100 Most Influential Albums Chapter Seven: From Rock Classics to Classical

Mar 24, 2009

The Bottom Line Classical and Opera! Oh My!

This is Chapter Seven in my series of the 100 Most Influential Albums. I love music, and these are the albums that opened my ears to classical music and opera. My high school and college years were primarily rock n' roll, but by the time I was in law school, I realized there was more to music, a lot more.  I had heard bits and pieces of classical music on cartoons, movies, television shows, and even commercials. Soon I began to watch credits to find out what I had heard, and I made regular trips to the Boston Public Library to take home classical records. If I liked it, I would search for CDs.  In my journey into classical and opera, I recall these as being some of my favorites that really made me appreciate classical and opera.

1. Beethoven, Ludwig van - Symphony Number 9 (premiered 1824)  My favorite symphony of all time was Beethoven's crowning acheivement, the glorious Ninth. It was based on a poem by Freidrich Schiller, "The Ode to Joy".  The sheer power and glory of Ludwig Van Beethoven's music sucked me into classical music like a powerful black hole. The first time I heard it was on a cheap set of Beethoven concerts with Joseph Krepps conducting the Berlin Symphony Orchestra. His performances were good, but the recordings weren't. Soon I had many recordings. Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic and Roger Norrington and the London Classical Symphony Orchestra are two of my favorite versions. I even have a DTS DVD with Karajan conducting which is stellar. Beethoven's Ninth is also the first classical concert I took my son to go see. The Hayden and Handel Society performed it at Boston's Symphony Hall.  He was 9 or 10, and he enjoyed it. The fourth movement almost always brings tears to my eyes (of joy, not sadness). 

2. Tchiakovsky, Pyotr Ilyich - Symphony Number 4 (premiered 1878) I remember bringing this record home on LP record from the Boston Public Library. It wasn't long after that I owned several Tchaivoksky symphonies and piano concertos on CD. This Russian composer's work was full of grandeur, and is a must have in anyone's classical music collection.  I saw one of his operas, Eugene Onegin, a few years ago from the front row at the Schubert Theater in Boston, performed by the Boston Lyric Opera company. It was beautiful.  Fellow Russian composer Prokofiev wasn't far behind in my growing classical collection. My first version was on a CBS Masterworks Digital CD with the Cleveland Orchestra performing. The Lt. Kije Suite by Prokofiev by Maazel and the National Orchestra of France was on the second half of the disc. I found out where Sting got the inspiration for The Russians Love Their Children Too on his first album Dream of the Blue Turtles (the melody is based on Lt. Kije Romance Suite, which Sting acknowledges in his liner notes)

3. Vivaldi, Antonio  - The Four Seasons (composed 1723)    What would wine commercials do without this classical composition. Whenever a scene requires gentle sophistication, chances are Vivaldi's beautiful classical composition, The Four Seasons (usually the Spring movement) will be playing in the background.  It is more than just background music though, it is truly beautiful music.  Soon I had added Maurice Ravel, Johann Pachabel (Canon in D minor is a favorite for wine commercials), and Edvard Grieg to my collection.

4. Mozart, Wolfgang - Symphony No. #41 "Jupiter" (premiered 1788)  My first Mozart Symphony was his last, and arguably greatest. It is indeed a powerful Mozart symphony and yet only one of literally hundreds of impressive works. Long before the movie Amadeus came out, I was collecting Mozart symphonies, piano concertos, operas and other compositions by Vienna's wunderkind, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I've seen four of his operas in Boston; Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro, Cosi fan Tutte and The Magic Flute. I've also seen various symphonies played live by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. I have a few of the box sets from Philips complete Mozart collection. If you can afford all the box sets, it's 180 high quality CDs with EVERYTHING by Mozart.  (I believe it is divided into 24 or 28 sets of CDs)

5. Puccini, Giacomo - La Boheme  (premiered 1896) I first heard an aria from this in the movie Moonstruck. I read the credits to see what it was from.  I went out and bought a greatest hits CD from the film, and then the entire opera.  I have seen La Boheme a few times, the first by the New York Lyric Opera Company, a traveling opera company that performed every year at my old college. The last time I saw it was a few years ago by the Boston Lyric Opera Company at Schubert Theater in Boston. If you are unfamiliar with the story, it is a simple one; boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, girl dies.  Soon my collection was filling with operas by Puccini and then Rossini and Mozart.  

6. Wagner, Richard - Die Walkure (pemiered 1870) My very first German Opera, this contains the famous "Ride of the Valkries".  This song is also known as "Kill the Wabbit" as sung by Elmer Fudd, The Maxell Commercial Theme music and Helicopter Music to clear Vietnam Beaches by in Apocalypse Now.  It is powerful music.  Die Walkure is the second of Wagner's Der Ring de Nebilungen an epic tale based on Norse myths.   I used to listen to Wagner when I worked at a deli.  People always looked surprised that a young college kid would listen to opera.  Shortly after I purchased this opera, the rest of the Ring cycle arrived, then Lohengrin, Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal. Although I own this on CD and even an awesome DVD set, I have yet to get to the MET to see the entire Ring performed.  My "Ring" CD box sets are by Sir Georg Solti with the Vienna Philharmonic on the London CD label.  They are 4 CDs each!

7. Puccini, Giacomo  - Madame Butterfly (premiered 1904) Puccini is on my list twice for opera, because one was the first opera I ever heard, and this one is the first opera I ever saw performed live.  I sat by myself in dress row circle in the center at the Boston Opera House. because no one I knew wanted to go to the opera. It was the last opera staged there before it closed. (I was happy to see it reopen after over ten years vacant, I went to see  Andrew Lloyd Weber's Phantom of the Opera there when the Boston Opera House reopened).   I absolutely loved the opera and have been going ever since. I've held season tickets many years for the Boston Lyric Opera, and usually see at least one or two operas a year.  If you have never seen an opera performed live, you are missing out on an incredible moving experience.  Everyone I have dragged to the opera (some kicking and screaming) has enjoyed it and was even surprised that they did.  You quickly get used to the subtitle.  To this day, Madame Butterfly remains one of my all time favorite operas, and one of the saddest.   I saw many a Puccini opera since, La Boheme, Turandot, and Tosca. I also saw Rossini's The Barber of Seville, now one of my favorite comic operas.

8. Holst, Gustav - The Planets (premiered 1918) Many a fan of Metallica has heard the song Am I Evil? A few fans even know it was a cover of a song by heavy metal band, Diamond Head. Fewer still know that the riff that was voted 5th best heavy metal riff one year was written by classical music composer, Gustav Holst.  Listen to Mars - Bringer of War on his famous orchestral suite The Planets, and you will instantly recognize it. It pays to listen to more than one genre of music!  Holst's Planets is a very powerful suite of classical music.

9. Sibelius, Jean  - Finlandia (composed 1899)  Part of my ancestry is Finnish. I take sauna very often and have many Finnish friends. It was no surprise then, that I soon discovered the stunning music by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.  My first CD by him was on the Deutche Grammophone label and was conducted by Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic.  Finlandia is not a symphony per se, but a symphonic poem. It is as beautiful as the country it sings of.  I soon had a number of symphonies and symphonic poems by Sibelius.

10. Horowitz, Vladimir - Beethoven Sonatas  (released on CD 1990) Although I had already discovered Beethoven, it wasn't until I was searching for more Beethoven music that I discovered this amazing Russian pianist. This CD contained Beethoven's famous Moonlight Sonata as well as the Appassionata Sonota and the Waldstein Sonata. Sometimes the musician becomes as famous as the composer, and so it was with Horowitz.  I actively sought out many CDs by Horowitz just to listen to him play, whether it be Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmoninoff or Liszt.  If piano is one of your favorite instruments, you owe it to yourself to check out some classical piano music as performed by Vladimir Horowitz. He breathed life and passion into the music of classical composers.

There you have it, 10 albums that introduced me to the world of music before Rock'n' roll or even the Blues were thought of.

Chapter 6: A lifetime of Heavy Metal
Chapter 5: The College Years
Chapter 4: My collection Progresses
Chapter 3: I discover the 60s in the 80s.
Chapter 2: In the Beginning
Chapter 1: All that Jazz

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