Greetings, dear guest. In this room of my museum, I list and critique some of my favorite (and not-so-favorite) music, and I also present some discussion on different kinds of music, some historical information about the various "eras" of music, and some biographical information on selected composers and performers.
I have been careful to keep fact and opinion separate, and to research my technical and biographical data, so I have high confidence in the factuality of the statements I make in here. However, any value judgments I make are purely my own opinions, shaped by my personal tastes.
In what follows, I discuss my favorite (and not-so-favorite) music in roughly chronological order, from the distant past to the present. I give a separate section to each "era" in music, with horizontal rules separating eras.
Enjoy your visit to my music room!
Starting from the remote past, I dig Gregorian Chant. The album Chant by The Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo De Silos, on the Angel label, is an especially good recording of this haunting ancient music.
My favorite Renaissance music comes from the pen of Michael Praetorius. Praetorius was more of a "collector" and "arranger" than a "composer". He lived some 300 years after the heart of the Renaissance, but he collected and arranged many old Renaissance tunes. I especially like his Dances From The Tersichore.
My favorite Baroque era composers include J.S. Bach, George Handel, Antonio Vivaldi, and a few others.
Johan Sebastian Bach (known as "Old Bach" by some, to distinguish him from his many sons) wrote thousands of works of music in his lifetime, far too many to list here. He was one of the most prolific composers of music in all of human history. JS Bach is my all-time favorite composer. He wrote works of such intelligence, complexity, and ingenuity that I doubt most of his work will ever be fully appreciated by the human race. He wasn't just ahead of his time; he was born to the wrong species.
A few of my favorite Bach works include:
- The Saint Matthew Passion. This is one of my all-time favorite pieces of music. Very long, rich, complex, highly-emotional music.
- A Musical Offering. One of the most bizarre pieces of music ever written. Portions are palindromes. Ie, they are the same played backwards as forwards. At least one portion, titled "Cannon for Contrary Motion", contains two simultaneous melodic lines, one of which is the other played backwards! (Check out the midi below.) Also includes "Six Part Ricercar", a fugue in six voices for keyboard! (Try writing 6-part counterpoint sometime. Just try! It's nearly impossible to write an extended work in more than about three voices and still have all the voices harmonize with each other. But Bach managed it somehow, in spite of having based it on a very tricky, highly chromatic theme from a high-placed patron.)
The following midi is only comprehensible if you use headphones. Then, if you pay careful attention, you will notice that the left channel is the right channel played backwards! And no, this is not "modern" music; this was written over 300 years ago.
"Canon for Contrary Motion":
- various suites for unaccompanied violin
- various organ works, especially Toccata and Fugue in D minor
- The Well-Tempered Clavier, a collection of works for keyboard instruments, especially the clavier, but these can also be played on harpsichord or piano.
- The Brandenburg Concertos, a collection of six concerti grossi. Especially check out the last movement of #2 and the middle (slow) movement of #6.
One of my all-time favorite pieces of music is George Frideric Handel's Water Music. This is a very beautiful work. It is a sequence of about twenty short instrumental movements. Excerpts from Water Music are used in many applications, such as theme music for TV shows, music in commercials, elevator music, etc. I especially like the recording that August Wenzinger and the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis made in 1966 for the Deutsche Grammophon label.
Perhaps the most famous of all Handel works, though, is his cataclysmic oratorio, The Messiah. This is very rich, elaborate religious choral music. It is very long.
My favorite work of Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi is his The Four Seasons, which is a set of four violin concertos titled "Spring", "Summer", "Fall", and "Winter". The second movement of "Winter" is one of my all-time favorite pieces of music.
Vivaldi also wrote many other works, most of them musical exercises for use in the school for girls in which he taught music. Such was the talent of Vivaldi that even some of his quickly-penned "exercises" turned out to be beautiful pieces of music.
One of my favorites is a simple little piccolo concerto he wrote. Absolutely charming. I first heard it over the PA system in the art gallery at Orange Coast College back around 1980 or so. I'll always remember that moment.
Other Baroque Composers
Other favorite Baroque composers of mine include Albinoni, Corelli, and Pachelbel. Especially check out Pachelbel's Cannon and Gigue.
The Classical era in European music (primarily the 18th century) was marked my a simplification of style and replacement of the older "polyphonic" structure of the Baroque era, in which the music generally had two or more simultaneous melodic lines, by "Homophonic" structure (which remains the basis of most of today's modern music throughout the world, including Rock and Roll) in which the music generally has only one melodic line, supported by harmonizing chords. The classical era also made much use of simplified, formalized decorative devices, in place of the rampant improvisation of the Baroque era.
The classical era was when the modern methods of writing music down on paper were finally standardized, and Italian was adapted as the official language of musical notation. Ever wonder what all those weird words are on sheet music? Mezzo Legato, Allegro con Moto, Pianoisimo, Pizzicato, Adagio, Presto, Ritardando, etc.? It's all Italian.
(You might complain, "Why didn't they use English?", but remember, England was not in the forefront of musical culture those days, and The United States of America was just a dream in the minds of Paine, Henry, Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, and Washington, at least until 1776. And after 1776, the world's two biggest English-speaking countries were too busy blowing each other's brains out to pay much attention to musical matters. It wasn't until 182 years later, when an obscure R&B dude named "Little Richard" invented a new kind of music and dubbed it "Rock and Roll" that much of anything interesting happened in the American musical scene. But Italy, on the other hand, was highly active in the world music scene at the time. So that's why Italian was adopted as the official language of music notation.)
There is no doubt about it: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was the greatest Classical composer who ever lived. No other Classical composer ever came close to matching his genius. In fact, I hold Mozart to be the second-greatest composer of all time, after JS Bach. Mozart took the "conventions" of his era and used them as raw material to create works of astounding beauty. Rather than fight against the "system", he worked within it, and used the confining rules as tools to escape confinement.
My favorite Mozart works are multitudinous, but they especially include his late symphonies (such as symphonies 39, 40, 41), and his operas (especially The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute, and Don Giovani).
I also really dig his piano concertos (especially #25), his chamber music (such as his Clarinet Quintet in A, KV581), his serenades (such as Eine Kleine Nachtmusic, KV525 and Serenata Notturna, KV239), and many other works.
Mozart was a very prolific composer, even though his life was cut short by an illness which killed him at age 35. (And no, there is really no historical evidence that Antonio Salieri murdered Mozart, for those of you who have seen the movie Amadeus.) A vast volume of Mozart's works exists in written form, even though Mozart wrote all his works in his head, in real time, and made only one written copy of each work, immediately after composing it. Fortunately, his wife preserved these manuscripts after he died, else Mozart might have faded into obscurity and not even be a household name as he is today. A look at his original scores is very enlightening. They contain no errors, changes, or edits whatsoever. He created the music in his head while going about his daily activities, then he'd just write it down verbatim. A far cry from Beethoven...
Ludwig Van Beethoven was a composer in a category all his own. He was the last of the classical composers, and the first and greatest of the "Romantic" composers. Beethoven composed highly emotional, intensely moving music. His music was also innovative, introducing new harmonies and rhythms, and popularizing new musical instruments.
But the most distinctive thing about Beethoven's music is its air of "inevitability". After the first few measures of a Beethoven piece, the rest seems to flow from the beginning with inescapable logic.
This inevitability was hard-bought for Beethoven, however. He would take years to write a single work, and would endlessly edit and re-edit his works, searching for perfection, before he allowed them to be published or performed. If you look at one of Beethoven's original manuscripts, your eyes will be assaulted by a horrendous mish-mash of scribbles, corrections, corrections to the corrections, margin notes, and ink blotches. It's a wonder his publishers were ever able to make heads or tails of his manuscripts. Very different from Mozart's pristine, flawless scores.
I hold Beethoven to be my third-favorite composer, after Bach and Mozart. Many people say that Beethoven was the greatest composer of all time, but I have to disagree. He certainly had a way of writing highly emotional music, but much of his music is a little too emotional for my taste. Most of the time I prefer the "calmer" work of Bach and Mozart, except when I'm in a Beethovenesque mood.
Some of my favorite Beethoven works are:
- Symphony #8
- Piano Concerto #4
- Violin Concerto in D
- The Late String Quartets, Opus 127-132
Unfortunately, Netscape has no plug-ins for rmi files, so if you're using Netscape, save this to disk, then open it with any program capable of reading rmi files.
Various Nineteenth- and Twentieth- Century Music
These last two centuries have produced vast quantities of music, of all different descriptions and quality levels. I can only scratch the surface here, and mention a few composers and works that I like (or dislike).
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Brahms wrote only four symphonies in his long lifetime, but they are all monumental works. His favorite composer was Beethoven, whom he revered as the greatest composer of all time. Indeed, Brahms' own music shares much in common with Beethoven, with it's extreme emotionalism and it's sense of "inevitability" and "flow".
But the music of Brahms is also very different from that of Beethoven. Brahms had a way of using innovative orchestrations and harmonies to create musical moods. Beethoven could never do that because Beethoven was deaf. Whereas Beethoven relied on simple melodies and counterpoints which he could hear in his head, Brahms could hear very well indeed, and used the instruments of the mid-nineteenth-century symphony orchestra to create unique and beautiful sound textures which had never been heard before.
Besides being the wife of Robert Schumann, and the adoptive mother of Johannes Brahms, Clara Schumann was a composer of some very beautiful music. It's too bad that her stuff is so rare and hard to find, either on records, or on the radio. Indeed, here the anti-female bias in music is seen. Until as recently as the 1990s, women have languished in the music industry, which has been almost solely the province of men. And there is no reason for it! Women are just as musically talented as men, perhaps more so. Hopefully in the twenty-first century, people will start to realize that the other half of the human race can compose and perform music just as well as men can. I tip my hat to such persons as Clara Schumann, Alanis Morrisette, Enya, and Delores O'Riordan for daring to say to the world, "I'm just as good as you men are", and then following through on their claim, and succeeding in the music business, in spite of the rampant sexism around them.
Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)
I love Berlioz's symphonies, Symphonie Fantastique and Harold in Italy. Check these out! They're great stuff. They are full of dreamscapes, and sometimes nightmare-scapes. One of the greatest experiences of my life was attending a concert of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, under the leadership of Zubin Mehta, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, CA, back around 1973. On the program that night was Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique and Beethoven's Piano Concerto #3. Both were spectacular.
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Most people "Ooh" and "Ahh" over Tchaikovsky's ballets, especially his Nutcracker, but I find such music to be too bland for my taste. I much prefer such works as his Symphony #1 and Piano Concerto #5.
Gustaff Mahler (1860-1911)
Mahler's symphonies are heavenly. They are full of very dreamy music which calls all sorts of odd images to my mind.
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
This enigmatic Englishman wrote some very beautiful symphonies. Ethereal, dreamlike, other-worldly, bizarre, delightful. He rocks! (Speaking of Rock, Ralph died in the same year that Rock & Roll was born. Attach any significance to that that you like.)
Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-?)
I don't know for sure if this composer is still alive. Stockhausen wrote (writes?) perhaps the most bizarre music in human history. It's indescribable. It often uses weird electronic sound effects, and various objects, in place of musical instruments. I can't describe Stockhausen's music. Word's fail me. You'll just have to listen to it yourself.
I don't listen to his stuff very often, because, like Jazz, it's a bit emotionally "cool" for my taste. But Stockhausen is still one of my favorite composers, even though the stuff he composes might be more properly described as "interesting, innovative sound effects" than as "music". In a word, his stuff is very "aleatoric". Now, find that word in a dictionary, if you can!
Phillip Glass is one of my all-time favorite composers. His music shows that beautiful, moving music can be written in any style, idiom, or genre. Phillip Glass writes music in the "Avante Garde" genre, like Stockhausen. But unlike Stockhausen, his music is emotionally "hot" and deeply moving. I especially love his sound-track music to the movie Koyaanisqatsi, and his opera Einstein on the Beach.
I dislike most Jazz. Most of it is too emotionally "cool" for my taste. Some of the Jazz I do like includes some blues songs, and the ragtime music of Scott Joplin. I especially like Joplin's "Maple Street Rag" and "The Entertainer".
Rock & Roll
In 1958, Rock & Roll was born. The music world, for better and for worse, will never be the same again. This powerful, energetic form of music can often be intolerably loud, noisy, raucous, and offensive. But it can also often be beautiful and moving. Sometimes, it can even be both. Example: Neil Young's "Hey, Hey, My, My (Into the Black)". That song is loud, raucous, and discordant, but it is also very moving, full of both sadness and anger.
The following sections comment on some of my favorite Rock bands:
U2 is my favorite Rock & Roll band. I love Paul "Bono" Hewson's poetic lyrics and his emotionally intense singing voice, and I also love Dave "The Edge" Evans' innovative guitar playing. Bassist Adam and drummer Larry also do their jobs well. An all-around fine rock band! The following items are my comments on some of U2's albums, in roughly chronological order:
- Boy. U2's first album. Not as good, technically speaking, as their other albums, but you need to take into consideration that they were just boys (about 17) when they recorded it. (Which may be part of the reason for the title: songs about boys, by boys.) It is an album about parent/child relationships, and especially father/son relationships. My favorite song on this album is "Shadows and Tall Trees" ("Tall Trees" = dads, "Shadows" = sons).
- October. My favorite song on this album is "Tomorrow", a haunting tale of a son's numbness and denial over the death of his mother. This is directly from the life of U2's lead singer, Paul "Bono" Hewson, who's mother died when he was only 14 years old.
- War. Contains the classic song "Sunday, Bloody Sunday", about the insanity, evil, and destructiveness of fighting over religion.
- Unforgettable Fire. This is currently my favorite U2 album. (I change my mind from time to time.) This contains my all-time favorite Rock & Roll song, "Bad", as well as "Pride (In the Name of Love)".
- The Joshua Tree. My second-favorite U2 album after Unforgettable Fire. I like all these songs, but especially the first three songs ("Where the Streets Have No Name", "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For", and "With Or Without You"), and the last song on the album, "Mothers Of the Disappeared", which is about dead and missing children and grieving mothers.
- Rattle and Hum. My favorite song on this album is "Van Damien's Land", written and sung by the Edge. Edge's Irish accent really is very noticeable in this song. One of the most obviously "Irish" of all U2 songs, second only to "Tomorrow" in that regard.
- Achtung Baby. I love "Ultraviolet", a super-bizarre but very beautiful and haunting song. Stretches the limit of how many times one can sing the word "baby" in a single song! (Note as of 1-15-99: The word "baby" actually appears exactly 48 times in the song "Ultraviolet. I just counted all the "baby"'s tonight.) A certain Philip-Glass-style "minimalism" is at work here.
- Zooropa. I love "Numb", "Lemon", and the last song on the album, "Wanderer", which is sung by Johnny Cash. (Nope, that's not a typo! I said Johnny Cash.)
- Pop. This is my least-favorite U2 album. I admire this album's originality and verve, but it is too emotionally "cool" for my taste. I generally prefer "warmer" songs. Hopefully, U2's next album will have more heart to it.
- All That You Can't Leave Behind. Much better than Pop. This is U2 at their best, with happy songs ("Beautiful Day"), sad songs ("Walk On", "Kite", "Peace On Earth"), fun songs ("Elevation"), thoughtful songs ("Stuck In A Moment"), and weird songs ("Wild Honey"). A fine addition to the U2 legacy.
The Moody Blues
My second-favorite Rock & Roll band, after U2. I like their 80s and 90s stuff better than their 60s and 70s stuff. My favorite albums so far are The Other Side Of Life, Keys Of The Kingdom, and Sur La Mer.
The Beatles were a truly classic rock band. Maybe they were the greatest rock band of all time... or maybe not. Either way, they are one of my favorite groups.
I love their albums Revolver, Rubber Soul, Abbey Road, and The White Album, among others. My favorite Beatles songs are to numerous to list, but I'll mention a few here: "Two of Us", "Here Comes The Sun", "Let It Be", and "Elanor Rigby". I dig these a lot.
This guy has been in the Rock & Roll business for a lot of years. He was a member of several different bands, including The Eagles, but I think his best work is on his solo albums. I really liked his album "But Seriously, Folks!" on the Elektra label, especially the songs "Over and Over" and "Second Hand Store", and the way the former segues into the latter.
This band did mainly "soft-pop" type Rock, but they did very well at it. Check out their best-of album, titled "Recurring Dream". This contains seventy minutes of excellent Crowded House music from over the years. Some of my favorite songs are "Don't Dream It's Over", "Into Temptation", and "Private Universe".
This guy's music is much gentler than the "tough-boy" image he tries to project in other aspects of his life. (Such as acting. Sting the song-writer and singer is very, very different from Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, let me tell you!) Sting's music is very gentle, spacey, and moving. Check out his songs "Russians" and "Fields of Gold", both on the album Fields of Gold.
Seal is similar to sting in some ways, but with a more tuneful, melodic style. His first two albums were titled simply Seal, which causes some confusion. I like his song "A Kiss From A Rose" a lot; this is a very dreamy, ethereal, happy, sad song in a minor key; it is my favorite Seal song, but I rarely listen to it, because it reminds me of certain sad things I really shouldn't dwell on.
This rock group has been around for years and has produced many different styles of music. On the plus side, they sometimes come out with masterpieces such as "On the Turning Away", or the frightening "Dog's of War", or the thought provoking "Keep Talking". But on the negative side, their singing is usually gravelly and sometimes way out of tune. Nevertheless, I count Pink Floyd as one of my favorite rock bands, flaws and all.
Two of my favorite Pink Floyd albums are A Momentary Lapse Of Reason and Division Bell.
I love the Cranberries. Their songs often deal with painful social issues such as war, domestic violence, and child abuse.
One of my favorite Cranberries songs is "Dreams", which plays on the radio from time to time, but I don't know which album it's on.
Another of my favorite Cranberries songs is "Zombie", on their album No Need to Argue, in which their lead singer, Delores O'Riordan, delivers one of the most spectacular displays of vocal pyrotechnics in the entire Rock & Roll repertoire. This is a very sad song about the never-ending cycle of child abuse. It is also a very angry song. The emotional counterpoint between the anger of the guitars and bass, and the sadness of Delores's singing, is intense.
The Alan Parsons Project
Check out their song "Closer To Heaven" on their Gaudi album. Be warned, it's emotionally "hot". I've seen this song move grown men to tears.
These guys claim to be "Punks" but their music is actually very tuneful, melodic, highly-musical, and wryly-humorous social commentary. I love their album Tubthumber! One of the best Rock & Roll albums of all time. Unfortunately, only the first track, "Tubthumping", every gets played on the radio. It's a nice song, but their are better songs on this album, including "Drip, Drip, Drip", "Amnesia", "One By One", and "Scapegoat". As bizarre as it may sound, this "Punk Rock" album goes over the heads of most punks, or average citizens for that matter, and tends to appeal more to liberal intellectuals (such as myself). Be prepared for an album with a lot of allusions to specific British political situations, and lots of razor-sharp sarcasm.
I really like most of the songs on their première album, especially "To the Moon and Back", "Tears of Pearls", and "Truly, Madly, Deeply". Though I dare say their song "Santa Monica" pisses me off, with it's gleeful acceptance of Internet misrepresentation. This song seems to say that raping people's minds and souls is a funny joke. It is not.
The Counting Crows
Their album Recovering the Satellites is pretty good. I especially like the songs "Angels of the Silences", "Daylight Fading", and "A Long December". I also like their song "Mr. Jones and Me", which is on a different album, but it gets played on the radio a lot.
Rust Never Sleeps is an exquisite album! I love both "My, My, Hey, Hey" and "Hey, Hey, My, My". So alike, yet so unlike. I also really dig the guitar riffs in "Powderfinger"; beautiful stuff.
I also love the song "Keep On Rocking In The Free World", though I don't remember which album it's on. This is a very sad song which asks just how free the "free" world really is.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Tom's song "Learning to Fly" is really cool. I like his song "Into the Great Wide Open" too, even though the lyrics are a bit dorky. In fact, I re-wrote the lyrics to this song in the form of my poem "Into the Great Mojave".
The Rolling Stones
I don't like most of their stuff, but I do dig a few of their songs, including "Somebody To Bleed On", and "Like a Rolling Stone".
In the late 80s and early 90s, "New Age" was the biggest thing in music, food, dress, medicine, etc. A passing fad? In some ways, but not in others. The underlying idea of New Age is breaking free from hype and modernism, and getting back to the basics of what is spiritually healthy. Holistic medicine instead of toxic drugs, Amish-style small co-op farming instead of 1000000-acre farming, herb tea for breakfast instead of coffee and cigarettes, gentle soul-stirring music instead of Metallica - these are all "New Age" ideas.
New age music is calm, gentle, dreamy, never loud or harsh. It always has wide stereo separation and extremely high fidelity. It often uses recorded sounds of nature (whales, storms, distant thunder, wind in the grass, waves on the beach, etc.) It often uses unusual instrumentation and electronic sound effects. Some of it is emotionally cool, some hot.
There are a number of New Age artists I like, but one stands tall and proud above all the rest:
Eithne Ni Bhraonain (pronounced "Enya Brennan", and often spelled that way also) is, in my opinion, the greatest New-Age composer and performer around. Her music is glorious, gentle yet highly emotional, and extremely soul stirring. This is New Age music at it's best.
Enya was born in Ireland in 1961. She started her musical career as an under-appreciated member of an obscure Irish band named "Clannad" in 1980-1982, but she grew dissatisfied lurking in the shadows, as she knew she could do greater things with her life. She recorded some music in 1986 for a BBC documentary called "The Celts", and that music was later released as her first album, titled "Enya". But she didn't really break through into world-wide renown until she released her single "Orinoco Flow" in 1988. After that, the world could never again forget Enya. She went on to release four more albums (plus a remastering of "Enya", re-titled "The Celts"), and to become one of the most renowned of all New-Age composers and musicians. And her career is just beginning.
The musical band "Enya" actually consists of three people: Enya herself (composition, arrangement, vocal and instrumental performance), Nicky Ryan (production, engineering, and recording) and Roma Ryan (lyrics). A very small band to produce such glorious music!
Enya's lyrics are in a variety of languages including English, Irish, Latin, Welsh, and possibly others. Listening to these lyrics, I get the feeling that a lot of Celtic culture is embedded in this music. It is almost like taking a tour of Ireland and Wales without even leaving my living room.
Enya records for Reprise Records, a division of Time Warner. Enya's albums so far are:
|1||Enya||1986||Enya's first album is beautiful, but very ethereal and spacey. I especially love the tracks "The Celts", "To Go Beyond", and the heartbreakingly beautiful "Fairytale".|
|2||Watermark||1989||This is my favorite Enya album, indeed my favorite music album, period. Glorious beyond description. I especially love "Exile" and "Storms in Africa".|
|3||Shepherd Moons||1991||This is my second favorite Enya album, so-far. The song "Caribbean Blue" is exquisite.|
|4||The Celts||1995||This is a remastering of Enya.|
|5||The Memory of Trees||1995||Another excellent album. It won the Grammy award for best New-Age album of 1995. I especially like the song "China Roses".|
|6||Paint The Sky With Stars||1997||A retrospective, plus two new songs. I listened to most of this album on 3-27-99, and it is glorious! I especially love the song "Only If", with it's message, "If you really want to / You can seize the day / Only if you want to / You can fly away!"|
|7||A Day Without Rain||2000||Another excellent album. I especially like "Wild Child", "Only Time", and "Deora Ar Mo Chroí".|
My favorite Enya songs include "Storms in Africa", "Exile", "On Your Shore", "Evening Falls", "Only If...", and "Caribbean Blue".
The song "Exile" is the saddest song I have ever heard. It strongly reminds me of the last chapter of JRR Tolkien's Simarillion, and the desperate voyage of Earendil. (See my annotated copy of the lyrics to "Exile" for an interesting interpretation of this song.)
Enya is a genius. Alas, like Bach and other visionaries before her, I doubt she will ever be fully appreciated on her own planet, among her own people, in her own time.
To learn still more about Enya, click here to visit a cool Enya web site I found.
That's all of my music comments for right now. But be aware that this page is perpetually in progress. The progress is slow, and it will never be 100% "finished", because I keep hearing new music, or old music I've never heard before, and I keep remembering things I ought to put in here. I will be adding additional content here quite often over the coming years, so keep checking back.
Thanks for visiting my music room, and I hope to see you here again soon!
Your curator and host,