The Importance of Listening, Instalment 3

We continue our journey into undiscovered music today with some classic Wagner, ram’s horns, and the delight of Disney.

Vocal Music

Wagner – Das Rheingold

The opening opera (yes, a whole opera as an opening) of Wagner’s epic Ring cycle, Das Rheingold begins the stories of Siegfried, Wotan, Brünnhilde, and many more. While some of the Ring’s central characters are not present or directly referred to, Das Rheingold sets up the string of events that will end in doom by the end of the cycle. As the shortest opera of the four, this one is arguably the most accessible. For the whole opera from Bayreuth:

Instrumental Music

Fanny Mendelssohn – String Quartet in E-flat major

Felix’s sister, Fanny Mendelssohn has long been overlooked in favour of her brother. Some works that she wrote were even published under Felix’s name, because the publishers would have refused to publish them as a woman’s work. This string quartet is full of classic early Romantic poise, elegance, and gentility. For the full quartet:

Music for Film

Jerry Goldsmith – Planet of the Apes

The late, great Jerry Goldsmith was a highly prolific film composer in his time. Planet of the Apes is listed among the essential Goldsmith listening on his personal website, alongside Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Basic Instinct, and The Wind and The Lion. This soundtrack, however, is famous for its use of so-called ethnic instruments, including a ram’s horn, which provide an unconventional twist on a symphony orchestra-based film score. For a soundtrack suite:

Popular Music and Jazz

Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit

One of the most respected jazz singers of all time, Billie Holiday’s voice is deemed one-of-a-kind. At a point in American history when successful African-American musicians were a rarity, she collaborated with some of the most prominent artists of the day, including Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, and Count Basie, before her tragically early death at the age of 44. Strange Fruit is widely praised for its honest sentiments on racism and discrimination. For the title song:


George Gershwin – Rhapsody in Blue

If you are a Disney fan, you’ll already know this jazz-classical fusion masterpiece from Fantasia 2000, as accompaniment for the visual’s fascinating depiction of New York City. If you don’t already know this Rhapsody, then you’re in for treat. It is difficult to get this piece out of your head once you’ve heard it. For a version by the piano sensation Lang Lang:

New Directions

Peter Maxwell Davies – Eight Songs for a Mad King

This piece will forever go down in history as the worst nightmare of violinists everywhere: the score calls for the violin to be smashed to pieces during the performance. Based on words allegedly by George III, the king who famously went mad, this is arguably one of Maxwell Davies’s most famous works. For the complete recording with score:

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