Friday, January 2, 2015

January 2015 - Featured Playlist: Don't Forget to Dream Tonight!

We’ve all grown up hearing stories of fairies and fauns, of satyrs and sorcerers. Many of us have yet to lose our love for them even as adults. From the ancient tales of gods and great creatures to modern myths of hobbits and wardrobe portals, literary imagination has shaped our understanding of the world around us, and for composers, the music they dream up. As January cold settles into our bones, otherworldly stories become ever more our friends, as does the music they inspire. Let this month’s magical playlist transport you to new domains, but most importantly, Don’t Forget to Dream Tonight!

To hear the playlist, access NML as usual, go to the Playlists section, and select the Playlist of the Month folder under the Naxos Music Library Playlists tab. If you are on your institution's premises, you may also be able to access it if you CLICK HERE.

1. Boris Tchaikovsky – Andersen Fairy Tales Suite: III. The Soldier’s Sailing – While no physical relation to “that” Tchaikovsky, Boris Tchaikovsky carried the banner of the highly melodic Russian spirit into the latter half of the 20th century. A student of Shostakovich, he stuck by his officially reprimanded teacher during the post-WWII cultural purges, even being branded by Stalin’s regime as “contaminated”.

2. Felix Mendelssohn – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act V: Finale – Sixteen years after composing his A Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture, Mendelssohn incorporated it into incidental music for a production of the Shakespeare play. We’re all exceedingly familiar with the Wedding March, of course, so we’ve included here instead the magical finale.

3. Hector Berlioz – Symphonie fantastique: V. Songe d’une nuit du Sabbat – Premiering in 1830, Symphonie fantastique called for 90 musicians, the largest orchestral force ever required in-score at the time. This fifth movement, as described in Berlioz’s program notes, depicts “a witches’ Sabbath…a hideous gathering of shades, sorcerers, and monsters of every kind”. Fun stuff, yeah?

4. Edvard Grieg – Lyric Suite, Op. 54: IV. Troldtog (March of the Dwarfs) – Grieg composed his Lyric Suite for piano in 1891, but in 1905 he revised orchestral arrangements by Anton Seidl, the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, of three of the movements and arranged a fourth on his own. These make up the orchestral suite that became one of Grieg’s best-known works.

5. David Popper – Elfentanz, Op. 39 – David Popper is best known for his contributions to cello literature, having composed a significant body of showpieces and études for the instrument. His wickedly challenging Dance of the Elves is an opportunity for virtuoso cellists to show off their chops, as Gavriel Lipkind does here.

6. Josef Suk – Pohádka (Fairy Tale), Op. 16: II. Intermezzo: Hra na labute a pávy – Violinist Josef Suk was a student and close friend of Dvořák, even marrying his daughter Otilie. His music owed much to Dvořák’s influence, and he later became known as one of the leaders of Czech Modernism. Pohádka (Fairy Tale) remains one of his best-known compositions.

7. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), Act II: Papagena! Papagena! – Mozart’s timeless Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) was an instant success in its day, needing only 14 months to reach its 100th performance. Its immediate success certainly brought some joy to Mozart’s final days, as he would pass away only two months after the premiere.

8. Howard Hanson – Nymphs and Satyr: III. Scherzo for Bassoon and Chamber Orchestra – As director of the Eastman School of Music for forty years, Hanson built the program into one of the most prestigious music schools in the United States. Known as a tireless champion of American art music, he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1944 for his Symphony No. 4, “Requiem”.

9. Cécile Chaminade – Pas des sylphes: Intermezzo – It was said of Chaminade, the first female composer to win France’s highest award, the Légion d’Honneur, that she was “not a woman who composes, but a composer who is a woman.” She was a remarkable composer of light piano and vocal music especially, and she found great popularity in both France and the United States.

10. Dimitris Fampas – Suite No. 4, “Greek Suite”: I. The Country of Centaurs – Dimitris Fampas was a successful guitarist, studying at two different times with none other than Andrés Segovia. He composed quite a bit of music for the instrument, much of which has joined the repertoire. Though his career spanned the globe, his compositional style remained faithful to his Greek heritage.

11. John Abraham Fisher – The Syrens, Overture: I. Allegro – John Abraham Fisher was best known as a violinist noted for his skill and energy; in fact, he made such a show of enjoying his performances that he sometimes offended his critics. As a composer, he is remembered for his violin works, art songs, and theatrical compositions, such as the one featured here.

12. Johan De Meij – Symphony No. 1, “The Lord of the Rings”: V. Hobbits – Johan De Meij’s Symphony No. 1 was premiered in 1988, its five movements named after characters or places in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The fifth movement represents the hobbits, its music pastoral and playful in turn, ending at last in quiet resignation to represent Frodo’s departure at the end of the trilogy.

13. Elliott Carter – The Minotaur, Scene 2: Before the Labyrinth: Ariadne, princess of Crete, dances with Theseus, a Greek victim – Elliott Carter was a prolific composer, and he didn’t slow down at any point, publishing 40 pieces after the age of 90 and composing 20 more after the age of 100. His ballet The Minotaur was composed relatively early in his career, a fine look into the development of a composer who’d go on to win two Pulitzers.

14. Robert Schumann – Märchenbilder (Fairy Tales), Op. 113: III. Rasch – Robert Schumann didn’t give much detail about the story behind his Märchenbilder, but its third movement is said to depict a scene of Rumpelstiltskin dancing with fairies. Whatever story one hears in it, it certainly makes for a lovely showpiece for the viola.

15. Amy Beach – Caprice, The Water Sprites – Amy Beach was a true prodigy, able to repeat melodies at only a year old and vamping on the piano at age four. While her parents put her in piano lessons by the age of six, she was only granted one year of formal composition studies. Despite being largely self-taught, she went on to be the first female American composer to achieve widespread acceptance.

16. Gian Carlo Menotti – The Unicorn, the Gorgon, and the Manticore: The March to the Castle – A two-time Pulitzer winner, Menotti’s partner was Samuel Barber, also owner of a pair of Pulitzers. Talk about a musical power couple! Composed in 1956 and based on the 16th-century Italian madrigal comedy genre, The Unicorn, the Gorgon, and the Manticore is comprised of a prelude, twelve madrigals, and six instrumental interludes.

17. Hugo Alfvén – Bergakungen (The Mountain King) Suite, Op. 37: II. Trollflickans dans (Sorceress’s Dance) – Late-Romantic composer Hugo Alfvén is one of the most significant Swedish composers of his time, yet he almost went for a career in painting instead. Besides being a gifted watercolorist, he was also an excellent writer, penning a four-volume autobiography that paints a vivid picture of the Swedish music scene of his day.

18. Edward Elgar – The Starlight Express, Op. 78, Act II Scene 1: The Sun Has Gone – The Starlight Express was a children’s musical play based on the novel A Prisoner in Fairyland by Algernon Blackwood. While Elgar’s music was highly praised, the original theatrical run fell victim to poor production and inappropriate design. Fortunately for us, the music remains enchanting, its narrator reminding us, “Don’t forget to dream tonight!”

Each month, Naxos Music Library presents a themed playlist for our subscribers to enjoy. We know that a database of over 1.5 million tracks can be a bit daunting, so we'd like to highlight some of the amazing music that is available to you. Let it kickstart discovery!