Matthias's Musical Picks


I am a musical collecter, and as such, I have begun to identify my own musical tastes. My preferences in classical music would for most people be strange enough. Yet even in this oevure, I am something of an oddity, since my tastes lie towards late 19th century works, often refered to as Late-Romanticism, and the latter half of the twentieth century, which, for lack of a better term, is called Modern. Because of this, I have a tendency to search out the esoteric work before the acclaimed one.

This portion of my website is dedicated entirely to my favorite compositions and composers. I will hopefully have top ten lists for as many genres as I can. Of course, each list is subject to change as I hear more and more music. The world of classical music is a growing and changing field the more research is doen, and hte more new pieces are discovered and composed. Thanks to the modern day art of recording, so many unheard of works are seeing the light of the day for the first time in a hundred years.

However, the spot of honor on this sight goes to that composer whose music inspires me and moves my to emotional outburst. Plus, this composer is still alive and creating new masterpieces. So now I present to you:

My Favorite Living Composer

John Corigliano

Corigliano is an internationally acclaimed American composer of multiple genres. His music tends to be extremely lyrical as well as boisterous and bombastic. It can also be very touching and haunting as in his Cantata Of Rage and Remembrance, which has in the past moved me to tears. It is based off the heralded Symphony No. 1 that represents his personal repsonse to the AIDS epidemic. His earlier music tends to be youthful and exuberrant, sometimes very violent as in his Piano Concerto, or bouyant as in Tournaments. to date, I have not heard a work of his that I cannot recommend wholeheartedly.

However, Corigliano only recently attained this coveted position. In November of 1997, Robert Simpson, a British Composer, passed away leaving a powerful musical legacy behind. His eleven Symphonies and fifteen String Quartets redefined the meaning of those genres for generations to come. He will be missed.


The Top Ten Symphonies

  1. Franck in D Minor: The Franck Symphony was met with scorn when it was first performed, in the last year of this Belgian composer's life. The music is cyclic, based off a three note theme that dominates every portion of this piece. Set in three movements, this is extremely chromatic and very Romantic in flavor. Listening to this, I find myself transported to a cosmic level. No other Symphony is able to achieve this same kind of effect with me. This work should be a standard in every music lover's collection.
  2. Dohnányi 1st in D Minor: The Dohnányi is not a very well known work. It was written at the turn of the last century, and represents the first real Hungarian symphony. The influences are many, Bruckner and Brahms being the two most obvious. Yet I feel Dohnányi was able to surpass both of them with this premiere work that is in five movements and starts off with a captivating french horn melody with a Hungarian twist. From there, it escalates, ever returning to that theme and never once losing the listener. This may be hard to find, but it is worth the effort. If you have nothing else of Dohnányi's, then you should have this Symphony!
  3. Tchaikovsky 4th in F Minor: Though some would suggest his 5th or 6th, I find that Tchaikovsky's 4th is the greatest of all of his symphonies. From the opening trumpet fanfare to the closing bombast of the full orchestra, I can think of no finer Russian Symphony. The entire feel of this work is that of a vast drama, one that leaves you wondering just what awaits you around the next corner. It is impossible to describe in words, but I can think of no other work by this 19th century composer that compares with the vast power and magnitude of this piece. A required selection in any classical collection.
  4. Vaughan-Williams 4th in F Minor: This normally placid and lyrical British composer managed to create a piece of such blatant violence that it is still shocking to hear today. No other work in the entire oevure opens with such raw, naked, violence as does this. A cyclic work, it is based on two themes stated at the very outset which are molded and modified through the entire work. Written in 1933, some have called this work a vision of the war to come, though Vaughan-Williams denied any programatic element. This work leaves little doubt of the terror and misery that envelopes it from the very first chord. It's final resolution is one of the most pitiless in all of music. It is, and always shall remain, one of the jewels of my collection.
  5. Simpson 9th: One of the main ideas in Simpson's output is the idea of energy. His ability to harness it and make it grow over an extended period of time is easily witnessed in this Symphony, which is one of his most massive efforts. It is based on a single metric pulse and is in one large movement with different sections. Based on intervals of a fourth, this piece tends to cycle through all the keys before moving on. It is the star in Simpson's Symphonic crown, and is one of the most breathtaking modern Symphonies that I have ever heard.
  6. Mahler 6th "Tragic": It would be a crime not to include at least one of Mahler's Symphonies in any top ten list of this nature. At one point in my life I listened to all ten of the symphonies, and only one of them caught my ear on the first note. That was his sixth, the only one to resolve itself still shrouded in the terror and hopelessness that pervades each of the four massive movements. The relentless march of the first gives way to the schizophrenic scherzo, and then to the lush Adagio which resides in another world at times. The final movement only fills the listener with even more of his terror, as if it were fate that life would be so filled (and in Mahler's case, it soon would be). As Alban Berg once is reported to have said, "There is only one sixth!"
  7. Corigliano 1st: Probably the most acclaimed Symphony of recent times, Corigliano's first Symphony is a testament to the terrible disease AIDS that has swept many communities across the globe. Each of the three movements is dedicated to a friend of his that had died because of this epedemic. The first, Apologue, is a giant thundering crash of madness and rage. The second, Tarantella, is a dance of insanity which only gets faster and faster till it crashes down. The third is based off of a chilling solo cello theme that was extemporized by Corigliano and the man to whom this movement is dedicated. The last movement brings all of the ideas back together in a somber quiet recitative that vanishes into the night. One of the most troubling and thought provoking symphonies ever written.
  8. Walton 1st: Another British composer, Walton was known to be a very slow worker. And, I've noticed there is a particular quality of sound indigenous only to him. Yet, this particular Symphony, in my ears, sounds nothing like anything else he ever wrote. From the unsettling march like rhythm's in the first movement to the cry of the third, and to the exultation of the finale, this is certainly one of the most powerful symphonies ever conceived.
  9. Beethoven 9th in D Minor: While some would certainly criticize me for putting one of Beethoven's Symphonies so far down the list, I feel I am entirely justified in doing so. His ninth Symphony is probably the most influential piece of music ever written in the western world. Because of it, other composers since have been able to craft pieces ever greater in scope and power. However, this is one of the immortal works, and it shall be with us as long as there are humans left to remember it.
  10. Korngold in F# Major: This work is a product of the Post-Romantic era, despite being composed in the 1950's. From the opening chords, spiced with such instruments as xylophone and piano, one can tell that this is a serious work of immense proportions. It quickly builds in intensity, the drama that Korngold mastered as a film composer coming clearly to the fore. It is a very chromatic work, built upon simple principles, but executed with a finesse and mastery of skill that Korngold only one other time matched (the Piano Concerto). This particular piece is on the verge of making a comeback, as several recording labels have produced it, so it should not be too hard to locate. It is certianly worth snatching up!

Other Symphonies of Note

  • Bax 1st in Eb
  • Bax 2nd in E minor & C
  • Bax 3rd
  • Bax 4th
  • Bax 5th
  • Brian 3rd in C# Minor
  • Dvorak 9th in E Minor "From the New World"
  • Gliere 2nd in C Minor
  • Mahler 2nd in C minor "Resurrection"
  • Nielsen 4th "The Inextinguishable"
  • Paderewski in B Minor "Polonia"
  • Panufnik 8th "Sinfonia Votiva"
  • Parsadanian 2nd "Martyros Sarian"
  • Rautavaara 3rd
  • Shostakovich 11th "In the Year 1905"
  • Sibelius 2nd
  • Simpson 1st
  • Simpson 4th
  • Vaughan-Williams 7th "Sinfonia Antarctica"

The Top Ten Piano Concertos

  1. Busoni in C Major: No other Piano Concerto I have heard soars to such heights as does the Busoni. The longest of all Piano Concertos, it stands at a good seventy miunutes, and every note therein is a treasure. At times it has the bearing of a Symphony, the daring piano part, which puts demands not often seen on the performer, reminds us however that this is indeed a a concerto of the highest order. Thanks in part to the efforts of John Ogdon and Ronald Stevenson, this work is finding its hallowed place in the repetoire. The last movement, with men's chorus, is one of the most radiant evocations in all the literature. A must have for any serious collector.
  2. Medtner 2nd in C Minor: Dedicated to Rachmaninoff, the Second of Medtner's three entries into the genre is a work full of vigor and vitality, bursting forth with a wealth of energy that quickly establishes the main theme to be heard throughout the work. It demonstrates a mastery of understanding of the piano as well as of the orchestra and their relationship. Unfortunately, given the lack of recognition with which Medtner was received, This work has fallen into obscurity. Sorabji himself thought its neglect "a scandal". This work of massive proportions deserves to reclaim its place among the great works of the early twentieth century, or at the very least, of the Post-Romantic Era.
  3. Tchaikovsky 1st in Bb Minor: There is something endearing in a work that has survived such brutal critiques as levied upon it by its original dedicatee, and the Tchaikovsky 1st demonstrates them to the full. Though it was criticized for its bizarre form and the irregular use of the piano, those techniques have given it a freshness for each and every hearing. Some works, good works in fact, tend to become too familiar at repeated listenings. For myself, the Tchaikovsky is always new and vibrant at every hearing, for which I ascribe to it greatness.
  4. Corigliano: This work must without a doubt be reckoned the finest Concerto written for Piano in recent memory. The barbarism of the first movement is matched only by the unearthliness of the third. Based off of a simple three note motto, Bb, B, C heard in rapid succession, it does its best to be as insane as possible, acocmplishing this quite well. I am reminded of a roller coaster in portions of this, only one that is in serious need of repair. Definitely an exciting work, and one not to be missed!
  5. Brahms 1st in D Minor: An early work from Brahm's pen, and one that appears a bit Brucknerian in its drama. From the opening fanfare, one can tell that this is intended as a very serious and powerful work. The first time I heard this piece was on the radio, and I only caught the last two movements. I reached my destination during the second movement, and was so captivated, I had to wait till the end of the third movement in the summer heat and find out what piece it was before I could leave. It was even more satisfying when I listened to it whole. Definitely worth buying as soon as you can.
  6. Korngold in C# Minor for the Left Hand: One of the few piano concertos that starts with the piano solo, this work is very strange to hear from Korngold's pen. It is the first of a series of Concerto's commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein, the early twentieth century pianist who had lost his right arm during the war. The work is in one continuous movement with impressions of a scherzo and adagio, but throughout each, the incessant upswing motif appears that was stated at the outset of the work. Listening to this Concerto, it is hard to believe that it is all being performed by one hand, such is the mastery of Korngold's work. Certainly worth finding in my opinion.
  7. Barber: One of Barber's later works, the Piano Concerto represents him near his least tonal. Again, this work starts with solo piano, and shares many things in common with the Corigliano in terms of its intensity. But the Barber possesses a more refined and sculptured appearance, while the Corigliano is crusty and jagged. There is a sense of detachment, almost mercurial in the first two movements. The last in the unusual 5/8 metre, however, displays an animalism that leaves one breathless as the piece finally collapses of its own weight in a large heap at the sound of the tam-tam. Strongly recommended!
  8. Rachmaninoff 2nd in C Minor: The story of Rachmaninoff's recovery from the depression that set in after the premiere of his first Symphony is well known, and shan't be repeated here. This piece was one of the very first Piano Concertos that I had the occassion to listen to, and still it grabs at my heart and draws me into its embrace. The opening chords set the ambiance for the remainder of the piece, and it holds up to that brilliantly.
  9. Bartok 3rd: The 3rd Concerto was the last thing Bartok ever wrote. At this stage in his life, he also was just trying to write music, not shock audiences as he once had. Thus, the last of his works possesses a congeniality about it that is missing from most of his other music. This quality makes this work stad out above the others, as it shows a mastery of form and technique, as well as giving the audience something to enjoy.
  10. Liebermann 2nd: A limber, full-blooded work, marking the return to tonality by many modern composers, is certianly worth a gander. Though not as athletic as his first, Liebermann's second offing in the Piano Concerto genre is more focused on making itself referential, though they continuously shift from one page to the next, making it hard to describe in simple text. While using a twelve-tone row in part, it still manages to convey a sense of tonality, as well as craft melodies that soar above the din of the rest of the music. Quite a change in focus for modern composers, and certainly worth a listen.

Other Piano Concertos of Note

  • Bortkiewicz 1st in Bb Major
  • D'Albert 1st in B Minor
  • Dohnányi 1st in E Minor
  • Dohnányi 2nd in B Minor
  • Henselt in F Minor
  • Massenet in Eb Major
  • Prokofiev 3rd In C Major
  • Rautavaara 1st
  • Schumann in A Minor
  • Tchaikovsky 2nd in G Major

The Top Ten Non-Piano Concertos

Explanatory Notes will be added soon
  1. Poulenc - Organ Concerto
  2. Bartók - Concerto for Orchestra
  3. Rautavaara - Cantus Arcticus (Concerto for Birds and Orchestra)
  4. Corigliano - Pied Piper Fantasy (Concerto for Flute and Orchestra)
  5. Kernis - Colored Field (Concerto for English Horn and Orchestra)
  6. Penderecki - Violin Concerto No. 2 "Metamorphosen"
  7. Danielpour - Concerto for Orchestra
  8. Rouse - Flute Concerto
  9. Kodály - Concerto for Orchestra
  10. Koussevitzky - Concerto for Doublebass and Orchestra

The Top Ten Tone Poems

Explanatory Notes will be added soon
  1. Wagner - Siegfried Idyll
  2. Rachmaninoff - Isle of the Dead
  3. Rautavaara - Angels and Visitations
  4. Liszt - Ce qu'on entend sur la montagne
  5. Dukas - The Sorceror's Apprentice
  6. Kernis - Invisible Mosaic III
  7. Hovhaness - And God Created Great Whales
  8. Brian - In Memoriam
  9. Corigliano - Tournaments
  10. Hanson - Mosaics

The Top Ten Choral Works

Explanatory Notes will be added soon
  1. Corigliano - Of Rage and Remembrance
  2. Rutter - Requiem
  3. Rachmaninoff - The Bells
  4. Adams - Harmonium
  5. Janácek - Glagolitic Mass
  6. Simpson - Media morte in vita sumus
  7. Mahler - Kindertotenlieder
  8. Mahler - Das Lied von der Erde
  9. Vaughan Williams - Dona nobis pacem
  10. Bartok - Cantata Profana "The Nine Enchanted Stags"

The Top Ten Ballets

Explanatory Notes will be added soon
  1. Stravinsky - Rites of Spring
  2. Copland - Appalachian Spring
  3. Bliss - Checkmate
  4. Stravinsky - The Firebird
  5. Tchaikovsky - The Nutcracker
  6. Lambert - Horoscope
  7. Copland - Billy the Kid
  8. Piston - The Incredible Flutist
  9. Copland - Rodeo
  10. Walton - Façade

The Top Ten Solo Piano Works

Explanatory Notes will be added soon
  1. Dohnányi - Passacaglia in Eb Minor
  2. Stevenson - Passacaglia on DSCH
  3. Busoni - Fantasia Contrappuntistica
  4. Alkan - Concerto for Solo Piano
  5. Scriabin - Piano Sonata No. 7 "White Mass"
  6. Prokofiev - Piano Sonata No. 7 in Bb Major
  7. Scriabin - Piano Sonata No. 9 "Black Mass"
  8. Prokofiev - Piano Sonata No. 6 in A Major
  9. Barber - Piano Sonata in Eb Minor
  10. Beethoven - Sonata No. 8 in C Minor "Pathétique"

Other Piano Works of Note

  • Alkan - Le Festin D'Esope
  • Alkan - Sonatine Mv. 4 Tempo giusto
  • Beethoven - Sonata No. 21 in C Major "Waldstein"
  • Busoni - Fantasia nach J.S. Bach
  • Chopin - Étude in Gb Major "Black Key"
  • Chopin - Fantaisie-Impromptu
  • Chopin - Grand Valse Brilliante
  • Chopin - Polonaise in A Major "Military"
  • Chopin - Prelude in Db Major "Raindrop"
  • Chopin - Scherzo in Bb Minor
  • Hamelin - Prelude and Fugue
  • Liszt - Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13
  • Prokofiev - Suggestion Diaboliqué
  • Scriabin - Piano Sonata No. 1 in F Minor
  • Scriabin - Piano Sonata No. 5 in F# Major
  • Scriabin - Piano Sonata No. 6
  • Stevenson - Piano Sonatina No. 1
  • Rachmaninoff - Prelude Op. 23 No. 3 in D Minor
  • Rachmaninoff - Prelude Op. 32 No. 12 in G# Minor

More to Come Soon

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