Music I Must Stop and Listen To

It is common to ask yourself what music you would choose to take with you to a desert island. Instead, I will use this criterion: if I were listening to a broadcast while working on a project, what music would cause me to stop working and listen intently? This by no means is a list of music I revere, it is just those particular pieces that I have to stop and listen to no matter what. I am partial to fugues, luscious orchestral sound, and piano music I used to (attempt to) play.

I can’t imagine why anyone would be interested in this list.

Vivaldi: six violin concertos “La Stavaganza” Opus 4 (almost never played for some reason – I had a recording of it in college that I played incessantly)

Bach: both books of the “Well-Tempered Clavier”; “The Art of Fugue”; the Goldberg Variations; the choral fantasias from the “St. Matthew Passion” that open and close the first part, and the closing fantasia; the two great fugues on Kyrie Eleison and the Crucifixus from the Mass in b minor; and the choral fantasia that opens Cantata 8, “Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben?.” Plus….

Mozart: Barbarina’s lament for a lost pin that begins Act IV of “Le Nozze di Figaro”; the opening Kyrie of the Great Mass in c minor; most of his piano sonatas. Plus….

Beethoven: The first movement of Opus 130 string quartet (top of my list along with Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier); the first (fugue) and middle (theme and variations) movements of Opus 131 string quartet; piano sonata opus 106 “Hammerklavier”, especially the closing fugue; Diabelli Variations opus 120; many other string quartets and piano sonatas

Schubert: “Winterreise”

Schumann: “Kinderszenen”

Mendelssohn: complete incidental music to “Midsummer’s Night’s Dream” with singing and recitation

Chopin: Preludes; 4th movement, Sonata #2

Verdi: Requiem

Brahms: Requiem; “Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel” opus 24; “Liebeslieder Waltzes” Opus 52

Borodin: Polovtsian Dances; “In the Steppes of Central Asia”

Dvorak: “Serenade for Wind Instruments” opus 44; opening movement of “Stabat Mater”.

Mahler: “Kindertotenlieder”

Tchaikovsky: “Romeo and Juliet”

Kodaly: “Hary Janos” (recording out of print, narrated by Peter Ustinov)

Bartok: Opening fugue of “Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta”; String Quartet #4.

Ravel: “Gaspard de la Nuit”

Stravinsky: “Le Sacre du Printemps”; “Le Chant du Rossignol”; “L’Histoire du Soldat”; “Symphony of Psalms”

Hindemith: “Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber”

Prokofiev: Symphony #5, second movement; “Cinderella” ballet, clock scene; Toccata; “Alexander Nevsky” cantata

Khachaturian: Piano Concerto (second-rate piece I happen to have loved as a youth) played by William Kapell

Britten: “Rejoice in the Lamb”; Serenade for Horn, Tenor and Strings; Four Sea Interludes from “Peter Grimes”

Weill: “September Song”

Gershwin: “Summertime”

Parker: “Klactoveedsedstene”

Beatles: “Fool on a Hill”




Breaking News About Our Ancestry

A New York Times article on Beethoven’s birthday, 2016 (December 16th) alerted me to three studies published in Nature based on extensive and detailed DNA analyses of several hundred living people from all over the globe.

The studies all agreed that there was one population of Africans that migrated out of Africa between 50 and 80 thousand years ago (kya), and that all living peoples except Africans are descended from this small population. In addition, African populations became genetically isolated by 125,000 kya and probably earlier, which implies that language (and very likely art) arose earlier than that.

This is big news, because there has been disagreement both about how many of the populations that emigrated from Africa are ancestral to modern humans, and about when language developed.

There is a small amount of mixing in New Guinea between this founding population and a somewhat earlier population of migrant modern humans, and also between modern humans and both Denisovans and Neanderthals. But the basic news is that almost all our genetic inheritance funneled through a population bottleneck, which corresponds to much earlier findings (the “mitochondrial Eve” hypothesis).

This adds credence to the idea that “click languages” such as that spoken by the Khoi-San people were antecedent to non-click languages, since the Khoi-San split off from our ancestral mainstream around 125 kya. This makes sense simply because clicks are hard to produce and are more likely to have been dropped than added.

What is of particular interest to me is that language developed earlier, maybe much earlier, than many have thought. This makes great sense to me, because I believe that language, music and other arts co-evolved in complex ways over a long period of time, as our ancestors became more able to form symbolic abstractions.

Here is a better write-up than the NYT article: