The Importance of Listening, Instalment 2

Today’s recommendations include some of the biggest names in the musical world, some of the most overlooked, and some works that divide listeners.

Vocal Music:

Alma Mahler – Four Songs for voice and piano

Alma Mahler is known best for being Gustav Mahler’s wife, but she wrote plenty of music herself that has tended to go unnoticed. Her Four Songs are quite typical of late Romantic compositions, taking inspiration from different natural phenomena: light, woodland, storms, harvests. Well worth a listen, as her style is not too dissimilar to her husband’s. For the full work:

Instrumental Music:

Robert Schumann – Kinderszenen

Possibly Schumann’s most famous solo piano work, this collection of short “scenes” is inspired by different images and activities of children. For example, there are movements titled ‘Blind Man’s Bluff’ and ‘Child Falling Asleep’. Schumann originally intended them to be short pieces to be used in lessons, as he initially labelled them Leichte Stücke or ‘Easy Pieces’. For a full recording by Martha Argerich:

Music for Film:

Hans Zimmer – Inception (original soundtrack)

Hans Zimmer can be a divisive figure in the film music community, but fans have really taken to his score to Inception. Unlike his earlier scores like The Lion King, Zimmer’s more recent style focuses on harmonic motion and combining orchestral and electronic timbres. Some deem it repetitive and boring, others see this score as revolutionary. For the cue ‘Time’:

Popular Music and Jazz:

The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers (album)

This album is the first produced by the Rolling Stones’ own record label, Rolling Stones Records, and sees a shift in the make-up of the band. Widely regarded as one of the band’s best albums, the track list includes ‘Brown Sugar’, ‘Dead Flowers’, and ‘Moonlight Mile’. Some critics argued that it was not the band’s most innovative album, but that didn’t seem to deter their fans from flocking in their thousands to buy it. For the full album:


Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menhuin – West Meets East (full album)

Ravi Shankar is probably the most famous Indian musician in the western world, and arguably this reputation is well deserved. Through his lengthy career, he collaborated with many western musicians to create exciting fusions and recordings that introduced western audiences to musical styles from the East. Shankar’s work with the legendary Yehudi Menhuin is one of his best. For the album:

New Directions:

Henryk Gorecki – Symphony of Sorrowful Songs

Not a name in common knowledge, Gorecki’s Third Symphony is his most famous work, and arguably does not reflect his typical compositional style. Exploring the themes of motherhood and separation, the Polish text and sombre mood link the work to the devastation of the Second World War. Well worth a listen, this piece is more “digestible” than many other mid-twentieth century works. For the full symphony:

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