On my playlist: energetic classical

I said after my last post on quiet classical pieces that I would do another one on lively classical. As with “quiet,” of course, “lively” runs the gamut — this time from mildly energetic to out-and-out fiery. The five I’m sharing here lean toward the fast and furious, just because… fast is fun!

Vivaldi, “Summer,” Part 3: Presto, from The Four Seasons

I know The Four Seasons is overdone, but this fast movement really is one of my very favorites when it comes to active classical. Presto is a tempo (speed) marking that means “very fast,” and I just find the combination of violin and Vivaldi and breakneck speed thoroughly exhilarating.

Beethoven, Piano Sonata Op. 31, No. 2 “Tempest,” Movement 1

I could never do a sampler of vivid, emotional classical without at least a nod to Beethoven. I think my all-time favorite composers are Bach, Beethoven, Ravel, and Debussy — if I could never listen to anything else in my entire life, but I had those four, I think I’d be covered. Beethoven’s piano pieces are very dear to my heart because of how much I enjoyed playing his (many) sonatas as a student. When you live with a piece of music day in and day out, having to suit it to your every mood (or suit yourself to its every mood), it becomes a part of you. Bach is my go-to for contemplation, but I can play Beethoven no matter what I’m feeling, so in that sense I even love him more. When I remember playing Beethoven, it’s this movement of this sonata I’m thinking of. Listening to it now brings years of music, years of my life, rolling through my memory like graceful fingers over the keys.

Sibelius, Violin Concerto in D Minor, Movement 3: Allegro Ma Non Tanto (fast, but not too fast)

I learned of this piece when I saw Julia Fischer perform it with the SF Symphony. It’s become one of my favorites; I have two separate versions on CD, including one by Perlman (who’s in this video). Those opening bars practically give me goosebumps.

Prokofiev, Piano Sonata No. 7, Movement 3: Precipitato

I never got good enough at piano to be able to play this sonata — or perhaps it’s just as accurate to say that by the time I discovered it, I was no longer able to put in the kind of intensive practice such a piece necessitates. The first and second movements are fabulous too, but this one always blows me away (as I’m sure it’s designed to; what a showpiece!).

Bartók, String Quartet No. 5, Movement 1

Bartók’s interpretations of folk tunes are lovely and accessible, but his string quartets are not for everyone. I remember going to a student concert with a friend, during college, where they performed one of the quartets. Afterward I breathed to her, “That was transcendent,” and she laughed shortly and remarked, “That’s one way to describe it!” They’re dissonant par excellence, which can be grating — even I can’t bear to listen to them when I want something restful (that’s what Baroque cello sonatas are for!) — but when I’m in the right mood, I like to just let myself fall into the strange space all that dissonance is creating.

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