An Interactive Site to Identify the Most Beautiful Musical Compositions of Each Country

Welcome music lovers! Please join the discussion, vote, and offer suggestions for what you think are the most beautiful musical compositions of each country in the world. See my initial posting for the rules of the game. Then click on the country label (on the right side) and use "Comment" to offer your thoughts, votes or suggestions about the music of that country. To suggest candidate compositions, please provide the title and composer of the piece and, if possible, a link to an audio or video sample of the music. Once a number of nominations are received for a country, I will create a "poll" for people to vote on their favorite

Monday, May 9, 2011

Joshua Bell Wows Indianapolis with Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto

Last weekend, Joshua Bell brought an Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra audience to its feet--even after the first movement!--with a magnificent rendition of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto. As I mentioned in my posting on Russia's Most Beautiful Music, I consider this concerto the most beautiful music ever composed by a Russian, and maybe by any composer. The first movement is especially mesmerizing, and when the ISO completed the exciting, pulse-pounding end of that movement, the audience burst into applause. Not the proper behavior, of course, for a multi-movement symphony, but the Indianapolis crowd could be excused for several reasons.

Joshua Bell is a local boy, raised on a farm in Bloomington, just down the road. Despite his international superstar status, he regularly appears with the ISO, and when he does so, the hall is packed. As ISO President Simon Crookall said before the start of the performance, he was gratified to see such a large crowd, but observed that "we play here just about every weekend," and appealed for people to turn up more often! So there were a lot of non-regulars in the audience there to see Bell. Some of them, no doubt, were not familiar with classical music etiquette.

And who can blame them for their exuberance? The first movement--about 20 minutes long--is a masterpiece all by itself, and Bell's performance, on his Stradivarius, was exuberant, passionate, and exciting.

Bravo to the ISO, and Grazie/Spasibo/Thank You to Bell and Tchaikovsky!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Beauty, the Brain, and Goosebumps

What constitutes beauty, in music or anything else? My friend Joe, in response to this website, suggested that "beauty" applied only to things we perceive visually, and doubted that music could be "beautiful." Obviously, I disagree--thus this blog!

A recent article in the New York Times, in the science section no less, addresses the connection between science and music: how scientists are "trying to understand and quantify what makes music expressive--what specific aspects make one version of, say, a Beethoven sonata convey more emotion than another." The article is entitled "To Tug At the Heart, Music First Must Tickle the Neurons.".

The focus of this article is on how particular performances of a musical piece can affect the emotional appeal of it. It demonstrates, for example, that a piece of music is often enhanced by the particular interpretation given to it by the artist.

Some of the emotional impact of a piece, however, is based on the way it is composed, including the duration of notes and rhythms, and "the element of surprise." Daniel Levitin, a professor at McGill University in Montreal, suggests that "the more surprising moments in a piece, the more emotion listeners perceive--if those moments seem logical in context."

The cellist Yo-Yo Ma elaborates on this theme of surprise. Let's say he is playing a 12-minute sonata featuring a four-note melody that recurs several times. On the final repetition, the melody expands, to six notes."
If I set it up right," he says, "that is when the sun comes out. It's like you've been under a cloud and then you are looking once again at the vista and then the light is shining on the whole valley."

He cites Schubert's E-Flat trio as an example, when it goes from "a march theme that's in minor and it breaks our into major, and it's one of those goose-bump moments."

For me, the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto has one of those goose-bump moments, when the melody sung by the violin is suddenly interrupted by another, different, melody, on the flute.

So maybe this is the essence of beauty: something, whether visual, aural, or experiential, that gives you goosebumps. Something that touches you emotionally.

(p.s. Joe, the doubter of aural beauty, admits that Dvorak's New World Symphony gives him goosebumps!)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Russia's Most Beautiful Music

Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov? Russia poses as many challenges as Germany (Beethoven, Mozart, Bach?) in that there is so much gorgeous classical music from that country. Simply trying to pick a single "best" piece from Tchaikovsky's repertoire is impossible. Plus, we've got beautiful music from Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinksy, Prokofiev, Borodin, Shostakovich, etc. etc.

I would pick one of several pieces by Tchaikovsky as the most beautiful music from Russia, including his Piano Concerto No. 1, his Symphony No. 6 (Pathetique), and his ballet music from Swan Lake or Nutcracker.

But for me, the most beautiful piece of music from Russia is Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D, especially the first movement. In that movement, about two-thirds of the way in, there is an achingly beautiful moment where the violin gives way to the flute. You have to hear it!

I will embed a version of the first movement here, and then Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade (Symphonic suite, op. 35)which been nominated as the most beautiful piece of Russian music by Joan Ballard in San Diego.

Feel free to add further nominations (using the "Comment" button below), and to vote on your favorites.

Monday, April 4, 2011

South Africa's Most Beautiful Music

Fredeline (from South Africa) recommends three songs for South Africa's most beautiful music:

1) Nkosi Sikeleli'i Afrika (God Bless Africa) "which is the National Anthem of Africa sung at an event in Zimbabwe in the 80's.

2) Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika--"the new national anthem of South Africa where they linked together Nkosi Sikeli'i together with the Afrikaans and English version of the previous national anthem under white regime. The original version is beautiful because it is sung in a slow rhythm like the prayer it is."

3)Kinders van die Wind (Children of the Wind). "One of the best known and best loved Afrikaans songs ever. Sung by Laurika Rauch."

4)Tussen Treine(Between Trains). "A Personal favourite."

DSM note: These are all beautiful songs. More nominations for South African music are welcome.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Germany's Most Beautiful Music

We started on Germany with 18-month old Lizzy's nomination of Beethoven's Ode to Joy, with an accompanying link to her favorite rendition of that beautiful piece, which you absolutely must watch!

Daughter Dana called my attention to another incredible video of a three-year old conducting the final movement of Beethoven's 5th Symphony, which is totally joyful, beautiful and awe-inspiring. You can see it at this link. Watch it!

It is darned difficult trying to pick the most beautiful music from Germany, but I have to say, in my mind it comes down to all Beethoven. It is hard for me even to decide among his symphonies, with the 9th, the 5th and the 7th all being amazingly beautiful. And which movements from each of those is the most beautiful?

In any case, here are my initial nominations for Germany's most beautiful music, in no particular order. New nominations, Beethoven or not, are welcome! (Click on links to hear versions posted on Youtube).

Beethoven's Symphony No.9 (especially the last movement with the "Ode to Joy")
Beethoven's Symphony No. 7
Beethoven's Symphony No. 5
Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 (Emperor)--especially the first movement
Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D--especially the third movement.
Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 23 (Appassionata)
Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 14 (Moonlight)

See "Comments" below for additional nominations.


France's Most Beautiful Music

For the most beautiful music from France, my father Richard Mason has nominated Jules Massenet's "Meditations" (from his opera "Thais") which he says he listens to almost every day! It is indeed a meltingly beautiful melody. You can listen to a version played by Itzhak Perlman at this link.

The Most Beautiful Music from the United States

Here are the nominations so far for the most beautiful music to emerge from the United States. See my first (2/27) blog entry ("Most Beautiful Music in Your Country") and accompanying "Comments" for these nominations and some links to samples. The first three are the only ones listed in the poll on the main page (under the photo of the violin). Vote your preferences for now. Later I will create another poll with all of the nominees.

Gershwin, "Rhapsody in Blue"
Copland, "Appalachian Spring"
Barber, "Adagio for Strings"
Copland, "Fanfare for the Common Man"
Howard Hanson, "Symphony No. 2 (Romantic)"
Alan Hovhaness, Symphony No. 6 (Celestial Gate)"
Lowell Lieberman, "Concerto for Piccolo and Orchestra"
Joseph Waters, "Suite Noire"
Leonard Bernstein, "Maria" (from "West Side Story")

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Bach, Beethoven, Wagner or...Mozart? Germany's most beautiful music.

Selecting the most beautiful piece of music from Germany seems an impossible task, and raises innumerable issues. First of all, what constitutes "German?" Is it German-speaking composers, or those born in, or who lived in, an area we now call Germany? (Germany wasn't created as a single state until the late 19th century). Secondly, there are so MANY composers and compositions that could be considered among the best of all time: Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Wagner, Haydn--not to mention Mozart, who some consider German but was born in Salzburg and spent most of life there and in Vienna. Thirdly, considering German composers raises the tricky question of what musical forms are we considering as a "piece of music?" Is it a symphony? A movement of a symphony? A sonata or a concerto? An opera--or an aria from an opera?

I will leave all of these questions open to discussion here on this blog, and invite your nominations for the best piece of music by a German composer.

Our first nomination, however, comes from my 18-month old granddaughter Lizzy, via her mother Melanie, who emailed me that "Lizzy would like to submit this for Germany. "She listens to it a dozen times a day," Melanie adds. Maybe this particular rendition of the "Ode to Joy" is not the very best, but it does speak to the excellent taste of my descendants, says the proud grandfather.

I would second Lizzy's nomination. It is definitely German. It is definitely beautiful. And it is "a piece" of the final movement of Beethoven's last (9th) symphony.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Zimbabwe's Most Beautiful Music

A posting from Brian:

I have a couple of songs I really like from Zimbabwe. The first is by Oliver Mtukudzi: Todii. It is a sad song but just as beautiful. It comes from his 1999 album Tuku Music.

The second one is by Thomas Mapfumo: Chamunorwa. It comes from his 1991 album of the same name. It is truly a classic, its beauty lies in the mixture of the traditional mbira and the bass guitar. Makes me miss my family and friends back home. These two artists are the best to come out of Zimbabwe.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

China's Most Beautiful Music

My friend and colleague, Han, has contributed the following:

Here are a few pieces that I really like:

1. Liangzhu (Butterfly Lovers, violin)

2. Erquan yinyue (Moon Reflected on the Two Springs, Erhu)

3.Sinian (Nostalgia)

The first two are Han Chinese and are very well-known in China, and the third is a Tibetan song that is not among the most well-known in China but extremely beautiful. The singer's name is Yadong, a Tibetan from western Sichuan.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Most Beautiful Music in YOUR Country?

What is the most beautiful single piece of music ever produced in each country in the world? This is the starting point of this new blog, where I will share my own opinions, and invite all of you to nominate pieces of music, debate the candidates, and vote on them. I will create a single page for each country, suggest a single piece of music for each one, and then see what the rest of you suggest and think. There are no right and wrong answers, of course, and the definitions of "country," "piece of music," and "beautiful" are all open to discussion and debate. I would start out by defining "country" as the composer's place of birth or residence. For the kind of music, I would suggest a single composition, and my initial inclination is to focus on "classical" or symphonic compositions that last more than about 10 minutes (thus excluding most contemporary rock music and folk songs, etc.). "Beautiful" is entirely subjective, but for me it is music that moves me emotionally.

I am not at all an expert or specialist in classical music, though I have loved it for as long as I can remember. I played trumpet in high school and college orchestras, and have fiddled with the guitar, the recorder, the piano and the harmonica. But in real life, I am simply a retired professor of political science!

I will begin developing this blog as we go along, but in the meantime I welcome any suggestions, nominations, and comments, which you are free to post here.

As a starting point, allow me to choose my own country as the first one to consider. (For one thing, as far as music goes, it is a whole lot easier than, for example, Germany, Austria, Italy or Russia!)

My choice for the most beautiful piece of music ever produced by an American composer is "Rhapsody in Blue" by George Gershwin. A close runner-up would be Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings."

Your thoughts? Try "voting" in the little poll widget on the right hand side of this page.