Coco’s Rival Top 10 Classical Tearjerkers

So Classic FM posted this list of 10 pieces of classic music most likely to make you cry:

There are some beautiful works in there for sure, and all are wonderful pieces of music in their own right, but if you ask me (and I know that you didn’t) most of them are actually too much to genuinely draw tears: too romanticised; too melancholy; too far into pathos. When I get stuck into a good wallowy piece like Barber’s ‘Adagio’ for example, I quickly get over-acclimatised to the harmonic language after just a couple of bars because it’s such an extremely sad sound-world. So I listen, and I love it, and I enjoy feeling soooo… bummed out. But I don’t actually cry.

[Also, I note that some of their top 10 are reliant on you knowing the back-story to an opera and being emotionally invested in the characters to get the appropriately teary reaction. But I LOVE that they do that: give you just enough description to get you to click on a “short clip” just to get you sucked in and then before you know it you’re 20 minutes into a 3 hr opera and you might as well watch the rest ;)]

Of course, it’s a silly thing to challenge, as of course people all react differently to music and a Top 10 list is an inherently redundant idea anyway in such a subjective and ENORMOUS genre as “Classical Music”. But I have a real soft spot for them because they get people listening and sharing. Within seconds of showing my husband Remus the article we had brainstormed our own personal list. We both chose gentler, classical-era stuff of the more bittersweet variety rather than the more sturm-und-drang, Victorian morbidly-indulgent stuff. I think that’s because, in real life, when a moment appears that juxtaposes happiness with sudden loss or when something is SO beautiful it becomes too impossible to hold on to and and joy and grief swirl into one undefinable sensation, that’s what catches in the throat. But this is just our Top 10 today and tomorrow we would probably come up with ten others. Because we’re human that’s just how life rolls… and there is just THAT much great music out there! The order is not set in stone. Anyway, here it is…. There’s a LOT of Beethoven, Brace Yourselves:

10) J.S. Bach Brandenberg Concerto no. 1 in F BWV 1046, 2nd movement

I’m a highly emotional person, so I’m often told by my husband, so it stands to reason that the (literally) highly-strung piccolo violin sound would speak to me. But I’d be surprised if the amazing harmonic supsensions in this didn’t get to the more emotionally reserved among us too.

9) Mozart Piano Concerto no. 23 – II. Adagio

OK, so this makes me sigh rather than cry, but it’s beautiful and delicate and poignant.

OK, here comes the Beethoven. I’m sorry, I just couldn’t choose…

8) Beethoven Symphony no. 3 ‘Eroica’ – III. Marche Funebre

The first piece Remus mentioned when I said what kind of list I was doing:

7) Beethoven Symphony no. 7 – II. Allegretto

I like this one even more:

6) Beethoven Piano Concerto no. 5 ‘Emperor’ – 2nd movement

5) J.S. Bach St. Matthew Passion: “Erbame Dich, Mein Gott”

OK, so I might seem like I have a penchant for gorgeous violin solos, but I promise it’s not swaying me in my choices, these really are just heartbreaking pieces. In this famous aria (which can be sung alto but I prefer countertenor and Michael Chance is just amazing), Peter repents his betrayal of Jesus and begs, “Forgive Me, My God”.

4) Mozart ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ Act IV Finale – “Contessa, Perdono”

If there is a more perfect example of humanity infused with the Divine in the whole history of music, please tell me what it is. This is the moment at the end of the Finale when the Count’s cheating and phillandering is revealed and he is faced with the pain of his wife who sings that she forgives him. Disappointment, forgiveness, heartbreak and unconditional love merge in what must surely be one of the most perfect musical phrases ever birthed.

3) R. Strauss – Four Last Songs: III – Beim Schlafengehen; IV – Im Abendrot

The whole of ‘Four Last Songs’ is to die for but the violin solo of ‘Beim Schlafengehen’ around the 11:00 mark, gives you that bizarrely delicious feeling of not knowing if you’re happy, sad, or so excited you could throw-up.

Definitely of the so-beautiful-it-hurts genre, the last song “At Sunset” is set to the following poem (translated from original German) by Joseph von Eichendorff:

We have through sorrow and joy
gone hand in hand;
From our wanderings, let’s now rest
in this quiet land.

Around us, the valleys bow
as the sun goes down.
Two larks soar upwards
dreamily into the light air.

Come close, and let them fly.
Soon it will be time for sleep.
Let’s not lose our way
in this solitude.

O vast, tranquil peace,
so deep in the evening’s glow!
How weary we are of wandering—
Is this perhaps death?

The music is infused with such peace and acceptance as if looking back on a long and happy life about to end, with gratitude, love and longing. This was the last-but-one piece Richard Strauss composed before his own death.

2) Haydn String Quartet Op. 54 no. 2 – II: Adagio

If I tell you that when my terminally-ill Uncle, who wasn’t at all into classical music, heard me listening to this he asked what it was, got me to play it again and again for him and requested it at his funeral, it will prepare you for what you’re about to hear.

1) Beethoven String Quartet in A minor, op. 132

Molto Adagio — Andante — Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit.

This movement was written after Beethoven recovered from a very serious illness which he had feared would take his life. It means, roughly translated, ‘Song of Thanks to God from a Convalescent’. Despite what I said about choosing differently on different days, this is one of the ten pieces of music I need the most in my life, all year every year, and will be until I die. When I’ve had a really traumatic experience, yet still feel life is beautiful and just need the comfort of crawling into bed and crying sweet tears of relief, this is what I put on.

I hope you found some inspiration here. I should do another list, there is plenty of late Schubert, Schumann, Britten and lots more Bach and Mozart I could have chosen but these are just what leapt straight to mind from reading the Classic FM post. I would love if ten others would leap to your mind from reading this and that you might share them with me!


Waltzes and Lullabies

lullaby-trust-badge-150x150 Today, the FSID (Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths) changed its name to The Lullaby Trust, a move of which, as a musician and provider of music for babies, I can’t help but approve. The newly named Trust does vital work raising money for research into Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and provides bereavement support for those affected by infant death. This is a cause very dear to my heart as my wonderful, brave, inspirational blogger friend Jennie found her beautiful baby daughter Tilda dead (of SIDS) in her cot on 2nd February, the day she had turned 9 months old. Since that day this amazing lady, while grieving has thrown herself into organising blogs to raise awareness and events to raise money in Matilda Mae’s memory, trying to make sure this devastating thing happens to as few parents in the future as possible. It was her inspired idea for us all to blog on a Lullaby theme to raise awareness of this wonderful organisation and their new branding. Here is mine, written with love:

You would think, being the owner of a small business running concerts for babies (Classical Babies) and mum to two small boys, that lullabies would be prevalent in my day to day life. But the truth is, until recently I had rarely sung lullabies, or played them at my concerts, for a couple of reasons:

One is the sad truth that my life, personal and professional is already just so full-to-bursting with other types of musical form – from television theme tunes to the Sibelius violin concerto I hear my husband practising every day, to my mobile ring tone or whatever I’ve been rehearsing or recording with whichever orchestra I’m working with that day – that I just forget! Another reason is that I have babies and toddlers of varying ages at my concerts and while we’re all trained to associate music for little ones with lullabies and nursery rhymes, my experience has been that the music that best draws their attention and delights all ages the most, is something a little livelier, something with a regular, rhythmic beat which they can really feel with their little bodies and dance, move or twirl to! Something more like this:

Or this:

The closest thing I really got to a lullaby in my house was this, gorgeous slow movement of Mozart’s Concerto for two pianos. I used to put it on repeat when both my boys were tiny babies and napping on a soft blanket on the floor while I put my feet up with a mug of tea. If you’re not sure you’ll like it, listen from 7:00 mins in to the end.

But really, lullabies had been notably absent from my home, which is strange for a musician and stranger for a mother.

Then, in the days after Tilda’s death, remembering something Jennie had tweeted about how Matilda had loved ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ (incidentally, always my favourite as a child too) I suddenly had an impulse to sing it to my little 20 month old Lucian after his bath. His face broke into a HUGE beaming smile, and I realised with a pang of shock and guilt that I didn’t remember ever singing it to him, at least not in the last year, and he loved it. How was this possible?! I had sung it to Gabs, my three year old many times but somehow, with a second child and so much other music in my head, I had failed to pass on that most basic of mothering legacies to my gorgeous, dimpled boy! Now, of course, I sing it all the time and he knows most of the actions and points up to the sky when I sing “way up hiiiigh!” and giggles. That day after the bath, the first day, after beaming at me for singing it to him and with so much love in his little eyes, he opened his mouth and said his first string of three words: “Dinkle, Dinkle Daaar!” and looked proud as punch with himself.

All because of Matilda Mae.

By the way, Matilda, ‘Twinkle, Twinkle” is Lucian’s clear favourite, just like it was yours and is mine. Thank you for that.

And I love it all the more because it was originally written by the composer closest to my heart, Mozart and later set to 19th century English lyrics. Here is Mozart’s original version:

Mozart ‘Ah je vous dirais maman’

So from that day, and now even more so from researching this post, I’ve rediscovered lullabies and remembered that there’s something so powerful and transformative about them in all their forms, whether in the original classical forms or played by a music box, with their original lyrics or one -off, silly ones, improvised by a mother bending over a changing mat to make her baby smile, lullabies have such an important place in a baby’s life and I’m so happy I brought them back into mine.

This non-classical version of Brahms’ Lullaby (written originally in German) is really simple and sweet. Something about the woman’s natural, untrained voice and the English lyrics makes me think of my Mum and sweeps me off into memories of my very early childhood. It’s like a balm to my soul. I love it!

For my last choice of music, and to tie all the threads of this post together, this piece by Brahms is really a Waltz but feels just like a Lullaby. It’s so peaceful, restful, innocent and pure.

Baby Tilda, this is for you. Sleep peacefully, darling.