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March, 2024:

Playlist: Classical Triumph

I like happy endings. If you’ve read any of my fiction, you know that I write them. Bummers are popular in literary fiction, and were when I got my liberal arts education fifty years ago. (This is why I don’t write literary fiction. That shoe just don’t fit.) But this applies to music as well as fiction. The three characteristics I look for in music are these: Melody, Harmony, and Energy. I’ve enjoyed an occasional sad song (like “The Parting Glass”) for various reasons, but if a sad song has none of those three characteristics, I won’t buy it—and if there’s a skip button, my index finger finds it at some significant fraction of c.

Energy is the one I get the most pushback about. Who doesn’t like a peaceful tinkling Mozart piano piece? Well, if I can’t hum it…me. I have always used music to rev me up and break me out of blocks in my thinking or especially my writing. Energy in music is a very big thing for me.

So in today’s entry I present a playlist of some classical pieces that carry a special grip on my imagination: the music of triumph. No gentle fade at the end. Uh-uh. I want a musical explosion that makes me want to stand up and cheer. Yes, I’m that kind of screwball. If you didn’t know that already, well, this playlist will make it abundantly clear.

All links are to performances on YouTube. There are many others available.

  • Also Sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spoke Zoroaster), by Richard Strauss, 1896. This one has special significance for me, because it’s the unforgettable opening piece in 2001: A Space Odyssey, which may be my favorite film of all time—and the film I asked Carol out to see for our first date in 1969.
  • Symphony #3, Organ, final movement, Maestoso, by Camille Saint-Saens, 1886. It was years after I saw the 1995 film Babe that I first heard this larger work from which the Babe theme borrowed. The thunderous organ sequences are like nothing else I’ve heard in classical music. It opens with an explosion, and ends with an even bigger explosion. What’s not to love?
  • Building the Crate, by John Powell, from the Chicken Run soundtrack, 2000. I’ve mentioned this one before, and whereas it strikes some people as slightly goofy in spots, it’s definitely stirring. There’s a touch of klezmer in it, and for a few seconds a chorus (if that’s the word) of…kazoos. It’s all about the chickens triumphing, something one doesn’t generally associate with chickens. But triumph they do, with callbacks to films The Great Escape and The Flight of the Phoenix.
  • Lincolnshire Posy 6: Lost Lady Found, by Percy Grainger, 1937. Short and to the point, and definitely gets across the triumph of finding a beloved person after a long and difficult search.
  • The Planets: Jupiter, by Gustav Holst, 1917. If you’ve heard anything in this playlist, you’ve heard ol’ Jupe. Although subtitled ‘The Bringer of Jollity” (is that still a word?) its utterly explosive ending makes me consider it “The Bringer of Triumph.”
  • Russian Sailors’ Dance, by Reinhold Gliere, 1927. Written as part of a ballet called The Red Poppy, it starts out low and slow, gathering speed and force as it goes, until it reaches a manic but completely satisfying explosion at the end.
  • Towards a New Life, by Josef Suk, 1931. I never heard this until KBAQ played it a couple of years ago. It deserves way more than obscurity. A triumphant march for full orchestra, it has roots in Czech nationalism and lyrics in the Czech language for which there is no English translation. (The linked performance is instrumental only.) Some think the trumpet solo opening is too long; if you agree, skip the first 90 seconds.
  • Symphony #9. The New World: Finale, by Antonin Dvorak, 1895. There are a few slow parts in this finale to Dvorak’s all-time best work, but they act to frame the explosive energy of the rest and make it stand out by contrast. That’s ok; sometimes we have pause for a bit to take a breath, in our lungs and sometimes in our lives. No matter; the explosion at the end makes the quiet parts worthwhile.
  • Pictures at an Exhibition: The Great Gate of Kiev, finale, by Modest Mussorgsky, 1874. In spite of the countless times I’ve heard it, this piece continues to bring a tear to my eye, often as not. Especially when preceded by the creepy and subversively diabolical movement “Baba Yaga’s Hut,” (as here) to me it symbolizes humanity staring down Evil, kicking its ass across the galaxy twice, and then dropping it down the black hole at the galaxy’s core, where it belongs and will trouble us no more. Triumph you want? Triumph I’ll give you!

That’s all for now. Got any more? I’m always in the market for music like this.