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Classical Notes

Suppose you're shipwrecked on a desert island...

Posted at 3:05 PM on March 30, 2007 by Alison Young

The other night, I played a piece of music that is so utterly beautiful that I introduced it by saying "If I were stranded on a desert island, I would want this one along with me." It was the Adagietto or "Little Adagio" from Mahler's Fifth Symphony. It's a movement the acts as a bit of a respite from the emotional upheaval and melancholy of the rest of the symphony, but even alone seems to provide a sense of refuge and safety. Mahler only uses the string section with most of the orchestra sitting silently, except for the harpist. Somehow, introducing this plucked harmonic underpinning is the genius touch. It adds just enough of a gentle beat, like someone singing a cradle song, and the movement doesn't become overly bogged down in sentimentality.

I received an e-mail from a listener that pointed out as much as he liked the piece, he would prefer a piece more substantial and complex, like a Beethoven sonata; something to keep his mind active.

Interesting point. If we were all alone, far from civilization, and were offered a selection of pieces of music to have with us, what would they be? Something to comfort us, or something to keep our minds sharp?

For me the answer would be to have both!

What about you?