This week I’m starting with a choral classic by Gregorio Allegri from the 1630s (so late Renaissance). The ‘Miserere’ text is about pleading God for mercy. A recurring feature is the monastic plainchant (single line, chanting text) sung by the men responded to by the most beautiful angelic-sounding choir in the distance, with ecstatic high notes. It would have been the practice to embellish this response every time it recurs. I’ve only heard that once live though, it’s quite an art.
I came across the Telemann concerto recently in a talk about the Baroque violin. This is for 4 violins, played in this recording on period instruments. It’s simple but so effective and I love the smudging overlap of notes in the opening bars. Georg Telemann wrote over 4,000 works that we know about. Crikey. I don’t think he’d watch TV.
Most people only know the first movement of Beethoven’s iconic Moonlight sonata. This last movement (there are three in a sonata normally, fast-slow-fast) is really exciting. You’ve got to imagine him playing it, thrilling the listeners of the day with its sudden surges and crashing chords.
Now comes two sides of early Romanticism (1820s-30s). First the Schubert quintet slow movement. You have to be sitting comfortably for this one, with your favourite drink, no interruptions. Phone off.
Then the so-called father of Russian romanticism, Glinka. This is a firecracker of an overture and I still marvel at the biting precision of the London Symphony Orchestra under taskmaster Georg Solti in this classic recording.
Early modernism with Prokofiev’s violin concerto 1 next. Tick-tocking away on the strings (he does that a lot), the soloist soars away, a poet dreaming amongst commuters trudging to work. Lovely use of harp too to add shine to the chords.
A little bit of African drum-inspired stuff from Graham Fitkin to finish. He’s a composer based down in Cornwall who does a variety of work, including for ballet (and you can imagine a classical rave to this). The repeated rhythms come from the Minimalists, but that’s for another week. Enjoy!