Monday, September 10, 2007

Six Years Later, Commemorated in Music.

I posted this last year, and it seems appropriate to post it again.

I'd like to comment on a piece by the modern American composer John Adams titled "On the Transmigration of Souls".

The piece was commissioned by the NY Philharmonic to commemorate the 2001 attacks that brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The title refers to the belief, common in many cultures and religions, that at death the soul moves into another living form, or is in some sense indestructible and capable of rebirth. See this for some background on the piece, and some of Adam's comments on it.

His minimalist style is well suited to this piece. Every element plays a critical part in portraying the disaster. There are no excesses or ornamenations here.

In the interests of full disclosure, this is personal for me. I was at work in Manhattan that morning, about a mile north of the WTC. I watched the towers come down, and spent the next month or so smelling the smoke and the odor of burnt flesh as the fires lingered in the rubble. It was worse than what you saw on the news. Much worse.

The piece starts out with street noise, then a reader obsessively repeats the word "Missing" while others read the names of the victims and quotes taken from the hundreds of "missing person" posters that went up all over Manhattan in the days following the attack. A chorus and full orchestration fill out the piece, with some ethereal harp solos standing out. A trumpet repeats a passage from Charles Ives' The Unanswered Question. There are also quotes from some of the descriptions of the dead that were given by friends and loved ones.

Most of the text is available here.

The piece, only 25 minutes long, has two climatic passages (one for each tower falling) with a mournful trumpet, bells and percussion focused movement that seems to represent the transition of those souls to their next stage of existence. The choir continues to sing the remembrances of the dead. The piece ultimately fades back to street noise, leaving us to contemplate the enormity of what happened that day.

It is chaotic, powerful and gripping in the way that witnessing a disaster is gripping.
Just listening to this piece is a very emotional experience for me. It brings back the fear and anger that I felt in the days and weeks after the attack. But it's also highly cathartic. Go to Amazon and buy the CD. It's part of your musical heritage, and certainly the most moving and cathartic piece of music that I've ever heard.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Suzanne Vega's New CD “Beauty & Crime”

I know, this is a pop music CD, and this blog is almost exclusively devoted to classical. And my last post was about a banjo CD that had both classical and bluegrass on it. Well, surprise, surprise - I like a lot of contemporary music, and the title of this blog is "Great Music for Everyone". I don't normally blog about pop music because a million other bloggers do, and most of them know more about it than I do.

The album is a very poetic meditation on New York - it's character as a city, and the emotional changes that the city went through after 9/11. The album title is taken from the lyrics for the song "New York Is a Woman". You can see a video clip of Vega performing it live here and she has posted all of the song lyrics on her website.

There are numerous reference to 9/11 on the CD, but there is no sense of mourning or maudlin fixation on the wounds the city endured. A ground zero rescue worker is the central character of "Angel's Doorway". Angel's wife has to deal with the event one step removed as she deals with the smell of smoke and the dust he brings home on his clothing every night. "Anniversary," written a year after the attacks, talks of changes in the lives of survivors who are urged now to "watch for daily braveries" and "notice new found courtesies."

The lyrics for "New York Is a Woman", a song about an out of towner staying over in the city after a business trip really capture a sense of the city's strength and character shortly after the attack:

and she's every girl you've seen in every movie
every dame you've ever known on late night TV
in her steam and steel is the passion you feel
New York is a woman she'll make you cry
and to her you're just another guy
look down and see her ruined
smoke and ash still rising to the sky
she's happy that you're here but when you disappear
she won't know that you're gone to say goodbye

New York is like that. Tough, alluring and quite capable of moving on without you, and breaking your heart in the process.

Musically, the album is a showcase for Vega's extraordinary stylistic versatility. There are two very danceable tunes ("Zephyr & I" and "Unbound"), the bossa nova beat "Pornographer's Dream" and other tunes that reflect her folk music roots. There are even hints of classical music here, with a string section backing up some of the pieces, and some really lovely cello work on "Edith Wharton's Figurines". Her voice is in fine form, lush and emotive, and really pulls you into the lyrics and what she is trying to say musically.

Buy the CD. What more can I say.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Egads, There's Bach Coming Out of that Banjo!

I was a skeptic. A friend, knowing my fondness for classical music told me about Béla Fleck's CD Perpetual Motion. Fleck, a banjo virtuoso with musical roots in bluegrass and contemporary jazz, is startlingly successful in this foray into Baroque and Romantic classical music. The album title is taken from violin virtuoso Niccolò Paganini's incredibly difficult piece, Moto Perpetuo, which Fleck performs exquisitely. Bach, Debussy, Chopin, Scarlatti, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven are also represented, Bach most heavily.

The transcriptions for the banjo are lovely, even poetic in some cases. The whole thing is quite musical and works much better than I would have imagined. The CD won a Grammy, and clearly deserved it.

Other popular musicians have worked in classical quite successfully, like Paul McCartney with his CD's Working Classical and Ecce Cor Meum (Behold My Heart).

One the whole, I think the banjo works a bit better on the Baroque pieces than the Romantic ones because of its great clarity of melodic line, which mimics the lute in that regard. The Debussy, in particular does well with a warmer, more tonal lead instrument, but Fleck still manages to do it justice.

So buy it, listen to it, and expand your musical horizons a bit.

And thank you, Donna!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Baroque Collections - the Early Playlists

Everything old is new again. Like playlists.

Much of what we know about early classical music has survived because composers and musicians published collections of music that shared some common thread or musical element. They might have been intended for performance at home, or a selection of music by a particular composer or period. Or they might have featured an instrument or mood or melodic style as the unifying element, or all been dances.

Often, Great Collectors provide a single, isolated source for some of the world’s most beautiful music; without these unique sources, the music would have been lost. The first music book to be printed in movable type was a compilation of music by many different composers: the Harmonice musices odhecaton of 1501—a great collection.

Bach himself penned many of the most important collections of music in the baroque, such as the Brandenburg Concertos and the Well Tempered Clavier. In that spirit, enjoy An Evening with Bach by the Voices of Music ensemble. While it's tempting to think of it as just another attempt at "Bach's Greatest Hits", the pieces were selected for their simplicity and grace. Several solos are included, to highlight the character of a particular instrument, and the soprano and alto vocals are unusually lush and emotive.

Enjoy. It's perfect for some quiet reflection.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

A Passion for Bach

It's true, I do have a passion for Bach. But since it's Good Friday, I thought I'd post links to downloadable recordings of his two surviving compositions of the Passion. One is St John Passion and the other is the St. Matthew Passion.

The text for both came from Martin Luther's translation of the Gospels, and both are notable for being far less overtly anti-Semitic musical settings of the Passion, like Handels for example. Bach's St. John Passion is now considered one of his finest liturgical works, and you can download a better performance and recording of it here for $5.99.

Happy Easter, everybody.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Bach for More, Forever More

March 21st was J. S. Bach's birthday. I know it sounds dumb, but it's kind of big deal in the classical music world. And since we're in spring now and wedding season is coming up, I thought I'd simply provide a link to a recording of Bach's Wedding Cantata, No. 202, "Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten". It's actually one of three secular cantatas he wrote for the occasion, but this was the one famous enough to earn the name "the Wedding Cantata".
The cantata is a celebration of both spring and love. The piece begins with a series of diminished harmonies suggestive of the lazy departure of winter, then become progressively more lively and colorful. The final aria includes a stately wedding march. It's a fun piece and just the right thing to lift the winter blahs and get you in the mood for spring and the rebirth of the world.
Listen to it for free at magnatune or download it for hardly anything.
And enjoy.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Vivaldi, and Music for Angels and Orphans

I've blogged before about Vivaldi (aka "the red priest) for several reasons. He's one of my all time favorite composers and had such an interesting career. Briefly, he was ordained as a Catholic Priest and then left active ministry to teach and compose full time. He spent most of his career as the violin master at at an orphanage called the Pio Ospedale della Pietà (Devout Hospital of the Mercy) in Venice. The music training program for the young ladies was quite well known and prestigious, and was instrumental in attracting financial support for the orphanage.

I recently heard a performance of Music for the Chapel of the Pieta on my local public radio station. As with so much of Vivaldi's sacred music, it is both joyous and prayerful. The opening of the concerto is particularly interesting in that it is commonly thought that the solo violin represents the presence of the Virgin Mary, with the soprano answering Her in prayer. The whole thing is fairly lightly scored, allowing the performers a lot of leeway in how they interpret the work. The UK based group that performed the work is called "La Serenissima" which means "the most serene." It's a term that has historically been used to describe Venice, Italy, and they specialize in performing the works of Vivaldi. It's a marvelous performance of a very challenging piece.

And even better, the same recording by the same group is available on so you can listen to it for free or download it for practically nothing.
So listen, enjoy, and be uplifted.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Springtime and the Lost Art of Wooing

Anyone who reads this blog regularly has probably realized that I have a strong romantic streak. I also enjoy learning about how different cultures have celebrated love throughout history. One classical standout in the genre of love songs was John Dowling, who lived in Elizabethan England during the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

Sting is such a fan of Dowling that he's actually recorded a CD of his songs, which unfortunately has gotten mixed reviews. There's more about it here. A better alternative would be the CD The Lost Art of Wooing by vocalist Jeni Melia, a very talented soprano with a wonderfully full and expressive style. Dowling was in many ways the first great singer-songwriter and quite revered in his day. The Elizabethan era was a golden age in English history, a period of political stability that supported a flowering of English art, literature and music.

The Elizabethans were also greatly enamoured of love and the celebration of love, to the extent that they had to outlaw the singing of love songs underneath peoples windows as a public nuisance.

Fortunately, in this day and age you can use your computer to stream Melia's fine performance of Dowling and other period love songs for free, or download them for your iPod for a few shillings from

So listen, enjoy and feel your heart awaken.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Baroque Multiculturalism, or Everybody Loves Italian

Music that is, and probably Italian food as well. But in the 18th century, it was easier for travelers to bring back musical scores from countries that they visited than it was to bring food home with them. Bach not only spoke fairly good Italian, but he was quite a fan of Italian composers, such as Vivaldi, Corelli and Torelli, and adopted many of their stylistic devices, such as their dramatic openings and sunny, pleasant melodies.

His influence is still strong, but the final product is more sensual and less impressive for its elegance than it is for its pastoral and emotional tone. Hearing the two styles blend is quite an experience for Bach fans. So listen to J.S. Bach - Transcriptions of Italian Music for free and get a new take on an old master.

Update:  I've had a ton of hits from people visiting from their email accounts, so I'm guessing that this post got mentioned on some list serve or email newsletter relating to classical music.  Would someone be kind enough to leave a comment letting me know where it was mentioned?

Thanks, and I hope you enjoyed the post.


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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Going Medieval on Your Heart

Le Souvenir De Vous Me Tue

Robert Morton (~1430-1476)

The memory of you kills me,
My one treasure, when I cannot see you.
Because I swear to you upon my honor,
Without you my joy is lost.

When you are out of my sight,
I lament and cry out to myself;
Alone I remain, bereft of soul,
Receiving no comfort
And so I shall suffer in silence
Until your return.

It's easy to think of people in the late middle ages as uncultured, ignorant and almost proto-human, simply because they lived in the dark ages.  But they were people too, subject to the same heartaches and hopes that we all have, that have always characterized the human condition.

That song was one of the many to come from the court of Phillip the Good, Duke of Burgundy.  And he was good, a noted patron of the arts, music and culture.  Burgundy prospered under his leadership because it was seen as a leading center of innovation and learning.

I have never been much of a fan of medieval music because the idiom is so limited.  It tends to be simplistic and monochromatic,  so I don't actively seek it out.  But sometimes I happen across a recording like this, and it fairly takes my breath away with it's beauty, intimacy and gentleness.  It's a fine reminder that love transcends the ages and that we have more in common with the people of those distant times than we normally would imagine.

Listen to it for free or download it for a farthing or two from

So listen, enjoy and be transported.



Saturday, February 10, 2007

Sometimes there's a message.

I did a post on Haydn a couple of weeks ago, then happened to hear one of my favorite compositions of his on the radio the other night. It's the Symphony No. 45 in F-sharp minor, commonly known known as the "Farewell" Symphony. There are three things that make this symphony memorable. First, it's just a lovely piece for a small orchestra. Second, it was written in a minor key, which was considered quite daring and controversial at the time (1772). Finally, what really makes this piece memorable is the backstory.

Haydn's job at the time was running the orchestra of the Austrian royal court. As wikipedia so nicely sums it up:

It was written for Haydn's patron, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, while he, Haydn and the court orchestra were at the Prince's summer palace in Eszterhaza. The stay there had been longer than expected, and most of the musicians had been forced to leave their wives back at home in Eisenstadt, so in the last movement of the symphony, Haydn subtly hinted to his patron that perhaps he might like to allow the musicians to return home: during the final adagio each musician stops playing, snuffs out the candle on his music stand, and leaves in turn, so that at the end, there are just two muted violins left (played by Haydn himself and the concertmaster, Alois Luigi Tomasini). Esterházy apparently got the message: the court returned to Eisenstadt the day following the performance.

I really enjoy this story because it shows a part of Haydn's character that's hard to see purely from his music. He was clever, diplomatic and not above tweaking the Prince when he was being a royal PITA. I alway smile when I hear this music. And I'm sorry, but I can't find a free download of the music. I did find this really cute CD and children's book combination at amazon that I'm going to order for my kids.

Another old favorite that I heard recently was J.S. Bach's "Wachet Auf!" (Sleepers, Awake!). This is such a joyous piece of music that it's commonly played at weddings. In fact, if you heard it, you'd immediately think "wedding music". Like this. This is miserable, but here's a download of a RM file with the melody, just so that you know what I'm talking about.

Why then, the odd title for such a happy piece of music? Knowing that Bach was quite the devout Lutheran, and knowing that he composed lots of liturgical music, one could speculate that the music is an attempt to capture the joy of the second coming of Christ, and the fulfillment of the promise of the resurrection for all of his followers who sleep.

So listen, enjoy and be enlightened.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Small Is Beautiful.

At least it is in music. 

Steve Reich, who recently turned 70, is one of the most influential composers that you've probably never heard of.  A new Yorker (go team!), he pioneered the minimalist movement in classical music.  Minimalism is many things, but what stands out about Reich's music is the way he'll take one small musical idea and unfold it, repeat it and explore it.  Ideas from earlier works are introduced again in new works.  The arrangments tend to be simple, with only a handful of instruments and are highly rhythmic.  This is his personal website.

His innovative style has not only effected other modern classical composers like John Adams and Phillip Glass, but also shows up in the work of popular musicians like Brian Eno.

NPR has this free one hour download of Three Movements for Orchestra, and Tehillim, his classic setting of Hebrew psalms, performed by the L.A. Philharmonic at the Disney Concert Hall.

Both the works and the performances are challenging, innovative and invigorating.  So listen, enjoy and be opened to new possibilities musically.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

No Haydn from the Glory

 Joseph Haydn was a piviotal figure in classical music.  He lived from 1732 to 1809, was friends with Mozart, and is often refered to as the father of modern symphony.  He was born in Austria, and other than a brief stint in London, lived there all of his life.  He was a devout Catholic, who prayed the rosary when he was having trouble composing, and began each manuscript with "in nomine Domini" ("in the name of the Lord") and ended with "Laus deo" ("praise be to God").

He was apparently also human, and had one or more children with Luigia Polzelli, a singer in the Eszterházy establishment with whom he carried on a long-term love affair, outside of his childless and loveless marriage.

The sacred music that he wrote was extraordinary.  His masses were bold, dramatic and of a temper that speaks to a deep, living faith.  Unfortuately, they were barred from liturgical use by the reform of Church music instituted by Pope Pius X, in some instances on account of the alterations and repetitions effected in the text, and in others because of the operatic character of the music itself, which Mendelssohn is reported to have styled "scandalously gay".  Perhaps one of my Catholic readers can advise in the comments if that is still the case today.

All of this is really a lead in to point you to a fine performance of The Lord Nelson Mass as well as the Little Organ Mass that's available on for free streaming or low cost download.

The Kyrie alone is worth the trip.

So listen, enjoy, and be uplifted.

Friday, January 19, 2007

They do have a sense of humor.

I recently discovered an internet forum for classical musicians, and found, to my surprise that they actually tell classical music jokes.  Aparently, Violists (Viola players) are the dumb blondes of the classical music world.  I'd guess that's because comparatively speaking, the viola is a fairly simple instrument to play.  I've always loved the viola, but what do I know?  Here's a sample of the jokes.

A violist and a percussionist were walking in a park. The percussionist saw a dead crow and said to the violist, "Look, a dead crow."

The violist looked up and asked, "Where?"

Q: Do you know the difference between a coffin and a viola?

A: The viola has the dead person on the outside.

Q: Do you know why violas are bigger than violins?

A: They're not. Violinists heads are just bigger.

And my favorite:

An American orchestra had just arrived in Europe for a two-week tour. One hour before the first concert, the conductor became very ill and was unable to conduct, and the orchestra suddenly had to find a substitute. The orchestra manager asked everyone in the orchestra whether they could step in and conduct, and the only person who was willing was the last chair violist.

The manager was very nervous about this. "We can't audition you,'' he said.

"No problem,'' replied the violist.

"There's no time to rehearse. You'll have to do the concert cold.''

"I know. It'll be all right.''

The violist conducted the concert and it was a smashing success. Since the conductor remained ill for the duration of the tour, the violist conducted all of the concerts, getting rave reviews and standing ovations at each one.

At the next rehearsal, the conductor had recovered, and the violist took his place at the back of the viola section. As he sat down, his stand partner asked him, "Where've you been for the last two weeks?''

Enjoy, and be amused.  I'll see if I can find some viola music to blog about.


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Mozart in the Age of Enlightenment

 This is just a quick post to point you to a new album on Magnatune called Mozart in the Age of Enlightenment.  Like all of the recordings on, you can stream the whole thing for free, or download uncopyprotected versions in a variety of file formats at very low cost.

It's a collection of pieces played on the fortepiano, which was the bridge instrument between the harpsicord and the modern piano.  The theme, the age of enlightenment, is interesting also.   From a brief piece on NPR:

Much of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s life and music were shaped by the Enlightenment and its principles. Mozart began his career as a servant to the Archbishop of Salzburg. In fact, up until this period, composers were often just highly-skilled servants to the church or royal courts. But Mozart’s travels to England and France had exposed him to the ideals of independence and equality. He sought to sever his obligation to the arcane hierarchy that employed his services so rigidly. Eventually, Mozart found greater freedom in Vienna, where he supported himself with public concerts and commissions, and through teaching engagements. Mozart’s opera “The Marriage of Figaro” epitomized the new ways of thinking by giving servants a central role. Previously, servants were comic figures to be laughed at; but, building on ideas in the play by Beaumarchais, Mozart presented them as equally worthy of serious attention as any noble aristocrat.

So listen, enjoy and be uplifted.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Two iPods = trouble

Update:  I'm getting tons of hits on this post from people doing Google searches, so I guess this is a common problem.  If the information here solves your problem, or if you know of another solution, please leave a comment so that others can benefit from your experience.  You can also stay and learn something about classical music.  8^)

I know that this isn't specifically  about classical music, but it is music related and I am an IT guy.  Two years ago, I bought my wife an iPod Mini for Christmas, which she loved.  It had to be replaced seven (yes seven) times by Apple under the AppleCare extended warranty, but when it was working, she loved it.  And no, she wasn't careless with it, drop it or in anyway cause the problems.  I think that hard drives and portable music devices are a bad combination.

Since the AppleCare contract was about to expire, this seemed like a good time to 
upgrade to a second generation Nano, which I expected would have far fewer problems since the storage is flash memory instead of a hard drive.  So I ordered one from Apple, with a sappy sentiment engraved on the back, and that was her big Christmas gift (along with an armband, Applecare extended warranty and iTunes gift card).  It was a big hit.

The problems began when she hooked it up to our windows based computer at home to transfer all of her music onto the new Nano.  It stopped showing all of her MP3's.  She got "file missing" error messages all the time.  So she called Apple support, and the first person she spoke to told her that it was defective, and to return it.  No way, she said, it's a software problem, and she demanded to speak to a product specialist.  When she got a hold of someone who actually knew something about the Nano, he told her that iTunes has problems with two iPods hooked up at the same time since it assigns them the same drive letter.  He walked her through how to assign a new drive letter to the Nano in Windows, and that solved most of the problems.

The only problem that she continued to have was that she would get "missing parameter" errors when she tried to move large blocks of files to the Nano.  I have run into this before with my Sandisk Sansa player, and it has to do with going through our USB hub instead of using one of the USB ports built into the computer.  So I moved the Nano's USB cable to one of the Dell's own ports, and that problem went away.  Her whole library of songs transfered to the Nano without a problem in about five minutes.

Life is good.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Working Classical

Back in November, I blogged about a new orchestral work by Paul McCartney called Ecce Cor Meum (click here to read the post), and I recently found an earlier CD of his lying around the house called Working Classical. I think that my wife must have bought it at some point. While not much of a classical music fan, she does like Paul McCartney.

The title is a cute pun on "working class", of course, and reflects McCartney's pride in his working class, Liverpool roots. The concept behind the album, which came out in 1999, was to orchestrate some of his best known and loved pop songs and reinterpret them in classical form.

There are also some new pieces, namely Haymakers, Midwife, Spiral and Tuesday. Just as he takes pride in his humble origins, he clearly takes pride in the classic songs that he's arranged for orchestra here, including such oldies but goodies as Maybe I'm Amazed and My Love.

The orchestrations are competent and the LSO gives it's usual fine performance, and it's really interesting to hear these tunes done over in a new idiom. It now has a place on my MP3 player, and I recommend the CD to any McCartney fan.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

You Can Never Have Too Much Bach

Especially around the holidays. Magnatune now has this cool embedded flash player that you can use to stream this fabulous collection of Bach's most loved choral works. Perfect for the holidays. Rather than try to comment on them myself, I'm just going to quote their marketing blurb:

Upon being released on the Magnatune site this collection of Bach's most popular vocal and choral compositions instantly appeared in our top ten albums of the week--an auspicious debut for the the first release in a series by "period all stars" American Bach Soloists. Three of Bach's most popular cantatas appear here: BWV 140 is based on a famous hymn by Luther ("A mighty fortress"), and includes a gorgeously balanced quartet for alto, tenor, violin, and oboe. BWV 78 is known for its lively soprano-alto duet; BWV 80 ("Sleepers awake") features the original version of Bach's famous organ chorale prelude, along with a magnificent opening chorus and two soprano-bass duets. Full liner notes included with download purchase.

They really sound terrific, and if you like them you can download them in the format of your choice with no copy protection and share them with up to three other people for as little as $5, although $8 is the suggested price.

So listen, enjoy and be uplifted.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Ultimate Advent Music

I tried. I really, really tried. I wanted to find a link where you could at least stream Handel's Messiah for free, but all I found were some midi files that were worse than not hearing it at all. As a consolation prize, go to which streams a lot of advent music this time of year. Note that the wikipedia page linked above does have downloads of ogg files for much of Messiah, but I couldn't get them to play on my computer. Stupid Windows machine. WNYC2also seems to be streaming seasonal music.

So I'm going to have to settle for a link to a CD of a fine performance of Messiah and some discussion of the work.

We normally hear Messiah in the time leading up to Christmas, but it actually consists of three parts, covering all of Christ's life - His birth, the Passion and the Resurrection. Christmas time performances tend toward pieces from the first part, obviously. Some parts of Messiah are widely played at other times. The Hallelujah chorus is often used to conclude weddings, and the soprano aria I know that my Redeemer Liveth is commonly played at funerals.

Handel wrote the entire work in the summer of 1741 in 24 days, in a burst of creative force to compose something that would capture the entire story of Jesus' life, with suitable grandeur and majesty. His valet wrote that he would often find Handel weeping silently as he wrote it, overcome by the power of the music flowing through him. The result is by far his most popular piece, and one of the greatest pieces of religious music ever composed.

I swore I wasn't going to do this, but here's a link to a midi version of the piece that is less horrendous than some I found.

So listen, and get the Christmas spirit.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Free Download!

 A couple of weeks ago I posted about a piece called Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns.  I just found a site that sells classical music MP3's called  They offer a free download track everyday and today's is the movement The Swan.  Download it here and enjoy.

Update:  I've had a chance to explore and it's quite a resource.  They sell only high quality, uncopyprotected classical MP3's from a variety of smaller, independent record labels.  There's no monthly fee, you just buy what you want when you want it and the prices are extremely reasonable.  They also have some great bundling deals, and are the only place I know of that eliminates that annoying pause between MP3 tracks by merging when the movements are supposed to be played continuously.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Film - Where Classical Music and Pop Culture Intersect

The fact that my last two posts have been about pop music rather than classical started me thinking about where the two come together. In 20th century classical music, jazz and folk influences abound. Shostakovich and Gershwin were both heavy users of jazz rhythms and themes, and Copland used hymns and folk melodies extensively, like the Shaker hymn Simple Gifts in Appalachian Spring.

The movies are another area where pop culture and classical music intersect. Hollywood has long used classical music to score movies, cartoons and TV shows for the simple reason that most of it is in the public domain and can be used without paying royalties. Lots of classical music is highly atmospheric too, in that it sets a mood or tone for the movie without being overly intrusive.

It wasn't that uncommon for movie producers to commission classical music pieces specifically for films that they were making, particularly in the 1940's. This allowed them to get music tailored to the film they were making. While a lot of commissioned movie scores are eminently forgettable, some are so good that they've entered the standard repertoire as pieces worthy of preserving and performing on their own merit.

Aaron Copland is certainly the best example of a major American composer who worked in film. His film credits include Of Mice and Men, The North Star, The Red Pony, Our Town and several others.

The most memorable of them all are The Heiress and The Red Pony, and both are available on this CD, along with excerpts from several other scores. The Red Pony was a western, and the music reminds me of Copland's Billy the Kid, but without the drums simulating gunshots. The score for The Heiress is more urban, lush and emotive. Listen to the clips on the Amazon page to get a feel for the pieces.

I bought a copy of this CD for my offices' secret Santa Grab bag. It's a great gift because even non-classical music fans tend to like Copland's music and many classical music fans are unfamiliar with his film scores. So if you're looking for a last minute gift idea, here you go.

I have a special fondness for Copland because it was hearing his work, particularly Appalachian Spring, as a teenager, that sparked my love of classical music. I'm also fortunate to live near Copland House, where he lived and worked from 1960 until his death in 1990. The house is now run by a non-profit foundation and serves to promote and preserve his legacy. They also hold performances there and offer guest residences to promising young composers.

So listen, enjoy, and be enriched.

Friday, December 08, 2006

We're doing Pop this Week

So if that really sinks your boat, skip this post.

And in honor of the Christmas season that has now firmly taken control of everything, I thought I would share a very nice new Christmas album with you. It's Celtic Woman: A Christmas Celebration.

When I bought this CD about a week ago, Amazon was only charging $7.99 for it. Now it's selling like hotcakes and they've upped the price to $9.99. I wish I had bought a few more at the old price as stocking stuffers for people.

I really love the Irish voices, and there's something so fetching about hearing "the little Lord Jesus" sung with a slight Irish accent. It's an interesting mix of songs too, with all of the old standards, and a few fairly unusual ones as well, like "Panis Angelicus" sung in Latin, "Christmas Pipes" and "Carol of the Bells". Most of the tunes are lightly orchestrated, and there's some rousing Irish fiddle playing on some of them. Listen to the audio clips on the Amazon page and see what you think.

Yes, it's a schmaltz fest, the musical equivalent of throwing yourself in a vat of eggnog, but there's really some lovely music here, with very high production values.

And at $10, it's still a deal.

So listen, enjoy, and get the Christmas spirit.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

All Saints' U2Charist

This is my parish in New York, and no, I'm not in the video, but I have lots of friends and fellow parishioners who are. By the way, a lot of non-parishioners (and non-Episcopalians) attended that night. It was our second U2Charist. Somehow Nightline heard about the first one and asked us to do it again so they could film it for a segment.

Here's the Church's website if you'd like to learn more about us. It was built in 1854, modeled after a Church in Bemerton, England and is on the National Registry of Historic Places. The sanctuary is quite small, seating at most 300 people. It was absolutely full for both U2Charists.

So watch, and enjoy.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

A Musical Gift for the Children on Your List

Last Saturday I was in the kitchen, making a huge batch of homemade French toast (I wrap and freeze it and the kids have it for breakfast before school) and had the radio on, tuned to our local commercial classical music station, WQXR. They were playing a children's piece by the French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns called The Carnival of the Animals. It's a wonderful, somewhat whimsical piece of 14 short movements, each of which depicts a different animal, such as a donkey, an elephant, fish, Kangaroos,  etc. It's great fun, and a terrific way to introduce children to classical music. The composer wouldn't allow it to be played publicly until after his death, worried that it's lowbrow nature would hurt his reputation as a serious composer.

So imagine my surprise, nay shock, when my six year old son walked into the kitchen and cried out "Dad, that's the carnival of the animals!". As we listened, he was able to identify what animal was the subject of each movement too. It turns out that his first grade music teacher showed a video about the piece and he loved it. As you might guess, I have classical music playing at home frequently, mostly for my benefit but also because I want our children exposed to it as they grow up. My father did the same thing for me, and I'm quite grateful that he did.

So I went to and ordered this video. We'll see if it gets here in time for Christmas, and if not I'll just give it to the kids when it arrives. My experience with amazon has been that when they say 4-6 weeks for delivery it means that they have to obtain it from a distributor and that I often get it within a week or two. There's also this CD and book combination that looks very nice and is in stock.

So consider the gift of classical music for the kids on your holiday gift list. It's a wonderful thing to do that the kids will also really enjoy.

And listen to it with them, and enjoy.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Commercial Free, No Charge, High Def Streaming Classical Music

I'm doing a quicky post just to share something that I recently got working and am really enjoying. My local public radio station, which does news and talk during the day and classical music at night, recently started a 24 hour classical music streaming service called WNYC2. Go to that webpage and click on the "Listen to WNYC2 24/7" link to try it. I tried it a couple of weeks ago and couldn't get it to work one of my computers. It turns out that the link downloads a .PLS file that Windows Media Player (WMP) doesn't recognize.

Being an IT person, this bugged me, so I did some research and found out that .PLS files are Shoutcast Playlist files, and lots of other audio programs do play them. If you have iTunes installed, you're in business. But I don't use iTunes and it seemed silly to install it just to listen to streaming audio, so I found an open license utility that will parse the PLS file into something else that WMP does handle. You can read about and use the download link here.

The download includes an installer and the utility works like a charm. There's nothing to run either. After it's installed, anytime you download a PLS file it will just start playing in WMP.

If you're listening and want to find out the name of the piece, go to the webpage linked above and click on the "Now Playing" link on the left side of the page and a little window will open and show you the title, composer, start time and end time of the piece, and the principle musicians. Note that the window does not refresh itself automatically - you have to click the link again to get the current information if the piece playing has changed.

As for the music, what I've heard so far is a very nice mix of standard repertoire and some newer, more avant guard stuff that has been very interesting. And it's free, and commercial free too.

So listen, enjoy, and expand your musical horizons a bit.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Something Festive, for a Change

I thought I'd try to find some music that would offset the downbeat tone of the music discussed in my last two posts, something that would also help people get in the mood for the holidays. And I thought it would be nice if I could find something on magnatune so that everyone could stream it for free and listen to it at their computers while they do other things.

I found Handel - Six Organ Concertos. Magnatune seems to have eliminated the voice overs at the end of each piece when you stream their music, a nice improvement.

German by birth, Handel lived in England for most of his life. He worked in the late Baroque period, was a virtuoso organist, and is of course, still widely performed today. Born in 1685, his father made him go to law school (how mean was that?), which he dropped out of to pursue his musical studies as soon as his father died. He studied in Italy for a time, then moved to England in 1712, became a naturalised British subject and remained there for the rest of his life. He never married, was very private about his personal life and did quite well financially, leaving a large estate mostly to charity.

There's something about Handel's music that I always associate with the holidays and festive occasions. His Messiah is the quintessential choral Christmas music, and his Water Music, written to be performed on a barge on the River Thames for a party given by King George the first is wonderful background music for any happy social gathering.

These organ concertos, while not written specifically as sacred music, retain a strong liturgical feel to them, and bring to mind for me the wonder and joy of the holiday that is approaching. They are by turns exuberant and soulful, just like Christmas.

So Listen, enjoy and be uplifted.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Another Mournful Musical Moment

I really didn't mean to post on two mournful works in a row, but this one is really worth blogging about. I recently heard a broadcast of a live performance from Carnegie Hall of a classical work by popular music icon Paul McCartney. The piece is called Ecce Cor Meum which is Latin for Behold My Heart. You can download an interview with Sir Paul about the piece here. Most of it was written after he lost his wife Linda to cancer in 1998. A recording of an earlier performance is available on CD at Amazon. The Amazon page will let you play the opening clips of each of the five movements. I liked it enough to order the CD, which hopefully will come today.

It's not his first classical music composition, but it is by far his most ambitious. Primarily a choral work (for children's choir and soprano), it was composed over a period of eight years, and was also a learning experience for Sir Paul. In early versions of the work, for example, he expected the vocalists to be able to sing full out for the entire duration of the piece, and later cut it back when he learned that what he had composed wasn't possible to perform.

While it's not what you'd call a sophisticated piece of music, it has many moments that are quite touching and beautiful. It recalls a requiem and has a strong liturgical character as well. It's also quite effective in conveying the message that love can endure when life does not, and that McCartney has poured out his grief via the music, and in some way resolved it.

McCartney is following the same career pattern that I mentioned in last weeks post about Samuel Barber, in that he had an established career in popular music and then later started composing classical music. All in all, it's a fine piece of music, and an interesting milestone in a remarkable musical career.

So listen, reflect and enjoy.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The World's Saddest Music

At least that's what responders to a poll by the BBC called it. I'm refering to the 20th century American composer Samuel Barber's piece Adagio for Strings.  I've always loved his work, and this is really his signature piece.  He also wrote a major piano sonata, three operas and numerous songs, and was a very talented singer.  He was typical of 20th century American composers in that he had one foot in the real world of popular and quasi classical music and one foot in the avant guard world of neoclassical composition.

Written in 1936, it was originally part of the larger String Quartet No.1 Op. 11 and was composed in the arch form that uses the repetition in reverse order of musical elements to create a symmetrical whole.

It's pretty mournful stuff, and was played at the funerals of both FDR and JFK.  But there is also a pensive, prayerful and reflective quality that give it great beauty.  Here's a place to download the first third or so (about 7 minutes) of the piece.

So listen, reflect and enjoy.



Thursday, November 02, 2006

Sacred Music for the Latin Mass

This is one of those good news, bad news classical music posts.

The good news is that one of the most beautiful and profound pieces of sacred music ever written is now available on magnatune. And given the number of Catholic friends I have who read this blog, it's a wonderful way to acquaint yourself with a priceless piece of your liturgical heritage. It's Bach's Mass in B Minor for the traditional Latin Mass on two CD's, or two downloads. It's on two CD's because it's very long - about two hours. It's so long that when it's performed in Church, usually only one or two movements are played.

It may be long, but there are few pieces of sacred music that rival it in beauty, power and scope. It also took Bach 25 years to write. He composed the first section, the Gloria, in 1724 and didn't finish the whole thing until 1749, a year before his death. Perhaps the good Lord was waiting for him to finish.

So, what's the bad news here, you no doubt are wondering? It's not really bad news, but more of a historical conundrum. Bach was a Lutheran, not a Catholic, and there's been considerable speculation as to why he wrote it without a specific commission from the Catholic church. It turns out though that the 18th century Lutherans often used parts of the latin mass (the Kyrie and the Gloria) as forms of choral music that the whole congregation would sing. This no doubt also made Catholic converts to Lutheranism feel more at home with the liturgy, just as the modern Episcopal liturgy is almost identical to the modern english Catholic mass.

So listen, enjoy and be uplifted.


Sunday, October 29, 2006

Something a little creepy...

Okay, I know that this is not up to my usual standards, but I wanted to find a piece of creepy, scary classical music with Halloween coming up, and here it is.

The piece is called "Central Park in the Dark" and was written in 1906 by the fascinating American composer Charles Ives.

I promise to post more about Ives and his influence on 20th century classical music at some point, but for now listen to the audio clip for the piece on the page and read the bio I linked to. He was greatly influenced by (you guessed it) Beethoven, and like him was considered quite radical at the time. He was also a great benefactor or other, younger musicians and composers and mysteriously stopped composing completely later in life, complaining to his wife that "nothing sounds right".

Maybe his piano was haunted.

So enjoy, and be a little spooked.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A final few thoughts on Beethoven - the Piano Sonatas

I know that I wrote about Beethoven last week, but there's a lot of interesting stuff to talk about, and I'm still being subjected to a massive Beethoven overload on the radio. And, he has his own website too:

Not bad for a dead white guy.

Over the course of his career, Beethoven wrote 32 piano sonatas, 16 string quartets and 9 symphonies. Why so many piano sonatas? There are a number of reasons, like:

- Most were written early in his career, to help make a name for himself. They were a way of showcasing his talents as a composer and pianist, and had an immediacy that other, multi-instrument forms couldn't offer. He could compose and perform them himself for potential patrons, music publishers, more established musicians, etc. As a virtuoso pianist, with a few sonatas in hand, Beethoven was a one man band.

- They were the ideal vehicle for trying out some of his most daring (some said outlandish) compositional ideas because he didn't need anyones cooperation. Many of those ideas were refined and reintroduced in the quartets and symphonies.

- The sonatas were a way of encouraging piano makers to increase the tonal and sonic range of the instrument and make them sturdier. Like the modern day rockers who frequently destroy guitars during a performance, Beethoven would frequently break strings and even hammers from playing the instrument so hard.

Here is a link to stream or download all of his sonatas:

The Moonlight (number 14) and the Hammerklavier (number 29) are probably the most famous. The Hammerklavier is actually more typical Beethoven, with the bold opening and unexpected changes in harmony.
Two other sonatas performed by Andreas Haefliger are available here:

Later in life, he would move away from the sonatas mostly, but they would continue to provide a laboratory or proving ground for his many musical innovations.
So listen, enjoy and be uplifted.



Beethoven, Rock Star and Revolutionary

Breaking all the rules

The LSO (London Symphony Orchestra) is in town for the next few weeks, doing an all Beethoven program at Lincoln Center. So the two NYC classical stations have been doing all Beethoven all the time, including Beethoven trivia contests and essay competitions on "Why I'm the biggest Beethoven fan in New York". I kid you not. The city is in the grip of a Ludwig mania. Well, a small part of the city.

So why all the fuss, you ask? Because Beethoven's work radically altered the course of classical music. You can get the biographical stuff here.

Prior to Beethoven, people listened to work by composers like Mozart and Haydn. The music was pretty, elegant, and cerebral, and was bound by lots of conventions and rules.

Beethoven's music broke all the rules. It was loud. It was long. It changed tempo a lot. He mixed musical metaphors, with a driving, thundering percussive movement instantly transitioning to a mournful, quiet oboe solo. His music was heroic, not intellectual. Sometimes he'd start pieces in a minor key instead of a major key. Musical compositions back then had two themes, or melodies - a primary theme and a counter theme. Beethoven, inventive guy that he was, often threw in four or five themes per work. Or only one, in the last movement. Stuff like this made peoples heads explode back then.

There's story that one of his student's yelled "You came in wrong!" at Beethoven when he was playing a new piece. Beethoven jumped up from the piano, boxed his ears and said "You idiot! Can't you see what I'm trying to do?".

There's more. He had wild hair. He dressed funny. He kept falling in love with women he couldn't have. He was a rock star.

He was also a tragic figure. He started to go deaf when he was just 28. He fell into a deep depression when he realized that his deafness would not only cut him off from the music that was the soul of his being, but that it would probably prevent him from ever marrying. He remained depressed for four years and contemplated suicide. But he eventually decided that rather than giving in, he could go on and use the amazing talent he'd been given. He went on to compose his finest works while completely deaf. He could hear the music in his head, and that's all he needed.

Here's the Beethoven collection on Magnatune:

It's all good, but to really hear what I'm talking about, listen to the Philharmonia Baroque's performance of the Symphony No 3 Eroica, particularly the 2nd and 3rd movements. Listen to the shifting moods, the counter-play between the instruments and feel the power of it as it sweeps you along to the conclusion. This was heavy metal to Haydn's folk tunes.

His work was what brought an end to the baroque period and introduced the romantic period of classical music. Music stopped just thinking and started feeling too.

He was one radical guy.

So listen, enjoy, and be uplifted.

Even back then, celebrity kids crashed and burned.

W.F. Bach was the oldest son and most musically gifted of Johann Sebastian Bach's children. As so often happens with the children of the rich and famous, his great talent was largely squandered by a lack of discipline and purpose in his life. Read all about it here:

Fortunately, he did composing some stunningly beautiful music, including these flute duos recently recorded by the renowned flutists Laurel Zucker and Sara Andon. This CD contains the complete set of WFB's published flute duos, and as usual with you can stream the whole thing for free or download it for a pittance here:

It's actually quite rare to hear these pieces performed because they are so technically demanding and difficult to play that it's hard to find two flutists willing to tackle the challenge together. But they are lovely, and his father's love for counterpoint and a festive melodic line shines through in the work of the son. The performance, on two silver Brannen Flutes, is not only flawless in terms of technique, but also a beautiful and poetic interpretation of the music.

So listen, enjoy, and be uplifted.

Shostakovich, a little crazy, but still one of the great ones.

If you listen to classical music radio as much as I have been recently (I'm doing some interior painting projects), you're well aware that this week marked the centennial of Demetri Shostakovitch's birth on September 25, 1906 in what was then St. Petersburg, Russia.

A neoclassical composer of huge emotional power and range, he lived through the Stalinist purges and the siege of Leningrad by the Germans. He was also banned several times by the Soviet censors, and at one point was so convinced that the KGB was going to arrest him that he slept on the stoop of his apartment building so that when they came to get him his family wouldn't be molested. And he wasn't so much crazy as obsessive. He was, according to his daughter, a neat freak who used to compulsively synchronize the clocks in their apartment and send himself cards in the mail to see how long it would take them to get delivered. He was also a little obsessed with death and his own mortality, but having lived thorough the Stalinist "great terror" when many of his friends and relatives were either killed or imprisoned, perhaps it's understandable.

His work was denounced twice by the communist party, and was largely banned from public performance for several years on each occasion. Why, you ask, did they ban his music? For the sin of being "formalist" and "political", which means to say that his work had such a majestic feel to it that the Soviets censors worried that it made them look like the small minded idiots that they were. He also had a habit of taking little melodic lines from other banned composers like Mahler and slipping them into his work just to see if the censors were paying attention.

He was kind of a geeky looking little guy (he's the one on the left in the photo), but his music showed an inner life and passion that is truly striking. And his courage in not renouncing his own music to get off the list of banned composers and to eliminate the risk of his own arrest and imprisonment says a lot about his character and devotion to the integrity of his music.

I've added two CD's to the Amazon links section of the lens that I'd recommend. One has his famous 5th and less well known 9th symphonies, and the other has a selection of his surprisingly good jazz compositions. You can hear audio clips of the pieces at amazon.

Overall, he's an inspiring composer, and and inspiration in his dedication to artistic freedom in an oppressive society.

Put this one on your Liszt.

I've been meaning to comment on the 19th century Hungarian piano virtuoso and composer for some time, so here we go.

Most of you have probably heard of Franz Liszt. He was born in 1811 and died in 1896. His parents were Hungarian and Austrian, and his father played piano and cello at the royal Hungarian court, and started teaching his son music at age six. His immense talent was immediately noticed and he was sent, with his parents to Paris and Vienna for further musical study by the Hungarian court. He studied piano under Carl Czerny, who took lessons from Beethoven, and the Beethoven influence shows up clearly in his work.

He is considered quite likely the finest pianist who ever lived, something that is a bit hard for us to judge today since no recordings of his performances survive. His playing was renowned for its' showmanship and flamboyance.

His personal life was fairly unremarkable, other than the fact that he fell in love with a Princess and they planned to marry in 1860. However, she had a civil divorce from an earlier marriage that the Catholic Church wouldn't annul, and the marriage was called off. They remained friends, and he reportedly remained in love with her for the rest of his life. Perhaps that accounts for the stormy, highly emotional character of his compositions, and the many love songs he wrote. His work was highly influential on other Romantic period composers, many of whom were regular attendees at this piano recitals in the capitals of Europe.

Here is a sampling of three fine Liszt pieces that you can listen to for free, or download at low cost from


The Red Priest's Most Famous Piece

Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was born in 1678 in Venice, to a poor family, and was one of the most interesting and innovative composers of the baroque period. His father was a barber who later became a professional violinist. He learned to play the violin from his father, and would become famous in his own time as a virtuoso violinist. Because his family could not afford a secular education for him, Vivaldi entered seminary and was ordained in 1703 and nicknamed Il Prete Rosso, the red priest due to his red hair. While he assumed the duties of a priest, his heart was really in his music, and he would frequently interrupt saying mass to jot down a melody running through his head before he forgot it. Needless to say, this did not endear him to parishioners or the Church hierarchy, and he withdrew from the priesthood in 1706.

He went on to find a job teaching music and violin at an orphanage for girls born to members of the upper class who fathered children with their mistresses that they couldn't publicly acknowledge but still wanted to support. Many of the hundreds of compositions that survive of Vivaldi were originally written as "etudes" or student exercise pieces.

His work now is considered highly innovative for the baroque period, giving new brightness and energy to the concerto by his use of harmonic contrasts. In addition to his student pieces, he wrote a great deal of sacred music for the Church, and music for the general public.

All of this is an introduction to a new performance of his most famous piece, Le Quattro Stagioni (the Four Seasons), available for free streaming and low cost download from the folks at

The performance is by the American Baroque chamber music group, and it is a fine, subtle and nuanced performance. See:

The piece is an example of a "tone poem" in that it uses music to describe something. Vivaldi actually wrote four sonnets to be read with the piece, available in the original Italian and English here:

Spring is bright and lively, conveying the earth awakening. Summer starts out placid, then ends with a thunderstorm. Fall is bright and elegant, reflecting the harvest. Winter is dark, moody and brooding. It's a remarkable piece, and a great example of music as art.

So stream, listen, and enjoy.

9/11 Commemorated in Music

Today I'd like to comment on a piece by the modern American composer John Adams titled "On the Transmigration of Souls".

The piece was commissioned by the NY Philharmonic to commemorate the 2001 attacks that brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The title refers to the belief, common in many cultures and religions, that at death the soul moves into another living form, or is in some sense indestructible and capable of rebirth. See:

for the background and an interview with Adams. His minimalist style is well suited to this piece. Every element plays a critical part in portraying the disaster. There are no excesses or ornamenations here.

In the interests of full disclosure, this is personal for me. I was at work in Manhattan that morning, about a mile north of the WTC. I watched the towers come down, and spent the next month or so smelling the smoke and the odor of burnt flesh as the fires lingered in the rubble. It was worse than what you saw on the news. Much worse.

The piece starts out with street noise, then a reader obsessively repeats the word "Missing" while others read the names of the victims and quotes taken from the hundreds of "missing person" posters that went up all over Manhattan in the days following the attack. A chorus and full orchestration fill out the piece, with some ethereal harp solos standing out. There are also quotes from some of the descriptions of the dead that were given by friends and loved ones. Most of the text is available here:

The piece, only 25 minutes long, has two climatic passages (one for each tower falling) with a mournful trumpet, bells and percussion focused movement that seems to represent the transition of those souls to their next stage of existence. The choir continues to sing the remembrances of the dead. The piece ultimately fades back to street noise, leaving us to contemplate the enormity of what happened that day.

It is chaotic, powerful and gripping in the way that witnessing a disaster is gripping.

Just listening to this piece is a very emotional experience for me. It brings back the fear and anger that I felt in the days and weeks after the attack. But it's also highly cathartic.

Go to Amazon and buy the CD. It's part of your musical heritage, and certainly the most moving and cathartic piece of music that I've ever heard.

Renaissance music - it's not just for renfair groupies

A couple of mornings ago, I was out running very early and my local NPR station (WNYC) was still doing their overnight classical programing. I like listening then because the hosts have a lot of freedom to play non-mainstream stuff, since the audience is so small.

The theme that morning was renaissance era music, written approximately between 1400 and 1600, and I was struck by the way the simplicity of the music allowed its' beauty to shine through so clearly.

The music and art of the middle ages in the western world was mostly religious or liturgical, and so was limited in many ways. The renaissance generally was a time when people's views of themselves, the earth and the cosmos were changing. The feudal system gave way to modern states. There was renewed interest in classical learning (e.g. the work of Greek scholars and writers). It was a time of great intellectual forment.

The music of the renaissance reflected all of this by it's expansion from a limited number of medieval forms, the introduction of new instruments and above all a willingness to experiment and try new things, like composing songs that captured some aspect of the human experience, rather than being purely spiritual or religious.

Like all aspects of culture, classical music evolves over time, with new musical forms and conventions taking shape, building on what was done before. The next period, the baroque, is characterized by music that tends to be more ornate and sophisticated, but perhaps less heartfelt and grounded than renaissance music.

Composers were limited by the musical conventions of their times. The reason that you'll never hear a symphony by J.S. Bach is that they didn't exist until long after his death. While it's a shame that we'll never have a Bach symphony, his work expanded on what came before and laid part of the foundation for what came later. So to really appreciate any particular piece, you have to think of it as part of a historical continuum.

So go here, and stream a terrific compilation of renaissance music from the folks at magnatune

And just let it play in background while you do other things. There is some truly lovely, moving music here.

Next week, I'm going to write on something very modern - a work that was composed to commemorate the attack on the World Trade Center, and the aftermath in NYC.