3. French Suite no. 5 in G major, BWV 816 by Johann Sebastian Bach
This is the fifth French suite written by Bach for harpsichord in the 1720s’. Their purpose was for teaching, being practice pieces which have some complexity without being over demanding at the same time. This is most likely the reason why they were never published by Bach, keeping them for his private use as they weren’t particularly intricate or meaningful enough to present them at court. Nevertheless, they survive due to the many copies his students made of them and we can now enjoy these little jewels of music. My particular favourites are II. Courante, V. Bourree and VII. Gigue.
2. Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) by Igor Stravinsky
The Rite of Spring is one of the most experimental, riot inducing and influential works in the classical world – the famous ballet and orchestral concert composed by Igor Stravinsky in 1913 which caused upheaval at its premiere in Paris. The people were overwhelmed by what they heard and saw, rising in protest against the novelty of the music and choreography. Music historians believe it had the effect of an explosion that so scattered the elements of musical language that they could never again be put together as before. In Stravinsky’s own words, this work represents pagan Russia … unified by a single idea: the mystery and great surge of the creative power of Spring, illustrating primitive rituals and capturing the sacrifice of a young girl who’s dancing herself to death. The sound is raw, infused with unrestrained passion, inducing a disquieting sentiment while depicting the violence of creation and life. Taking all this background into consideration, it’s not an easy piece to swallow, not at a first hearing at least. It took four auditions for me to get into this work, and I’ve only warmed up to the first half of it. (recommendations of good recordings here).
1. Symphony no. 3 in C minor, op. 78 (“Organ”) by Camille Saint-Saens
The only other thing I’ve listened to by Camille Saint-Saens was the Le Carnival des animaux, a set of miniatures that he composed while procrastinating to write this magnificent symphony. Once he finished it, he declared this to be his ultimate piece of work: I gave everything to it I was able to give. What I have here accomplished, I will never achieve again, and I have to agree. This was love at first hearing. It pulled me in instantly (well, about one minute in), it swirled me around, took me on an adventurous trip, plunged me into a fairy tale land trickled with portions of calm and serenity only to end it all in a frenzy. The overall feeling of the entire thing is an exciting blend of glamour, wideness, rush, emergency and playfulness. It’s nicknamed the Organ symphony even though only two sections out of four are using it. Despite its brief presence though, it has a noticeable impact on the work and it’s an important draw in element into the world Saint-Saens creates here, himself a praised organist and pianist, among many other interests: astronomy, archaeology, playwriting, existential philosophy, literature, painting, theatre, travel. He was an all-round educated and cultured man, who nevertheless couldn’t quite manage to acquire that final something by which a talented creator becomes an immortal one according to the critics. He composed well written music but without imprinting on it a new, original style. However, this symphony is one of his most acclaimed works and a truly rattling and entertaining piece of music for you to enjoy. Here you can find a detailed comment on the work and its composer, alongside with various recording reviews, out of which I picked the Charles Munch and Paul Paray ones.
IDAGIO for: Paul Paray, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Marcel Dupré (Organ)
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).