Symphonies

Listening lately to lots of symphonies, mostly ones new to me. First stop for listening is YouTube. But if I find something that rings true and calls for more than one listen, I download it to my phone, go out for a walk with headphones on, and really listen. Hopefully, none of this will end up in my inadvertently getting run over in the street!

Recent good finds include the symphonies of Roy Harris and Alla Pavlova. The former was a great symphonist whose works do not deserve the oblivion into which they have fallen. It is baffling to me as to why that happened to Harris – but not to Copland, as an example. Perhaps, and this is just an unsupported theory, but to my ears his music rings of the plains of middle America – and that is a sound that simply no longer appeals in our currently divided country in which the hopefulness of the plains states has evaporated, having fallen prey to hysterical harpings of the right-wing extremists who have taken over these historically conservative bastions of the American body politic.

Politics aside, the music is simply grand. His way of gradually expanding and transforming his themes to tell a story is masterful and deserves careful listening. His voice is his own, but the unfolding of the music is similar to what I find so involving with another favorite symphonist, Sibelius, particularly in his later works.

The symphonies by Alla Pavlova, of which thus far I’ve only listened to several, demonstrate another great musical story teller at work. What I was especially delighted to hear, something I miss in some of the contemporary music I hear today, is unabashed emotion. It is music that tugs at your heart. It’s infrequent that I hear music that suddenly evokes a tear, but hers has its moments.

But, all that said, having listened to many symphonies which were entirely new to me, I then returned to symphonies which I know well, but hadn’t listened to anytime recently – and listened to several of the later symphonies by Shostakovich. They haven’t lost an iota of their power. Ranging, as he always does, from the sublime to the occasionally ridiculous, they are profound masterpieces to which few can compare. Everything that he does is masterful – the laying out of themes, great melodies, masterful counterpoint, exciting orchestrations.

The fact that I rarely sleep for more than a few hours at a stretch does have an upside. More listening time!