The Best of British
Patrick Hawes, who I mentioned before in an earlier post, is a relatively new composer. His music is mainly influenced by his love of romantic and renaissance music, which is obvious through his use of rich, romantic textures in his orchestral writing. Hawes is most famous for his Highgrove Suite (a work that I have previously posted about) and I strongly recommend it for anyone who loves luxuriously beautiful orchestral music.
Now onto the more prominent and well-known English composers - Frederick Delius (1863 - 1934). A critic once wrote that 'Delius belongs to no school, follows no tradition and is like no other composer in the form, content or style of his music'. Despite this, Delius had many influences to create his style of classical music including Wagner and Grieg. My favourite work of his is 'The Walk to the Paradise Garden'. The tenderness of the opening, hesistant entry of the oboe and longing string harmonies are enough to transport anybody to paradise.
Sir Edward Elgar (1857 - 1934) is most famous for his 'Pomp and Circumstance March' played annually at the BBC Proms. Despite that and other great orchestral works - such as his two symphonies - in my opinion, his best work has to be 'Great is the Lord' written for choir and organ. The opening is wonderfully patriotic, as we hear basses, tenors and altos singing the first theme together contrasted with the beautiful four-part harmonies of the sopranos and altos. This is a truly theatrical piece, with many different moments of patriotism, romance and fear.
Finally, this composer is one that I am not particularly familiar with, however have known this piece for years and always thought it was lovely. My final choice is Paul Reade (1943 - 1997). As well as composing his own works, Reade also worked as a television composer and even a repetiteur at the English National Opera. A piece of his that I have always loved is a movement from his Victorian Kitchen Garden Suite titled 'Prelude' for Clarinet and piano. The reason that I love this piece so much is because it is extremely simple and equally as effective. Reade writes so beautifully for the clarinet; an instrument that is already very expressive.
For this section, I found it particularly difficult to narrow down my list of suggestions, and, unforntunately they aren't particularly varied (as I am completely biased towards more romantic music) however, if you like any of these, then you'll love the others. My absolute favourite piano composer has to be Claude Debussy (1862 - 1918). His use of parallel chords, bitonality and unexpected modulations are what make his music so gloriously colourful. As I previously posted, my favourite of his piano works is his Children's Suite that he wrote for his daughter. Although being one of the easier of the suite, 'Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum' is definitely the most exciting!
Second to Debussy, I chose Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 - 1943). As a Russian composer, pianist and conductor, Rachmaninoff is widely considered to be one of the greatest pianists in history, and as a composer, one of the greatest romanticists. I chose, 'Elegie Op.3 No.1' because I recently learnt it to play at a school recital. As an elegie, it is extremely touching and particularly interesting because it moves through the different stages of grief such as denial, anger and acceptance. These are represented by Rachmaninoff's choice of tonality, tempo, texture and dynamic marking.
Franz Liszt (1811 - 1886) was (like Rachmaninoff) a composer, pianist and conductor. As a composer, Liszt was one of the most prominent representatives of the Neudeutsche Schule (new German school), and is noted for his invention of the symphonic poem. His piano works were particularly beautiful, and my favourite is his 'Consolation in D'. The sheer range of this piece is spectacular considering the wonderful blend that Liszt achieves, and despite it being a rather simple melody with a repetitive left hand, the mood he creates is enchanting.
A capella is defined as 'solo or group singing without instrumental sound'. This is by far my favourite (and youngest) category, as nearly half of my classical music collection is a capella. My first choice of composer is Eric Whitacre (Born 1970). Having already posted about 'The City and the Sea', I thought I would choose something more true to his well-known style: 'Sleep'. Whitacre came up with the idea for a virtual choir in 2009 after watching a video sent in from a fan singing one of his choral works. Now in the process of making the third, his second triumph was with 'Sleep'. So here it is.
Paul Mealor (Born 1975) is a Welsh composer who is described as 'one of the most important composers to have emerged from Welsh choral music since William Mathias'. As a relatively new composer, he has been made famous by writing 'Wherever You Are' a song compiled from letters written by military wives. However, in my opinion, this does not show off his talent. His setting of 'Ave Maria' is - in every way - more beautiful and interesting.
I came across Will Todd (Born 1970) when learning his piece 'My Lord Has Come' for my school choir's annual carol service. As well as being a composer, he is a sucessful jazz pianist and regularly performs in his own trio. 'My Lord Has Come' is unexpectedly difficult for even a professional choir to sing. At first glance, it is completely innocent, with only two melodies and the tonality staying completely diatonic. However, its held notes and melody sung in octaves by sopranos and tenors (the two most unreliable sections when it comes to intonation) makes it devilishly difficult to keep in the same key by the time you've reached the end. In spite of this, it is truly lovely to listen to.
Film music is definitely a passion of mine. The first film score that sparked my interest was 'Edward Scissorhands' written by Danny Elfman (Born 1953). Elfman is best known for writing The Simpsons themetune as well as his long-time collaboration with director Tim Burton. The score for 'Edward Scissorhands' is truly magical, and also has the classic dark and sinister twist of Elfman's scores, achieved with voiceless choir, unusual orchestration and glittering percussion. One scene in particular is cleverly written, as Elfman blurs between scenes through the use of a diegetic pivot note that mimics the sound of a can opener. Watch here.
Danny Elfman always said that his greatest influence was Bernard Herrmann (1911 - 1975). Herrmann was also made famous by a long-term collaboration with a certain director: Alfred Hitchcock. Despite the fact Herrmann worked with a number of talented directors, he was also known for his stubborn attitude, 'I have the final say, or I don't do the music!' His most successful scores are the 'shower scene' from Psycho, and his legendary score for Vertigo (1958). The 'scene d'amour' is beautifully written, as the constant suspensions in strings rising higher and higher through a ten minute scene with no dialogue creates the perfect haunting atmosphere that represents the obsession of the main character, Scottie.
Hans Zimmer (Born 1957) is a German film composer and music producer. Having composed for over a hundred films, his most successful have been The Lion King, Gladiator and most recently, Inception. I found the score for Inception fascinating, as the main theme is in fact a slowed down version of the piece played diegetically in the film, 'Je Ne Regrette Rien' sung by Edith Piaf. If you listen carefully, you can hear the repeated bass line of the French song come through in the 2 note brass motif.