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Classical Notes

Sounds of my season

Posted at 3:56 PM on December 17, 2010 by Emily Reese
Filed under: Musical philosophy

I frequently go through different phases of musical interest, much like everyone else who's an avid music listener. I'm always in a Johann Sebastian Bach phase, although I guess that doesn't count as a phase... it's more of a state of being. My other favorites weave in and out of my soundtrack as often as my moods color my days. Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Beethoven, Brahms, Holst, Elgar, Copland, Haydn, Shostakovich, Mozart opera, etc.

But this December, I'm listening to Björk and Gustav Mahler. Both answers raise eyebrows, depending on with whom I'm having the conversation. Mahler, a Jew who eventually turned Catholic so he could work in Vienna? At Christmas? Mahler, who toiled through the topics of life and death with his music, the guy who turned the French nursery rhyme, "Frère Jacques," into a sad, minor song? But when I think about how we're trained to hear certain musical cues and associate them with the holidays, Mahler is a perfect fit for me. Take the second movement from his First Symphony (right before the famed "Frère Jacques" movement). The instruments dance buoyantly through a joyous melodic landscape, colored by bells and triangles, trills, and rips. Festive dance music, complete with jingling bells, something Mahler peppers through his music as often as the theme of death, and rebirth. In my own musical mind, Mahler was brilliant at painting a melodic scene quite worthy of any holiday playlist.

Now, if you're wondering why I'd even mention Björk on our classical blog, and you feel adventurous, listen to her song Jóga; live strings often played by students from the classical music school she attended as a child. Happy Holidays!