Playlist

Playlist: Music that changed how we listen to music

Our Playlist column features music curated by our faculty, students, and staff around an interesting idea or theme. For the latest column, we invited conducting student and jazz composer Jaelem Bhate to share some of his favourites. You can listen to the tracks below via Spotify (if you have an account) or YouTube (if you don't). The full playlist is also available here.

By Jaelem Bhate

  Beethoven, Kaija Saariaho and John Coltrane

Beethoven, Kaija Saariaho and John Coltrane

I’m in my final year of the graduate conducting program here at the School of Music, so I spend a lot of time thinking about big, important pieces of music. The ironic thing about masterpieces is that, over time, they grow so familiar to our ears that they actually become hard to appreciate. We begin to lose sight of what made them so great and so influential in their own time. So even as we celebrate them, we take them for granted.

With that in mind, I thought it might be fun and illuminating to put together a playlist of music that in some way changed how we listen to and experience music. These are works that were pivotal in the evolution of music through the ages, and in many cases were also landmark works for the composers themselves. It has been more than difficult to narrow down this list to only a few works, but here are some tracks and artists in my regular rotation.

You can listen to the songs via Spotify (login required) or YouTube, below. (You can also access the full playlist in Spotify — subscription also required).


J.S. Bach — Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G Major, BMV 1049

Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos hold a special place in the development of early music as traditions developed from Renaissance to truly Baroque, foreshadowing the Classical era. These six works pushed apart independency between string instruments further than it had ever been pushed before and are notable for their written out, virtuosic lines. In the past, these types of lines may have been left to a soloist to improvise, but the practice of fully notating these melodies for an entire section opened up a new front of musical possibilities.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K 550

There are so many revolutionary pieces to pick from when talking about Mozart. His symphonic output arguably shows the most maturity and growth of any composer. His First Symphony was deeply influenced by Haydn, whereas later works like Symphony Nos. 40 and 41 truly showcase the maturity and forward-thinking nature of an adult Mozart. Symphony 40 is only one of two in a minor key and totally reimagines symphonic form and harmonic structure.

 
Ludwig Van Beethoven — Symphony No. 3 in Eb Major, Op. 55

Beethoven’s Third Symphony, many say, was the point where Beethoven came into his own and broke away from the traditions of the past. It defines the transition from the early to middle period of his creative output and was the longest and most complex symphony ever composed at the time. Beethoven famously scratched out his dedication of the symphony to Napoleon after he crowned himself Emperor of France, and instead rededicated it to the true heroes of Europe—an unheard-of social commentary in a musical work.

 

Hector Berlioz — Symphony Fantastique, Op. 14

When Beethoven died in 1827, the musical world was at a loss for an answer to the question of what would come next for Western music and the symphony. Beethoven had only premiered his game-changing Ninth Symphony in 1827, and composers in 1830 were struggling to live in his shadow. Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique was totally off the wall for its time. A hugely expanded orchestra with never-before-seen instruments and two sets of timpani, along with the codification of programmatic musical elements in symphonic form, meant that Fantastique was to forever serve as a marker for the evolution of music.

 

Richard Wagner — Act III, Scene III of “Die Walküre” from The Ring

Wagner wasn’t a great guy, and indeed his politics and morals were ugly by the standards of today, as well as of the time he was writing in. However, his music was undeniably groundbreaking, and his Ring cycle, featuring very long operas that tell an epic story, paved the way for not only how we experience opera and classical music, but how we consume entertainment. He wrote the libretto as well as the music, and laid the foundation for Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and almost every modern movie that tells a hero’s tale.

 

Igor Stravinsky — “The glorification of the chosen one” from The Rite of Spring

In many ways, having a riot break out at the premiere of your work is a composer’s dream. It means you moved folks in such a profound and strong way that they responded in the strongest way they could. This ballet score changed so much about how music is written, and liberated rhythm from the bar line.

 

George Gershwin — “Rhapsody in Blue”

The invention and development of jazz introduced the possibility of cross-genre composition in ways that had not even been attempted. “Rhapsody in Blue,” while not the first instance of jazz making an appearance in an orchestra in the 1920’s, certainly was one of the most influential, and remains so even today.

 

Duke Ellington — “Tell Me It’s the Truth”

The big band era, at least as popular mainstream entertainment, was essentially over by the end of WWII. However, this opened the door for large ensemble jazz to be developed as concert music meant for listening, and not just background music for dances. Near the end of his career, Ellington wrote a concert of sacred music, intended for listeners of all religions, and considered it one of the most important works he ever completed. His sacred music cemented jazz as a genre of serious, concert music.

 

Elvis — “Can’t Help Falling in Love”

Need I say more about Elvis? Elvis in many ways resurrected the renaissance tradition of the troubadour— the singer-songwriter who performed at popular events and festivals. He was a cultural sensation and helped to pave the way for the huge popular music stars we enjoy today in stadiums around the world.

 

The Beatles — “Come Together”

It is difficult to find a more iconic or more recognizable group, not only in music, but in history. As the Beatles progressed musically, their cultural status allowed them to expand their listeners’ tastes and introduce them to compositional techniques that were completely novel in rock music.

 

Miles Davis — “So What”

Miles Davis was his own person and his own artist. He didn’t let anyone tell him what to do or how to play. While this may have hindered him in his early career, he forged a sound that was innovative and even shocking for the time. He is considered one of the greatest jazz musicians to ever live, and his album Kind of Blue remains the top selling jazz album of all time. “So What,” an iconic track from that album, is notable for its use of modal modulation and progression to advance the composition, rather than traditional ii-V-I harmony.

 

John Coltrane — “Giant Steps”

Just like Miles, Coltrane was a legend both musically and as a person. Nobody could ever accuse him of being unoriginal. His mastery of the saxophone was and remains unparalleled, even with all the innovations in instrumental technique, the improvement of the instrument mechanically, and an influx of young jazz musicians whose sole purpose is to learn Coltrane solos. Beyond his saxophone skills, he was also a devout student of harmony. “Giant Steps” shocked the jazz world for its bold harmonic changes, utilizing the entire circle of fifths in a relatively short melody—along with a famous, blazing fast solo from Coltrane himself, handling incredibly difficult chord changes.

 

Thad Jones — “Groove Merchant”

Whereas Ellington took jazz and big band from a dance genre to one of high art, Thad Jones made it popular again and resurrected the sounds of the big band era in an updated and exciting setting. Without the innovations of Thad Jones as a composer and bandleader, the many jazz inspired theme songs of famous TV shows of the 1970s would not have existed. One of Jones’s legacies is his reimagining of how to write for a saxophone section.

 

Bruce Springsteen — “Born to Run”

The Beatles represented the start of the British invasion — the influx of British artists into mainstream United States and global culture, and the domination of bands from the UK. As the 1980s and 90s progressed, the world saw the age of the American rocker — the hair bands, the Midwestern guitar-slinging aching hearts, and the great American rock movement. Bruce Springsteen was a main figure of this movement and helped craft the soundtrack of America and the world into the 21st century.

John Adams — “Short Ride in a Fast Machine”

America had always struggled in the 19th century and early 20th century to forge a true, national sound. Leonard Bernstein made vast inroads, introducing jazz and other American musical calling cards into older European forms of symphonies and operas. After Bernstein passed away in 1990, there was an absence of an obvious heir, similar to the period after Beethoven’s death. John Adams has arguably filled that void more successfully than anyone else, forging ahead with his distinctive new sound and unique approach to composition.

 

Kaija Saariaho — Asteroid 4179

As scientific discovery and research accelerates in the 21st century, composers have begun to reflect these topics in their work. Harkening back to the programmatic elements that were so revolutionary in Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, Saariaho has a knack for producing music that represents scientific themes in her music.

 

Esperanza Spalding — “I know you know”

Spalding has shattered barriers in the jazz world, becoming one of the most popular and best-selling jazz artists in the last decade. She has performed all over the world, including at the White House as a guest of President Barack Obama, and has spearheaded a more inclusive era. Beyond her popularity, she has also changed the tradition of how to compose for small jazz ensembles, bringing new attention to her instrument, the bass, as a melodic voice rather than strictly a harmonic one.

 

Adele — “Rolling in the deep”

Adele burst onto the scene and shaped a sound that was distinct from the heavily edited pop music of the 2000s, and harkened back to the time of Elvis, in a way — a singer with a song, presenting it in a simple and unassuming setting. She helped revitalize the power ballad, selling out stadiums with just her voice and a small, primarily acoustic band.

Playlist: On "Texture"

Our semi-monthly Playlist column features music curated by our faculty, students, and staff around an interesting idea or theme. To celebrate the release of her excellent début, 17 Hoops, we asked singer/songwriter/pianist (and School of Music Communications Assistant) Colleen O'Connor to talk about music and "texture." You can listen to the tracks below via Spotify (if you have an account) or YouTube (if you don't). The full playlist is also available here.


By Colleen O'Connor

One of the features I love most about music is texture. Many of my favourite musicians use contrasting textures to create diverse musical landscapes that I find mesmerizing. Here are some of my favourites: 

Bonobo, "Migration" from Migration

In "Migration," electronic layers are blended with piano and sparse percussion, which become more dense and varied in texture as the atmospheric work develops. 

Arvo Pärt Silentium from Tabula Rasa

When I was studying composition, I found Minimalism particularly captivating. In this piece by Arvo Pärt, subtle, progressive alterations to repetitive melodic and harmonic patterns draw the listener's focus toward the changes. Plaintive strings coupled with the unsettling sound of the prepared piano creates an ambiance that is elegantly sad. 

Bokanté, "Jou Ké Ouvè" from Strange Circles

The newly-minted group Bokanté was formed by Michael League of Snarky Puppy, and Malika Tirolien, who sings in French and Créole. Jou Ké Ouvè weaves a tapestry of blues and world fusion.

Prokofiev, Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, iii. Intermezzo

The third movement of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 2 begins with a heavy walking bass theme, punctuated by ominous horns, followed by sneaky, chromatic, descending triplets in the clarinets. The piano enters with thin chromatic flourishes, creating a stark contrast. I imagine a giant stomping and loping back into his castle after a night of carousing.

Bjork, "Stonemilker" from Vulnicura

Björk is an artist who creates masterful electroacoustic arrangements. Stonemilker combines electronic beats with lush strings and Björk's unique vocal tone.

John Stetch, "Zabava" from Green Grove / Ukrainianism

John Stetch recently came to the School of Music to study for a Master’s degree in composition. His piece Zabava is a masterclass on the different textures the piano can create. The piece employs a variety of techniques, including the strumming of the piano strings at the start of the piece, and the muting of the keys at the end.

Radiohead, "Decks Dark" from A Moon Shaped Pool

I'm drawn to the cascading sounds in Radiohead's Decks Dark — broken descending chords in the piano, gently oscillating electronic sounds in the upper register, and the choral effect of the layered vocals.

Aaron Diehl, Le tombeau de couperin iii. Forlane (Ravel) from The Bespoke Man's Narrative

Aaron Diehl re-imagines the Forlane from Ravel's Tombeau de Couperin in a jazz setting.

Super Pyramid, "Devoid"

The aesthetic of this piece includes a juxtaposition of smoky, ethereal vocals with crisp layers of Rhodes and Wurlitzer keyboards, electronic percussion, and other ambient acoustic sounds. The mixture creates a texture that I find both calming and intriguing.

Colleen O’Connor is Marketing and Communications Assistant for the School of Music. She holds a Diploma in Music Writing from MacEwan University and a Bachelor of Arts in Music degree from Portland State University. Colleen just released her first recording, 17 Hoops. Listen on Spotify or at colleensong.com/music.

Banner image by Colleen O'Connor.

Playlist: What is a ballad?

This month, Cambridge University Press will publish Prof. David Metzer's new book, The Ballad in American Popular Music: From Elvis to Beyoncé, a wide-ranging investigation of one of contemporary music's most popular artforms. The High Notes team asked David to share some of the songs that inspired the book. He happily obliged. 

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By Dr. David Metzer

As the first history of the ballad, The Ballad in American Popular Music gave me a lot of scholarly work to do. A crucial task was to answer the question: what is a ballad?  It is not so simple, as you might conclude after trying it yourself.  So where better to begin the book than with that question? 

My nutshell definition is that a ballad is a song set to a slow tempo that deals with themes of love and loss.  That only takes you so far, though.  “Ballad” has meant many things over decades, actually millennia. Our idea of a love song was only established as recently as the 1940s.  Besides lexical housekeeping, I discuss what makes a ballad a song in terms of music, vocals, and lyrics. 

To that end, I have enlisted songs from over seventy years to back up my points. You can find the songs in the playlist below (for those who don't use Spotify, I've included a few YouTube videos at the bottom of this post).  They not only stretch across decades but also genres, giving us pop, rock, country, and R&B ballads. I use the songs to illustrate particular points, like long versus short melodies (“Goodbye to Love” and “Please, Please, Please”).  Other songs make us ask how slow is slow for a ballad (“Wrecking Ball,” “Sometimes,” and “Try). 

Some capture different types of rhythms in ballads from the heavy four beats in a bar (“Wrecking Ball”) to more sexy grooves (“Let’s Get it On”).  Accompaniments can range from as sparse as a solo piano (“Stay”) to lush (“A House is Not a Home” and “Love is a Many Splendored Thing”). 

For more about the other songs on the playlist and ballads in general, check out my book.

The Carpenters — "Goodbye to Love"

James Brown & The Famous Flames — "Please, Please, Please"

Miley Cyrus — "Wrecking Ball"

Marvin Gaye: "Let's Get It On"

Rihanne ft. Mikky Ekko — "Stay"

Dionne Warwick — "A House Is Not a Home" 

 

David Metzer is a professor and Distinguished University Scholar at the University of British Columbia. He is spending the fall of 2017 in New York City. 

Playlist by Maestro Jonathan Girard

 Maestro Jonathan Girard.

Maestro Jonathan Girard.

In this, the first edition of our new Mixtape columnUBC Symphony Orchestra director Jonathan Girard shares his favourite recordings of composers Gustav Holst and Kaija Saariaho — inspiration for the most recent UBCSO concert. Below, you can listen to the tracks via Spotify (if you have an account) or via YouTube (if you don't). The full playlist is also available here.


This March we performed an astronomy-themed concert featuring Holst's The Planets. The concert also featured the Canadian première of Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho's Asteroid 4179: Toutatis — orchestral pieces I love. 

My playlist includes two very different recordings of The Planets. The first is with Zubin Mehta conducting the L.A. Philharmonic. The sound of the orchestra is extremely powerful and the low pitched instruments really come alive in the recording: 

That recording also includes John Williams's Star Wars Suite. It's interesting to hear this work juxtaposed with The Planets as there are clearly musical ideas that helped inspire Williams' epic film score:

The second recording of Holst's The Planets is by the organist Peter Sykes. Peter Sykes teaches at Boston University and is a friend and colleague of mine. His arrangement of The Planets is a tour-de-force of virtuosity and highlights the continuing creativity of innovative arrangements of well-known works:

Kaija Saariaho’s work was written for the Berlin Philharmonic and first performed in 2006. The texture and colours are out of this world and provide a fantastic sonic experience for listeners:  

I hope you enjoy these amazing recordings. Watch out for more Mixtapes coming soon on the High Notes blog!