New Listenings

Here’s some great stuff that I’ve heard recently:

This piece just reminded me that no matter how much classical music I listen to, there will always be more to discover that will simply dazzle me. It’s a great big wonderful world out there, and this lusciously moving track carries a feeling that doesn’t soon fade. I need to get more into Dvorak.


A student recommended this one, and it’s great, isn’t it? Lots to pick apart in here.

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Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro

Courtesy of a DVD from the library, I watched a whole production of this opera for the first time last week. I was blown away by everything about this work: the music, acting, singing, comedy, lighting…just a stellar ensemble all around.

Some of the kids watched much of it with me–another testament to its power!

Also, here’s a reminder of how powerful a complete work can be compared to snippets and summaries: three hours long, but well worth it. I’ll remember this far better than any exposure I’ve had to it before.

Turns out the whole thing is on YouTube:



My favorite piece is still this one, featured in The Shawshank Redemption:

Three New Videos of Mozart’s Symphony 41

I enjoy classical music on YouTube, especially when video creators are thoughtful enough to put long works in multiple movements together on playlists.  It’s nice to hear a single performance that way, rather than having to string together videos from different sources on your own.  Oddly, perhaps music’s greatest symphony, Mozart’s “Jupiter” symphony, no. 41, has never had a decent single performance together that I’ve been able to find. 

But now three have gone up in just the last few weeks. 

First, this audiophile gives us the four united movements in videos that feature the written score:

Next, this classical-leaning fellow illustrates his four videos with paintings of the mythological Jupiter, king of the Roman gods:

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Mozart in The Shawshank Redemption

Below is a clip from a performance of Mozart’s masterpiece, The Marriage of Figaro, featuring Renee Fleming, one of the world’s greatest living singers.  This is the song that was used for the scene in The Shawshank Redemption where the hero locks himself in a room and plays a record over the whole prison yard. 

Recommended Listening: Mozart’s “Haffner” Serenade, Mvt. 8

Several years ago, I picked up a CD called Mozart for the Morning Commute, which as its subtitle claims, really is “a lively bit of traveling music.”  Each piece selected for this anthology is marked “allegro” or “rondo,” meaning that they’re all pretty catchy, having quick tempos and repeating, almost pop-like themes. 

Though this disc seems to be out of print, plenty of copies, both used and new, are available through usual online sellers, including individual tracks for download.  My favorite by far–one that I can just listen to over and over again–is track seven, the 8th movement of Mozart’s Serenade no. 7, named for the Haffner family that commissioned it for a wedding.  It’s a perfect example of what this collection was meant to capture: one can hardly listen to it without thinking of movement.  Its almost childlike in its simple exuberance, the sound of kids skipping through a sunny meadow in June. 

Unfortunately,I couldn’t find a clip of the exact version on this disc to use here, but the one below is pretty close: it really picks up at around 2:20, with the theme–which could rival the hook of any top 40 chorus–coming in first at 3:50.

31 Days of Mozart

This January 27th, Mozart will be 255 years old.  In celebration, the good people at KING in Seattle are putting on a month-long festival of Mozart.  The schedule is shown below, and links to their station.  I’ve listened to this station online for years, and love it, and the Mozart theme this month is splendid.  I find that, alas, the local classical music station has no such Mozart celebration going on. 

The library is holding a copy of Amadeus for me.  I’ve never seen it, and this seems like an apt time. 

Speaking of the library, one of the best audio books I’ve ever borrowed was their copy of Mozart: His Life and Music, a Teaching Company title by Professor Robert Greenberg.  I’ve listened to and enjoyed several of Greenberg’s lectures, but this one is my favorite.  It’s a fun, quick, and easy listen, that truly does justice to the great composer’s life.  Mozart’s love for wordplay really comes across in his letters.  Highly recommended.  Especially if your library has it! 

Mozart’s Requiem: Rage Against the Grave

I often play light classical music in the background of my classes.  One perennial favorite–used on days when the muse so strikes me for something slightly more intense–is Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D Minor.  I’ve been intrigued with this work ever since I first heard it.  When I think of Mozart, I think of the grace of his perfect genius: light, playful, clever, refined.  But this final work, this is something different.

Myth and legend and Amadeus aside, it’s still hard not to imagine some of Mozart’s own morose foreboding about his imminent demise embedded into the woeful strands of this work.  Mozart is still himself, though, and even in a work of precise focus, moods run the full possible gamut: parts are mild and melancholy, parts are violent thrashing in the face of death, much is composed and dignified acceptance of mortality, a subdued peace reached between oneself and the way of things. 

The best experience with Requiem came one day several years ago when a class of older kids was reading to themselves while this played and after a while one girl turned to me and said, “This music makes me want to kill myself!”  She wasn’t complaining about having to hear classical music, and she certainly wasn’t making a serious threat!  She was joking (I’m proud that my humor is apparently such that otherwise misunderstood kids usually feel safe opening up without fear of being judged), and sharing a perception.  I appreciated the fact that once again Mozart had worked his magic: across the gulfs of time and space, he had connected with a foreign soul and forged a bond.  A concrete feeling about mankind’s inevitable drifting out of this world had been communicated as clearly as if he’d been sitting there telling her his life story.  Of such is art. 

And when I then told the class the story behind this work–the story of Mozart’s tragic young death and the mysteries behind the completion of the Requiem–they were honestly fascinated.  Of such is education.

Here is a fine video set to the Lacrimosa section:

The Kind Of Day This Teacher Lives For

Friday was productive.  I didn’t plan anything special, but by about the middle of the day, I realized that it was a really good one. 

After a simple error identification and correction exercise on the projector for a warm up (courtesy of Yahoo!), most of my classes were studying Oedipus Rex, which I’d perform aloud as they read along and stop two or three times per page to summarize in my joking, pop-culture heavy style (“So Oedipus is getting all paranoid and Tiresias just keeps throwing down sarcastic one-liners,” or “‘Get hence, ye scurvy, pockmarked, wrathful knave’? I didn’t know Paris Hilton lived in ancient Greece!”).  Most of this goes over reasonably well.

The middle of the day was just a few minutes spent correcting an assignment from last week in class and a brief quiz over today’s Oedipus reading, then I checked that they had brought in novels for this quarter that fit my length and difficulty requirements (almost all did).  The last half hour was given to letting them read on their own (a grade being given for staying on task), and those without books were given the first chapter of Anna Karenina to copy–the rationale being that copying work of such terrific quality is a decent exercise in itself (a language arts version of tracing, really; an elementary activity which we too often ignore because it’s not jazzy enough for the postmodern classroom), it’s the only way most of them will ever get to encounter this famous classic (“Every happy family is alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”), and the farily boring nature of the work should be an incentive to bring a novel in next time (though this sometimes backfires: some of the lowest achievers–those who tend never to bring books–actually love basic skills work, cherishing its lack of higher thought and engagement.  Some remedial students would jump at the chance to copy the dictionary all day, every day, if it meant never having to think or do real work.). 

Anyway, it was during the silent reading time of one of these classes that, as Mozart’s overture to The Magic Flute was playing over (which my computer speakers waft into the room most days), I realized what a pleasantly productive day this was.  In class after class, nearly everybody was engaged in useful mental training.  Too many educrats these days chant their lemming mantra that a class must be noisy and rowdy to be learning something, but I find that kids today are overstimulated, and creating a calmer environment is a necessary antidote; if work is mature and challenging, they’ll usually respect it and rise to the occasion. 

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