If music be the food of the soul…

Seeing the movie The Soloist yesterday put me back in the embrace of the sort of music that I love most deeply. The beautiful soundtrack features Beethoven’s “Triple” Concerto, Eroica and Ninth Symphony, and the Bach Cello Suite No. 1. I highly recommend the movie, while confessing it’s quite flawed. But, like Shine or Hilary and Jackie it effectively uses music as a character itself, showing its truly transformative nature, as well as how it can be a reflection of one’s internal Sturm und Drang. (See the real story behind the movie here.)

The Soloist

I have a short-list of classical music favorites in this vein that I return to time and time again, and never tire of. They are my spiritual balm, are deeply healing, and “feed” me when I’m feeling lost or run-down. If I were ever considering an atheistic path, these pieces will continue to convince me otherwise. I consider them some of the most spiritually transformative works in the genre.

I tend to prefer more contemplative, stirring works than cheerful, overtly uplifting ones, when looking for something transcendent, so those weigh more heavily here. Surely one of these will be played at my funeral (which is hopefully a long way off). And, these are not necessarily my favorite recordings, but they are what’s available online, and in a good enough quality, worthy of viewing.

I’ve narrowed to one work per composer, otherwise Richard Strauss and Beethoven would have filled the entire list. I had to leave out the Mahler, Elgar, Faure, and Morricone. They are in no particular order.

Missa Solemnis: Benedictus (Beethoven)
This movement flows without a pause from the previous Sanctus.

Eclogue for Piano and Strings (Gerald Finzi)

Vier Letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs): Im Abendrot (At Sunset) (Richard Strauss)
This rendition is too frenetic, but Popp makes it worthwhile. I most love della Casa and Fleming’s (first) studio recordings.

Mass in C Minor: Et Incarnatus Est (Mozart)
Noone has ever sung this like Ileana Cotrubas, on the Raymond Leppard recording.

Tristan und Isolde: Love Duet (Wagner)

Symphony No. 3 in C Minor, “Organ”: Poco Adagio (Saint-Saens)

Fourteen Songs: Vocalise (Rachmaninoff)

Missa Sancti Gotthardi: Anima Nostra (Michael Haydn)
Please ignore the RIDICULOUS video. This one is for your ears only!

Double Concerto in D Minor, for two violins: Largo (Bach)

German Requiem: Ihr Habt Traurigkeit (Brahms)
As much of a Janowitz fan as I am, this is a bit past her prime, and the Kathleen Battle and Elisabeth Grummer studio recordings can’t be beat.

Beau Soir (Beautiful Evening), for violin (Debussy, arr. Heifitz)

I hope that you experienced here at least one of these pieces for the first time (again, these video themselves in most cases are not the focus here, just a delivery device). Although I don’t think it’s an ideal practice to extract a single movement from a symphony or mass, the “jewel” of such a work can become a portal for one to want to explore more of the complete work. I hope you find that to be the case. Good luck on your journey! I leave you with the Joseph von Eichendorff’s text from Im Abendrot:

We have gone through sorrow and joy
hand in hand;
Now we can rest from our wandering
above the quiet land.

Around us, the valleys bow;
the air is growing darker.
Just two skylarks soar upwards
dreamily into the fragrant air.

Come close to me, and let them flutter.
Soon it will be time for sleep.
Let us not lose our way
in this solitude.

O vast, tranquil peace,
so deep at sunset!
How weary we are of wandering—
Is this perhaps death?

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