Gregorian Chant: Ut queant laxis
Exactly how old is Gregorian chant? So old that it is literally the source of all European classical music following its invention. Before Gregorian chant, which began to crop up in monasteries around 600 AD, it was widely believed that music was simply impossible to notate. It’s thanks to chant that modern-day musicians can glance at lines and dots on a page and make wonderful music.
Gregorian Chant: Ut queant laxis
Heitor Villa-Lobos: Bachiana Brasileira No.5
Sometimes, music says it best when it says nothing at all. Such is the case in Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Bachiana Brasileira No. 5,” which calls for a soprano soloist to sing an entire aria on the sound “ah.” Who knew so few words could evoke such strong emotion?
Carl Maria von Weber: Hungarian Fantasy, Op.35 J.158
The bassoon is a soulful, humble instrument. It seems to have found its niche buried in the back of the orchestra, and it is often the butt of jokes: it was once said the bassoon is nothing more than a bedpost with indigestion! So it’s a pleasant surprise to hear seldom-composed bassoon solos like this one.
Christian Sinding: A Rustle of Spring, Op.32/3
Brahms, Mendelssohn, Grieg and Schubert wrote a whole bunch of “Intermezzos,” but when it came time to score the 1936 Ingrid Bergman film “Intermezzo,” Hollywood chose none of these old standbys. Instead, they chose “A Rustle of Spring” from the obscure Norwegian composer Christian Sinding, launching him into unexpected fame.
Franz Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 in C-sharp minor
Bugs Bunny played it. So did Tom and Jerry. But few actual humans can tackle this beloved masterpiece. Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No.2” is widely considered to be one of the most difficult piano pieces in existence. So you can imagine how impressed audiences were in the 1800s when Franz Liszt would whip off his white gloves, toss the sheet music over his head, and fervently hit every single note from memory. The ladies went wild, and so began an era of what was called Lisztomania.
Fanny Mendelssohn: Song Without Words, Op.8/3
It’s said that Felix Mendelssohn’s sister, Fanny, served as the inspiration for his series of short, lyrical piano pieces called “Songs Without Words.” Fanny herself wrote a few similar pieces, one of which can be heard here.
Edward Elgar: Salut d’amour, Op.12
Why do certain pieces of music stir the soul, warm the heart and start up the tear ducts? Perhaps it’s a certain association, a tender memory or just a moment of vulnerability. We just can’t explain it! Elgar’s “Salut d’amour” is one such tear-jerker for our announcer, Lisa Bergman. What classical pieces get you all sentimental? Let us know on our Facebook page.
Leroy Anderson: The Typewriter
What is an instrument, anyway? In a typical symphonic piece, you’ll probably hear strings, winds and brass. But composer Leroy Anderson loved to use ticking clocks, sleigh bells and more in the orchestra to subvert audiences’ expectations. One of Anderson’s biggest instrumental surprises was a typewriter, heard here.
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Romance
A musical “Romance” might evoke scenes of an English countryside, complete with sheep, rolling hills, a sunrise and…a harmonica?! Only a genius composer such as the English Ralph Vaughan Williams could take the ol’ Mississippi Saxophone and make it sound downright pastoral!
Chopin: Fantasie-Impromptu in C-sharp minor, Op.66
When legendary pianist Vladimir Horowitz, heard here, played a comeback concert in New York, 57th Street was lined with hordes of fans hoping to score a ticket. When Horowitz heard about the crowd waiting outside in the cold, he immediately ordered hundreds of cups of coffee to thank them for their undying support!