“Tune In, Turn Up” #1: From Silly to Sublime

Thu, Apr 5, 2012

The Ecstatic Blog

A few weeks ago, I embarked on a (probably-foolish) project of sorts: over the years, I’ve accumulated a ridiculous amount of music, and especially since I’ve been playing catch-up on classical music over the past two years or so, there’s quite a bit of it I haven’t gotten around to listening to yet (“All of Mozart’s symphonies? Don’t mind if I do! And while we’re at it, might as well get as many Bach cantatas as I can handle now, because who knows when I’ll need them?”).  With that in mind, I’ve started listening to all the music I have, as arranged alphabetically by iTunes. I’m finicky enough that I’ll never run into, say, two groups of Stravinsky’s pieces (one under ‘I’ for Igor and the other under ‘S’) so that won’t ever be a problem, and it’s been fascinating to listen through pieces I’ve never heard right next to ones I’ve known and loved for years.

When it came to classical pieces I hadn’t yet listened to, I only had one hope: that there would be one movement, aria, or even motif that would make me stop whatever I was doing and pay attention. With that, the idea for “Tune In, Turn Up” was born. This will be a series that runs parallel to the other Ecstatic Living Room posts that documents pieces I discover on my journey through my iTunes library where I check in from time to time to see what’s made me, well, tune in and turn up.

The first moment that really made me sit up and take notice also made me laugh out loud, not out of humor but out of sheer joy. Adolphe Adam’s opera Le Toreador — and not even all of it — is arguably the only recognition the composer has these days. The overture is one that has, for one reason or another, made it into the public consciousness, but the rest of the opera isn’t particularly known or cared about. It isn’t the world’s most moving piece of art, but it does have one extraordinary scene in which Coraline, a former Parisian opera singer, sings variations on “Ah! Vous dirai-je, Maman,” a French folk song that eventually became “Twinkle, twinkle little star.” Mozart is well-known for his piano variations on the melody, but the fact that Adolphe Adam had the chutzpah to arrange the variations for voice — and to incredibly charming and impressive effect — is really just fantastic. Here’s a recording of the incredible Beverly Sills singing the variations:

Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman

My second big “Tune In” moment came while I was immersed in Bach’s cantatas. Though some of the most well-known pieces of classical music have come from Bach cantatas (“Jesu, joy of man’s desiring”, I’m looking at you), it’s an unescapable fact that Bach had to compose a cantata a week for several years as part of his church job. And so, I dutifully listened through the many cantatas I’ve amassed over the years, enjoying some more than others, until I got to Wie zittern und wanken from his Cantata #105, Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht mit deinem Knecht. The cantata wasn’t written for a specific occasion (having been first performed on July 25, 1723), but Bach must have been feeling particularly inspired that week. The oboe and soprano gracefully duet over a whispered string accompaniment, and for a six-minute slow burn, it is really nothing short of transcendent. Here is my favorite recording of the aria, performed by Bach Collegium Japan:

As I continue to make my way through my music collection, I will be occasionally documenting these discoveries here as part of this new series. Until the next installment, I hope everyone reading this finds a piece of music that makes them tune in and turn up.

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- who has written 7 posts on Ecstatic Living Room.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1989. Split childhood between Ohio and New Jersey (for better or worse). Graduated from Vassar College in 2011, and started work at 21C Media Group in October 2011.

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