Last week I got asked by Cathy, my lovely sister-in-law, whether I could do a regular playlist of pieces that would help her and her partner get into classical music. As I often get asked to do recommendations like this, I thought I’d post the lists here so others can enjoy them too.
With each list, I though it might be good to start with Renaissance works (1500s on) and work through the centuries, to give you a sense of how music has developed and to start building a sense of period and style. So with this list we start with a medieval hymn (that was harmonised in this version later in 1600s), then go through the Baroque period (1650-1750) with Bach and Lotti, the Classical Period (1750-1820) with Mozart, some Romantic (1820-1890) with Grieg, early 20th Century with Ravel and Britten, and end up in the 1990s with Ligeti’s study.
As it’s December, I chose ‘A Rose has sprung’, a classic Christmas hymn from the late 1500s. I love the image of a rose blooming in the deep winter cold and the dark of midnight. Simple but effective. There’s a lovely canon in the second verse, with each voice taking the soprano’s lead and imitating each other.
Lotti’s ‘Crucifixus’ (1710-ish) depicts the agony of the crucifixion as the 8-part choir slowly builds the tension, with each voice entering to add to the most exquisite, poignant harmony. Then it gives way as Jesus is laid to rest. A great arch.
Pieter Wispelwey is so fluid with his Bach! This solo prelude is about exploring the colours of the cello, and he does it beautifully.
The finale from Mozart’s ‘Haffner’ Symphony is one of his wittiest, I think, with sudden outbursts led by the drums like raucous laughter at a polite tea party. Harnoncourt loves bringing out the contrasts.
The Romantic Grieg was great at writing ‘miniatures’, and this ‘Wedding-Day’ piece is so filled with joy I can never resist it. I want to play it at my daughter’s wedding. She doesn’t know this yet (mainly because she’s just 14).
I coached the Ravel string quartet last term at Pre-Conservatoire and it was a lot of fun. So imaginative, with lots of different effects for the strings. A touch of Narnia to it I think, too.
This Britten interlude is taken from his masterpiece opera ‘Peter Grimes’ and counterpoints the pious villagers going to church on a bright Sunday morning against the inner turmoil of Grimes.
Ligeti piano music always draws me in, particularly when it’s being interpreted by Pierre-Laurent Aimard. This formidable study captures the impishness of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.