Classical Sleigh Ride Alternatives To Leroy Anderson

Other Sleigh Rides
Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride is by far one of the most well-known and frequently played Christmas songs, having been named “most popular” by ASCAP in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2015. It’s been translated into numerous languages and is performed every December by orchestras across the country. But his is not the first orchestral sleigh ride piece nor is it the only classical sleigh ride music worth listening to. Here are 5 classical music “Sleigh Ride” alternatives that should be on your playlist.

Prokofiev – “Troika” from Lieutenant Kijé

A troika is a Russian sleigh drawn by a trio of horses. So it’s no wonder that this portion of the Lieutenant Kijé Suite features sleigh bells and rapid pizzicato in between a repeating quick-paced melody. The music was written as part of a film score for a 1934 film also titled “Lieutenant Kijé”. You may also recognize the melody from another Christmas song – Greg Lake borrowed the tune for his “I Believe in Father Christmas”.

Delius – Sleigh Ride

English composer Frederick Delius fondly recalled the summers he spent in Norway in the 1880s. In 1887, he spent Christmas Eve with fellow composer Grieg and first performed his Sleigh Ride on the piano. Grieg’s influence can clearly be heard in the piece which portrays a lively sleigh ride that eventually comes to rest in the stillness of a northern winter’s night. Delius later wrote the orchestral version which was originally titled “Winter Night”.

Mozart – “Schlittenfahrt” from Three German Dances

“Schlittenfahrt” means “sleigh ride” and is the third movement in this series of dances written by Mozart in 1791. Some scholars believe this dance was written independently of the others because of its very different style. Like other sleigh ride pieces, “Schlittenfahrt” features sleigh bells and a repeating phrase that is passed between instruments.

Ibert – “Sleigh Ride” from Petite Suite

Here’s a lesser-known classical sleigh ride, but one that’s still perfect for this list. Jacques Ibert had a knack for writing sprightly, witty works and “Sleigh Ride” is no exception.

Tchaikovsky – “November” from The Seasons

Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons is a set of 12 short pieces for solo piano. Each piece represents a different month of the year. “November”, also known as “Troika”, is considered the most challenging piece with its rapidly moving melodic flow and and “outbursts” to forte.

8 Cool Facts About Sleigh Ride

The Sleigh Race by Currier and Ives
Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride is a Christmas standard and one that is easily recognizable by its upbeat melody, sleigh bells, clip-clopping, whip sound, and horse whinny. It’s been a hit ever since it was first recorded in 1949 by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra.

But there’s more to this piece than meets the eye…or ears. Here are 8 cool facts that may make this one of your favorite holiday tunes (if it isn’t already).

The Original Had No Words

You’ve probably heard both the instrumental and sung versions of Sleigh Ride. The original is the orchestral version with no words and was composed in 1948. The lyrics were written by Mitchell Parish in 1950 and were first recorded by The Andrews Sisters that year.

It Was Written During A Heat Wave

In 1946, Leroy Anderson and his family were in Woodbury, Connecticut staying in a cottage on his wife’s families land. He had been released from active duty in the Army and housing was in short supply. While staying in the cottage, a July heat wave and drought hit. Anderson began composing several tunes including Sleigh Ride which he envisioned as a musical depiction of winter long ago. He finished the piece about 2 years after his family moved to New York City – in the winter.

It Never Mentions Christmas

As previously mentioned, the original version did not have words and since the title is simply Sleigh Ride, there is no reference to Christmas. Parish’s words also make no reference to the holiday. In fact, the only event mentioned in the words is a “birthday party” at the bridge. Some artists have changed the words there to “Christmas party”.

It Has Been Named Most Popular

ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, has named Sleigh Ride the most popular piece of Christmas music in the US for several years including 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2015. It beat out other songs like “The Christmas Song”, “Winter Wonderland”, and “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”.

It Has Been Translated Into Several Languages

With Anderson’s permission, Sleigh Ride has been translated into French, German, Finnish, Swedish, Dutch, and Italian. Interestingly, in Swedish, “Sleigh Ride” is written as one word. So when they translate the word into English in programs, they often write the title as “Sleighride”.

The Words Were Written By A Jewish Lyricist

Like many other Christmas songs including “White Christmas”, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, “Let It Snow”, and “Winter Wonderland”, the words to Sleigh Ride were written by a Jewish lyricist. Mitchell Parish was born to a Jewish family in Lithuania. His family emigrated to the US in 1901 when he was less than a year old and settled in Louisiana before moving to New York City.

The Image We Used For This Post Is By Currier and Ives

There is a line in the song that’s meaning may be obscure to most today. “Like a picture print by Currier and Ives” refers to a printmaking company that produced hand-colored lithographs of popular artwork of the 19th century. The image we used in this post is called “The Sleigh Race”. The company closed in 1907, 43 years before the song lyrics were written.

It Sometimes Ends With Carrots

Sleigh Ride includes a famous horse whinny five bars before the end. The whinny is produced by a trumpet. Since the effect is near the ending, a joke with a humorous effect is occasionally played on trumpet players and, sometimes, the percussionists. When they rise for the applause, they are often presented a bunch of carrots in lieu of roses.

Hear us perform Sleigh Ride on December 1 at 4:00 PM at the PACE Center.


Tafelmusik For Your Next Feast

Tafelmusik for Thanksgiving and Dinner PartiesClassical is a popular genre when it comes to dinner music, particularly Thanksgiving dinner, but not all pieces work well in this setting. Put on Verdi’s Requiem or Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and you may be serving a sense of foreboding with your sides. On the other hand, Brahms’ Lullaby, while famous and lovely, may only enhance the already soporific effect of a heavy meal. So what should you add to your dinner playlist? How about Tafelmusik.

What is Tafelmusik? In German, it literally means “table music” and it’s been around since the mid-16th century. It is music that was often played at feasts and banquets and can be instrumental, vocal, or both. Composers of Tafelmusik include Johann Schein and Michael Praetorius, but perhaps the most celebrated collection is that of Georg Philipp Telemann. Telemann’s version has been compared to Bach’s Brandenburg concertos in that it is a supreme example of the composer’s skill in writing for a variety of instruments.

Telemann’s Tafelmusik was originally named Musique de table and was immensely successful upon publication – with an unprecedented 206 advance purchases, 52 of which came from abroad. It came, however, toward the end of the musical form’s life in 1733 (Tafelmusik was most popular during the 1600’s). Still, it supports the same philosophy as earlier Baroque examples – that life’s delights (eating and artful music) should meet. And because of that, it is as perfectly at home at celebratory dinners today as it was in the past.

The collection consists of over four hours of instrumental ensemble music which is long enough to last through any dinner party, Thanksgiving, luncheon, or any other meal. It features a cornucopia of styles and instruments including bassoon, oboe, trumpet, harpsichord, and strings that all delight the senses with truly vivid music. It has been described as brilliant, dazzling, and infectious music.

Hear some samples below:

Musician Spotlight: Cindy Carrier


Cindy Carrier 2You may have noticed a new face in the first violin section. We have a new concertmaster, Cindy Carrier. If you read the announcement, you probably already know she is an established violinist and a music teacher, currently teaching elementary school music in Castle Rock. But there’s so much more to Cindy. Keep reading to learn more and be sure to come see her perform with the Parker Symphony at one of our upcoming concerts.

 

How did you get your start in music? What drew you to the violin?

Growing up we had music on almost all the time, and a wide variety of genres. I remember listening to the Amadeus soundtrack as a kid on holidays and pretending to conduct an orchestra while listening. I took piano lessons as a young kid, and it was fun, but the violin always looked like a fun instrument to play, so when I finally got to 5th grade when I could play an instrument in school, I already knew I wanted to play the violin. I have been playing ever since.

 

What do you find to be the most challenging part of being a musician?

The occasional lack of respect for musicians, or the idea that some people have that music is all fun and just requires talent, and doesn’t require hard work. Whenever I run into people who have those ideas, I try to educate them on how hard musicians work, how rewarding it is, and it’s not just talent that makes someone a good musician.

 

Do you have a fond musical memory you can share?

I remember listening to Tchaikovsky pieces, including March Slave and The 1812 Overture, with my grandparents visiting. We would all pretend to conduct the orchestra, and I always thought that was so fun. Whenever I hear those pieces I think about my grandparents.

 

What is/are your favorite piece(s) to play (on any instrument)?

I love to play Czardas because it brings me back to my Slovak and Hungarian roots (my paternal grandparents), as well as The Lark Ascending because it is soaringly beautiful. Then I love to turn around and play some bluegrass fiddle or Irish jigs and reels. I was in a string band in Kansas City before moving here and played lots of fiddle music with them, including a lot of busking at the local farmer’s markets, which was a lot of fun.

 

Is there something you’ve always wanted to play but haven’t had the chance yet?

I would love to repeat playing Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony. I played it in college and would love to play it again.

 

Who is/are your favorite composers?

My favorites are the Russian Romantics, including Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. It doesn’t get better than wearing your emotions on your sleeve and expressing the highest of highs and lowest of lows like only the Russians can do.

 

What brought you to Colorado?

My husband brought me to Colorado. He was accepted into medical school here in Parker, and so we got married and moved out here together. This year + being out here with him has been the best part of my life so far!

 

What music genres do you typically listen to?

I listen to so many genres of music. I do love the newer alternative rock (don’t judge!). Bands are more creative and more musical now, and I really enjoy the strong beats and fun melodies that some of those songs bring, especially since I listen to most music like that when I’m out for a run. I also love classical music, of course, and really appreciate KVOD radio out here. I may have the occasional hip-hop, country, folk, or other random genre in the shuffle on my Spotify playlist too.

 

What is your proudest accomplishment or happiest moment in life?

My proudest accomplishments so far have been running long distances. I have run 10 marathons and one 50k race, plus several half marathons and other distances. I am especially proud of the 50k race because at one time I never thought I would be able to run that far (32 miles) in one go. As a kid I had the academic and music talent but no athletic talent at all. Going from that to completing long distance races is a huge accomplishment for me, because it’s all hard work and effort, and NO talent. 🙂 Long distance running also makes me really happy (the endorphins from the runner’s high are real!).

I will add that ONE of the happiest days in my life was our wedding. My husband is an amazing man, and every day my relationship with him brings me such joy. Plus, our wedding was amazing!

 

Do you have any hidden talents or non-musical hobbies?

Since moving to Colorado my husband has gotten me into mountain biking, and I must say that Colorado is an amazing place to learn how to mountain bike. I am not at all an aggressive rider, but have slowly gained more confidence. Don’t expect to see me taking any jumps, though!

Last summer I learned how to scuba dive, and my husband and I went on our honeymoon to Cozumel where we did several ocean and cenote (almost like cave) diving.

 

If you weren’t a musician and a teacher, what do you think you would do as a career?

Quite possibly a chef! I love to cook and could see myself cooking or baking as a career, since I already spend a lot of my free time in the kitchen.

 

What are some of the most important lessons you seek to pass on to your students?

I want them to feel comfortable taking risks and know that it’s okay to make mistakes. Growing up I wanted to do everything right the first time and didn’t want to take risks, but I have found that I learn best by diving into something and making mistakes. I also want them to enjoy music, no matter what level they choose to engage in it, whether they become professional musicians or simply appreciate music.

 

What is your favorite food?

I really enjoy dark chocolate!

 

What are your favorite phone apps (musical or otherwise)?

I really enjoy Spotify—making my own playlists of music, finding others, and having a chance to explore listening to music through this app. A close second is YouTube, because you can find almost anything there! I use YouTube quite a bit with my students to show them orchestras and other musical performances.

 

What are some important responsibilities of being a concertmaster of an orchestra?

I believe it is critical for the concertmaster to know her part and have the bowings worked out as soon as possible. Also, to be available to assist any members, not just the violins, in any helpful way.

 

What do you most look forward to as concertmaster for the PSO?

Having the opportunity be a musical leader and getting to know the members of the PSO.

Cindy Carrier Thumbnail


12 Favorite Halloween Classical Pieces

Halloween Image

Halloween is here! And if you’re looking for spooky, creepy, or monstrous music for your playlist, you’re in luck. Check out our 12 favorite Halloween classical music pieces below.

1. Saint-Saëns – Danse Macabre

With a title that includes the word “macabre”, you can tell it’s a great piece for Halloween. This is by far the most famous work associated with the holiday, and with good reason. It is a tone poem inspired by a French legend that says “Death” appears at midnight on Halloween to call forth the dead from their graves to dance for him. He plays the fiddle while skeletons dance until dawn.

2. Dvořák – The Water Goblin

The Water Goblin is a symphonic poem that tells a horrific story of a mischievous goblin who traps drowning souls in upturned teacups. It begins by depicting the water goblin sitting by a lake sewing a green coat and red boots for his wedding. Then a mother is telling her daughter a dream she had about her daughter in white robes swirling in foaming water. Fearing it was a foreshadow of danger, she warns her daughter not to go to the lake. Of course, the daughter is drawn to the lake despite the warnings. The bridge she sits on collapses and, as she falls into the water, the goblin abducts her. He takes her to his underwater castle and marries her. They have a child together and she begs the goblin to allow her to visit her mother. He agrees on 3 conditions: that she not embrace anyone, that she leaves the baby behind, and that she returns by the bells of the evening vespers. She visits her mother who forbids her to return when the bells ring. The water goblin becomes enraged and goes to the mother’s home and bangs on the door. When he is refused, he kills the child.

3. Mussorgsky – Night on Bald Mountain

Another famous piece commonly associated with Halloween, Night on Bald Mountain paints a musical picture of a witch’s sabbath occurring on St. John’s Eve. Interestingly, the original piece composed by Mussorgsky is not the version you typically hear. That was only published in 1968 and is performed very rarely. The piece we have come to know (and hear in places like Walt Disney’s Fantasia is an arrangement by Rimsky-Korsakov.

4. Berlioz – “Dream of the Night of the Sabbath” from Symphonie Fantastique

Often referred to as the “Dream of the Witches’ Sabbath”, it is the 5th movement of Berlioz’s grand Symphonie Fantastique. Each movement of the symphony depicts an episode in the protagonist’s life (an artist who poisoned himself with opium out of unrequited love). The program notes in the original score for the 5th movement are as follows:

He sees himself at a witches’ sabbath, in the midst of a hideous gathering of shades, sorcerers and monsters of every kind who have come together for his funeral. Strange sounds, groans, outbursts of laughter; distant shouts which seem to be answered by more shouts. The beloved melody appears once more, but has now lost its noble and shy character; it is now no more than a vulgar dance tune, trivial and grotesque: it is she who is coming to the sabbath … Roar of delight at her arrival … She joins the diabolical orgy … The funeral knell tolls, burlesque parody of the Dies irae, the dance of the witches. The dance of the witches combined with the Dies irae.

5. Ryan Smith – The Night Creeps Slowly

Ryan Smith may not be a name you know, but he is composer from Parker, Colorado who wrote a very Halloween-appropriate piece that the Parker Symphony played for its world premiere. A Chaparral High School graduate in 2008, he has written, recorded, and produced under the name M.I.X.

6. Chopin – “Funeral March” from his Piano Sonata No. 2

What Halloween music list would be complete without the famous Funeral March from Chopin. Although many may not know it, it is actually the 3rd movement in his Piano Sonata No. 2 and quite lovely once you get past the main motif. It has been arranged for a variety of instruments and even full orchestra and has been played at numerous funerals including Chopin’s own burial in October 1849 at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

7. Liszt – Totentanz

“Totentanz” translates to “Dance of the Dead” in English. It joins several other works by Liszt in showing his fascination with death. In fact, it is said he frequented hospitals and asylums and even went down into prison dungeons to see those condemned to die.

8. Bach – Toccata and Fugue in D minor

Probably the most famous piece of organ music written, the Toccata and Fugue in D minor was not intended to be creepy, but thanks to its use in numerous films, it has become a cliché to illustrate horror and villainy.

9. Rachmaninoff – Isle of the Dead

Another symphonic poem that depicts a story, this piece was inspired by a reproduction of a painting of the same name that Rachmaninoff saw in Paris. The opening of the piece is either suggestive of oars as they meet the waters on the way to the Isle of the Dead or the waves themselves.

10. Gounod – Funeral March of a Marionette

Ok. One listen to this piece and you’ll instantly recognize it as the theme for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. However, it has also a great piece for Halloween because of its subject matter (a funeral) and it’s oddly catchy and creepy melody. The storyline that the piece follows is that a marionette has died in a duel, the funeral procession commences, and then, during the central section, mourners take refreshments before returning to the march.

11. Penderecki – Intermezzo For 24 Strings

Not an overtly Halloween-themed piece, the chromatic layering of instruments has a creepy effect that makes this a great addition to any Halloween playlist. Penderecki is a Polish composer of the 20th and 21st century whose music has sometimes been adapted for films. His String Quartet and Kanon For Orchestra and Tape were featured in the 1973 movie The Exorcist

12. Grieg – “In The Hall of the Mountain King” from Peer Gynt

The translation of the title of this piece from Norwegian isn’t quite literally “mountain king”. The “king” in this instance is actually a troll that Peer Gynt invents in a fantasy. The introduction of this movement is, “There is a great crowd of troll courtiers, gnomes and goblins. Dovregubben sits on his throne, with crown and sceptre, surrounded by his children and relatives. Peer Gynt stands before him. There is a tremendous uproar in the hall.”

 

7 Facts About “Battle Hymn of the Republic”



Julia HoweThe “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (also known as “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory”) was written in 1861 by Julia Ward Howe, wife of Samuel Howe – a scholar in education for the blind. Both Julia and Samuel were active leaders in anti-slavery politics and strong supporters of the Union, so it’s no surprise that the song is heavily associated with the Civil War. In the years since the war, however, it has become a staple in American patriotic music.

While you may find yourself singing it on the 4th of July, you probably don’t know all there is to this inspiring song. Check out these 7 facts about “Battle Hymn of the Republic” below.

It Was A Favorite of Walt Disney Among Others

“Battle Hymn…” was said to be a favorite of Walt Disney’s so much so that it was played at the end of his private funeral in 1966. It was also one of Winston Churchill’s favorite songs and was played at his state funeral at St. Paul’s Cathedral. It has been performed at other memorial services, most notably the service at St. Paul’s Cathedral for those lost on 9/11, at the Requiem Mass for Bobby Kennedy, and at Senator John McCain’s funeral at the Washington National Cathedral.

It Is A Remake…Of A Remake

The story of the song’s creation begins with a visit to a Union army camp near Washington DC. Julia Howe heard a group at the camp begin to sing a popular war song titled “John Brown’s Body” (which was sung to a tune borrowed from the hymn “Say, Brothers, Will You Meet Us”. One of the other visitors at the camp, Reverend James Freeman Clarke, suggested that Mrs. Howe pen new lyrics to the same tune. She awoke the following morning and in a flash of inspiration, wrote the lyrics for “Battle Hymn of the Republic” that we sing today.

Its Opening Lines Were The Last Words Spoken By Martin Luther King Jr.

On April 3, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech in support of sanitation workers in Memphis. He announced, “I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” The next day he was assassinated on the second floor of the Lorraine Motel.

Howe Was Paid $5 For The Poem

The Atlantic Monthly published the poem in February 1862 and paid Julia Ward Howe $5 (note that some say it was actually $4). While that doesn’t sound like a lot, it is actually equivalent to $124.97 today. The publisher was also the one who gave the poem its title.

It Made The Hot 100 Charts

In 1960, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s recording rose to #13 on the Hot 100 and it even won them a Grammy Award for Best Performance by a Vocal Group or Chorus.

It Inspired Numerous Other Works

When you read the lyrics, one of the most obvious inspirations that becomes apparent is the title of John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath which came from the line “He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.” It also inspired the title of John Updike’s In The Beauty of the Lilies.

Numerous other songs have been set to the same tune. For example, the University of Georgia’s fight song “Glory Glory to Old Georgia”, the parody song “The Burning of the School”, and a version that Mark Twain wrote to comment on the Philippine-American War titled “The Battle Hymn of the Republic, Updated”.

Its Publication Was Probably Against Her Husband’s Wishes

Many historians agree that Julia Ward Howe’s writing had been a source of bitterness and strife in her marriage to Samuel Howe. He worked diligently to stop her intellectual aspirations and isolate her from literary outlets. Still, she defied his wishes where she could, even publishing an anonymous book of poems at one point. That enraged him and he began badgering her for divorce and separation – which she declined. In the end, she could not be silenced as “Battle Hymn” lives on as a lasting contribution.

The Parker Symphony and the Colorado Mormon Chorale will perform the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” among other patriotic pieces on October 26 at 7:30 PM at the PACE Center.


What Is Baba Yetu? Meaning, Lyrics, Awards…


Many of the pieces in our upcoming “Salute” concert are probably familiar – certainly “The Star Spangled Banner” and the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”. But one that may be relatively unknown outside of video game circles is “Baba Yetu”. Once you hear it, though, we think you’ll agree that in addition to being inspirational, it’s also truly unforgettable.

Soweto Gospel Choir and Baba Yetu

Baba Yetu Meaning and Lyrics

“Baba Yetu” is essentially the Lord’s Prayer sung in Swahili. The title translated means “Our Father”.

The lyrics are as follows:

Baba yetu, yetu uliye
Mbinguni yetu, yetu amina!
Baba yetu yetu uliye
Jina lako e litukuzwe.

Utupe leo chakula chetu
Tunachohitaji, utusamehe
Makosa yetu, hey!
Kama nasi tunavyowasamehe
Waliotukosea usitutie
Katika majaribu, lakini
Utuokoe, na yule, muovu e milele!

Ufalme wako ufike utakalo
Lifanyike duniani kama mbinguni.
(Amina)

Our Father, who art
in Heaven. Amen!
Our Father,
Hallowed be thy name.

Give us this day our daily bread,
Forgive us of
our trespasses,
As we forgive others
Who trespass against us
Lead us not into temptation, but
deliver us from the evil one forever.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
On Earth as it is in Heaven.
(Amen)

Video Game Origin

Unlike many orchestral and choral pieces that are either classical music or film scores, “Baba Yetu” has a unique story. Composer Christopher Tin was at his five-year Stanford University reunion where he reconnected with his former roommate Soren Johnson. Johnson told Tin that he had been working on the video game Civiliztion III at which time Tin relayed his love of the series.

A few months later, Johnson contacted Tin and told him that he was working on Civilization IV and needed music for the game’s introduction and menu area. Recalling his interest in the series, he asked if Tin wanted to help. Johnson had heard the Stanford Talisman, an a capella group at Stanford, sing traditional African music and wanted something similar. Tin composed “Baba Yetu” in 2005 and recorded it with Stanford Talisman for the game.

Tin re-recorded the piece for his first solo classical crossover album titled Calling All Dawns in 2009, recruiting the talent of the Soweto Gospel Choir for vocals.

Grammy Award Winning

“Baba Yetu” received a lot of critical praise, including from over 20 reviewers from major video game publications like IGN and GameSpy. It was also particularly memorable for fans of Civilization IV because of its combination of an inspirational and majestic theme with African percussion and rhythm.

In 2011, it won a Grammy Award which not only made it the first video game theme nominated, but also the first piece of music composed for a game to win. It also won at the Independent Music Awards and the 2006 Game Audio Network Guild Awards.

Performances Today

Today, the piece is frequently performed at Video Games Live concerts and has even made appearances at venues like Carnegie Hall, The Dubai Fountain, the Kennedy Center, The Hollywood Bowl, and America’s Got Talent.

Below are a couple of popular recordings from YouTube so you can hear this amazing piece yourself. To hear it live, be sure to join us on October 26 at 7:30 PM at the PACE Center for “Salute”.

Christopher Tin – Baba Yetu Official Music Video

Alex Boyé, BYU Men’s Choir – Baba Yetu

America’s Got Talent – Baba Yetu performed by the Angel City Chorale


Top 20 Heart-Wrenching, Moving Classical Pieces


When it comes to beautiful classical music, there’s a lot to choose from. From slow and melodic to fast and memorable, there’s something out there for everyone. Only a select few pieces, however, rise to the level of being so beautiful they bring tears and touch the soul. If that is what you are searching for, consider our list of top 20 heart-wrenching, moving classical music pieces below.

1. Elgar – “Nimrod” from the Enigma Variations

“Nimrod” is truly one of the all-time heart-wrenching pieces with its fluctuating dynamics and unresolved tension. It is laden with anticipation from the start with a classic crescendo into the second entrance of the main theme. It’s no wonder it is used at British funerals, memorial services, and on Remembrance Sunday. You can hear the Parker Symphony perform it on October 26, 2018 at our Salute concert

2. Tchaikovsky – “Pas de Deux” from The Nutcracker

The “Pas de Deux” is a visually stunning part of the ballet The Nutcracker. And it is no surprise that the beauty of the two solo dancers is complemented by a powerful and expressive melody. It begins with a soulful cello melody and builds from there.

3. Rachmaninov – “18th Variation” from Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini

Fans of the movie “Somewhere in Time” and those who have seen “Groundhog Day” will instantly recognize this lyrical melody. The variations overall, including the 18th, have become more famous than the Paganini tune they are based on.

4. Dvořák – “Largo” from the New World Symphony

The second movement of Dvořák’s 9th Symphony (the Largo) has often been described as surreal and sublime. While the melody is seemingly simple, it evokes feelings of reminiscence like no other piece. It is, at times, nostalgic with a lamenting, longing tone.

5. Puccini – “O Mio Babbino Caro” from Gianni Schicchi

With a title that translates to “Oh my dear daddy”, you can only imagine that this is a song filled with emotion. “O Mio Babbino Caro” is a soprano aria from Puccini’s opera Gianni Schicchi sung at the point when tensions are so high that they threaten to separate the singer, Lauretta, and the boy she loves, Rinuccio, forever.

6. Barber – Adagio for Strings

Adagio for Strings is arguably Samuel Barber’s best known work. It was arranged for string orchestra from the second movement of his String Quartet Op 11. It has been written that it is “full of pathos and cathartic passion” that “rarely leaves a dry eye”. It has been played at funerals and memorials and in 2004 was voted the “saddest classical” work ever by the BBC’s Today program.

7. Zimmer – Chevaliers de Sangreal

Hans Zimmer’s “Chevaliers De Sangreal” is arguably not classical, but a film score. Still, it is perfect for this list. The gradual crescendo that builds anticipation is the backdrop for the end of The Da Vinci Code when Robert Langdon realizes the truth about Mary Magdalene’s tomb. Sorry…no spoilers here. The point at which the music hits its climax is the moment Langdon reaches the spot and kneels.

8. Godard – “Berceuse” from Jocelyn

Jocelyn may not be among the most recognized operas, but the “Berceuse” from it remains the most enduring of Godard’s compositions. It was originally sung by a tenor, but it has been recorded by other instruments including Pablo Casals on cello.

9. Beethoven – 2nd Movement from “Sonata Pathétique”

The “Adagio cantabile” from Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8 (Pathétique) was used as the theme music for the radio program Adventures in Good Music from 1970 to 2007. The sonata overall is among Beethoven’s most popular piano works.

10. Williams – Schindler’s List

The theme to an intensely emotional movie like Schindler’s List will, of course, also evoke tears and heart-wrenching feelings. The original score and recording features violinist Itzhak Perlman and won numerous awards including an Academy Award for Best Original Score.

11. Handel – “Largo” from Xerxes

With such a beautiful aria, it’s interesting that Handel’s opera Xerxes was a failure. The area was resurrected 100 years later and is typically performed at solemn occasions. Although it was originally sung, it has been arranged for all sorts of instruments and voices.

12. Debussy – “Clair de Lune” from Suite Bergamasque

One of Debussy’s most recognizable works, “Clair de Lune” is actually the third movement of his Suite bergamasque written for piano. It has since been arranged for orchestra and numerous instruments and is prominently featured in both the movie Ocean’s 11 and as background music for the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas.

13. Elgar – 1st Movement from his Cello Concerto in E minor

Elgar’s Cello Concerto is his last notable work and a cornerstone of solo repertoire for any serious cellist. The first movement is filled with passion and it is hard to find a more expressive and passionate recording than that of Jacqueline du Pré.

14. Puccini – “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot

One of the best-known tenor arias in all of opera, Nessun Dorma was popularized worldwide by Luciano Pavarotti who performed it for the 1990 World Cup, captivating a global audience. It was played at his funeral in 2013.

15. Mozart – “Lacrimosa” from his Requiem in D minor

Mozart’s Requiem is full of emotional and intense moments especially in places like the “Dies irae” and the “Lacrimosa”. Sadly, the “Lacrimosa” was incomplete due to Mozart’s death and was finished by Franz Xaver Süssmayr.

16. Gounod/Mantovani – Nazareth

Originally composed by Gounod for voice as “Jesus de Nazareth”, it was recorded by Mantovani & His Orchestra for Christmas albums and titled “Nazareth”.

17. Sartori/Quarantotto – Con te partirò (Time To Say Goodbye)

This Italian song was originally performed in 1995 by Andrea Bocelli at the Sanremo Festival. This second version was released in 1996 sung partly in English with Sarah Brightman.

18. Saint-Saëns – “The Swan” from Carnival of the Animals

Lushly romantic, “The Swan” is another staple in cello repertoire. The cello solo is said to represent a swan gliding elegantly over the water while the piano is the swan’s feet beneath the surface.

19. Massenet – “Meditation” from Thaïs

The “Meditation” is played during a time of reflection in Act II of the opera Thaïs. It is considered one of the great encore pieces and has been performed by all the great violin soloists.

20. Mahler – 4th Movement from Symphony No. 9

Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 was his last symphony. He died without ever hearing it performed. The final movement is often interpreted as the composer’s farewell to the world since it was composed after the diagnosis of his fatal heart disease.

 

Honorable Mentions (in case you want to check out more):

  • Grieg – “Heart Wounds” from 2 Elegiac Melodies
  • Mascagni – “Intermezzo” from Cavalleria Rusticana
  • Grieg – “Morning Mood” from Peer Gynt
  • Fauré – Cantique de Jean Racine
  • Puccini – “O Soave Fanciulla” from La Bohème
  • Smetana – The Moldau
  • Bruch – Kol Nidrei
  • Brahms – Waldesnacht
  • Liszt – Liebesträume No. 3
  • Ungar – Ashokan Farewell
  • Brahms – Waltz in A Flat Major
  • Franck – Panis Angelicus
  • Delibes – “Flower Duet” from Lakmé

 

Paul Wittgenstein – Left-Handed Pianist & WWI POW

Paul Wittgenstein Pianist

Paul Wittgenstein 3 BFMI.jpg Created by Unknown https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Wittgenstein

August 13 is International Lefthanders Day and we’re approaching the 100th anniversary of the WWI armistice. So it’s a good time to highlight a left-handed pianist who also served (and was captured) in the war – Paul Wittgenstein. For any die-hard M*A*S*H fans, this name might sound familiar. In an episode titled “Morale Victory”, Winchester tells a wounded drafted concert pianist the story of Paul Wittgenstein and provides him sheet music for Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand commissioned by Wittgenstein himself.

Paul Wittgenstein was born in Vienna to a wealthy family. He is the older brother of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Growing up, his household was visited by prominent composers including Brahms, Mahler, Josef Labor, and Richard Strauss. Paul would often play duets with these figures. He would go on to study piano and made his public debut in 1913. However, World War I broke out a year later and he was called up for service.

While serving in WWI, Paul was shot in the elbow and captured by the Russians during an assault on Ukraine. His right arm was amputated and he was held as a prisoner of war in Siberia. It was during this time that he resolved to continue his career using only his left hand. He wrote to Josef Labor to request a concerto for left hand. After the end of the war, he studied intensely, learned Labor’s composition, and began to give concerts again. Despite receiving reviews qualified with comments that he played well for a one-armed pianist, he persevered. He didn’t want to be regarded as an oddity or congratulated for not being one. He wanted to be taken seriously as a musician with an artistry all his own. He commissioned additional works from other composers, most notably Ravel. Unfortunately, he made changes to the score for the premiere and Ravel was so angry, the two were never friends again.

Two other commissioned pieces worth mentioning were written by Prokofiev and Hindemith. Paul never performed Prokofiev’s 4th Piano Concerto. He stated about the work, “I do not understand a single note in it, and I will not play it.” It was not performed until 1956 when Siegfried Rapp, who also lost his right arm in war, requested the score from Prokofiev’s widow. As for Hindemith’s Piano Music with Orchestra, Paul rejected it outright not only not performing it, but also refusing to let anyone else play it either. In fact, it was hidden and only discovered in 2002 after his widow’s death.

In 1938, Paul and his wife fled to the US and lived in New York. He spent the rest of his life there, teaching gifted students without charge and playing. He became a US citizen in 1946. In 1942, Britten wrote his Diversions for the left hand and it became one of the last pieces Paul commissioned.

Many of the pieces Paul Wittgenstein had commissioned are still performed today, although most often by two-armed pianists. Two more recent pianists who lost the use of their right hands have also performed these works: Leon Fleisher and João Carlos Martins.

His posthumous reputation as a performer is mixed. Some regard him as a world-class pianist while at the same time noting his harsher playing in later years. His tendency to rewrite and alter without authorization make him a controversial figure in the music world. He often complained about the pieces he commissioned, including the final work by Britten. Still, when you consider all he went through, how he persevered in spite of it, and the contributions he made to new music, he is a remarkable artist and musician.

Why Do Orchestras Need Sheet Music and Soloists Don’t?

Sheet Music

Whether you are an avid orchestral performance attendee or you go to the occasional concert or two, you have probably seen at least one concerto featuring a soloist. You may have even had the opportunity to see a soloist perform with or without an accompanist (which is often a piano). One thing you may or may not have noticed, however, is how orchestras use sheet music while soloists, and even some ensembles, typically do not. Why?

Lack of Time: An orchestra doesn’t have the luxury of a lot of time to learn pieces. Some professional orchestras rehearse as little as two times before performing. Community orchestras usually have about 1-2 months of rehearsals prior to a concert. Still, that is not enough time to memorize 3 or 4 pieces which can span 3-6+ pages each. Orchestras, also, typically only perform the music on one night and then move on to different music for the next concert. The sheer volume of music an orchestra goes through makes it impossible to memorize every part.

A soloist, on the other hand, spends years practicing and perfecting the same pieces, performing them over and over to different audiences and with different orchestras.

Breadth of Works: There is so much orchestral music out there to choose from. Estimates are nearly impossible to make especially since music continues to be written to this day. Even if you just speculate that there have been 10,000 composers throughout history and each one wrote just 100 pieces, the result is 1 million pieces. That is an awful lot of music to memorize as a member of any orchestra – professional or volunteer. And the odds that an orchestra member will play the same piece more than once or twice in their lifetime is slim.

On the other hand, soloists tend to have a memorized, well-rehearsed repertoire ready to go at a moment’s notice. And when they are asked to play something outside of their repertoire or they are asked to play a new composition, they are given plenty of time to prepare and memorize the piece before performing it.

Need For Consistency: Each member of a section needs to play tightly in unison with other members. You can’t have 10 first violins, each playing something slightly different. During rehearsal, conductors will typically give direction about tempos, dynamics (volume), bowings, and breathing and the musicians will note that in the sheet music to remember for future rehearsals and the performance. Memorizing the music and remembering all those directions is not only difficult, but also not useful for future performances where other conductors may ask for something different.

Soloists, however, have a lot more room to interpret the music as they want. The accompanist or orchestra follow the solo performer’s lead.

All of this is not to say that being a soloist is any easier than playing in an orchestra. Soloists have a unique skill set and face different challenges. They are required to perform their best with very few rehearsals – maybe 1 or 2 or at most. They are expected to play from memory but, at the same time, play with a passion that keeps the audience engaged.

The bottom line is that orchestra members and soloists use sheet music differently due to their unique circumstances and requirements.