The Personal Website of Mark W. Dawson

Containing His Articles, Observations, Thoughts, Meanderings,
and some would say Wisdom (and some would say not).

Classical Music Chirps

An ongoing chirps of paragraph sized, succinct comments, and recommendations for listening to some of the most  understandable and enjoyable Classical Music by all who listen to it, even those who are not all that interested in Classical Music.

Click to proceed to my latest Classical Music Commentary.

For more on Classic Music please refer to my articles
Classical Music Appreciation, Classical Music Lists, and Classical Music Recommendations.
(Please note that clicking the composers name in the title will take you to my list of the recommended compositions of the composer, while clicking the composers name in the body will take you to the Wikipedia article on the composer. Clicking the composition name will take you to a YouTube video of a performance of the composition.)

Bach, Johann Sebastian - Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G major, BWV 1049

A Mighty Fortress is Bach, a Baroque period composer who defined the musical art to the Baroque. Other Baroque composers wrote great compositions, but Johann Sebastian Bach wrote many more great compositions and influence all Classical Music composers. The Brandenburg Concertos are a collection of six instrumental works presented by Bach to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt in 1721 (though probably composed earlier). They were presented in hopes of obtaining a musical position with the Margrave, a hope that was not realized (which says much more about the musical talents of the Margrave than Bach’s talents). They are widely regarded as some of the best orchestral compositions of the Baroque era. The Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G major, BWV 1049 is my favorite, but I love all of them.

Beethoven - Overture to "Egmont", Op. 84

Ludwig van Beethoven, in my opinion, is the greatest composer that ever lived. Beethoven reaches into the center of a person's soul and demands that you listen to what he has to say. Mozart, Brahms, and Bach come close to this, but not always, and only when performed greatly. Beethoven performed both well and greatly demands that it be listen to. Beethoven always reaches for your soul and always grasps your soul.

Beethoven, however, requires hearing and listening skills on the audience to be fully appreciated. Until you have this skill level, it can be difficult to fully appreciate Beethoven. My love of Beethoven came later in my Classical Music appreciation life, but it was well worth the wait. I would, therefore, suggest you wait until you develop this hearing and listening skill before delving into Beethoven’s music. However, there is some Beethoven that can be appreciated with less hearing and listening skills. I would, therefore, recommend you sample Beethoven by enjoying the Overture to Egmont, which encapsulates the musical style of Beethoven’s compositions.

Bizet - L'Arlésienne Suite No.1 & No. 2

Georges Bizet was a French composer of the Romantic era, best known for his operas in a career cut short by his early death. Bizet achieved few successes before his final work, Carmen, which has become one of the most popular and frequently performed works in the entire opera repertoire. He died young and mostly unappreciated. But he changed the course of opera with “Carmen”. Much of Carmen’s music is recognizable to the general public, although they would have difficulty in identifying it.

Rather than listening to Carmen, I would recommend another of Bizet’s compositions - L'Arlésienne Suite No.1 & No.2. Bizet composed L'Arlésienne as incidental music to Alphonse Daudet's play of the same name, usually translated as The Girl from Arles. Unlike the play, the incidental music has survived and flourished. It is most often heard in the form of two suites for orchestra, but the entire score has also been recorded. I would recommend the L'Arlésienne Suite No. 1 & No. 2 performance of this music.

Brahms - Academic Festival Overture

In what would have been a time of University and College graduation commences, postponed by the Coronavirus Pandemic, I thought it appropriate to recommend Johannes Brahms Academic Festival Overture, written during the summer of 1880 following the conferring of an honorary degree by the University of Breslau.

Brahms is often thought of as a serious and somber composer, which he often was. Brahms, like Beethoven, requires hearing and listening skills on the audience to be fully appreciated. Until you have this skill level, it can be difficult to fully appreciate Brahms. My love of Brahms, like Beethoven, came later in my Classical Music appreciation life, but it was well worth the wait. I would, therefore, suggest you wait until you develop this hearing and listening skill before delving into Brahms’s music.

However, there is a lively and festive piece of music that is not as serious nor somber as usual by Brahms but is clearly a work of Brahms. Please celebrate the graduations of all by listening to this composition by Brahms of the Academic Festival Overture.

Britten - Variations on A Theme of Purcell

Also known as “The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra” when accompanied by the spoken words, it is a 1945 musical composition by Benjamin Britten. It was based on the second movement, "Rondeau", of the Abdelazer suite from Henry Purcell's incidental music to Aphra Behn's play “Abdelazer”. It was originally commissioned for the British educational documentary film called Instruments of the Orchestra, released on 29 November 1946. It is structured, in accordance with the plan of the original documentary film, as a way of showing off the tone colors, and capacities of the various sections of the orchestra.

The work is one of the best-known pieces by the composer and is often associated with two other works in the context of children's music education: Saint-Saëns' “The Carnival of the Animals” and Prokofiev's “Peter and the Wolf”. I would direct you to the orchestral performance of the “Variations on A Theme of Purcell” or the spoken word performance of The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (Part IPart II). I would suggest that both the spoken and orchestral performances are worthy of the short time it would take to listen to both.

Chopin - Nocturne in C Sharp Minor

Frederic Chopin was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist of the Romantic era who wrote primarily for solo piano. He has maintained worldwide renown as a leading musician of his era, one whose "poetic genius was based on a professional technique that was without equal in his generation.” There are many piano works of Chopin that are masterpieces. Some of these works have been transcribed for other instruments. It is these transcriptions that show the full genius of Chopin. I would, therefore, recommend you listen to all of these transcriptions of the Nocturne in C Sharp Minor: (Piano) (Violin) (Cello) that spotlights Chopin’s genius.

For more Chopin masterpieces, please refer to my Chopin playlist for some listening recommendations.

Copland - An Outdoor Overture

Aaron Copland was an American composer, composition teacher, writer, and later a conductor of his own and other American music. The spirit of America runs throughout his music. His pieces A Lincoln Portrait and Fanfare for the Common Man have become patriotic standards. No other American composer has better expressed the American spirit than Aaron Copland.

Independence Day, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day are the perfect opportunity to listen to his music. With so many compositions to choose from, I have decided to highlight a lesser-known composition of his. An Outdoor Overture encapsulates and expresses his style of music.  I hope that you will take the time to listen to and enjoy his music.

Dvorak - Scherzo Capriccioso

Antonin Dvorak is a beloved Czech composer, one of the first to achieve worldwide recognition. Following the Romantic-era nationalist example of his predecessor Bedřich Smetana, Dvorak frequently employed rhythms and other aspects of the folk music of Moravia and his native Bohemia. Dvorak's own style has been described in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians as "the fullest recreation of a national idiom with that of the symphonic tradition, absorbing folk influences and finding effective ways of using them".

In 1892, Dvorak moved to the United States and became the director of the National Conservatory of Music of America in New York City. While in the United States, Dvorak wrote his two most successful orchestral works: The Symphony From the New World, which spread his reputation worldwide, and his Cello Concerto, one of the most highly regarded of all cello concerti. He also wrote his most appreciated piece of chamber music, the American String Quartet, during this time. But shortfalls in payment of his salary, along with increasing recognition in Europe and an onset of homesickness, led him to leave the United States and return to Bohemia in 1895.

The “Scherzo Capriccioso” is one of the finest examples of Dvorak's style. Happy and exuberant, this piece of music is a joy to listen to from start to finish.

Gershwin - An American In Paris

Jazz music meets Classical music in the compositions of George Gershwin. Among his best-known works are the orchestral compositions Rhapsody in Blue (1924) and An American in Paris (1928), the songs "Swanee" (1919) and "Fascinating Rhythm" (1924), the jazz standard "I Got Rhythm" (1930), and the opera Porgy and Bess (1935) which spawned the hit "Summertime".

The An American in Paris symphonic performance perfectly synthesizes the merging of Jazz and Classical music. The An American In Paris movie contains the most famous ballet performance of this music. Although this movie is not fully faithful to the music, it is an exhilarating performance that highlights a move of exhilarating ballet performances. A movie well worth your time to watch.

Grieg - Peer Gynt

Peer Gynt, Op. 23, is the incidental music to Henrik Ibsen's 1867 play of the same name, written by the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg in 1875. It premiered along with the play on 24 February 1876 in Christiania (now Oslo). Peer Gynt chronicles the journey of its titular character from the Norwegian mountains to the North African desert. According to Klaus Van Den Berg, "its origins are romantic, but the play also anticipates the fragmentations of emerging modernism", and the "cinematic script blends poetry with social satire and realistic scenes with surreal ones". Peer Gynt has also been described as the story of a life based on procrastination and avoidance. The music fully realizes the storyline and is eclectic in its composition.

Over a decade after composing the full incidental music for Peer Gynt, Grieg extracted eight movements to make two four-movement suites. The Peer Gynt suites are among his best-known works; however, they initially began as incidental compositions. Suite No. 1, Op. 46 was published in 1888, and Suite No. 2, Op. 55 was published in 1891.

A typical rendition of both suites lasts approximately 35 minutes as in the following recommended video; Peer Gynt Suites No. 1 & No. 2.

Liszt – Great Piano Music

Franz Liszt was a Hungarian composer, virtuoso pianist, conductor, music teacher, arranger, and organist of the Romantic era. He was also a writer, philanthropist, Hungarian nationalist, and Franciscan tertiary. He was also notoriously anti-Semitic, but recent scholarship cast doubts as to the intensity of his anti-Semitism.

Some of the most expressive romantic piano music was composed (and performed) by Liszt. He had a great impact on the composers and performers of his era and afterward. The range of his compositions is so great that it is impossible to peg one composition that delineates his style. I, therefore, have created a small list of his compositions that gives justice to his genius.

Mendelssohn - A Midsummer Night's Dream

William Shakespeares’ A Midsummer Night's Dream play has inspired many artists. The play portrays the events surrounding the marriage of Theseus, the Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta (the former queen of the Amazons). These include the adventures of four young Athenian lovers and a group of six amateur actors (the mechanicals) who are controlled and manipulated by the fairies who inhabit the forest in which most of the play is set. The play is one of Shakespeare's most popular works for the stage and is widely performed across the world.

One of the composers who have been inspired by this play is Felix Mendelssohn.  His music for this play is delightful and captures the spirit of the play. Mendelssohn’s music has also been set to ballet, and it is this performance “Midsummer Night's Dream Excerpts” that I would recommend.

Mozart – Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was one of the most prolific and greatest of Classical Music composers. Some consider him the greatest, but my personal opinion is he is the second greatest, somewhat behind Beethoven and slightly ahead of Bach. The greatness of Mozart was that he was versatile in all aspects of Classical Music – Symphonies, Concertos, Operas, Chamber, and solo pieces, etc., as well as compositions highlighting all the musical instruments of the orchestra.

I have often thought that Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter” is the highest expression of the classical era of Classical Music. After this symphony was composed, Classical Music had to evolve into another form – the form of the Romantic era as led by Ludwig von Beethoven.

Given the scope of Mozart’s music, it is difficult to choose one piece to highlight. However, the Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, KV 525 (Serenade No. 13 for strings in G major), K. 525, is a 1787 composition for a chamber ensemble. The German title means "a little serenade", though it is often rendered more literally but less accurately as "a little night music". It wonderfully encapsulates Mozart’s talents as a composer.

Mussorgsky - Pictures at an Exhibition

When Modest Mussorgsky's good friend Viktor Hartmann died in 1873 at the age of only 39, an exhibition of over 400 of his paintings was displayed in the Academy of Fine Arts in Saint Petersburg in February and March 1874. This inspired Mussorgsky to compose his Pictures at an Exhibition, a suite of ten pieces (plus a recurring, varied Promenade) for piano. The suite is Mussorgsky's most famous piano composition and has become a showpiece for virtuoso pianists. It has become further known through various orchestrations and arrangements produced by other musicians and composers, with Maurice Ravel's 1922 version for full symphony orchestra being by far the most recorded and performed.

Alas, the paintings utilized for the music did not survive the Russian Revolution of 1917. The music of Mussorgsky, however, has survived and thrived, being one of the most performed, listened to, and loved pieces of Classical Music. I would recommend you take the time and enjoy the two versions of Pictures at an Exhibition (Ravel Orchestration & Piano version).

Offenbach - Orpheus in the Underworld Overture

Jacques Offenbach was a German-born French composer, cellist, and impresario of the Romantic period. He is remembered for his nearly 100 operettas of the 1850s to the 1870s and his uncompleted opera The Tales of Hoffmann. He was a powerful influence on later composers of the operetta genre, particularly Johann Strauss Jr. and Arthur Sullivan. His best-known works were continually revived during the 20th century, and many of his operettas continue to be staged in the 21st century. His Orpheus in the Underworld Overture is a perfect example of his music and a pure delight to listen to.

Prokofiev – Lieutenant Kijé suite

Sergei Prokofiev composed his Lieutenant Kijé Suite based on a fictional story of Lieutenant Kijé, which is a satire on the stupidity of royalty and the particularly Russian terror of displeasing one's superior. The five movements of the suite are organized and titled as; Birth of Kijé, Romance, Kijé's Wedding, Troika, and The Burial of Kijé. The music is delightful and fully enjoyable by all. Knowing the story makes the music even more pleasurable, as the music perfectly encapsulates and accentuates the story.

Rachmaninoff - Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini

Sergei Rachmaninoff was a Romantic composer in the era of Modern composers. But it is beautiful romantic music.  Primarily know for solo piano music and piano performances, he was nevertheless a composer of many forms of music. His Symphony No. 2 and Piano Concerto No. 2 are beloved by all lovers of Classical Music. Niccolo Paganini was an Italian violinist, violist, guitarist, and composer from the early Romantic period. He wrote several violin pieces that are considered very beautiful but difficult to play. However, these pieces have inspired many Classical Music composers to write variations of this music. One of the most famous variations is Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini. The eighteenth variation is considered one of the most romantic compositions ever written. The other variations are beautiful and stirring as well. I would recommend you take the time to enjoy this composition.

Rossini- Overture to La Gazza Ladra “The Thieving Magpie”

Gioachino Rossini was an Italian composer who gained fame for his 39 operas, although he also wrote many songs, some chamber music and piano pieces, and some sacred music. He set new standards for both comic and serious opera before retiring from large-scale composition while still in his thirties, at the height of his popularity. Rossini is, of course, most famous with the general public for his William Tell Overture (at least for the last third of the Overture). However, the Overture to La Gazza Ladra “The Thieving Magpie” is one of his finest compositions that I would recommend.

For more of Rossini Overtures, I believe that Carlo Maria Giulini conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra are the best performances of Rossini Overtures that I have ever listened to as follows:

I believe that you will enjoy all these performances, and it is well worth your time to listen to these recordings.

Smetana – The Moldau

The Vltava (Moldau) river is 267.4 miles long and drains an area of 10,850 square miles in size, over half of Bohemia and about a third of the Czech Republic's entire territory. The river rises in southwestern Bohemia from two headstreams in the Bohemian Forest, the Teplá Vltava and the Studená Vltava. It flows first southeast, then north across Bohemia as it runs through Prague and empties into the Elbe River at Melník, 18 miles north of Prague.

Bedrich Smetana, a great Czech composer, wrote a piece of music, “The Moldau”, that takes you on an emotional journey on the river from its headwaters till its estuary. In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful pieces of classical music ever written. It is a relaxing piece of music that is understandable and enjoyable by all who listen to it, even those who are not all that interested in Classical Music Appreciation. Approximately fifteen minutes long, it is well worth the time to listen and enjoy. I hope that you will take this time and enjoy this music.

Stravinsky – The Firebird and The Rite of Spring

Igor Stravinsky was a Russian-born composer, pianist, and conductor. He is widely considered one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th century. His ballet, The Firebird, catapulted him to international fame. His other great composition, The Rite of Spring, was highly controversial during its premiere due to the music's unusual nature. However, it is now considered one of the most remarkable pieces of music in the classical repertoire. 

A synopsis of The Firebird Ballet and The Rite of Spring is somewhat elaborate and need not be reiterated in this chirp, and I would refer you to the Wikipedia articles on these ballets. The final scene of The Firebird is, in my opinion, is one of the most majestic pieces of classical music ever composed. It celebrates the rebirth from the ashes of the firebird, a celebration that I hope we will be able to have once the Coronavirus Pandemic is abated. The Rite of Spring music is so intricate that I discover additional complexities every time I listen to this composition. Both of these compositions require that you Listen and to Hear to appreciate the music fully.

Tchaikovsky - Romeo and Juliet Overture

Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky is one of the most beloved composers of the Romantic Classical period. His beautiful melodic music has thrilled audiences for over one hundred years. He was the first Russian composer whose music made a lasting impression internationally, bolstered by his appearances as a guest conductor in Europe and the United States. He was honored in 1884 by Tsar Alexander III and was awarded a lifetime pension.

Tchaikovsky displayed a wide stylistic and emotional range, from light salon works to grand symphonies. His melodies are some of the most widely known, even to the general public that does not listen to Classical Music, as they are utilized in movies, television, and other media. One of his most famous and performed compositions is Romeo and Juliet Overture, which encapsulates his musical style. Therefore, sit back and relax and enjoy one of the most beautiful and romantic Classical Music compositions.

Vaughan Williams, Ralph – English Folk Song Suite and  Fantasia on A Theme of Thomas Tallis

Ralph Vaughan Williams was an English composer. His works include operas, ballets, chamber music, secular and religious vocal pieces, and orchestral compositions, including nine symphonies, written over sixty years. Strongly influenced by Tudor music and English folk song, his output marked a decisive break in British music from its German-dominated style of the 19th century.

His English Folk Song Suite and Fantasia on A Theme of Thomas Tallis are perfect examples of this English style of music. These pieces of music require a quiet and contemplative listening atmosphere while you imagine yourself sitting in the English countryside — a rather inexpensive and enjoyable way to take a short trip to England.

Wagner– Prelude to Act 1 from Die Meistersinger

What is Classical Music to do about the Richard Wagner problem? The problem being, of course, Wagner’s intense anti-Semitism. There is no doubt about Wagner’s anti-Semitism, but it should be noted that there was much anti-Semitism in 19th Century music and society, ranging from indifference to fervent. What makes Wagner so much different was his embracement by Hitler and Nazism well after Wagner’s death. While Wagner wanted the Jewish people to leave or be removed from Germany, there is no evidence that he wanted them exterminated. Extermination was Hitler and Nazism, not Wagner. Mosaic Magazine has a good article on “Wagner and the Jews” that examines this issue in more detail than I can.

I, therefore, can conclude that this anti-Semitism was the madness of the crowds. A madness that they paid for dearly in the death, disease, and destruction as a result of World War II. What all of humanity must learn from this is “Never Again”. Never again should we tolerate anti-Semitism, nor any racism or intolerance, against any peoples or groups.

But does this mean we should ignore or suppress Wagner’s music? I am not in favor of ignoring or suppressing anything, but instead learning from everything, both the good and the bad. So, I will learn from Wagner’s music and enjoy the greatness of his music, but never forget the evilness of anti-Semitism, especially when I am listening to Wagner.

Another lesson to be learned from Wager is encapsulated in his opera Die Meistersinger. The story is set in Nuremberg in the mid-16th century. At the time, Nuremberg was a free imperial city and one of the centers of the Renaissance in Northern Europe. The story revolves around the city's guild of Meistersinger (Master Singers), an association of amateur poets and musicians who were primarily master craftsmen of various trades. The master singers had developed a craftsman-like approach to music-making, with an intricate system of rules for composing and performing songs. The work draws much of its atmosphere from its depiction of the Nuremberg of the era and the traditions of the master-singer guild. The story is about a new singer who wants to do things differently and his travails and tribulations to accomplish his goals. His success opens the Meistersingers to new ideas and ways of creating music. As such, this opera is an artistic biography of Wagner’s struggles in creating new music in the 19th century. The Prelude to Act 1 from Die Meistersinger is Wagner at his grandness and greatness.

There is a YouTube video of “Wagner’s Overture to ‘The Mastersingers of Nuremberg’ with Wilhelm Furtwängler conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1942”, in which the Nazi flag and banners are hung behind the orchestra. It sickens me to even watch this video, as it is a reminder of the horror of Nazism and the perversion of the arts to support a perverse political ideology. I do occasionally watch this video to remind myself of this and to say a prayer for all the victims of Nazism.