocturne.
Billy Clanton: A which?
Doc Holliday: You know, Frederic f#@%ing Chopin.

Whereas this is not the same Nocturne played in the movie, it is every bit as beautiful and my favorite.  Oh, and if for some reason you don’t like the scratchiness of a phonograph, well…go Frederic Chopin yourself 🙂

Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata

I was able to play this once, I was twelve, my first (and only piano recital), one of the greatest moments of my life. 

Continue with Part 2

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2 Comments

  1. I have always wanted to read more on modern theories about why humans enjoy music and what it does to the brain. Have you read any of these of late? I know one thought is that music enjoyment is tied to the same part of the brain that birds use for their mating calls. This would explain why it can speak at a very deep genetic level and stir emotions connected with both beauty (a marker for successful sexual partner) and sex itself. These emotions would seem deep and mysterious.

    Thanx for the videos — very cool. I just spent 20 minutes enjoying. What a treat.

    I agree, though I am not a Western Classical fan by any stretch, as I have gotten older, I have learn to love many of them.
    — Bach’s is expansively inspiring.
    — Mozart’s requiem is a little dark for my tastes — “haunting” as you say.
    — Chopin’s piece is a bitt to sweet
    — Beethoven’s piece is magic !

    For me:
    Japanese Shakuhachi (rich and deep)
    Indian tabla-sitar (gorgeous)
    surbahar (soothing and lofty)
    All stir me similarly.

    But then, I lived in these places for long times and have listened to them for years. But nonetheless, like grunge music, I loved them all the very first time I heard them. Odd how we all pick up differently. I swear it must have do something with the individual structure of mind.

    In these pieces and the ones you posted (thanx again) I can not feel the stirrings of sexual emotions or status or power or any genetic trickery. Their complexity, richness and mystery seem to move in my head as if dancing over my whole brain with a light happiness. So the theories I mentioned above seem empty. It seems a theory, no matter how potentially accurate, can begin to touch the subjective state. And for me, neither does it ruin the subjective state — thank goodness !

    Reply

  2. Exciting! Anything of the big three; Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. And, as you added, Chopin and Rachmaninoff. I have Rach’ys “Divine Liturgy” and it truly is divine. I can’t wait for the rest of your recommendations.

    Sabio,

    Great links, thanks for the heads up!

    Reply

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