Top 5 in Classical

This winter, at the urging of an online friend who’s a classical music fan and patron of his local symphony, I got into classical music.

It has a huge broad sweep that rock music, and the techno that I like, cannot possibly come close to.

My 5 favorite classical music pieces, in a constant slow battle royal for most favored status. Favorite, not what I consider greatest. That would be Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which I would argue is the greatest singular artistic achievement ever.

“Appalachian Spring” – Aaron Copland
I’ve always been amazed by how anyone could create a musical ‘language’ that, within 5 notes, tells you without a doubt that this is music about American farmers and cowboys. Much less a gay Jewish guy from Brooklyn.

“Net Work” and “Quilt Music” – Beth Anderson
Two monolithic single movement piano pieces, shimmering like dense sheets of crystal. Emotion trapped by minimalist constraints, or emotion trying to keep itself constrained with minimalism. She’s on MySpace, apparently having settled into teaching piano in the New York City suburbs, sharing recipes online, but I haven’t connected with her yet.

“Piano Sonata 2 – ‘Concord'” – Charles Ives
Just discovered him this winter, but feel like I should have known him since I became aware of music in my teens. For one thing, by day he sold insurance, which is my career background. Passionate, a lot of times seeming unrestrained, threatening to spin out into ham handed thumping, and stuffed with quotes and references to classical masterpieces and the American patriotic songbook. Probably beyond understanding.

“Symphony 5, First Movement” – George Lloyd
Lloyd was an up-and-coming young composer in Britain in the 1930’s but when the war broke out he enlisted. One of only three survivors when his ship was sunk by one of its own torpedoes in the cold Arctic, the Navy band he conducted all drowned in the flooded compartment after he was pulled out.  He suffered from PTSD the rest of his life, eventually giving up composing for commercial gardening for three decades. He wrote his 4th and 5th Symphonies just after the war as an attempt to recuperate.  The 4th is dour and martial, a struggle of his feelings and experiences against his sense of duty. The 5th, though still with duty’s tension strung taut through it, bursts with bright energy, but a bittersweet underpinning that informs life as it is, the first movement begun and strung through with a filigreed winding theme.   Like a more British, less romantic, more twentieth century quiet cousin of Beethoven’s Symphony 9 triumph.

And funny thing, when my friend urged me to listen to Pittsburgh’s powerhouse classical station – the first time I streamed it, within an hour they said my name.

And once again, as I listened the next day.

Turns out one of their individual patrons – it happened to be during a pledge drive – has the same name as me, pronounced the same way I do.   I’ve never heard my name broadcast before.   A connection and an intensity there, that tells me something is flowing under the surface.  What, I don’t know yet.


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