ANDANTE - CLASSICS FOR RELAXING AND DREAMING (Naxos: 8.556606)
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Andante: Classics for Relaxing and Dreaming
ANDANTE, the Italian word for repose, has created the peaceful and serene moments in classical music, From the extensive Naxos catalogue of compact discs, thirteen tracks have been selected to transport you to those precious moments of tranquility
The slow awakening of dawn has been so beautifully pictured in Edvard Grieg's Morning. Norwegian by birth, young Edvard took his formal studies in Leipzig. International recognition came with his Piano Concerto and the incidental music to Ibsen's play, Peer Gynt. At first he thought that he only had to supply background music, but soon found he was expected to provide a score of substance. He later extracted two orchestral suites, and from the first, he completed in 1888, comes this misty view of Morning.
Shortly after Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky had composed his first song at the age of four, family wealth evaporated, and a frustrated musician became a reluctant office clerk. From this insecure backdrop came the finest Russian composer of the 19th century, producing six symphonies, concertos, and ballets. His dream, however, was to be a great opera composer, though that largely eluded him, and it was his short salon pieces that appeared in millions of albums of piano music that made his name famous throughout the world. From a group of Six Songs, composed in 1869, comes None but the Lonely Heart, here transcribed for piano.
George Frederic Handel was born in Germany, but found such fame when he visited London in 1710 that he decided to settle there, and became a naturalised English citizen. He produced one success after another, and the appetite for his music was overwhelming. Among the many works composed in 1739 was the Twelve Concerti Grossi, the Siciliano from the eighth reminding us of his short period in Italy before he arrived in London.
For years people believed Franz Schubert had died before he could complete his Eighth Symphony, and it became known as the 'Unfinished'. In fact he abandoned it after completing just two movements six years before his untimely death. Maybe he would have returned to it in later life, or he may simply have found the existing movements so perfect that he could not find a finale of suitable stature. The long Andante was one of the sublime orchestral works of the romantic era.
Fryderyk Chopin was only twelve when his playing had passed anything his teacher could impart. He was then self-taught until he was old enough to enter the Warsaw Conservatoire. As a composition student he was impatient and decided to earn a living as a concert pianist. In 1830 he made his final appearance in Warsaw, when he played the First Piano Concerto, the Larghetto central movement in the form of an affectionate Romance.
Born in 1809, one year before Chopin, Felix Mendelssohn was one of the most naturally gifted composers of the first half of the 19th century. A brilliant pianist, a fine conductor, and a skilled administrator, he sometimes spread his gifts too thinly. As a miniaturist he was superb, and throughout his life composed a series of fifty-eight piano works called, Songs without words. They combine charm with pure serenity, the Andante espressivo the second of book one.
Mendelssohn had been viewed as the natural successor to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who was writing music of value by the age of five. Wolfgang was to live just thirty-five years, by which time he had composed a monumental amount of music, including concertos for all the major instruments. That included the most frequently performed concerto in the clarinet repertoire. Written for one of the great clarinet exponents of the time, Anton Stadler, it was first performed by him in 1791. Fifteen years earlier Mozart had returned to his native Salzburg, and there wrote a Divertimento for the name day of his patron, Countess Lodron. The quiet and nocturnal Adagio is in an amorous mood, and gained the work the nickname, 'Lodron Night Music'.
Antonio Vivaldi was the most prolific Italian composer in the early part of the 18th century. In recent times his music has entered the world of 'pop' classics with his atmospheric The Four Seasons. In his later life to taught at a school for orphaned and abandoned girls, and achieved such excellence that musicians used to travel to Pietà to hear the orchestra and soloists. His pupils must have contained many virtuoso soloists to perform Vivaldi's challenging music. The school was a place where he could experiment musically, leading to the 12 Concertos called L'estro armonico, a series of works calling for one, two and three solo violins.
There is a frequently performed composer whose name is 'Traditional'. It covers a mass of music where the composer was never known. Most are folk melodies passed down from one generation to the next, the Song of the Volga Boatmen, a haunting melody quoted by so many composers in their music. It has been arranged for every conceivable instrument, and heard here as a violin and piano duet.
Johann Sebastian Bach was born in 1685, as part of a dynasty of musicians who worked in Germany for over two hundred years. He was to become the most famous, his massive output including the Four Orchestral Suites. They were written in an elegant French style, the soothing Saraband coming from the Second of these, and composed around 1737.
The year 1803 marked a new optimism in Ludwig van Beethoven's eventful life, his hero, Napoleon, was about to change the world, and that spirit of heroism was reflected in his music. His love of Napoleon was short lived, but that sense of daring Napoleon generated is heard in the 'Waldstein' Sonata, written for Count Ferdinand von Waldstein, one of the composer's generous benefactors. It is a powerful work, a moment of repose reached the short Adagio.
If Anatol Liadov had not been so lazy, he could have become one of the great composers of the 20th century, and we may never have had the world's greatest ballets. It was Liadov who was asked by the famous impresario, Dyagilev, to write the ballet, The Firebird. But with no sign of a score, Dyagilev, gave the project to a young man called Stravinsky. Liadov's output was small, but amongst it is probably the most delectable piece of orchestral music written this century, The Enchanted Lake.