The Necessary 100: Fadeproof favourites from Purcell, Vivaldi and Bach deserve automatic place on the list
I wanted to add three more commentaries to the compositions I bolded in Larry Beckwith's Necessary 100 submissions posted yesterday. I'll keep going down the list in coming days.
We're firmly in the Baroque world now. These three picks from Beckwith's list are absolute naturals for this list, due to their enduring popularity, even among people who don't consider themselves classical music listeners.
Henry Purcell: Dido and Aeneas
It wasn't until after George Frideric Handel disembarked on the blighty side of the English Channel that audiences got a taste of serious Italian opera. In the meantime, the English had been enjoying masques -- grand entertainments that mixed words, music and dance. Dido and Aeneas, which had its premiere at a girls' school in 1688, was one of the first English operas, meaning that it was meant to be sung all the way through. The piece packs a great story of love and loss into less than an hour. The music is gorgeous -- instrumentally, chorally and in the solo arias. The most famous and haunting aria is Dido's Lament, which has been enjoyed by three centuries' worth of appreciative ears.
Here is Canadian mezzo Laura Pudwell -- a frequent and welcome performer in Toronto -- at her very best in Dido's Lament, from a recording made with Le Concert Spirituel:
Vivaldi: 'Winter' from The Four Seasons
The violin concertos that we know as The Four Seasons are but the tip of Vivaldi creative iceberg. We hear these pieces far too often, but there's also a reason for that: this is instrumental at its most inventive and evocative. These concertos come from a book of 12, known as Op. 8, published in 1725. Vivaldi added the title "Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione" -- the melding of harmony and creativity -- something that turned out not to be just marketing hype.
There were little descriptive sonnets included for each concerto. The breaks correspond to the different movements. Here is a rough English translation for Winter:
Shivering, frozen mid the frosty snow in biting, stinging winds;
running to and fro to stamp one's icy feet, teeth chattering in the bitter chill.
To rest contentedly beside the hearth, while those outside are drenched by pouring rain.
We tread the icy path slowly and cautiously, for fear of tripping and falling.
Then turn abruptly, slip, crash on the ground and, rising, hasten on across the ice lest it cracks up.
We feel the chill north winds course through the home despite the locked and bolted doors...
this is winter, which nonetheless brings its own delights.
This is Renaldo Alessandrini leading soloist Francesca Vicari and the Concerto italiano period-instrument orchestra in what we should call the X-treme Baroque interpretation of all three movements of Winter, a.k.a. the Violin Concerto in F-minor, RV 297:
J.S. Bach: Suites for Unaccompanied Cello
Here is another set of pieces -- six suites -- that hardly needs an introduction. We don't actually know when Bach wrote them. The earliest surviving score dates from 1726. The seductive music means it hardly matters (and for a fascinating story of one man's growing obsession and fascination with these pieces, get your hands on Montrealer Eric Siblin's 2009 book, The Cello Suites).
Here is Toronto Symphony Orchestra cellist Winona Zelenka performing the Sarabande from Suite No. 2: