Beethoven – Fifth Symphony – Fourth Movement

Probably the most famous piece of classical music ever written, Beethoven’s Fifth in Cm is a fitting tribute and memorial to our greatest ever composer. Premiered in December 1808, the fifth has been mostly remembered outside of classical circles for its five dramatic opening bars, but listening to the complete work gives us the measure of the man and the music.

The fourth movement (Allegro) gets less attention (possibly because it’s at the end of the recordings?!) but I firmly believe that we don’t find an equal to the triumphant declaration of our own humanity until Beethoven himself provides the choral finale in the ninth or the orchestral smashing up of the stage in Tchaikovsky’s 1812.

These are the moments that we listen to music for. Kurt screaming “A Denial”, Punk trying to fight the audience, Metal kids crying at emotional overdose, Funk, Blues, Jazz, Folk, they all have them and it’s our job to recognise and document them.

Hear the fourth of the fifth here (and the 1812 here) (and Nirvana here (full here)) (and Fatboy Slim here)

Rossini – William Tell Overture

Gioachino Rossini’s opera “William Tell” was completed and first performed in Paris in 1829 and has become one of the world’s most recognisable pieces of music. This “Ranz des Vaches” section of the overture is delightful in its simplicity and provides a splendid contrast to the strident finale which follows.

These filigree scalar lines played by the flute would normally exasperate me in being too obviously decorative but the cor anglais supplies the perfect foil with its smooth legato lines and purity of tone.

Hear it here.

Steve Reich – Vermont Counterpoint

I’ve selected this piece as it very neatly displays the contrasting ranges available to the flute family. The alto comes in at around 2:55 and 5:05 and one can immediately hear the more definite and solid bottom end provided by the longer, wider instrument.

The work itself is another fine example of Reich exploring repetition and texture and the results make for compelling listening as the purity of the flute tones allow the listener to separate the layers in the resultant confection of sound.

Hear the piece here.

Get the score from here.

John Coltrane – Giant Steps

In Giant Steps John Coltrane lays down some fairly solid rules with the progression allowing the band to move around the idea and play with improvisation. This simply wouldn’t have been possible if the structure of the track was improvised or allowed to wander. We must have the foundation of form to allow the freedom.

The “Giant Steps” of the title refer to the intervals of the progression itself, and the mastery of “Coltrane Changes” in Jazz Standards has become a requirement in the Jazz musician’s arsenal.

I’m not a fan of Jazz (although I’m working on it) but after a few listens to this track and reading some explanations of how he went about composing the piece I can appreciate that this is serious stuff and worthy of further exploration. The accuracy of the Sax playing is extraordinary and the band do well to keep up and provide constructive content.

Hear the track here.
Read an in-depth explanation of Coltrane Changes here (PDF).

Philip Glass – Koyaanisqatsi

I’ve mentioned Koyaanisqatsi in a previous post but decided to cover it again here as it exemplifies many of the points that have made minimalism a success in an arena where many modern musical genres have failed or withered into insignificance; a continued popularity, a renaissance of tonality and a crossover into popular culture via the alternative media of cinema.

Glass’ application of orchestral textures alongside the organ and choir provide a moving testament to the vitality of modern classical music. An orchestra doesn’t have to be buried in the sensibilities of 19th Century composition to be justified, and this music really is of our time. Although not in movements in the traditional sense, appearing as tracks on a CD, the music has a definite purpose and progresses as we move through it, evoking an imagery worthy of a tone poem.

I find the whole composition both refreshing and somewhat intimidating in its execution, this isn’t music to be taken lightly and although I’m relatively new to the genre I can’t help but feel that this is a piece that I’ll be returning to for many years to come, finding unexplored corners of the work with each repeated performance.