Kate and I have each been cripplingly sick in the last week. Each at different times. We are both feeling better now. All part of the process.
Top 10 guys. What would your top 10 pieces be? Leave it in a comment.
I'd say I listen to all of these pieces at least once a month if not more.
(solo piano or harp)
I first heard this piece played on marimba by Alex Wier. It was on the stage of Crowder Hall at U of A. We were bullshitting around before a concert or something. I remember being mesmerized by the piece and especially the way Alex played it. He wasn't hitting the bars. He wasn't striking the bars. He was coaxing sound out of them. I quickly got a recording and the piece took on new meaning when all tones were able to be sustained. I started using it as a point of departure for my laid back piano improvisations during modern dance accompanying. The first line is so beautiful. Another thing I love about this piece and many Cage pieces is the structure. It is a squared form. I love the structure because you can actually hear it. Cage works from this period just don't have the same feeling as other pieces because they resist the 8-bar phrase norm. Things last a little longer than you anticipate. The feel different. The only two composers whose forms make you feel something different are Cage and Xenakis.
(mezzo soprano and tape)
I was working on a syllabus for my upcoming electronic music course at Rice. I had my iPod going. I was listening to all the Jon Nelson I had. Specifically, I was listening to objet sonore/objet cinétique and l'Horloge imaginare. Then I came onto this piece which I'd never listened to before. I'd gotten from one of the SEAMUS volumes. I listened. I stopped writing my syllabus. I listened more. I put down my notebook. I listened to it again. And again. And again. I didn't really get any work done for the next hour or so.
After hearing this piece, I knew that I wanted to write a piece for soprano and computer. The thought had never occurred to me before. Of course the idea of writing anything for voice was pretty new.
First, the tape sounds are phenomenal. Second, the vocal writing is something I'd never really heard on voice before (again, I'd not really been listening to much vocal writing). Third, the combination of the two is bliss. There are still moments that stop me dead in my tracks. 10-11 minutes in. Listen and revel.
(two violins, cello, strings, continuo)
Something before the 20th century made it into the top 10? From before Mozart even? What?!?!?
Why do I love this piece? I couldn't tell you why specifically this piece is far and away one of my favorites. His other concerti grossi are great. But, for some reason this one really stuck on me. It was a CD put out by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra that my parents had when I was in high school along with other baroque top 40. The third movement adagio is one of my favorite musical moments ever. Suspensions were a wonderful invention and this movement has them covered.
I've always been enamored with Corellli because as far as I can tell he was the first serious composer from music history that didn't write vocal music. I always thought that was cool because at the time, I didn't really care for vocal music at all. I wrote a paper on ornamenting a solo sonata of his from Op. 5 in his own style for my baroque music history class at the U of A. I still consider publishing it. I gave it at an AMS conference and it was well received. I was also drawn to Corelli for the cleanliness of his lines in spite of the frivolous ornamentation of most baroque music at the time.
(flute, piccolo, oboe, English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet, horn, trombone, harpsichord, Hammond organ, piano, celeste, two violins, viola, cello)
One of the best endings in music of all time. A sonority growing in intensity that culminates with a little flourish and a upwards glissando that couldn't be any of the instruments listed for the piece. It is a sound unheard of before this point in history. And then, the aftershocks in the celeste. The final gasps for air from a dying giant.
This piece along with the following piece had probably the most influence on my concept for my dissertation piece, Warning Colors for orchestra, than anything else. I've always loved the idea of the cloud; micropolyphony. The cloud has inner movement. But, ultimately, the large structure is static. This was the basic concept for my idea of vines. Three or more lines that have the same qualities as micropolyphony but that can move together in contour. Essentially, you take the cloud and move it up and down in interesting contours. I owe Ligeti for this idea. Because I loved this piece so much, I thought about it a lot. And it lead me to the place I am now. Thanks György.
(six solo keyboard instruments, live electronics, large chamber orchestra)
This is a recent favorite. But it quickly propelled itself into the top 10. Just like Ligeti, to me, this piece is all about texture and orchestration. Say what you will about Boulez's pitch methods. I don't care. His music isn't about how you got the notes on the page. For some of his pieces, I found that using total serialism was a means to an end. If you need to generate a lot of notes in a certain aesthetic, why not use a process or a method like total serialism (though this piece is not a total serialist piece in the least; he gave that up in the 50's). At the end of the day what he does with his notes and how he colors them is what gives his music so much life. The shape, the timbres, the structure. This is a piece that really taught me about background orchestration. How to keep a texture alive and moving. The electronics were probably revolutionary at the time. Now they amount to little more than a tapin~ tapout~ delay line in Max plus reverb and some EQ filtering. It doesn't hold the punch it once did. However, this piece doesn't rely on the novelty of the electronics to be successful. No good piece should. The electronics are completely integrated into the overall concept and fabric of the piece.
Also, I defy you find another composer that can end his pieces so satisfactorily and so unlike anyone else. He is a human encyclopedia of "Ways to End a Piece That Are Both Awesome and That No One Has Ever Done Before." Listen to Derive 1 or the first version of Anthemes (if you can find it). Or anyone of his other pieces. Bottom line: the man can end a piece.
SO - top 5 next week. Instead of doing all 5 at once I am going to do 1 per day starting on Monday. Keep an eye out for my top 5 greatest pieces of all time. You might know what I think #1 is but can you guess #2 or #3? What are your predictions? Leave comments!!!