Music Favorites

Some Favorite Composers and Works 

J. S. Bach 


A. Berg 


F. Martin 

This is not the place to find Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Vivaldi, etc., because they're well-represented by most music-lovers. But it won't be solely 20th-century works either, because I'll start with ... 

Johann Sebastian Bach
The supreme master, the pinnacle of Western music. Whether it's some of the longest melodies ever written, or complex fugues, his music satisfies the ear and the soul like no other. That makes it too hard to name favorites: some days it's organ music, on others it's cantatas, some days it's orchestral music, on yet others...... 

But in the Cantata BWV 82, "Ich habe genug", there is one change I would make and, with the CD player, do make: the aria "Schlummert ein" is such a long and beautiful, calm and peaceful, melody that I would much rather have the cantata end with that than to go on to the final recitative and aria. 

Some time during the mid-'60s, Karl Richter brought his Munich Bach Choir and Orchestra to New York. During one fabulous week, I got to hear the St. Matthew Passion, St. John Passion, B-minor Mass, and Christmas Oratorio, all for the first time. What an indescribable experience! The original-instruments movement has made Karl Richter's style unfashionable, but I still listen fondly to his recordings. 

Another incredible recording made before the lean original-instruments sound is the St. Matthew Passion by as conducted by Otto Klemperer with a stellar cast of soloists. 

Then, some years ago, I was able see the plaque that marks Bach's burial place inside the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, an event as stirring as any pilgrimage.

Alban Berg: Violin Concerto; Operas (Wozzeck, Lulu)
Historically linked with Schoenberg and Webern as a 12-tone composer, Berg wrote the most lyrical and human works of the three. The Violin Concerto has been my consistent vehicle, since the '60s, for trying to persuade others to the beauties of some 12-tone music.

I would also call Wozzeck the greatest opera ever; it's the perfect vehicle for Georg Büchner's stirring play Woyzeck. 
Arnold Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire; Verklärte Nacht
Schoenberg has a key place in the history of music, but I find most of his music hard to digest and emotionally uninvolving, except for Pierrot Lunaire. It's one of the great masterpieces of the 20th century. In my favorite recording, with Jan DeGaetani on Nonesuch, she makes the music lyrical as no one else has.
Frank Martin (1890-1974): Requiem; Le Vin Herbé; Petite Symphonie concertante; Golgotha; Der Cornet; the Ballades; ....
A real personal favorite, a Swiss composer who is not as well known as he deserves to be. Wonderful use of the harpsichord as a 20th century instrument. 

Der Cornet (actually "Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke") is based on poetry by Rainer Maria Rilke. 

There's a fine web site devoted to the life and works of Frank Martin .
Olivier Messiaen: Organ music; Quatuor pour le fin de temps; Turangalila symphony; Vingt regards sur l'enfant Jesus; Opera (St. François d'Asisse); ....
Imbued by strong Catholic religiosity and a love of birdsong, Messiaen wrote music in his own harmonic style, unaffected by musical fashion.
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736): Stabat Mater
A hauntingly lovely work by a composer who died far too young.
Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713): Concerti Grossi, op. 6
Although too many baroque composers leave me uninterested, there is something about more substantial in Corelli's concerti.
Bela Bartok: String Quartets; Opera (Bluebeard's Castle); ...
The string quartets belong in the top rank of the genre
Benjamin Britten: War Requiem; Parables (Curlew River; The Burning Fiery Furnace; The Prodigal Son); Spring Symphony; Operas (Peter Grimes, Billy Budd, Turn of the Screw)
Dmitri Shostakovich: Late symphonies; Quartets; Opera (Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk)
The string quartets in particular are soul-searing
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection); Symphonies No. 5, 6, 7; Das Lied von der Erde; Lieder
The recording of the Resurrection Symphony by Otto Klemperer is absolutely outstanding.
Franz Schubert: Lieder and Lieder cycles; Piano works (Sonatas and Impromptus); Chamber music
Inventive modulation keeps his melodic inventiveness fresh in the ear and the mind.
Hugo Wolf: Lieder and Lieder Cycles (Italienisches Lieberbuch, Spanisches Liederbuch)
A master of the lied, with song and piano as equal partners
Richard Strauss: Don Quixote; Till Eulenspiegels Lustige Streiche; Also Sprach Zarathustra; Death and Transfiguration; Operas (Elektra; Salome; Der Rosenkavalier; Die Frau ohne Schatten)
A master of orchestration; the tone poems are wonderful.
Udo Zimmermann: Die Weiße Rose
An affecting portrait of the Scholl siblings, who were the leaders of a university movement against the Nazis, and who became martyrs to their cause.
Eric Satie: Piano music, including "Vexations"
Satie's piano music is a delight to hear and play, most of it being at a slow tempo accessible to the beginner, for example, the three Gymnopédies. 

Vexations is a bizarre piece which, by the composers instructions, is to be played 840 times successively. To hear a single iteration, click
 here. To hear a musical sample played continuously, click on Vexations LoopThere's also a detailed Wikipedia entry on Vexations.

Francis Poulenc: Piano Music; Opera (Dialogues of the Carmelites)

Updated September 24, 2015