• Jonathan Lakeland

French Fried Sunday

Listen to the full playlist of these tracks on YouTube here:


La Valse has always been one of my favorite pieces. What’s so alluring about this piece is that we get to hear the composer Maurice Ravel play with fragments of waltz ideas, and slowly stack them together into an intensely exciting waltz.

Performance by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic

Want to see Bernstein's own score for this piece? Click here courtesy of the NY Phil archives

Within a few minutes, the waltz starts to take shape – we can feel that underlying 1,2,3 rhythm, and the orchestra begins to seduce us with its melody, its sway, its harmony, its swooning, and its pulsating energy.

Though many have tried to give extra-musical meaning to this piece (drawing relationships to European history in the early 20th century), Ravel was insistent that this piece is about nothing more than the music. In fact, in the opening of the musical score, Ravel says:

"Through whirling clouds, waltzing couples may be faintly distinguished. The clouds gradually scatter: one sees at letter A [about 1:21 in the version included here] an immense hall peopled with a whirling crowd. The scene is gradually illuminated. The light of the chandeliers bursts forth at the fortissimo letter B [2:45 in our version]. Set in an imperial court, about 1855."

After Ravel allows the light of the chandeliers to burst through, the piece really begins to take shape. We hear all sorts of themes and ideas that are full of different character and emotion – it’s as if each musical idea he introduces describes a different couple dancing the waltz around a large ballroom in some beautiful period drama.

I beg you to commit to the roller coaster of ever-changing musical landscapes so that you can hear the end of this piece. The end of La Valse is one of the most exciting moments in classical music. I won’t give it away – but I’ll say that Ravel weaves all those ideas together beautifully. By the end, Ravel has woven together his disjointed waltz-like themes into one beautiful musical picture. Damn it’s thrilling.

Poulenc Cello Sonata FP 143 II. Cavatine

I stumbled across this track on Spotify’s new classical music releases playlist. Before this, I hadn’t heard of cellist Cameron Crozman or pianist Philip Chiu before, but I'll remember their names now. This track from their new album is one of the most sensitive, imaginative, and outstanding performances I’ve ever heard. I won’t say much about this piece and performance – it’s lush, lyrical, and will capture your heart. It doesn’t need to be explained – just listen!

Lili Boulanger: Demain fera un an

Nicky Spence and Malcolm Martineau paint a powerful performance of this piece by Lili Boulanger, with text by the poet Francis Jamme. This music exists in a subgenre of classical music which we call “art song”. In this subgenre, the composer sets poetry to music. This particular piece is the final movement of a longer (and excellent) cycle of songs.

The mission of the composer in art-song is to lift the poem off the page by writing music which describes the emotion in the poem and sets the scene for the audience. These ideas are then strengthened and communicated by the singer and pianist together, both of whom have an equal role and responsibility in the performance. The singer uses words and qualities of sound to communicate meaning, while the pianist uses the quality of their playing to communicate meaning.

Both Nicky Spence and Malcolm Martineau are outstanding artists. While they perform the piece, read along to the poem below. Listen to the words and music, and you will hear how Lili Boulanger has used music to bring even more depth, realness, and imagination to the poem.

Note - this is a Spotify link. Make sure to click on the track to go and listen to the full track on Spotify, and not just a preview of the track here on PitchSHIFT.

Translation below courtesy of Hyperion Records

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