I feel very fortunate to have had so much exposure to classical music throughout my life. (I mean Western classical, per the standard usage. I’d love to learn more about non-Western classical forms!) As far as Western classical goes, what we typically call “classical” covers a spectrum from pre-1600 to the present… and within that, there’s a huge variety of instrumentation, from solo vocal to full orchestra. I lean toward vocal pieces, piano of course, and the low strings like cello and double bass, and my favorite eras are early music (pre-1600, including chants), Baroque (Bach and such), Classical (Beethoven, Brahms), and the more contemporary composers like the Impressionists (Debussy, Ravel) and people like Stravinsky. But of course it really goes case by case. I can love almost any piece if I get familiar enough with it!
Here are a few of my favorite quieter pieces.
Ravel, “Le Jardin Féerique” from Ma Mère L’Oye (“Fairy Garden” from Mother Goose Suite)
Erik likes to play this on the piano. I find it heart-wrenchingly sad — it makes me want to weep. The whole of Ma Mère L’Oye is wonderful (and not quite so sad), in both the orchestral and piano versions. I’m more familiar with the piano, but I was happy to find this orchestral version on YouTube — I love Sir Simon Rattle. We were lucky enough to hear him conducting Beethoven’s “Pastoral” once in SF (the famous one from Fantasia, with the centaurs) and that was lovely.
Copland, “Saturday Night Waltz” from Rodeo
If you lived in the US in the 90s (90s?) you will remember Rodeo‘s final movement, “Hoedown,” as the theme used in beef commercials (“it’s what’s for dinner”). I much prefer the wistfulness of “Saturday Night Waltz,” the fourth movement. It still has that sweeping Western-ness Copland was so good at, but it also manages to be quiet and introspective. This video has them both — “Saturday Night Waltz” followed by (where it starts getting loud, right around 6:00) “Hoedown.”
Vivaldi, Cello Sonata No. 4
Vivaldi is best known for his “Four Seasons” (which I also love), but I like his cello sonatas very much. And they have the benefit of being less well-known, so they don’t call to mind whatever popular commercial (or cell ringtone) has recently used “Spring”! (Or maybe I just love cello sonatas. Beethoven has some good ones too…) Baroque music always seems so contemplative to me, maybe because it grew so directly out of religious traditions. When I want something classical and thoughtful, it’s always Baroque composers I turn to… usually Bach, but sometimes Vivaldi, sometimes Corelli.
I also wanted to include, here, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson singing Mozart’s “Dans un Bois Solitaire,” but I couldn’t find it on YouTube. You can find a clip here.
I’ll have to do another post sometime on my livelier classical favorites!