5. Third Movement from The Third Symphony in F Major (op.90), by Johannes Brahms
Returning to Brahms but in his capacity as a symphonic composer this time. Brahms composed only four symphonies in his lifetime, living as he did in the formidable shadow of his predecessor Beethoven. This symphony was composed in 1883 with the premiere in December of that year in Vienna. There are four movements in the complete symphony, scored for double woodwind, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, strings and timpani.
This movement is marked ‘Poco Allegretto’ and is in the darker key of C minor which for me does not affect the more optimistic mood of the piece. The third movement is wonderfully lyrical, poetic and liberated. This may in part be due to the phrase Brahms was supposed to have used to describe himself at the time which was “free but happy”
6. Ave Maria by JS Bach (Gounod)
This version of the celebrated piece by Bach (Gounod) is sublime. The combined talents of Kathryn Stott and Yo-Yo Ma are compelling. As the story goes, Gounod improvised this over the Prelude number one (BWV 846) by Bach. Gounod’s father-in-law then transcribed Gounod’s improvisation making the arrangement for violin or cello and piano. The resulting piece seems like the perfect match.
It is not hard to understand why this piece has become one of the most performed pieces at weddings and also funerals. The Swedish film of 2017 called “The Square” featured a version of this composition as its main theme.
7. Songs Without Words (Op.19; No.1) by Felix Mendelsohn
Mendelsohn composed eight volumes of the Songs Without Words. They are pieces that vary dramatically in terms of technical challenge and style. Each is a lyrical miniature designed really with the middle-class pianists of the time in mind. The popularity and accessibility of the piano made compositions like these quite lucrative for composers but this is not to diminish the polished, genius of these works.
This Song Without Words in E major with a simple melody that is accompanied by almost continuous semi-quaver movement throughout. It has all the qualities that you would expect from the pen of Mendelsohn and even though its performance time is less than three minutes, there is the feeling of having travelled somewhere wonderful in this short time.
8. Pavane (Op.50) By Gabriel Fauré
Originally composed as a piece for piano the orchestrated version has proven to be equally popular. A pavane has its origins in the courtly dances of Spain and this is where Fauré derives the gentle rhythm for his composition. The piece was composed in 1880s the orchestral version following in 1887.
It is scored for a modest orchestra with the option of a chorus. The piece enjoyed popularity from the outset and a choreographed version was created by Léonide Massine in 1917. The Pavane is a charming look back at a lighter time when perhaps the cares of the late 19th Century could fade away.
By Dr Justin Wildridge – Justin Wildridge is a media composer and multi-instrumentalist based in the South-West of England where he works from his own studio. He holds a Doctorate in musical composition from the University of Nottingham and has over the last twenty years composed extensively within the contemporary art music world.
Bibliography – https://www.cmuse.org/classical-music-for-sleep/
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