Honourable mention: “O dolce mio tesoro” by Carlo Gesualdo
Aristocracy, murder, depression, self-flagellation, witch trials. This is the context of Carlo Gesualdo’s madrigals, one of the most experimental musical compositions of the Renaissance, not to be heard again until the 19th century. They are absolutely wonderful, as the voices complement each other beautifully, blending in a rich and warm sound.
3. “Nocturne no. 5 in B flat major” by John Field
In third place we have one of the most influential composers of the early Romantic period, being admired by the likes of Haydn, Chopin, Brahms, Schumann and Liszt. John Field was born in Ireland, schooled in England, performed throughout Europe but eventually settled to live in Russia, where he achieved great success and became the centre of the St. Petersburg cultural life. Although he was credited with inventing the nocturnes, he is not the father of this genre, others before him having used the term before, including Haydn. However, he did take this form and grew it, being the reason why a piano comes immediately to mind when we hear the word nocturne. Hence, Chopin was one of his most ardent admirers, so much that he felt he reached the ultimate success only when the Paris audiences said he had the touch of Field*. And he does have a very special touch, as listening to his nocturnes has a very intimate feeling to it, especially due to their sensitive melodies and delicate sounds.
2. “Miserere in C minor” by Jan Dismas Zelenka
Jan Dismas Zelenka was utterly unknown to me until now, but listening to his Miserere in C minor made me do some extensive research regarding him, so this should give you an idea of how much I enjoyed this work. He was held in high esteem by Bach, and a close friend of Telemann, being not only a successful composer but also contributing immensely to the assembly of a large inventory of Italian operas and cantata scores. His main body of work consists mostly of sacred vocal-instrumental music, distinguished through their fresh sound, complex counterpoint and technically difficult requirements from the performers, be they instrumental or vocal ones.
Miserere in C minor is no exception to all this, being in line with the style that made him one of the important names in the Baroque era. The first movement (Miserere I) starts off dramatically, keeping us in increased tension until the chorus gravely intervenes and goes into a full-on sacred chant in the second movement (Miserere II), this strong religious sound being heard again in the Gloria Patria II. The third movement has a great background music, fast and energetic, which can be spoiled by the soprano entrance, depending on her performance (hence the below two options for the Gloria Patria I). Sicut eras, the fifth movement, has a lighter atmosphere to it, the chorus is more silent while the orchestra is at the centre of things. Finally, everything ends in a symmetry, Miserere III following the same tune from the first movement in an even more dramatic performance. (Sacred | CBW06 for another Miserere by Allegri, if you liked this)
1. “Va tacito e nascosto” from “Giulio Cesare” by George Frideric Handel
And we have again an opera as the no. 1 choice of the week, from one of the greatest Baroque composers, George Handel. This is a counter tenor aria with a twist: it has a natural horn solo. Being used especially for hunting themes involving the wealthy, the horn fits right in the context of two rich and powerful characters suspecting each other of betrayal and expecting the right moment to strike:
The wise hunter seeking prey goes silently and stealthily. And he who intends evil will not wish to show the deceit in his heart .(lyrics)
Below we have a wonderful performance by Andreas Scholl, in a somewhat bizarre production of this opera, but with great acting and singing. (Amazon).
Disclaimer: This is not an exhaustive list of all the works curated by Clemency Burton-Hill in the book “Year of Wonder: Classical music for every day”. To enjoy the full catalogue of pieces proposed by the author along with her comments on the composers and the music itself, feel free to pick up her awesome book here (not affiliated, nor sponsored).