|About this Recording
8.557411 - MUSIC TO DIE FOR
MUSIC to die for
There will doubtless be some who will, after perusing the track listing, object to the title of this compilation as being in somewhat poor taste. But if you read these words, you’ve already made the decision of satisfying your curiosity as to the meaning behind the title. Of course, there will be those that purchase this disc solely on the basis of the heading, the meaning indicating a collection one simply cannot do without. An explanation:
It has often been stated that music, indeed more so than other artforms, is known to trigger memory. Surely everyone has heard a familiar piece of music – even a melodic fragment – and been mentally transported to earlier days. Perhaps the wistful thought of an early romance or heartbreak, the memory of an old friend, or the lost simplicity of youth – a peculiar arrangement of notes or a poignant lyric can instantly take us there. In addition, music itself can act as an agent of transport, memorializing a particular person, place, thing, feeling or mood by its programmatic nature or ability to arouse the listener’s imagination. Some of the greatest works of music move us because their authors were inspired by the power of artistic creation. This compilation proves that some of the most profound music has dealt with the often-taboo but never-neglected subject of death.
This disc gathers together examples of profound spiritual utterances in Western music – sacred and secular - traveling back to Vienna of the late 18th century up to New York of the late 20th. The excerpted Requiem masses heard here memorialize, reflect upon, and embrace death – and life - in a way that only music can. Other pieces touch us by their sublimity and timelessness, perhaps reaching us through their utilization in one of the undeniable art forms of today, that of film. Casablanca would be unthinkable without the mournfully nostalgic “As Time Goes By,” and the scenes from Oliver Stone’s Vietnam tragedy, Platoon, would lose their tremendous impact without the high straining strings of Samuel Barber’s Adagio, included here. The greatest music transcends the time in which it was conceived and the situations for which it was designed. Music to Die For is an anthology of music that takes us to another place, a collection of musical gems without which life would be seriously deficient, if only for the joy, the beauty and the celebration of life these works embrace.
Carl Orff (1895-1982)
“O fortuna” from Carmina Burana
Prejudiced listeners have often found fault with music of the 20th-century, citing a lack of emotional connection and directness of expression found in music of earlier eras. But the fame of modern composer Carl Orff rests on this stirring, primaeval work for chorus and orchestra. One of the most popular pieces of the century, its cinematic nature has rendered it ideal for the visions of film directors; Carmina has been used in a dozen or more movies, most notably 1981’s Excalibur. Its savagery alternates with great melodic immediacy and a spiritual, other-worldly quality.
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
“Dies Irae” from Requiem
No less intense is the “Dies Irae” from Verdi’s mammoth Requiem. Giuseppe Verdi was one of the leading opera composers of the 19th century as well as one of the most performed composers today. This work was given its first performance a year after the death of Alessandro Manzoni, the Italian novelist whose literary gifts moved the composer to pay homage. Critics lambasted Verdi for making the sequence of the Latin Requiem mass, typically solemn and reverential, too operatic. Indeed, solemnity is somewhat absent from the piece, instead infused with fiery, dramatic music. It is no less moving, no less spiritual, because of it. The lyrics to this haunting piece refer to the fear of Judgement Day:
Day of wrath
That day will loosen an age in an ember
Wojciech Kilar (b. 1932)
“Brides” from Bram Stoker’s Dracula
The medium of film has blessed us with numerous musical gems. Many of these works stand alone, distinct from the films which they were designed to accompany. Kilar had been active as a film composer for decades in his native Poland when director Francis Ford Coppola recruited him for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Stoker’s story of the praeternatural vampire terrorizing England features Kilar’s haunting music in this 1992 film adaptation. The sinister score expertly evokes horror and death.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
First movement from Piano Sonata No. 14
The famous subtitle of this sonata was not of the composer’s invention. Others had visions of the play of moonlight on the waters of Switzerland’s idyllic Lake Lucerne. The somber, rocking arpeggios that underscore the first movement accompany a melody that startles with its simplicity. The deep melodic poetry has given a truly timeless quality to this, one of the most recognized piano pieces in history, penned by one of its most famous composers.
Philip Glass (b. 1937)
Second movement from Violin Concerto
Through his ensemble works of the 1960s and his theatre and film works of later decades, Philip Glass has emerged as one of America’s leading composers. Most often associated with an unofficial school of composition called “minimalism,” Glass’ music is marked by frequent repetition and subtle shifting of accent and texture. The second movement of his moving Violin Concerto features an unchanging ostinato – a repetitive bass line – of great simplicity, over which the solo violin intones a transparent, almost sacred melody. The resulting layers of sound are rich with haunting dissonances.
Samuel Barber (1910-1981)
Adagio for Strings
Perhaps the most famous film usage of this stirring work was in Oliver Stone’s Platoon. Barber’s poignant music underscores much of this tragic movie that deals with the brutality of war and the fate of an army platoon in ravaged Vietnam. The Adagio has ever since become a constant choice for memorials, tributes and inspirational performances. A note for the curious: the Adagio was actually one movement of a four-movement string quartet (1936), seldom played today. The string orchestra arrangement for which the work is now known was made at the instigation of legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini.
Gabriel FaurÉ (1845-1924)
“Sanctus” from Requiem
The Requiem of composer Gabriel Fauré is celebrated not only as the Frenchman’s most performed work, but also as one of the most performed choral works in history. In his setting of the Catholic liturgy, Fauré conveys a calm sense of peace with the utmost economy of expression. The “Sanctus” is a self-contained gem of other-worldly beauty giving hope to the dying:
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts
Heaven and earth are full of your glory
Hosanna in the highest
Richard Wagner (1813-1901)
“Siegfried’s Death and Funeral March”
Wagner left an enormous footprint on the history of music and his theories on opera and the total integration of theatrical and musical elements have been praised, damned and debated since the German burst into the world of opera. His massive tetrology of operas, Der Ring des Nibelungen, calls for hitherto unencountered numbers of instruments and voices, perhaps even taxing the endurance of the operagoer. However, few can accuse Wagner of writing music lacking in poetic and dramatic beauty, as evidenced by this somber music, which more than sets the scene for one of the most famous deaths in opera history.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
“Lacrymosa” from Requiem
Celebrated as one of the greatest musical geniuses of all time, Mozart tragically spent much of his life in debilitating obscurity, leading to his untimely death at the age of 36. Placed squarely within the rational, well-defined Classical era of the arts (also “The Age of Reason”), Mozart in his later masterpieces probed unexplored emotional areas where his progressive musical ideas blossomed into an art of unequalled expression. Amadeus, Peter Shaffer’s play and movie adaptation, captures the creative passion and discipline of the artist as his health dramatically deteriorated. Mozart didn’t live to finish his Requiem, leaving its completion to a student and future scholars. The haunting Lacrymosa concludes on a crescendo “Amen,” likely the last notes Mozart wrote. One of music’s greatest composers died penniless, and was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave somewhere in Vienna.
Tearful that day on which
Mankind will rise up from an ember
A defendant to be judged
Henryk GorÉcki (b. 1933)
“Lento e largo” - Tranquilissimo
from Symphony No. 3
“Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”
Polish composer Henryk Gorécki experienced a stylistic about-face in the 1970s, moving from the harsh, grating dissonances of his ultra-modern early works to the contemplative lyricism of today. Often linked to new mysticism, a compositional movement that emphasizes harmonic simplicity and the contemplation of God that characterized music of the Middle Ages, Gorécki’s Symphony No. 3, is marked by a devotional stillness. It is one of the best-known symphonies of the second half of the 20th century and has brought the composer worldwide fame. The shimmering chords of this second movement sound both somber and hopeful. The lyrics are based on a message found etched in a Gestapo prison cell in 1944. The 18-year old Helena Wanda Blazusiakowna had carved these words:
No, Mother, do not weep,
Most chaste Queen of Heaven
Help me always.
John Rutter (b. 1945)
“Pie Jesu” from Requiem
Composed in 1985, the Requiem of English composer John Rutter has become well established in the choral repertoire, sung by choirs the world over. Rutter has successfully carried on the rich, English choral tradition, infusing it with novel ideas and relevance. The sublime Pie Jesu is a personal prayer to Christ. The composer dedicated the work to the memory of his father, who had passed away the previous year. The natural, melodic succinctness with which Rutter works acts to transport the listener to an altogether higher spiritual plane.
Merciful Jesus, grant them peace
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