My top 10: How many works are outstanding enough to become obvious parts of a "top N"?
20th Century Music: selected works and discography
Lost cases: works still awaiting for the celebrity they should get...
Well... it is far from being full, but I think many other works
could be placed after the list above. In fact, these preffered
works are so unreachable that the other ones cannot be placed
too close to them.
My preffered aspect in this composer's work is the way he creates new, fascinating worlds. If you don't know him yet, begin with the music for strings or the 2nd piano concerto.
Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. F. Fricsay, DG (1CD)
Piano Concertos. F. Fricsay, G. Anda, DG (1CD)
Sonata for 2 pianos and percussions. M. Argerich, N. Freire, Philips (2CD)
Complete String Quartets. Tokyo Quartet, DG (3CD)
This composer brings a question: can a composer write the best string quartet, violin concerto and opera of his century... I am affraid the answer is yes! There are many beautiful works of these styles by other composers (e.g. Bartok, Schostakovich, Britten...), but to me, Berg remains the most important.
Lulu (complete). P. Boulez, Orchestre de l'Opéra de Paris, DG (3CD).
Wozzeck (complete). H. Kegel, Rundfunkorchester Leipsig, Berlin (2CD)Well, I had to talk about this one, hadn't I?
Lyric Suite, for string quartet. LaSalle Quartet, DG (4CD, part of a "New Vienese School" must-have set).
This composer directed most of his work towards the voice in general. Some works are very spectaculer (Sequenza), or quite experimental (Laborintus II), but I kept my favorite one here:
Sinfonia P. Boulez, London Symphony Orchestra, Erato (1 CD). The middle movement is an incredible summary of our century's music, from Ravel and Debussy to Berg, Boulez, Pousseur and others, mixed inside the 3rd movement of Mahler's 2nd symphony. Really interesting, far away from the "listing" it could have been, and needing to pay attention to every detail, since each bar is a reference to another work. Exciting and funny!
Theodor W. Adorno wrote very nasty things about Britten and Schostakovich, and their "taste for bad taste" and "bad education". I don't think this is the best thing he did, even if his book (Philosophy of New Music) remains a clever and very interesting work about music in general.
Cello Symphony. B. Britten, M. Rostrpovich, Decca (1CD).
This composer, having his very own style, has been said to be the logical parent to the whole French music, after Debussy and Ravel. His precious work can be discovered through two comprehensive recordings.
Cello and violin concertos. P. Amoyal, L. Harell, C. Dutoit, Decca (1CD). A good way to discover these works, and to understand why they are actual classical and popular works.
Symphonies, various orchestral and instrumental works. Various artists, Erato (3CD). Don't miss it! Unexpensive collection of very good interpretations covering most of this composer's work. A tribute released for his 70th birthday.
Another perception of time. While Feldman's early pieces have very common durations, his late masterworks are quiet, peaceful huge repetitive sccessions of patterns in a single movement. 9 of them last more than 1h30, and 2 nearly reach 5 hours. An incredible experience. Those interested in Feldman's work can take a look at this wonderful site by Chris Villars.
Crippled symmetry.D. Wiesner, M. Hinterhaüser, R. Schulkowsky, Col Legno (2CD). To me, the best way to discover Feldman's long works. A great trio for flutes, keyboards and percussions, with a reasonnable length (1h35), and an ideal recording.
2nd string quartet. Ives Ensemble, Hat Hut (4CD). To be honnest, this one is not reasonnable. A single movement of about 4h50, although with clear (but scaled!) beginning and ending. But it's a great piece, needing more time than patience, since once you have entered this world, you don't leave it for 5 hours. A funny tale about the buying of this record: the box shows "string quartet (II)". When the people from the shop where I bought it had to put a sticker on it, they wrote "String quartets-vol 2". I'm not sure they even imagine they had a single quartet on this 4 CD set!
Considered boring by some people, or as one of the best theoretician of all times by others, his Introduction to Practice of Music remains a must-have of music teaching. This rather serious man wrote some funny things among which can be noted his sonatas for brass & piano, and better his Overture to the Flying Dutchman as played at sight by a second-rate orchestra at the village well at 7 o'clock in the morning, for string quartet.
Kammermusik (complete). R. Chailly, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Decca (2CD). Though these chamber concertos were written over a long time period, they all follow the same idea: making a modern equivalent to the Brandeburg concerti. As he was a good instrumentist, even said to be one of the best viola players ever, he once asserted he could play the soloist parts of each concert in the Op.36: piano, cello, violin and viola.
Sonatas for Solo Viola. N. Imai, Bis (1CD). This violist put all his instrument mastery into these serious and difficult pieces. While the 1st ends with a passacaglia which is a tribute to Bach's Chaconne in the 2nd solo violin partita, the 2nd contains a strange impossible movement, with a tempo of 600-640!
Symphony "Mathis der Maler", The four Temperaments, Symphonic Metamorphoses. P. Hindemith, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, DG (1CD). Certainly the best introduction to this composer's orchestral work, since he was also a good conductor. If you can find this record...
This famous insurance manager, author of a still famous book about this domain, was the son of a local orchestra conductor. His very personal music was said by himself to be "enjoyed by only two people, [his] wife and [him]self". Considering the "illness" of tonal music in the beginning of the century, he tried to solve it introducing his own twelve-tone system, independantly of the experiment made in Europe by the Vienese school, Busoni, Hindemith and others.
New England Holidays. M. Gielen, NDR Orchestra, Mediaphon (1CD). To me, the most exciting of his orchestral pieces. They perfectly illustrate his taste for mixing popular tunes with atonal music, reaching a level of enthousiastic chaos rarely heard anywhere else. To figure out what it sounds like, imagine the experience Ives had with his father as he was young, climbing up a church tower to hear simultaneously to three orchestras walking to the center of the city, each playing a different tune...
This friend of Bartok's is well known for its contribution to music teaching. Among other things, he devlopped a way to show music with the hands, which is used in the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Solo cello sonata. J. Starker, Delos (1CD). This incredible work is one of the most important masterpieces written for this instrument. Composed in 1915, it was most of all supported by J. Starker who recorded it at least four times. It shows nearly everything possible with this instrument, sometimes making you think the player has three or four hands!
Yet another hungarian! This composer developped his very own style in a very radical movement (the so-called Darmstadt School) without becoming a slave of any influence. While some of his works (Aventures, Poème Symphonique) show a high sense of humour, others (especially Lontano) remind us that Ligeti escaped from the nazis to go back to hungary, he had to escape a few years later.
Cello concerto, Lontano, Double concerto, San Francisco Polyphony. Various artists, Wergo (1CD). This record is a very good way to discover one essential idea in Ligeti's technique: micropolyphony. Take a large orchestra, give each player a slightly different score, and keep a very good idea of the whole as the music moves but looks static.
Mechanical music. Various artists, Sony Classical (1CD). This record contains two kind of works. Some were written for the piano or harpsichord, but are here transcripted for the barrel organ or player piano, enabling a kind of virtuosity no human player could reach in these pieces. The other part is the famous "Poème Symphonique", written for 100 metronomes. A record for the curious.
Chamber music. Various artists, Sony Classical (1CD). This record includes a very good recording of the trio for horn, violin and piano. I have been lucky enough to hear it by the same artists in a concert, comparing it with Brahms' "same" trio. A major work in contemporary chamber music.
This quite unlucky man is one of the fathers of our music. Inspired both by former classical music, and by folklore, he created a music in which childhood takes an important place. Known as one of the best music directors ever, he also had a large influence on the way we see opera today, using original settings painted by artists of his time, or adjusting the orchestra to the size and characteristics of the hall.
The song of the Earth. K. Ferrier, J. Patzak, B. Walter, Decca (1CD). One of the records for the desert island. This recording is really different from any other, mainly because of the main singer. This "Symphony of Lieder" has a strange history. Mahler had writen 8 symphonies before, and he was a very supersticious man. He had noticed that Beethoven, Bruckner, Schubert died after writing their 9th symphony. So he decided to cheat the death, and wrote this symphony without giving it a number. So when he started his "official" 9th symphony, it was actually the 10th, and he had nothing to fear. In fact, he never heard either of them!
May I add something about him? The list below is of course not exhaustive, since I should have noted Moses und Aron, the Gurrelieder, Pierrot Lunaire and many others.
Piano Concerto, chamber symphonies. A. Brendel, M. Gielen, SWF Orchestra, Philips (1CD). A wonderful recording, showing how this music is in a sense classical, provided its players are familiar enough with it.
Verklärte Nacht, String Trio. LaSalle String Quartet, DG (1CD). While the first work is an opportunity to discover the first period of Schönberg, the second is a hard, dense and impressive work.
String Quartets. LaSalle String Quartet, DG (4CD, part of a "New Vienese School" must-have set). Schönberg's 5 string quartets, including a youth one. The lieder in the second are marvelously sung by M. Price.
Orchestral pieces op. 16. M. Gielen, SWF Orchestra, Wergo (1). This work is a kind of manifest. The third piece, Farben (colours) is the first example of Klangfarbenmelodie, featuring in the beginning section a simple chord going from an instrument to another, creating a motion without usual "melody".
This composer did not, as it could be thought, learn music in his country, but in western countries. Thus most of his work is strongly influenced by european composers, especially Webern whose "lightness" is an important element in takemitsu's music.
November Steps, Eclipse, Viola concerto. S. Ozawa, soloists, Saito Kinen Orchestra, Philips (1CD). As said above, Takemitsu made Western music. But in the late sixties, with the soloïsts of this recording, he studied traditional music and instruments like the Biwa (luth) and Sakuhashi (recorder), giving us two of these works, the first opposing western and asian music, both showing a feeling of peace reminding Webern's late cantatas.
The man who hated strings. Thought even smaller in size than Webern's (about 2 hours), his work, full of aggressive percussions and brasses had a fair importance for contemporary composers.
Ionisation, Amériques, Density 21.5, Offrandes, Arcana, Octandre, Intégrales. P. Boulez, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Sony (1CD). A nice and cheap introduction to Varese, even if Mehta is better in Ionisation.
Déserts, Ecuatorial, Hyperprism. P. Boulez, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Sony (1CD). FLEE AWAY FROM THIS ONE! Déserts is a work in which tape recording has a huge importance, and Boulez discarded it! Could you imagine a recording of a classical concerto without the soloist part?
I am not sure any composer except John Cage (with 0'00) wrote shorter works. His six bagatelles for string quartet, op.11, last respectively 10, 8, 9, 8, 13 and 9 bars, for a total of about 4 minutes.
Complete works. P. Boulez, LSO, Julliard quartet..., Sony (3CD). The whole published work, Opp.1-31. Not always the best recordings (see below), but a record for the desert Island : you will need a full life to finish with these works.
Orchestral works : Opp.1, 5, 6, 21. H. v. Karajan, Berliner Philharmoniker, DG (1CD) Don't miss this one! This is a real must-have. I have listened to the symphony op.21 for tens of times... really beautiful, so curious, so silent. Can you imagine how a few minutes of near silent music can be richer than hours of baroque concerti ;-)
Let's have a thought for a few works I consider as masterpieces, which should reach a great fame, and that still do not...
Charles-Valentin ALKAN (1813-1888):Grande Sonate de concert pour violoncelle et piano, Op.47
An incredible work, with an amount of original ideas rarely seen. Run to your record library and listen to it. I can ensure you that you have never heard something like this. Try it!
Alexander von ZEMLINSKY (1872-1942):Trio for Cello, Clarinet and Piano, Op.3
Whenever this work is talked about, it is compared with Brahms' similar trio, and it always ends in "well, it's interesting, but too shallow and blah-blah-blah". Stop this! This trio doesn't share the reflexion of Brahms about death which is found in his trio, but this is not a reason why it should be that underestimated. It is just something else!