Listening List: Music for Lovers
Looking for music inspired by–or to inspire–romance? Be seduced by these ravishing jewels.
“Moonlight” Sonata (Wednesday, July 8 and Thursday, August 20)
Beethoven didn’t give this sonata its nickname, but a critic said it reminded him of moonlight reflecting on Lake Lucerne. What a perfect setting for romance! Beethoven was in love with a sixteen-year-old countess to whom he dedicated the piece, but since he was beneath her station, marriage was out of the question. Since Beethoven’s day, the “Moonlight” has been one of his most performed piano pieces. You’ll understand its popularity when you hear the purity of the first movement--and the passionate finale.
The Poem of Ecstacy (Wednesday, July 15)
Scriabin wrote a three-hundred-page verse called “Orgiastic Poem,” but later changed it to “Poem of Ecstasy,” presumably to give it a more family-friendly rating. He based this musical score on the poem, adding highly specific and expressive markings which include “ever-increasing drunkenness,” “almost deliriously,” “with a noble and joyous feeling,” and “with ever more ecstatic voluptuousness.” Let the tantalizing textures and opulent colors of this sensuous music wash over you--but do refrain from following Scriabin’s advice to “look straight into the eye of the sun” while you listen.
Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2 (Sunday, July 26)
Beginning with the most euphoric evocation of a sunrise ever composed, this kaleidoscopically orchestrated suite includes the most celebratory sections of the ballet. The title characters of Greek myth run into some logjams during their courtship, including kidnapping by pirates, but the god Pan comes to the rescue. All ends rapturously in a pulsating, Bacchanalian dance whose 5/4 rhythm (five beats to a measure instead of the usual 2, 3, or 4) caused the original ballet dancers some tricky footwork.
Isolde’s Love-Death from Tristan and Isolde (Wednesday, July 29)
In the final scene of Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde, the lovers, who were separated by fate during life, are now united in death through a kind of mystical transfiguration. This surging and dramatic music inspired Franz Liszt to write a piano transcription that recreates the shimmering strings and ecstatic, explosive climax of the original version. Hear how a simple love story inspired music of such transcendence that it caused one Wagner biographer to call it a “profound meditation on the nature of the material world, on the metaphysics of subjectivity and on the mysteries of human existence itself.”
Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Suites (Sunday, August 16)
Be transported by some of the most gorgeous and passionate love music ever written, the Balcony Scene from Prokofiev’s vivid ballet. Based on Shakespeare’s drama, these two suites depict many of the pivotal scenes in the play. Spicy dissonances, swooning lyricism, ethereal beauty, and unrestrained emotion are all here, delivered by a huge and lush orchestra.