Tag Archives: The Imaginative Conservative

Classical Girl’s Top 10 [and then some] violin concertos

Violin Concerto CD               

The violin concerto repertoire is so rich and satisfying, I’m embarrassed to admit that, prior to becoming an adult beginner on the violin in 2005, I was only familiar with a few of them. This, from a self-proclaimed classical music fanatic. Whoops.

But maybe that’s you, too. Now, I know some of my readers are violin peeps and this list of top violin concertos will not produce any surprises, but I have a hunch there are plenty of you out there, more ballet-oriented, who are more familiar with piano repertoire. Or maybe you’re a newcomer to classical music in general. This is the list for you.

One thing I should add. Most of these hail from the Romantic Era and beyond. You therefore won’t see works before 1806, before Beethoven’s opus burst forth, eras that would include concertos by Mozart (five of them, written in his late teens), Vivaldi (something like 230) Bach (two for solo violin, one for two violins). Also I didn’t include Paganini (who wrote six) who, like Beethoven, sort of straddled the Classical and Romantic Era.

So, without further ado, here are my personal faves, in no particular order. If the composer has more than one violin concerto, I’ve highlighted the one I prefer. If you click on the composer’s name, it will bring you to a YouTube link of the concerto.

The Classical Girl

Classical Girl’s Top 10 [and then some] violin concertos

  1. Tchaikovsky (in D major, Op. 35, 1878)
  2. Brahms (in D major, Op. 77, 1878)
  3. Sibelius (in D minor, Op. 47, 1905 – A staggering piece of work – my blog + link HERE)
  4. Bruch (No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26, 1867; No. 2 in D minor, Op. 44, 1878; No. 3 in D minor, Op. 58, 1891 – and all three are worthy! Blogged about Bruch HERE)
  5. Korngold (in D major, Op. 35, 1945)
  6. Beethoven (in D major, Op. 61, 1806 – Note to self: blog about this one SOON)
  7. Barber (Op. 14, 1939)
  8. Saint-Saëns (No. 3 in B minor; his No. 1 and No. 2 aren’t often performed)
  9. Mendelssohn (in E minor, Op. 64, 1845)

And this is where it gets very tricky, because there are SO many wonderful violin concertos still, so here are ten contenders for my 10th spot:

  1. Shostakovich (No. 1 in A minor, Op. 77, 1955; No. 2 in C sharp minor, Op. 129, 1967)
  2. Britten (Op. 15, 1939)
  3. Dohnányi (No. 1 in D minor, Op. 27, 1915: No. 2 in C minor, Op. 43, 1950)
  4. Bartok (No. 1, BB 48a, 1908, but published posthumously, 1956; No. 2, BB 117, 1938)
  5. Dvorák (in A minor, Op. 53, 1879)
  6. Wieniawski (No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 1853; No. 2 in D minor, Op. 22, 1862
  7. Goldmark (No. 1 in A minor, Op. 28, 1877; he composed a No. 2 that was never published)
  8. Berg (Written in twelve-tone, Op. ?, 1935)
  9. Prokofiev (No. 1 in D major, Op. 18, 1923; No. 2 in G minor, Op. 63, 1935.
  10. Schumann (in D minor, published posthumously) The Stravinsky VC really belongs here but I am sentimental about the Schumann and its otherworldly story – I blogged about it HERE

And yes, I know, you violin peeps are sitting up now, exclaiming, “Wait! No Lalo? No Viotti? No Khachaturian or Elgar?” Glazunov. Hindemith. Ligeti. Nielsen. Szymanowski. Previn. Walton. And Vieuxtemps certainly deserves to be on the list; he wrote a whopping seven violin concertos. And then there are the hard-on-the-ear but well respected concertos that deserve a mention, like the Schoenberg, the Schuman (note, spelled with only one “n,” an important differentiation to recognize). Berg’s concerto, while atonal, somehow manages to conjure something beautifully expressive and bittersweet – no small feat!

And STILL there are more. That’s the fun thing about really getting to know the violin concerto repertoire, and the violin repertoire in general. There are always more treasures to discover.

Give each one a listen and let me know which one is your favorite. As for me, if I had to be stranded on a desert island with a CD player [and somehow, magically, a lifetime supply of batteries] and only three concertos, I think it would have to be the Sibelius, Brahms and Mendelssohn. Yikes. Tough choices. Maybe the Beethoven would have to switch out one of the latter two. With the Tchaikovsky next in line. Only please don’t make me choose.

I could tell a story about each and every one of these concertos and/or their composer’s creative journey, but that would make for a hell of a long blog. Instead I’ll give each one its own blog, at which time I’ll return here and leave the link. In the meantime, here are a few blogs I enjoyed reading that offer great details on their own Top 10 picks (you’ll see a lot of similarities).

  • Stephen Klugewicz at The Imaginative Conservative HERE.
  • Gramophone UK HERE

10 Spooky classical faves for Halloween

images-230

It’s Halloween, and you’re looking for that perfect spooky Halloween music that’s a little more sophisticated than “The Monster Mash” and “Thriller” and “Werewolves of London.” Look no further, friends. I’ve done my own hopping around over the past two days to see what others consider to be their Top 10 classical spooky faves. My list is a little different; some are deliciously spooky, or quirky, or even just in a minor key, but they all are still melodic and easy to listen to. What didn’t make my list are the kind of pieces you might find in horror films, with jarring dissonances and icky, creepy, in the house alone at night, what-was-that-noise-and-don’t-turn-around-right-now-whatever-you-do music. If you are looking for that, cool, go to the bottom of this blog and I will share others’ suggestions and links to others’ sites.

Here’s my list. Click on the title to go to the link unless otherwise specified.

  1. Paul Dukas, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (link below)
  2. Camille Saint Saens, Danse Macabre 
  3. Jean Sibelius, The Tempest, Act II, particularly “The Oak Tree” and “Caliban” (link below)
  4. JS Bach, “Toccata and Fugue in D-minor” 
  5. Saint Saens, Symphony no. 3, first movement 
  6. Carl Orff, Carmina Burana “O Fortuna” 
  7. Prokofiev, Romeo and Juliet “The Montagues and Capulets”  (or “The Dance of the Knights”)
  8. Modest Mussorgsky, Night on Bald Mountain  (Also known as Night on the Bare Mountain.)
  9. Sergei Rachmaninov “The Isle of the Dead” 
  10. Joseph Suk, “Scherzo Fantastique,” op. 25 (link below)

images-229

A few comments on some of these. I’ll start with #10, Joseph Suk’s “Scherzo Fantastique,” op. 25, which is not tenth on the list because it’s my 10th favorite. Far from it. Suk’s piece isn’t dark, really, but it’s so delicious. There is both sweetness and sorrow in it. Classical music factoid: Suk was Dvorák’s son-in-law. Story has it, however, that Suk’s wife, Dvorák’s daughter, died early in their happy marriage, and the grieving Suk (his father-in-law had recently died too) composed this in her memory, incorporating a folk tune she used to love. It’s not a complicated piece, and the key melody repeats frequently, but it’s such a infectiously delightful repetition. I just love it. So, if you like your spooky music to be on the cheerier side, check this one out. A lot of classical music fans, upon hearing this for the first time, are just agog that it’s been around all this time and they’d never heard it.

Several pieces on my list you might have heard before, but not known by name. Orff’s “O Fortuna” is in a lot of commercials; it’s strikingly theatrical and intense, very Wagnerian. Night on Bald Mountain, too, has a distinctive, memorable motif it keeps returning to, which, in the end, makes it kind of a cliché for “scary moment” scenes over the years. Give it a listen for 20 seconds and you’ll nod and say “got it.”

Night on Bald Mountain is particularly famous, as is Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, for being part of Disney’s Fantasia. I guess JS Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D-minor is also part of the movie, as well. What a great movie, really. Here’s a trip down memory lane for many of us:  Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. (PS: the introduction is in Spanish; it’s brief, don’t fret. You don’t have the wrong embed.)

I’m a big fan of Sibelius and Saint Saens and really, you can’t go wrong with any of their music. Although the two composers don’t sound anything alike, they both seem to imbue their music with a distinct character, flavor, personality. Like Grieg and Dvoràk, you hear their music and even if you’re not familiar with that piece, you can guess the composer. Saint Saens delivers a flirtation with the otherworld (maybe even the occult) that is so deliciously Halloween-y. And Sibelius is a Finnish composer (Finland’s pride and joy, for good reason), who lived in a region that is dark and cold much of the year. His music carries a brooding power that leaves room still for folkloric whimsy, and boy, do I love the melding of the two. Here’s the link to Act II of The Tempest that I promised. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLHtjlre01E  (It starts with “The Oak Tree,” which is great, and so is “Miranda,” at around 17 minutes. Be on the lookout for “Caliban,” too. Gorgeous visuals on this YouTube.)

And of course, Sibelius’ violin concerto just screams “October” and deliciously fragile, wintery nocturne. It’s got its own blog you can find here: http://wp.me/p3k7ov-y3

All right. That’s my list, and like I promised, here are “scarier” classical tunes for you, below, and a few links to other great articles and lists. Enjoy! And Happy Halloween to you. Hope you have a perfectly spooky evening at whatever level of pathos and evil you so desire.

images-228

Scarier Halloween Classics …

  • Bela Bartòk, Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta
  • Franz List, Totentanz
  • Hector Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique
  • Joseph Ligeti, Atmosphère

Here’s a great list/blog for scary classical music by Limelight Magazine: http://www.limelightmagazine.com.au/features/13-scariest-pieces-classical-music-halloween

Here’s Stephen Klugewicz’ list from The Imaginative Conservative: http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/10/classical-music-pieces-for-halloween.html

Great article about horror in classical music: http://www.mfiles.co.uk/horror-in-music.htm

And in case you’re in the mood to play the Halloween music yourself with instantly downloadable sheet music, check out Virtual Sheet Music’s collection of classical Halloween tunes HERE. Best of all, it’s FREE!