Sir George Benjamin
George Frederic Händel
Mahler – 1806-1911
Born in Austria, Gustav Mahler was a defining composer of the early 20th century style, bridging the gap with the earlier 19th Century Austro-German style. He was also a very popular conductor of his time. Mahler’s body of work consists mostly of symphonies and orchestral song cycles. His music is known for its beautiful orchestral colour and the drama and emotion that the extremes and contrasts evoke.
Perfect for prayer: ‘Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft’ (‘I breathed a gentle fragrance’) from the Ruckert-lieder. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgyZSaewywk
(translation of the text available here https://www.oxfordlieder.co.uk/song/1937 )
Pieces for study:
‘Lieder eines fahrenden gesellen’ – An orchestral song cycle, one of Mahler’s earliest works and the texts take influence from German folk poetry. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKBb80U_WSU
Symphony II – one of Mahler’s most popular works. This piece requires huge instrumental forces, not only the symphony orchestra but also two soloists and a large chorus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2KcsjA_PEQ
(For a quick glimpse, enjoy the final movement. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tf5fM1i3MGQ )
Want to hear more? Listen to Mahler’s 9th Symphony. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlGe8bsdpB8
For a quick listen perhaps ‘Liebst du um Schönheit’, also from Mahler’s ‘Ruckert-lieder’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lERHv70QJ1A
Kaija Saariaho (b.1952)
Kaija Saariaho is a Finnish composer and is a leading composer of contemporary classical music. Her works are characteristically intricate and busy, often creating a very delicate sound-world through her chosen instruments and textures.
Perfect for prayer: ‘Nocturne’ for solo violin – this piece begins slow and contemplative and evolves throughout, developing small fragments. Listen out for the unusual string sounds that she explores. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oeiAVBH5Zg
Pieces for study:
‘Orion’ for orchestra – this piece uses large instrumental forces to create a rich texture with lots of different colours and sounds created through a variety of instrumental techniques. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVhL2WEZWhk
‘Sua Katselen’ (‘I watch you’) from ‘Leino Songs’ – for soprano and orchestra. Enjoy the rich texture of this piece, listen out for the unusual harmonies too, both create a mystic, hypnotic feel to this piece. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7uanb5amkc
Want to hear more? Listen to ‘Sept Papillons’ (Seven Butterflies). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zPruhFrwFg
For a quick listen perhaps ‘NoaNoa’ for solo flute. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pS4ny7GU_Os
Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
Purcell was a defining composer of English Baroque Music. In 1679, at just 20, he became the organist of Westminster Abbey, a highly sought after position and he stayed in this role for the rest of his life. Purcell wrote a huge collection of church music during his lifetime and as a composer in the courts, he wrote many odes for royal occasions. His opera ‘Dido and Aeneas’, likely written as court entertainment at the time, is still widely enjoyed and a defining piece in English operatic repertoire.
Perfect for prayer: ‘An Evening Hymn’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qjc0qug-1NQ
Pieces for study: ‘Music for a While’ – written as incidental music for the play ‘Oedipus’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4nSurzfGuQ
‘Te Deum and Jubilate Deo’ – one of his later works, a celebratory cantata, featuring chorus, soloists and period orchestra. Hear the ‘Te Deum’ here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMJwQeEXSVI followed by the ‘Jubilate Deo’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ek-43z_fTPY
For a quick listen perhaps the ‘Hornpipe I-II’ with the flute https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yx5kzvaGJik
Want to hear more? Listen to the beautiful and moving ‘When I am laid in earth’ (Dido’s Lament) from ‘Dido and Aeneas’, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOIAi2XwuWo
Sir George Benjamin (b. 1960)
Benjamin is a pioneering composer of British contemporary classical music. He is also a renowned conductor and is the Henry Purcell Professor of Composition at Kings College London. Benjamin is known widely for his very successful and fascinating opera ‘Written on Skin’ and his exciting new opera premieres at the ROH this May.
Perfect for prayer: ‘Mediation on Haydn’s Name’, for solo piano, this piece is deeply peaceful and reflective. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=md_AVx0UNrk
Pieces for study: ‘Three Inventions’, you can see Benjamin conduct his own piece in this video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7h4XVaMOHo
‘Dance Figures’ for orchestra. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7ClkNLRmDI
‘A Mind of Winter’ for soprano and chamber orchestra; this piece paints a somewhat unsettling, mystical picture of winter. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZWf7ZSDFnQ
For a quick listen, here are three minatures, to hear them separately you can find no.2 at 2m 54s and no.3 at 6m 24s https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgyUWnGjtG4
Want to hear more? This is Benjamin’s ‘Octet’ which produces some really interesting instrumental textures and colours https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FaEc63lHnY8
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Schubert composed a huge amount of music during his short lifetime. He is perhaps best known for his lieder, but he also wrote a number of symphonies and chamber music pieces. Schubert was not widely appreciated during his lifetime but he is now regarded as one of the defining composers of the early romantic era.
Perfect for prayer:’Mondenschein’ , one of Schubert’s pieces for male voice choir. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=553EHSuT728 See here for the translation; http://www.lieder.net/lieder/get_text.html?TextId=115004
Pieces for study: One of Schubert’s most famous works, his song cycle ‘Winterreise’, here performed by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, a pioneer of Schubert’s lieder who is particularly famous for his interpretation of this song cycle. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8UDOmUcxCk
Here is the beautiful second movement from Schubert’s Symphony in Bb Major https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t55gUuO4BR8
For a quick listen try ‘Rastlose Liebe’, a lively lied about ‘restless love’, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BxH3_SKM4js
Want to hear more? Here is Schubert’s Symphony in C https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfpJYismvSg
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)
Bernstein was a hugely influential American composer and conductor of the 20th century. His compositions are performed all over the world and he conducted many of the world’s leading orchestras. He was a passionate educator and social activist, leading a wide range of projects and was a keen advocate for arts education. His pioneering series of lectures for adults on classical music and concerts for children that were broadcast across the states in the 50’s engaged many people with classical music in a new and exciting way. His compositions cover an immensely wide range of genres and Bernstein was equally successful in his work across classical music, musical theatre and film music and he encompasses just about every style of music into his work.
This year would be Bernstein’s 100th birthday and there is a worldwide celebration of his life and work going on throughout the year.
Perfect for Prayer: the beautiful ‘Adonai Roi’ from the Chichester Psalms https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcF3t-W3Wi8
Pieces for study:
Bernstein’s Symphonic Suite, from the film ‘On The Waterfront’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iwvsV5cAks
3 meditations, taken originally from Bernstein’s huge theatrical piece MASS but now enjoyed as a suite on their own too. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_B4mMd7KLg
This is Bernstein’s first published piece, Sonata for Clarinet and Piano https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFkdlvKwosc
Here is Bernstein himself conducting the full ‘Chichester Psalms’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3WQkhptmVA
For a quick listen: ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80-DtChQ39U
Want to hear more? Listen to Bernstein’s wonderful First Symphony https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zueKARho6s8
A couple of extras; here is a clip of Bernstein’s ‘Young People’s Concerts’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AFovpvDRCI
Also, here is a renowned conductor Marin Alsop who studied with Bernstein talking about working with him – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ax4fgyCTppw
Where can I hear Bernstein’s music soon?
At St John’s Smith Square with Tenebrae and the Aurora Orchestra on 6th July – https://www.sjss.org.uk/events/tenebrae-1?utm_medium=display&utm_source=bachtrack.com&utm_campaign=listinglink
‘On the Town’ will be part of the proms in August – https://www.royalalberthall.com/tickets/proms/bbc-proms-2018/prom-57-john-wilson-conducts-bernstein-on-the-town/
Unsuk Chin (b.1961)
Chin is a pioneering composer of contemporary classical music. She is from Korea but now lives in Germany and her works are performed regularly worldwide. She has won numerous awards for her work including the 2004 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition for her Violin Concerto. She has held residencies all over the world and she is currently the artistic director for the Philharmonia Orchestra’s Music of Today series. She was also last year awarded the prestigious Wihuri Sibelius Prize.
Perfect for Prayer: This is the fifth movement of Chins’ ‘Miroirs des temps’, the beautiful polyphony here reminiscent of that in medieval music mixed with modern sounds. The themes of this whole cycle are reflection, love and life – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cqvcgotKDg
Pieces for Study:
Here is the beautiful second movement of Chin’s ‘Piano Concerto’, listen out for the recurring patterns passing around the different instruments – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kKUiOZ_XlrY
Chin’s ‘Violin Concerto’, enjoy the virtuosic explorations of the violin, such as the opening solo passage and then listen out for the beautiful, meditative solo passages, such as at around 11 mins in – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXSB8rXR05g
‘Akrostichon Wortspiel’, an unusual and creative piece for soprano and ensemble – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6eAGWLMrQQ&list=RDk6eAGWLMrQQ&t=20 (the strange text is explained here by the composer: ‘Akrostichon-Wortspiel consists of seven scenes from the fairytales The Endless Story by Michael Ende and Alice through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. The selected texts have been worked upon in different ways: sometimes the consonants and vowels have been randomly joined together, other times the words have been read backwards so that the symbolic meaning alone remains’)
For a quick listen: Etude No. 5 ‘Toccata’ for Piano – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eqa78Z6C-2s
Want to hear more? ‘Cantatrix Sopranica’, a unique piece for 2 sopranos, countertenor and ensemble – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrbVndrVL00
Georg Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Handel composed during the Baroque era. He was born in Germany but travelled to England in 1710 where he then settled and he contributed greatly to the English music in the 1700’s. He came to England to write his opera ‘Rinaldo’, which was the most important works in bringing opera to England. After composing several more operas, he expanded into oratorio too in London and in this genre he composed his perhaps most famous work, ‘Messiah’.
Perfect for Prayer: ‘The Lord is my Strength’ from the oratorio Israel in Egypt https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dgWeviaimFU
Pieces for Study: ‘Heart the Seat of Soft Delight’ from Acis and Galetea, this piece is the final aria to this opera, sung by Galetea to Acis as she uses her powers to immortalise him https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ol-4qvobc5w
‘Padre Amato’ from Tamerlano, as Asteria sings to her father https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLmk-scEa6c
Sonata for Oboe and Continuo, here played on a baroque oboe as it would have sounded at the time https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4s7FS8BiwU
‘Comfort Ye My People’ from Handel’s Messiahhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCjAi1hod0E
An instrumental movement from Messiah here, known as the ‘Pastoral Symphony’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bc0yd7VkYmg
For a quick listen, try ‘V’adoro Pupille’, sung by Cleopatra in Guilio Cesarehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YShVncaMKjs
Want to hear more? Here is Handel’s Water Music Suite 1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJyTfttQvdA
A couple of well-known favourites to hear again too: here is ‘Zadok the Priest’ from Handel’s Coronation Anthemshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6CNQqzN3mU
….and of course the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus from Handel’s Messiah https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VI6dsMeABpU
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Fauré was a French composer and was highly influential the artistic movement between the late romantic era and the different 20thcentury style. His works greatly advanced the changes in harmony and melody that would shape new theory and the 20th century style. Fauré is regarded as a master of vocal writing and he really defined the style of French Art Song, the Mélodie.
Perfect for Prayer: This is the beautiful ‘Pie Jesu’ movement from Fauré’s Requiem – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJanc3-a320
Pieces for Study: Here is one of Fauré’s most famous works, his Pavane – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wQDoN40-_C4
This is Fauré’s stunning orchestral suite Pelléas et Mélissande, inspired by the play of the same name by Maurice Maeterlinck – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qroD6PeafgA
Here is a selection of Fauré’s iconic French Mélodies….
Clair de lune – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mH3pUnOnnNw
L’aurore – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-S-7IowWcAw
Après un rêve – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oq4iEhRpAcY
For a quick listen: Try Notre Amour – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uaWhy0r08xs
Want to hear more? Here is Fauré’s beautiful Theme and Variations op. 73 for piano https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAdIC_9iLN0
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Britten was a central figure for British music during the 20th century. He received numerous awards and honours for his outstanding contribution to classical music during his lifetime, including being the first musician to be awarded life peerage. He created a large body of work; he is probably best known for his operas, which are widely regarded as among the best English operas ever written, and his other vocal music, such as the War Requiem. He also composed a lot of orchestral music and chamber works and was a successful conductor and pianist. He was a founder of the fantastic Aldeburgh Festival which continues to this day to be one of the most important events in the English classical music scene annually. It has also from the beginning supported contemporary classical music and in particular offering opportunities for young people in new music.
Perfect for Prayer: ‘In Paradisum’, from the War Requiem https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aW3zsdgVJXo
Pieces for Study: Here is the stunning ‘Embroidery Aria’ from Peter Grimes, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jz3FEaMJanI (aria begins at 0.45seconds)
Britten’s Four Sea Interludes, a beautiful suite made from interludes in the opera Peter Grimes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTd2aXLTA84
‘On This Island’ is a fascinating song cycle, setting texts by W H Auden https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pM5KIIvS1Js
For a quick listen: here is Britten’s playful ‘Be Kind and Courteous’, sung by Tytania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Imzc5HJM92s
Want to hear more? Here is the lively and virtuosic Suite for Harp https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZ17-dxrZPo