GREEN CLOSES MONDAY 25th SEPTEMBER
MUSIC TO LISTEN TO BEFORE THE SEASON BEGINS
What is it?
Tchaikovsky’s final symphony, nicknamed ‘Pathétique’. The premiere performance was given just nine days before the composer died.
Tchaikovsky was surely one of the most personally troubled of the great composers - and this symphony was essentially the outpouring of many of his issues, in a way. Many initially thought it was a lengthy suicide note, others pointed to the hugely controversial homosexual leanings Tchaikovsky was known to have, while some thought it was just a tragic, sad, glorious and indulgent artistic expression. But the reason it’ll stay with you forever is that all of these contexts work in their own way, but it never detracts from how magisterial the music itself is. It’s a lesson in the very best ways of expressing emotions through music.
What is it?
The only cello concerto that Edward Elgar wrote, and one of the most famous concertos of all time.
Why it will change your life:
It’s proof that intense emotion can come from the most unlikely of people. We don’t want to get all mushy on you, but there’s something spectacularly English about how the ultimate stiff-upper-lipped curmudgeon, Edward Elgar, was able to convey his emotions in music rather than in words or actions. His private life was surprisingly tumultuous (that’s another story), and in pieces like the Cello Concerto it’s as if the gasket has blown and Elgar is finally able to let out all the pent-up emotion in a focused blast.
Absolutely iconic - there’s no way Callas could not be on this list. "Her acting is what does it for me," says Classic FM's weekday morning presenter John Suchet. "She created characters you could believe in. I can even forgive the imperfections in the voice because her acting was so totally believable. And her lower register was amazing.”
Because this is an opera, someone has to die. Unfortunately for poor Mimi in Puccini's La Boheme, it's her. Not only is she separated from her true love, riven with consumption and hacking into her hanky like an audience member in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, she's also decided that Rodolfo is her one true love - here, the two of them reminisce as Mimi meets her tragic end…
Even if it doesn't, this belter of a second movement is premium lip-wobbler material. Watch out for the tingly high strings in the middle. Hankies at the ready...
What is it?
A radical, beautiful re-invention of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons concertos, by modern indie-classical composer Max Richter.
Why it will change your life:
Listening to Vivaldi: Recomposed is like discovering an old jumper that you used to love has magically, miraculously lost all its bobbly bits and is actually at the height of fashion despite everyone saying to you “mate, I’ve seen that jumper a thousand times and it offers me nothing new.” What Richter manages to do so incredibly well is to subtly sneak in delightful additions, tweaks and reinventions to a classic you already know extremely well, and freshen it up not just for the modern era, but for the eras to come too.
Dmitri Shostakovich was a leading composer of the 20th century and Soviet Russia’s most important symphonist * His adult life was lived entirely inside the USSR and his music was deeply affected by political events there, especially under Stalin * While still a boy, studied at Petrograd Conservatoire under Glazunov and Steinberg, graduating as a brilliant pianist and composer * Early works, including first four symphonies, are dissonant, colourful, satirical and theatrical, reflecting enthusiasm for 1920s modernism * The opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District played all over the world before, in 1936, it caused a scandal with Soviet authorities, and composer was subjected to official campaign of repression and harassment * Monumental 5th Symphony (1937), one of most popular orchestral works of 20th century, moved towards a simpler style, and also brought him back towards official favour * During World War ll, 7th Symphony, the ‘Leningrad’, became an emblem all over allied world for struggle against Fascist Germany * In 1948 was again subjected to humiliating campaign of official persecution and vilification, which continued up to and beyond the death of Stalin (1953) * In 1960, against his wishes, persuaded into joining the Communist Party (CPSS), a low point in his life marked by composing 8th Quartet as ‘an obituary for myself’ * Continual illness in his last years is reflected in preoccupation with death shown in pieces like 14th Symphony and Michelangelo Suite for voice and orchestra * Two cycles, of 15 symphonies and 15 string quartets, are the peaks of his output, but his violin, cello and piano concertos are played by most of the world’s soloists, as are his 24 preludes and fugues for piano * Overall his music characterised by powerful sense of mockery and irony mixed with grandeur and despair, and absolute mastery of large-scale forms.
Works by Dmitri Shostakovich include:
Piano Concertoes Nos 1 & 2
By the time he had joined the Conservatoire de Paris, Saint-Saëns had already started becoming a recognized name in the French musical circles. It is because of his immense talent that he was able to meet Franz Liszt who praised him often and referred to Saint-Saëns as the greatest organ player alive.
Camille Saint-Saëns was something of an incongruity among French composers of his time. Although he was extremely talented at playing the organ and the piano, he never really settled for a specific instrument or a genre. Instead, he was all over the musical scene and he wrote for practically all genres including symphonies, opera, concertos, sacred and secular choral songs, chamber music, as well as solo piano pieces.
Even though he did not pioneer any movements in the romantic period, he did help to breathe life into some forgotten dance forms such as gavotte and bouree. In total, he composed over 300 original works in addition to being a successful writer and poet. Camille Saint-Saëns really could do it all.
Saint-Saëns was born in 1835 in France. His father passed away only three months after his birth and he was raised by his mother and his great-aunt Charlotte who introduced him to the piano at the age of two. By the time he was four, he had already written his first composition in 1839. He also learned how to read by the time he was three and could speak fluent Latin by age 7.
The years between 1870 and 1875 were one of the toughest periods for Saint-Saëns. He fell in love with Marie-Laure Truffot, who was only 19 years old but he could not muster up enough courage to propose. Instead, Saint-Saëns sent a note to Marie’s brother asking him if he wanted to be his brother in law. Fortunately, he accepted and the two fell got married in 1875. They had two sons who sadly lost their lives in 1878, 6 weeks apart-one fell out the window while other one drowned. Oddly enough, this sad period in his life led him to produce some of his most notable works namely Danse macabre (1875) and Samson et Dalila (1878).
Because of his global fame, Saint-Saëns got the rare opportunity to travel the world at a time when international transportation was not advanced as it is today. This was considered quite a feat as Saint-Saëns was able to tour every continent apart from Australia and Antarctica. On his travels, he developed an interest in North African countries Egypt and Algeria, which inspired him to create Africa in 1891 and Piano Concerto No. 5 titled the Egyptian. In his later years, he opted to settle down in Algeria, which is where he eventually died.
Saint-Saëns was often at loggerheads with other contemporary composers of the Romantic Period. Notably, he did not get along with Vincent D’Indy and Claude Debussy. Debussy was an impressionist composer that did not understand the techniques of traditional composers such as Saint-Saëns.
Their rivalry took form after Saint-Saëns criticized Debussy’s rélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, which was well reviewed after its debut. However, Saint-Saëns spoke up against it stating that it lacked logic, common sense and style. When Debussy applied to join the Institut de France, Saint-Saëns did everything he could to block his election. Needless to say, after this, their rivalry lasted for years.
Saint-Saens wrote his celebrated Carnival of the Animals as a complete joke. Saint-Saens was known as a serious man and he did not want to be associated with the composition because it was not as somber as his other symphonic works. Shortly after it premiered, Saint-Saens made it clear that he did not want the complete collection of pieces to be performed. He only allowed a single movement, Le Cygne (The Swan), which was written for cello and piano to be published in his lifetime. It was until his passing that it received its first public performance in 1922 by Concerts Colonne.
In 1908, Saint-Saens became the first musician to write a score for a film. He wrote the score for an 18-minute long motion picture titled ‘The Assassination of the Duke of Guise’. He later developed his music into a concert performance that has been performed throughout the globe in different and unique ways from full orchestral scores to piano solosand choreographed dance performances.
Saint-Saëns was something of a renaissance man whose intelligence and brilliance was not just restricted to music. He was interested in botany, mathematics, and geology. He was also a popular writer of essays, poems, and reviews.
In 1995, Saint-Saens’ composition Symphony No. 3 was used for the melody of the song “If I Had Words. If I Had Words was created for the 1995 movie Babe.
In 1878 Saint-Saëns lost both of his sons, and three years later he separated from his wife. Over the following years, he undertook extensive tours throughout Europe, the United States, South America, the Middle East, and East Asia, performing his five piano concerti and other keyboard works and conducting his symphonic compositions. As a pianist, he was admired by Richard Wagner for his brilliant technique and was the subject of a study by Marcel Proust. From roughly 1880 until the end of his life, his immense production covered all fields of dramatic and instrumental music. His Symphony No. 3 (1886), dedicated to the memory of Liszt, made skilled use of the organ and two pianos. In the same year, he wrote Le Carnaval des animaux (The Carnival of Animals) for small orchestra, a humorous fantasy not performed during his lifetime that has since won considerable popularity as a work for young people’s concerts. Among the best of his later works are the Piano Concerto No. 5 (1895) the Cello Concerto No. 2 (1902) and Symphony No. 3 .