BALLADE - CLASSICAL FAVOURITES FOR RELAXING AND DREAMING (Naxos: 8.556604)
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BALLADE is a dual purpose word meaning either a dance tune or popular song. In this collection of some of the beautiful moments in classical music, we find relaxation and time to dream. It is compiled from the extensive Naxos catalogue of compact discs, performed by the world's outstanding artists
Jean Sibelius has become the famous composer in the history of Finnish music, yet only when he failed in his quest to become a violinist, did he turn to composition. He immersed himself in folk-music and Finnish history, his early compositions drawing inspiration from both sources. But Finland was not yet ready for his music, though in 1893 the incidental music to the stage play, Karelia, did gain some critical acclaim, and encouraged him to make a three movement suite, a moment of repose reached in the sumptuous central movement, Ballade.
Without a constant injection of adulation, Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky, fell into periods of depression. It was left to a woman, whom he never met, to supply both money and letters of encouragement to keep him composing. From a man of such turbulent emotions came the greatest works of nineteenth century Russia. His dream was to be a great opera composer, but that largely eluded him, and his name first became known around the world by short salon pieces played on the family piano. Among the best loved was the melodies of Chants sans paroles (Songs without Words).
Born in 1685, Johann Sebastian Bach was part of a large family of musicians who worked in Germany for over two hundred years, and he became the most famous of them. His massive output included the Six Brandenburg Concertos, dedicated to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg. Each concerto features one or more members of the orchestra as soloist, the fourth giving the violin the solo spot. Probably written in 1720, one of its many attractions is the gentle Andante.
With the temptation of a $15,000 annual salary, Antonín Dvorák accepted the directorship of New York's National Conservatory of Music in 1892. He hated leaving his native Bohemia, but when he arrived in New York he threw himself into the task of assimilating everything American. Between January and May 1893 he composed a new symphony with the title, From the New World, and though it is typical of the composer's style, he introduced a Negro Spiritual in the haunting Largo, the melody we know as Swing low, sweet chariot.
Womaniser, romantic, extrovert and musical genius, Franz Liszt was born in Hungary in 1811, and became the greatest virtuoso pianist of his time. He travelled throughout Europe stunning audiences with his playing, and composed a vast amount of music to demonstrate his brilliance at the keyboard. The First Piano Concerto bristles with spine-tingling excitement, and the slow central Quasi adagio contains one of the great romantic melodies. Many classical composers are remembered by music they considered less important, and around 1850 Liszt transcribed some of his songs for solo piano under the title, Liebesträume (Dreams of Love). They are salon pieces, but the third was to become one of his most frequently performed works.
Felix Mendelssohn was born into an affluent German family, and had the finest tutors money could buy. In many ways he was to become too gifted. A brilliant pianist, a fine conductor, and a skilled administrator, he often spread his gifts too thinly. He was to die at the tragically young age of 38, yet he gave the concert repertoire some of its frequently performed works. A superb miniaturist, throughout his life he composed a series of forty-eight piano works called, Songs without words. Split into eight books, few are technically demanding, and they combine charm with tranquillity. The Andante sostenuto has become one of the best known.
Joachim Raff so nearly achieved greatness, but in the end left an enormous amount of seldom performed music. He was largely self-taught as a composer, and earned a living as a piano teacher. He may not have been all that good, as he obviously had plenty of time to compose, ending up life with 11 symphonies, and numerous concertos and orchestral suites. From the Italian Suite of 1871 comes the restful Notturno.
Why Giuseppe Sammartini (his proper name was Saint-Martin) left his native Italy in 1728 to live in England is unclear. Certainly after an undistinguished start to life, he became London's fashionable musician. On his death in 1750, it is recorded he was music teacher to the Princess of Wales. An oboe virtuoso, his works only became well known posthumously. Most feature woodwind, and includes concertos for oboe, flute and recorder. The Siciliano dates from the 1740's and recalls his native land.
At the age of thirteen Christoph Willibald Gluck ran away from home, supporting himself as a musician. It was that lack of education and technical skills that the critics loved to describe. But he side-stepped censure by writing gorgeous melodies. His greatest masterpiece, the opera, Orfeo ed Euridice, first performed in 1774, contains the ethereal Dance of the Blessed Spirits, also known in a violin and piano transcription as Melody.
Joseph Haydn was one of life's late starters, his major compositions coming after his fortieth birthday, but he was to make up for lost time by producing a deluge in the last thirty-seven years. He was forty-four when appointed kapellmeister (music director) to the court at Esterházy, and there he had the finest orchestra in Europe. In 1783 he composed a concerto for the orchestra's cellist, Anton Kraft. A work of considerable brilliance, the moment of relaxation comes in the central Adagio.
The most prolific composer of his day, Georg Philipp Telemann, was born in Germany in 1681. The majority of his music was in the field of operas, cantatas, oratorios, with orchestral music more limited in scope. Among the best known works are his concertos for various instruments, the sensitive Air in the Italian style is scored for the recorder and chamber orchestra and finds him in pastoral mood.
Charles Gounod was the fashionable French composer in the last half of the 19th century. Today his fame mainly resides in one work, the opera Faust. Performed countless times in the theatre, it also enjoys a presence on the concert stage with the extensive ballet sequence. Gounod wrote a score of considerable animation, bringing a moment of respite in the second section marked Adagio.