Composers according to the month

Obviously, this is for life in the Southern Hemisphere!

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Composer of the month

 

January: Debussy

The height of summer requires La Mer and La fille aux cheveux de lin. What better way to relax on a hot afternoon than to sit outside with a cool drink, a book, and with Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune playing in the air.

February: Tchaikovsky

The month for outdoor concerts and that means big sounds and large orchestras

March: Mozart

Serious music to engage the mind for serious work and to spur on imagination and creativity

April: J.S Bach.

Easter. From heaven and looking back to the heavens

May: Rachmaninoff

The Russian steppe always looks wintery. Rachmaninoff’s melancholy prepares the bones for the winter ahead

June: Bach again

A Well Tempered Clavier and 200 Cantatas defrost the brain, like a decent cup of coffee

July: Shostakovich

If Shostakovich can write astonishing music in the middle of a Soviet winter, then there’s hope for us all

August: Beethoven

Angry at winter? Listen to a Beethoven sonata. Fed up with the white noise of twitter? Choose a Symphony and turn up the volume

September: Ravel

Spring is here and Ravel unleashes a warm hope

October: Stravinksy

Who doesn’t want to dance in October? (metaphorically of course!)

November:  Chopin

One upon a time November meant music exams, hence, lots of Chopin. These days Chopin is for reminiscing, looking to the past and looking forward to holidays

December: Christmas Carols of course!

25 of the Greatest Music Compositions

I thought I would kick off 2018 with a very different blog to what readers are used to here at murraycampbell.net. For fun, I wish to offer a definitive (yes, I said definitive!) list of the finest musical works ever written (perhaps not definitive…but close).

Music is one of God’s greatest gifts to the world, and these are some of the most extraordinary examples of this Divine endowment.

Narrowing the possibilities to only 25 is sufficiently impossible, let alone settling on a sequential order with some silly countdown.  For how can one compare Bach to Mozart, or Debussy with Rachmaninov? Can’t one appreciate both apples and oranges? Nonetheless, not all compositions are created equal.

Lists often reveal more about the compiler than they do about the items being collated; this is probably no exception. That withstanding, in my view these are 25 of the greatest compositions ever written. Some of these works I learned and performed when I was younger, and others I first discovered others at an even younger age, while others grabbed hold of me as an adult. Many of them have a back story which I won’t bore you with, but one thing each of these works have in common, and that is, I regularly listen to them. While some of these works are notable for their influence on music history, and all for their musical genius, they each offer to send listeners  traveling through the chromatic scale of human experience, whether it is by their sheer beauty or wonderment or sorrow or haunting qualities.

No doubt others will have alternate suggestions. It’s probably safe to say that among 1000 or even 100,000 readers, no two lists will be alike. And yes, I’m sure the philistines among us will be tempted to include a song that utilises the creative genius of  I – vi – IV – V and the compulsory drum kit! 

So what would you include?

If you have never listened to these works, go ahead and enjoy, be moved, be delighted, be challenged, be intrigued.

 

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Blurry photo of Maurizio Pollini taken by me at the Lincoln Centre 2017

 

J.S  Bach

“Jesu meine freude” Motet BWV 227

Well Tempered Clavier

Goldberg Variations BWV 988

Violin Sonata in G Minor BWV 1001

Mass in B Minor BWV 232

St Matthew’s Passion BWV 244

 

George F Handel

Messiah

 

Mozart

Don Giovanni

The Magic Flute

Piano Concerti nos. 20 and 21

Clarinet Quintet in A Major

Requiem Mass

 

Beethoven

Piano Sonata No.8 in C Minor “Pathetique” (or no.29 “Hammerklavier”)

 

Chopin

The Ballades

 

Tchaikovsky

Symphony 5 in E Minor Op.64

 

Puccini

La Boheme

 

Debussy

Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune

Preludes for Piano (books 1 and 2)

La Mer

String quartet in G Minor

 

Rachmaninov

Piano Concerto no.2  in C Minor Op.18

Piano Concerto no.3 in D Minor Op.30

Symphony no.2 in E Minor  Op.27

 

Elgar

Cello Concerto in E Minor Op. 85

 

Dmitri Shostakovich

Piano Concerto no.2 Op.102

2 Musical Experiences from the USA

During a recent visit to the United States I managed to get a seat at the MET in New York for a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.  In case you’re unfamiliar with the MET, the Metropolitan Opera is one of the most famous opera companies in the world, and conducting the performance was Placido Domingo, one of the finest classical musicians of the past 50 years. One reviewer wrote that this particular cast was one of the best ever assembled for a performance of Don Giovanni. On top of all that, no one has ever composed more exquisite and sonorous music than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Leaving aside the fact the Opera singers have the acting talent of an Australian soap opera, the music did not disappoint. There were a few stylistic and technical quibbles, but none to write home about. This was a rare opportunity to hear one the great musicians lead a superb cast in singing some of most sublime music ever heard on earth.

A few days later I was in Washington DC, and it was during this stay in DC that I heard music that made the Metropolitan Opera almost sound trifle. I spent 3 weeks hiding away in an apartment on Capitol Hill, working on a writing project. I occasionally slipped outside to buy food and to visit an art gallery or museum, and folk at Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC) were kind and generous, and constantly inviting me to various church events throughout the week (an offer very hard to refuse!). On Sundays though I wanted to be with God’s people, and at Capitol Hill Baptist everyone spends most of the day together; it was a great joy and time of personal refreshment.

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They love to sing at CHBC, as many as 10 hymns in the morning service and several more during the evening service. As someone who was once a professional musician, and once given an invitation to sing with the Melbourne Symphony, I have a particularly high view of what can and ought to be with music, and yet I can say that at over my time at CHBC I have rarely heard musical sounds that have given me more joy and encouragement, such that 10 hymns was not enough; a 1000 voices singing to God and each other with heart felt joy and delight.

The musical accompaniment was simple and bare –  an acoustic guitar and piano, and with 2-3 vocalists who were mic’d but only just enough so that they could lead the congregation through any unfamiliar passages and to keep time. The music is deliberately restrained, in order to elevate the role of the congregation sing, and hearing the people sing only encourages everyone to sing more.

I am not suggesting that this is how other churches should orchestrate music for church; I appreciate other genres of music in church and I have been part of congregations where the musical style is more contemporary, scored for a more full band, and musically more garnished, like a Mozart recitativo; such playing can encourage congregations to sing and be heard. However, in practice, the band and the way music is led from the front can inhibit and detract from congregational singing. Louder music isn’t always better. More professional music doesn’t equal improvement. More energetic (and charismatic) music leaders isn’t evidence of more godly or ‘successful’ music ministry. Not that such things are necessarily wrong, and I am proposing a false dichotomy between faithful music and professionalism, or congregational music and contemporary music, but if we cannot hear each other singing to praise God and to encourage each other with the truths of God, perhaps we should reconsider how we are doing music in church.

More important than how the music was arranged, it was clear that people believed what they were singing, and it was this belief in the words being sung that spawned such wonderful singing. Choose songs with superficial or bland lyrics, and we shouldn’t be surprised if the results follow suit. The words of every song were theologically rich and deep, and Gospel-centred, and chosen with care in order to assist the congregation prepare for and respond to God’s word. Unlike most churches today, there is no screen up front displaying the lyrics. Instead, everyone is given copies of the words and music in the bulletin on the way into church. Perhaps because I’m not used to paper anymore or maybe there is some didactic phenomena that I’m unaware of, but I found that in reading the word in front of me I was considering their meaning more carefully than when I follow words projected on a white screen.

The reason for sharing this experience is mostly because I loved the CHBC’s singing so much, and we should share stories and experiences that have encouraged us. At a time when so many negative and troubling news stories are coming out of Washington DC and Capitol Hill, just around the corner, in view of that famous dome, is a 1000 people, mostly 25 years old, whose voices are reaching heaven.

How are we encouraging our congregations to sing, not the band but the people to sing and be heard and encouraging one another with the truths of God and his Gospel?

“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” (Colossians 3:16)

Matthew Merker is one of the Pastoral Assistants at CHBC and over the weeks we sang one of his hymns, ‘He will hold me fast’. I’m looking forward to introducing it to Mentone Baptist in the near future:

“When I fear my faith will fail

Christ will hold me fast

When the tempter would prevail

He will hold me fast

I could never keep my hold

Through life’s fearful path

For my love is often cold

He must hold me fast

Chorus:

He will hold me fast

He will hold me fast

For my Savior loves me so

He will hold me fast

Those He saves are His delight

Christ will hold me fast

Precious in His holy sight

He will hold me fast

He’ll not let my soul be lost

His promises shall last

Bought by Him at such a cost

He will hold me fast

CHORUS

For my life He bled and died

Christ will hold me fast

Justice has been satisfied

He will hold me fast

Raised with Him to endless life

He will hold me fast

Till our faith is turned to sight

When he comes at last

(Getty Music)

The Composition that is Manhattan

Manhattan overwhelms the visitor; there is so much to see, taste, and do, that it is impossible to gather up all the possible experiences in a short space of time.

The first time I visited Manhattan was with my  family and we spent 5 weeks here, living in an apartment on Greenwich St, in the Financial District. My current stay was a rapid 3 days, although I’ve managed to walk over 70kms through New York’s streets, avenues, and parks.

There is of course much more to New York City than the Borough of Manhattan, but this 21km Island is suffice to enthral a lifetime of imagination.

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Street where I’m staying

How might one describe this metropolis?

There is no singular way to describe Manhattan, with all of its tones and expressive pluralities. As I walk through this city different music seems to harmonise with its buildings and people, and I would find myself swapping from one composer to another, depending the mood in that neighbourhood.

For example, on the Upper West Side (where I was staying) the sounds is Verdi, on account of the Metropolitan Opera being a close walk down the street. In addition, my closest subway station opens out at Verdi Square on 72nd Street

Harlem: Prokofiev, because Harlem is vibrant, dynamic, and complex.

The Upper East Side is all elegance, class, and intellect, requiring nothing less J.S. Bach and Mozart.

Midtown resonates with the call of Gershwin – bold and brash. The opening cry of the clarinet in Rhapsody in Blue reminds me of sirens rushing through 42nd second.

Gramercy is Haydn, because Gramercy is respectable but particularly memorable, but with one exception, the beautiful Flat Iron building.

Hell’s Kitchen: John Cage’s aleotorism may sounds like a freeing concept, but in practice it’s hell.

Chelsea: Tchaikovsky, for his swirling romanticism on a grand scale and yet carrying persistent longing for fulfilment.

Greenwich Village: Schumann’s playfulness.

Tribeca: The extravagance of Mahler; although bigger and grander isn’t always better.

The Lower East Side carries with it the plot of Puccini’s La Boheme, filled with optimism and poverty, and the eagerness of young artists.

The Financial District is definitely Stravinsky, because the drubbing pace is constant and hectic.

Battery Park: Handel, because one can’t walk through this southern most region of Manhattan and not imagine the world of Great Britain in the mid 18th Century, just prior to the American Revolution.

Music and Abortion

Scientists have discovered that babies in the womb, as young as 16 weeks, respond to music by ‘dancing’.

“The foetuses responded to the music by moving their mouths or their tongues as if they wanted to speak or sing,” said one of the researchers, Marisa Lopez-Teijon. The research has been published in journal of the British Medical Ultrasound Society, Ultrasound.

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What this means is that babies’ cognitive faculties, creative faculties, and listening and communication skills are more highly developed at 16 weeks than previously thought.

The more scientists study human beings in the womb, the more wonder, beauty and complexity we discover. As scientific research advances, the findings increasingly demonstrate that embryos are not less human but fully human, and from the very earliest stages.

I am reminded of the words spoken by one excited mum, ‘As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy’ (Luke 1:44).

It was interesting to note that the article in The Australian, while sometimes referring to embryos, also addresses them as babies. The days when scientists and proabortionists justified abortion by claiming embryos were not human has long gone.

This latest research makes the reality of abortions even more appalling. It is a dreadful paradox of our society, that a child who enjoys listening to music in the womb can, on the same day, be killed in the womb.

How can we justify killing a child who in their first weeks of life is being moved by the sounds of Mozart and Bach? Not that responding to music defines their humanity but it further proves their humanity. He or she is not potential life, but is life with a mind and body that is active and alert.

Science is showing us the ignominy of our attitudes toward the unborn, but will we listen? We have longed turned deaf to the Bible’s pleas about the sanctity of life, and I suspect that we will also turn a blind eye to these amazing revelations that are being proven through empirical research.

Through music, science is affirming an ancient theological truth, embryos are people like us. But will we listen?

If you are reading this as a pregnant mum and you are questioning whether you should keep your baby, please talk to someone. We have a trained female counsellor at Mentone Baptist who is available to listen and help faye.Ludik@mentonebaptist.com.au

If you are reading this post as someone who struggles with a past decision to undergo an abortion, I want you to know that the good news of Jesus Christ means that real forgiveness and healing is promised through him. Abortion is wrong, but it is not the unforgivable sin. Again, please contact our church counsellor. If you don’t live near Mentone but are keen to find out more, please contact us and we’ll try to find a suitable church near where you live.