One thing I promised myself this year is that, for once, I would listen to all of the BBC Proms and not just the fantastic Last Night. I kept that promise and enjoyed a wonderful series of concerts.
And all credit to Sir Henry Wood for coming up with such a fantastic idea of bringing wonderful music to as wide a range of people as possible.
I like music from a wide range of genres but thought, for this post, I would list my Top Ten Classical Greats.
My list is not in any particular order. I love all of these pieces equally. A lot depends on my mood when I listen to them as to what position they are in for any given week. Also I found the only way I could compile this list was to put in what absolutely had to go in my Top Ten.
There are countless classical pieces I love but the idea of this list is (a) to generate discussion as to what would be in your Top Ten and (b) to share a general appreciation of classical music.
I admire composers. To write prose and/or poetry can be difficult enough but to write music takes a skill that leaves me full of admiration for those who can do it well. Mozart, Beethoven etc did not have the benefit of modern technology to help them. And that’s to take nothing away from modern composers who do use it. It just makes the pre-technology’s composers’ talents seem even more remarkable.
Beethoven in particular must come in for comment here given he continued to compose despite losing his hearing. I think this is one of the worst things about deafness – not being able to hear music.
Music has always been a great love of mine and I think should deafness hit me this would be one of the things I would find hardest about it. For a composer to lose their hearing, I can only imagine Beethoven’s despair over it but what a talent and what persistence to carry on producing superb music despite it.
And I haven’t even mentioned Beethoven, Bach (I’m listening to his Shepherds May Safely Graze as I prepare this post) or Mozart in my top 10 and there are several pieces by each I could have included. So what has made my list?
1. Barber’s Adagio for Strings
To say this is beautiful is to say Starry Starry Night by Van Gogh is quite a good painting. This piece of music has been a relatively recent discovery for me and it is stunning. I am very fond of pieces where sound is “layered”, especially strings, and this is a wonderful example of that. The technical achievement of reaching the very top notes without going off key/out of tune I think is amazing.
2. Pachelbel’s Canon
I remember this from years ago when it was used for a wool advert. I’ve always been fond of this and again I love the layered effect of the strings. Just fabulous. Also I find this piece soothing.
3. Fantasia on Greensleeves
I’ve been discovering more of Ralph Vaughn Williams’ work in the last six months and I could easily have picked his Fantasia on Thomas Tallis but this one just has the edge. As for the story of Greensleeves itself being written by Henry VIII and it referring to Anne Boleyn, it is a lovely story. The actual author is unknown. Incidentally it is not outside the bounds of possibility Henry did write it – he was known to have a talent and appreciation for the arts. It is just a shame that didn’t remain what he is best known for!
4. The Star Wars Theme
Love the original movies, have not seen the prequels. Not entirely sure I want to do so. How can you improve on perfection? I felt the same way when I heard The Italian Job was being remade and I refuse to watch the remake. They should have given that remake its own title. To link it to an all time classic film to me smacked of both laziness and greed. More positively, this theme by John Williams easily conjures up in my mind a world that is far, far away and I think is one of the best film themes.
5. William Walton – The Princes in the Tower
Used as the theme tune to the reading of The Daughter of Time (Josephine Tey) on Radio 4 Extra, this music is haunting, as perhaps it should be given its theme.
6. Pomp and Circumstance March Number 1 – Elgar
Well, the Last Night of the Proms wouldn’t be the same without this, would it? Absolutely love it. When I need to hear something upbeat, this is one of the first pieces I choose.
7. Ravel’s Bolero
Where were you in 1984? It was three years before I met my better half and about four years before we both came to Chandler’s Ford. (In his case came back to CF!). In 1986, I was glued to the TV watching Christopher Dean and Jayne Torvill raise the stands of ice dancing to an all time high as they danced to this music. Love the way it builds up, their routine was amazing.
8. The Big Country – Jerome Moross
Have discovered this thanks to Classic FM. Conjures up the feeling of the Wild West magnificently. Particularly impressed with this as I don’t mind watching the odd (good) western but wouldn’t describe myself as a huge fan. Yet the music does conjure up the images. Films I do like in this genre include almost anything with James Garner in it – I adore Maverick, both the original TV series and film (it was nice to see Jodie Foster “do” comedy). And Carry On Cowboy is a remarkably accurate spoof of westerns, High Noon especially.
9. The Dambusters March – Eric Coates
Their story is an incredible one. Their theme music is stirring and unforgettable. This is appropriate.
10. Saint Caen – Organ Piece Symphony 3
The way the organ sounds at the opening of this always reminds me of a mad scientist or some character like that who is a bit off beam having a “creative musical moment”. They bring their hands down hard and hit those keys for all they’re worth. The sound of the organ in this piece is just magnificent. I also love the composer’s Dance Macabre, which is probably best known as the theme to the TV series, Jonathan Creek.
I could easily have made this list a top 20. There are other film themes, Harry Potter, the Lord of the Rings and the Godfather, to name just three, I would like to have included in this. In the case of HP and LOTR, both conjure up images of the books and films, all of which I adore, and I can’t imagine more perfect music for either. And that is how a good theme, for whatever medium, should be.
I’m not a fan of the Godfather films (the story doesn’t appeal. I can’t get over the “thuggery” aspect. I did like The Untouchables though). But I must admit the main theme from the Godfather has a haunting sad quality to it.
So what would your Top 10 be? Who is your favourite composer and why? What has been your favourite concert? Which orchestra would you recommend going to see? (I may well go and see for myself!).
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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