A few days ago, after the 27th snowstorm of the season – or possibly the 34th – an elderly woman of my acquaintance asked me if I could recommend some music to help her get through the remaining days of this winter.
“You know, some of that happy, uplifting type of music,” she said.
I gave her a few top of the head suggestions. But then I began to think: maybe she’s on to something. Maybe the next few weeks would be more bearable for us all if we concentrated on the happy, uplifting type of music.
I began compiling a more extensive, stylistically eclectic playlist. Here’s what I have so far – additions from readers are welcome.
1. Mendelssohn: Octet for Strings, first movement
Among other distinctions, this exuberant, sunny work may well be the most sophisticated piece of music ever composed by a 16 year-old.
2. Bernstein: Overture to “Candide”
Although the problematic musical/operetta “Candide” isn’t necessarily what you would call a monument to happiness, the overture – now reportedly the single most-performed piece of American classical music – is pretty much a nonstop smile-inducer, right through to its jokey little cadential punch line at the end.
3. Fred Astaire: “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” (Berlin)
From the film “Top Hat,” this ingenious 1935 Irving Berlin “rhythm number” feels as if it were custom made for Fred, which in fact it was. Note: Virtually any vintage Astaire tune will qualify for this list.
4. Rossini: Overture to “La Scala di Seta” (The Silken Ladder)
A full disc of Rossini Overtures, as is well known, has roughly the cumulative anti-depressant capacity of a medium tureen full of Wellbutrin capsules. I only choose this one because when I was younger and used to laugh out loud more readily than I do now, this one often caused me to do just that.
5. Beatles: “Long Tall Sally” (Penniman)
The number of white covers of R&B classics that are worthy of the originals can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown could probably handle them. With all due respect to Little Richard, this is one of them. The protean voice of the young Paul McCartney is one of the wonders of the physiological world. Honorable Mention: George’s “Here Comes the Sun.”
6. Bernstein: “Mambo” from “West Side Story”
This clip, featuring Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Venezuelan Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, has been making the online rounds for some time. But I’m sure a lot of you haven’t seen it yet, so here it is. Too bad Lenny couldn’t have lived to see this.
7. Ginastera: Malambo From “Estancia”
It’s got a good beat and you can – if you’re okay with meter changes -- dance to it.
8. Overture to “Gypsy” (Styne/Sondheim)
Orchestrated by Rob Ginzler and the great Sid Ramin (at this writing, Sid is blessedly still with us at age 96) this gets most people’s vote -- including mine -- for greatest Broadway overture of all time.
9. Prokofiev: Symphony No. 1 “Classical” first movement
An exuberant, deceptively intricate piece of work from the 26 year-old Prokofiev, written in homage to Haydn.
10. Manhattan Transfer: “Four Brothers”
Since Tim Hauser’s death a few months ago, I’ve been periodically revisiting my MT back catalogue, with good results. This is one of their most ebullient and inventive specimens: a brilliant vocalese on the 1947 tune made famous by Woody Herman and his band.
11. Elmer Bernstein: theme from “The Magnificent Seven”
I’m not all that fond of the movie, and so many Hollywood hacks have ripped off its majestic, syncopated outline that it now feels a little cheesy. But Elmer Bernstein, these days perhaps an underrated figure in the pantheon of movie composers, created something here of Coplandesque stature.
12. Sibelius: Symphony No. 5, third movement
Here, too, so many composers, including pop tunesmiths, have appropriated the symphony’s mighty concluding “Swan Hymn” that it now seems somehow overly familiar. But it’s a great lick, and with its evocation of birds in flight, it conjures images of spring. Whatever that is.
Great Artist, Great Human Being
News arrived earlier this week that Anne Koscielny had died at her home in Massachusetts. She was 78.
Anne was a brilliant pianist who, several times in her distinguished career, presented the full cycle of all 32 Sonatas of Beethoven.
She was also a deeply loved and admired teacher, who for many years was on the faculty of the University of Hartford’s Hartt School, and, later, the University of Maryland.
She is survived by her husband Raymond Hanson, himself a titan of the regional piano scene, who served for decades as the chairman of Hartt’s redoubtable piano department.
I understand that Hartt and the Musical Club of Hartford are working on a memorial event in the spring to celebrate Anne’s life. I’ll pass along any information I get.
Nowadays, Richard Wagner’s anti-Semitism is as widely discussed as his music. Nearly a century and a half after his death, he is a globally animating and polarizing figure, both politically and artistically.
Wagner’s infamous, at times complicated relationship to Jews and Judaism will be the topic of an evening-length presentation Wednesday, March 11 at Beth El Temple in West Hartford.
The centerpiece of the evening will be the 50-minute documentary film “Wagner’s Jews,” by filmmaker Hilan Warshaw, which examines the composer’s professional and personal association with several Jewish contemporaries, including conductor Hermann Levi, who conducted the first performance of “Parsifal” at Bayreuth.
Responding to the 50-minute film will be Warshaw himself, along with conductor, musicologist, educator, and polymath Leon Botstein.
Botstein, of course, is one of leading figures in this country’s musical and intellectual life.
As an orchestral conductor he is music director of the American Symphony Orchestra and Conductor Laureate of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. But he is perhaps best known for being the president of Bard College in upstate New York, a position he has held for 40 years.
Among his many achievements at Bard has been the establishment of the Bard Music Festival and its more recent companion, the Bard SummerScape Festival. Both are summer entities that bring to the campus performers and artistic figures of international stature.
Moderating the March 11 program will be Cantor Joseph Ness. The evening is part of Beth El Temple’s Music University Series, examining the impact of Jewish composers and Judaism on 19th and 20th century culture.
For details and ticket information, call (860) 233-9696 or visit the temple’s website, bethelwesthartford.org.
Steve Metcalf was The Hartford Courant’s fulltime classical music critic and reporter for over 20 years, beginning in 1982. He is currently the curator of the Richard P. Garmany Chamber Music Series at The Hartt School. He can be reached at email@example.com.