3. “Khovanshchina” Prelude: Dawn over the Moscow River by Modest Mussorgsky
What’s more fitting to start the day with than the image of a river at dawn? This work is the prelude to the Khovanshchina opera by Modest Mussorgsky, which sets to music the events surrounding the Moscow Uprising of 1682, in which Prince Ivan Khovansky rebelled against his sister, the regent Sofia Alekseyevna, the first woman to rule Russia. The opera was never finished, as Mussorgsky died of alcohol poisoning before that, but it was revised in 1959 by Dmitri Shostakovich and his version is the one usually performed today. However, this prelude was composed and finalized in 1874 by Mussorgsky, describing it as “depicting dawn over the Moscow River, matins at cock crow, the patrol, and the taking down of the chains (on the city gates).” A mix of lyrical and folk melodies, with a sense of impending doom mixed in by the third minute, this is a beautiful pastoral setting, with an idyllic soft and delicate ending that perfectly captures the birth of a new day.
2. “Stabat mater” by Antonio Vivaldi
A 13th-century Christian hymn to Mary, portraying her suffering over the crucifixion of her son, Jesus Christ, was not something I had on my to listen bucket list. Then again, we’re talking about a baroque setting by Vivaldi and a fabulous interpretation by Andreas Scholl, a combination which will almost always grab my attention and compel me to listen. Which I did, and I very much liked what I was hearing, my favourite parts being: Stabat Mater, Quis est homo, Quis non posset and Fac ut ardeat. This is a much better description of the work than what I could ever come up with: “The Vivaldi Stabat Mater is bleak and stark, but within its stillness lies rapt concentration and a sustained mood of spiritual fervor. It has no truly fast movements to speak of, although O quam tristis (and its corresponding Pro peccatis) moves a bit faster than the rest. This is a Vivaldi of monochromatic, monotonal reserve, almost Stravinskian in his relentless economy of means, allowing neither a wasted note nor unnecessary gesture” and these are the lyrics I would recommend following for the first couple of listenings.
1. “Tornami a vagheggiar” from “Alcina” by George Frideric Handel
Opera, baroque and Handel: three ingredients that make this work steal the no. 1 choice of the week. I have yet to listen to something by Handel and not love it. This aria is no exception, as I had it on repeat for several days. I find it intoxicating with its liveliness and exuberant vibe, a real mood buster. I couldn’t decide between the interpretations of Karina Gauvin and Sonya Yoncheva, so I’ve kept them both here. My only caveat is that I prefer the version from the IDAGIO app, as the rhythm is slightly more animated than the Youtube ones.
Tornami a vagheggiar, Return to me to languish,
te solo vuol' amar Only you it wants to love
quest' anima fedel, this faithful heart,
caro, mio bene, caro! My dear, my good one, my dear!
Già ti donai il mio cor : Already I gave you my heart :
fido sarà il mio amor; I trust you will be my love;
mai ti sarò crudel, but you will be too cruel,
cara mia spene. my dear hope.
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).