One of my favorite LP sets is a 1978, 4-disc set called “Orgelmeister vor Bach” (“The Early German Organ School”), performed by Helmut Walcha. Walcha lost his sight as a teenager but nevertheless mastered a large organ repertory, including Bach’s complete organ works. This website discusses his achievements: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Bio/Walcha-Helmut.htm
My friend who is a professional musician recommended this out of print set, if I could ever find it. While on a roadtrip to Tucson, I saw it for sale at the wonderful Jeff’s Record Shop (apparently now closed). The set was 40-some dollars and I worried about the price, so I didn’t buy it, and of course I couldn’t find the set again, even on eBay. Finally I found it on that auction site. Then I saw it again on eBay just a few weeks later, at an even better price. Oh well.
Buxtehude (the sound of whose name makes me chuckle, for some reason) dominates the orgelmeister on these LPs. But as I played them the other day while writing, I realized how much I enjoyed two pieces on a particular side. They “stood out” that particular day. I checked the label: they were the choral prelude “O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig” and the “Ciacona in F Minor” by Johann Pachelbel.
Pachelbel! Like Albinoni with his Adagio, Barber with his Adagio, Mouret and his Rondeau (the Masterpiece Theater theme), Delibes and the Flower Duet from Lakme, and some other composers, Pachelbel is best remembered for one piece of music. One of my best friends had the Kanon performed, among other pieces, for her wedding.
But these two small pieces performed by Walcha are so pretty. It makes you think that, if you like a piece by a particular composer, you might consider a kind of “journey” to discover other things he or she has written. Perhaps you’ll find new favorites!
Speaking of journeys, a few other composers besides these Baroque masters remind me of personal travels. During the first year of our marriage, my wife Beth and I visited a book store in Frederick, Maryland, which carried a wonderful selection of LPs. (CDs had been introduced the previous year but weren’t widely available.) I purchased a two-record set of Mendelssohn’s first two symphonies and also a two-record set of the other three. To this day, Mendelssohn’s music reminds me of the hills of Maryland, no matter what Scottish, Italian, and other inspirations he brought to his music.
In the 1980s Beth and I purchased cassettes for long trips. One favorite was called “Brass: 3 Centuries of Golden Sounds.” We loved this anthology (on the Allegretto label, now on CD); it’s a nice selection of mostly baroque and classical repertoire by Scheidt, Vivaldi, L. and W.A. Mozart, Handel, Haydn, Gabrielli, and others. Schumann’s piece “Konzertstueck for 4 Horns” contrasts stylistically with the older repertoire, but it’s the concluding piece and thus isn’t jarring. Another often-played cassette included Joseph Haydn’s trumpet, organ, and harp concertos. Still another featured Rossini overtures. Play Il Turco in Italia or Semiramide or the always popular Il barbiere di Siviglia and I mentally drift away to some tedious four-lane a long way from our destination… But not the Guillaume Tell overture, which can never more than one connotation.
When we lived in Arizona, as I drove one day on U.S. 89 (now AZ 89) between Ash Fork and Prescott, I listened to public radio and really loved a piece of music. I thought the announcer said something about mountains and the composer was “Dandee.” Since I was driving, I couldn’t write down the information and hoped I could recall the name later. Eventually I figured out (I don’t remember how) that the piece was “Symphony on a French Mountain Air” by Vincent d’Indy.
D’Indy lived from 1851 till 1931 and was a student of Cesar Franck. According to the source http://www.dovesong.com/positive_music/archives/romantic/Dindy.asp he was part of the artistic revival that included Mallarme, Causson, Saint-Saens, Degas, Rodin, Renoir, Franck, Faure, Debussy, and others. D’Indy was also a Wagner admirer (and, unfortunately, was also an anti-Semite). His devotion to tonality was one possible reason d’Indy became less known as the 20th century progressed, but today his music has been newly performed and released on the Chandos label. Other pieces that I enjoy are his “Jour d’ete a la Montagne” and his “Dyptique Mediterraneen,” partly inspired by a scenic train ride.
A few years ago my CD club carried the symphonies of Niels Wilhelm Gade (1817-1890) with the encouragement that this Danish composer wrote in the tradition of Mendelssohn and Schumann. So I bought all four CDs of Gade’s eight symphonies! (I tend to do that kind of thing: if I like one piece by a composer, maybe I’ll like others. That’s why I haven’t yet carved out time to explore Mahler’s symphonies.) Gade actually was Mendelssohn’s assistant conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig and became chief conductor when Mendelssohn died. Like d’Indy, Gade is not famous today, but none other than Christopher Hogwood conducted these symphonies, which now remind me of sunny but tedious drives upon Interstate 70 across Indiana and Illinois. That was the highway on which I–tired and very buzzed on Starbucks coffee–first listened to the discs. (His music isn’t tedious, and in fact it filled sensate gaps as I traveled the visually familiar but unspectacular countryside.)
U.S. 89 also reminds me of Schumann’s symphonies, but I don’t remember if, as in the case of d’Indy, I heard the first symphony on NPR as I drove, or if something about the music brought me back to that landscape. Unlike these other Romantic composers Schumann is not at all obscure. His 200th birthday, soon after Chopin’s, was this past Tuesday, and articles about him have recently appeared in music magazines. Among recent new recordings, John Eliot Gardiner conducted the symphonies on a recent CD set.
What are your favorite songs and pieces which remind you of roadtrips? Whenever I play some of the music I’ve described here, I still like to think of driving through varieties of countryside. What was the name of that composer, and what was the title of that piece? What did the announcer say? Dandee? I’ll try to remember that: just an hour and a half to home.