Daily Classics

A (work) daily dose of Classical music for the curating ear.

Danse Friday: Day 5, Movement 5 of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Listen on Spotify.

We did it! we’ve woven through all of Mahler’s complex thoughts and emotions, he finally let’s us sit back and smell the roses. This final movement works perfectly for Danse Friday in my opinion, because I’ve always imagined a barn raising party. Grab a partner and dosey doe! Happy Friday.

Day 4, Movement 4 of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Listen on Spotify.

In my humble opinion, this movement is one of the top five most beautiful things ever written. Thick with romance, It was written as a love letter from Mahler to his wife, Alma. While wrought with passion, there is a rare tenderness and vulnerability to this movement. It is also a rare example of when the climax is in fact the softest moment (6:25), not the loud, bombastic chord at the end of a drawn out crescendo we hear so often.

My college orchestra conductor described the opening perfectly. The violas have the nearly inaudible first note, and he explained, “You must play as if this note has been going on for eternity, and we’ve merely just opened the door to discover it.” From there on out you hear a tormented, complex man bare his soul completely. And it’s beautiful.

Day 3, Movement 3 of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Listen on Spotify.

Mahler has a famous quote, which is “A symphony must be like the world. It must contain everything.” He truly adheres to this, and I have to admit this movement is hard for me to break down because of its range of character. Like I said for the first movement, Mahler is constantly tapping into your emotions, and in this third movement he touches on several. I tried to break it down into checkpoints, but I simply can’t without micromanaging the narrative. As you listen, be aware that Mahler has no problem changing character on a dime, resulting in some truly brilliant moments.

PS - That’s our guy up there. 

Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 5, Movement II. Listen on Spotify.

Today we move on to the 2nd movement of Mahler’s Fifth and it’s a sinister little diddy. In my opinion there are few composers that do sinister really well and Mahler is one. I say this because even when he goes into moments of beauty he can’t help but leave something lurking and hidden in the score ready to pounce. You simply can’t trust moments of relief because they are fleeting. Remember when I said Sibelius is great at making you think you’re headed to oblivion and then proves triumphant? Mahler likes to do the exact opposite. He enjoys building you up, making you feel cocky and sure before he drags you back down.

Probably the best example I can give is towards the end of the movement. He does a minute long build up from 11:00 - 12:00, reaching the top at about 11:50, to make you feel like you’ve won at life. No more than 20 seconds later at 12:19 do the demons regroup to ultimately defeat you at 12:48. It devours you, and then quietly walks off as if nothing happened.

Buckle in. It’s time to ride.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 5, Movement I. Listen on Spotify.

I adore Mahler. This week I am so excited to walk through his 5th Symphony. The Symphony is about 1 hour, 15 minutes total so I will be breaking it up to have one movement a day for five days. Take it like your vitamins and you’ll be in top shape.

As you listen to this first of five movements, just know there is no story you have to think of. Mahler is the master of emotion, so even if he isn’t trying to tell you a story, there is probably a definite emotion he’s tapping into. Once he’s got a hold of that he will take you on his roller coaster. 

I challenge you to use your own imagery to follow along while you listen. The story will only get more exciting as we move further in the piece this week.

Danse Friday: Leonard Bernstein, Symphonic Dances from West Side Story: MAMBO! Listen on Spotify.

Happy Danse Friday! Today we have the Mambo from from West Side Story. This video and rendition is particularly special. The Orchestra featured is the Simon Bolivar Orchestra from Venezuela, a Youth Orchestra comprised of kids which mostly come from a very poor background. The program takes the kids at an early age and works them up to be some of the best musicians in the entire world. Gustavo Dudamel, the conductor, grew up in the program, became the top Orchestra’s conductor and now is the conductor of the LA Philharmonic. This video is of their encore performance at the BBC Proms concert in 2007 and as you can see, they’ve got the crowd pretty pumped.

Again, happy Friday and enjoy! See you on Monday.

Dmitri Shostakovich, Piano Concerto No. 2, Movement II. The full concerto is posted on Spotify.

Pour your coffee, stare out your window at the rain and get ready to contemplate life. I truly can’t put into words the beauty of this piece. Having listened to it several times I’ve trained myself not to immediately be deduced into tears. Your fate however if you’ve never heard this may be different. This is such a gem, sometimes hidden behind a composer’s name that is intimidating and hard to pronounce. Musicians call him Shosty for short if that helps.

What is a Concerto you ask? Simple: Music for solo instrument and orchestra. Typically there are three movements, fastish-slow-fast. This one happens to be for Piano and Orchestra.

Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 4, Movement III. The video is of the last few moments, the full movement is posted on Spotify.

I’ve said it before: I meet my maker when I play Mahler. This past March we performed Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, a piece I wasn’t terribly familiar with. Its main theme is heaven, namely a child’s perspective of heaven. It weaves through Mahler’s complex religiosity, torn between faith and doubt, but ultimately ends on the innocence of a child’s view of the unknown.

The third movement of this piece, as our conductor would say, is the emotional center. You can hear Mahler’s questioning and pleading with a God he wants to know and be real. In the final minutes, you literally hear the opening of the gates of heaven (4:11). For me, it’s the moments shortly after that demonstrates Mahler’s mastery. The theory of heaven is that it is so overwhelming, so beautiful that our minds simply cannot comprehend it. At this point in the piece (5:00-end), the image in my mind is that of a soul seeing such beauty for the first time, being at peace and one with their maker. It’s such an overwhelming moment that there are still trickles of doubt that you can hear as the movement quietly comes to an end, however it concludes serene and doubtless. Even for someone who does not believe in that ending as a reality I think it is a beautiful thought.

Danse Friday: The “Danse Sacrale” or the “Sacrificial Dance” from “Rite of Spring”, Igor Stravinsky. Listen on Spotify.

This dance technically starts at 4:14 of the video. I’ve posted Rite of Spring in it’s entirety on Spotify.

Upfront, this is not for office listening. In fact, I’m not really sure what mood you have to be in to listen to this, but it’s quite the ride so you absolutely should.

If I had to choose two words to describe Rite of Spring, I would choose primal and animalistic. It was way ahead of its time in terms of composition, so much so that at its premiere an uproar of vocal disgust drowned out most of the first part of the piece. It’s based off of Pagan rituals, this specific dance the final of 13 sections in which a maiden is sacrificed. Happy Friday ;)