Classical Music to Calm, Relax, and Refresh You

Mike_Fallon2by Mike Fallon

When I talk about classical music, I am not talking just about a particular music period (1750 to 1820) called “Classical.” I am talking about the whole of classical music as defined in Wikipedia: “Classical music is art music produced or rooted in the traditions of Western music (both liturgical and secular). It encompasses a broad period from roughly the 11th century to the present day.”

I believe there is a magic about classical music in that it has the power to affect us in a visceral way by stimulating our subconscious inner feelings. It can make you feel more spontaneous, more romantic, and more spiritually alive in this world. It can even ignite a passion in you (dare I say) to make love more passionately.

Classical music can augment and enhance the beauty and majesty of the world around us (natural and manmade). With an iPod or smartphone you can take your music anywhere to experience that.

Listen to Ferde Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite while experiencing the wonders of the Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon Suite: On The Trail
90-second
music clip

Listen to the initial fanfare of Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra while watching a dramatic sunrise.

Also sprach Zarathustra: I. Einleitung
105-second
music clip

Listen to Gustav Holst’s The Planets while gazing up at the heavens.

The Planets: VII. Neptune, the Mystic
91-second
music clip

I spent nearly four years gazing up at the sky when I was a weather observer in the U.S. Air Force. It could be a lonely and mundane job. However, while I listened to all types of music while doing this job, it was classical music, especially the glorious music of W.A. Mozart, that actually made me look forward to going to work each day.

Classical music can lift you up, improve your quality of life, and even help your mundane existence on this earth to become more noble and sublime.

The classical music I present to you below has a kind of tranquil, peaceful, and sublime quality to it. At times it is very pensive. This is music that can envelop you with a calm serenity. It can turn your anger or frustration into calmness. It can help your mind to relax and alleviate stress, tension, and anxiety. It can refresh your spirit with hope, joy, and courage.
In short, this is “Classical Music to Calm, Relax, and Refresh You.”

 

Wachet Auf! (Sleepers Awake!) J.S. Bach BWV 140  (1731)
and BWV 645  (1748)

Johann Sebastian Bach

Sian Fenn, flute
Craig Lake, guitar

Now try to follow me on this:
Here we have a flute and guitar transcription of Bach’s organ transcription BWV 645 (the first of 6 chorale preludes) of the 4th movement (of 7 cantata movements) tenor chorale of his cantata Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140, also known as Sleepers Wake (or more popularly known as Sleepers Awake). There are also transcriptions for other instruments and for orchestra. Whew!

At the 1964 Democratic National Convention a short film biography of Lyndon Johnson was presented using an orchestrated version of this music as a backdrop. I thought that the solemnity and beauty of this music was perfect for that.

 

Concerto for Flute, Harp, and Orchestra in C major, K. 299,
II. Andantino
  (1778)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Anna Komarova, flute
Alisa Sadikova, harp
The Symphony orchestra of the Rimsky-Korsakov St. Petersburg State Conservatory Music, conducted by Arkady Steinlucht

There is a scene in the movie Amadeus (1984) where Salieri is “hearing” in his head the music he sees on several “original” manuscripts of Mozart. The first piece he “swoons” over is this Concerto for Flute, Harp, and Orchestra.
Click here— Salieri's Epiphany to watch this scene.

Written when Mozart was staying in Paris in 1778, this is the only piece of music that Mozart wrote that contains the harp. This music is absolutely “heavenly” and having the harp makes it more so.

The flute performance in the video is breathtaking. As for the harp, I was stunned that such a little girl, her fingers barely reaching all the harp strings, could play so beautifully and with such command.

 

Romance for Violin and Orchestra No. 2 in F major, Op. 50  (1798)

Ludwig Van Beethoven

Renaud Capuçon, violin
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, conducted by Kurt Masur

According to Wikipedia:
This piece is “one of two such compositions by Beethoven, the other being Romance No. 1 in G major, Op. 40. It was written in 1798, four years before the first romance, and was published 1805, two years later than the first. Hence, this piece was designated as Beethoven’s second romance. It is one of Beethoven’s most popular works.”

This is my favorite Beethoven composition. This was written in 1798 in his mid years before he had written any of his symphonies and before the start of his “Middle” or “Heroic” period. This piece is still firmly rooted in the “Classical” era style of Mozart and Haydn, but there are hints in this piece of the Beethoven to be where it almost seems he is about launch into that famous four-note motif of his 5th Symphony.

 

Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21, II. Larghetto (excerpt)  (1830)

Frédéric Chopin

Daniel Barenboim, piano
Berliner Philharmoniker, conducted by Asher Fisch

Chopin is known primarily as a composer for the piano and when he write larger works such as his two piano concertos it is the piano which dominates with the orchestra largely relegated to the role of accompaniment. But that soft peaceful accompaniment along with the delicate piano in the Larghetto really works and it evokes dreamlike feelings of love and tenderness.

Indeed this second movement was inspired by love. According to Wikipedia: “Chopin confessed in a letter, that the second movement had been inspired by his secret passion for a younger singer at the Warsaw Conservatory, with whom he had fallen in love and dreamed of for six months without once speaking to her.”

 

Parsifal: Good Friday Music  (1882)

Richard Wagner

Dresden Staatskapelle Ochestra, conducted by Giuseppe Sinopoli

This is the orchestral version of the “Good Friday Music” from Wanger’s Parsifal. Parsifal is an opera in three acts. The “Good Friday Music” accompanies the second half of Act 3 scene 1. The Prelude to Act 1 of Parsifal is frequently performed in conjunction with this.

Back when I was 16 years old, I received a small reel to reel tape recorder for Christmas which I used to record music off the radio. I was a typical teenage and I loved all kinds of pop/rock (top 40) music and built up quite a collection of tapes. I also recorded classical music and one day at a friend’s house I recorded some beautiful dreamy pensive music which I had never heard before. But I didn’t get the name of that music or who wrote it. None of my friends or family knew this music either. So for the rest of my teen years that music remained a mystery for me.

Not until I was in college (in my twenties) studying Richard Wagner did I finally find out what that mysterious music was — Parsifal: Prelude to Act 1 and Good Friday Music from Act 3 by Wagner.

So here you have the music from the second half of that tape – Parsifal: “Good Friday Music.”

 

Pavane, Op. 50  (1887)

Gabriel Fauré

Krakowska Młoda Filharmonia (Young Krakow Philharmonic), conducted by Tomasz Chmiel

Here is a young orchestra from Krakow, Poland with a beautiful performance of Fauré’s “Pavane”. This was originally a piano piece.

There was a time when TV stations in the United States were NOT on the air 24/7/365!
I miss those days.

Back in the 1970s, when I was in my twenties, I had a weeknight ritual where I would watch The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson from 11:30 pm to 1:00 am and then watch The Tomorrow Show with Tom Synder from 1:00 am to 2:00 am on KRON Channel 4, San Francisco.

What I really looked forward to watching began at 2:00 am. That was when Channel 4 began their sign-off for the broadcast day. That began with a video showing scenes of ducks, birds, a farm silo, squirrels, waterfalls, babbling brooks, flowers, trees, ocean views, a school house, fishing boats, and a lighthouse all to the music of Gabriel Faure’s “Pavane”. That would be followed by “The Star-Spangled Banner” and that was it for the broadcast day.

I so loved watching and listening to the “Pavane” every night. It was so soothing to experience just before bedtime. “Pavane” is the perfect example of how classical music and nature can go so well together.

 
Now that video (from the 1980s when Channel 4 signed off at 3:00AM) is on YouTube. But it is a poor VHS tape quality.
Click here: KRON Station Sign-Off if you would like to watch it.

 
 

Symphony No. 9 in E minor, From the New World, Op. 95, II. Largo  (1893)

Antonín Dvořák

Wiener Philharmoniker, conducted by Herbert von Karajan

If you think that this symphony has an American feel to it then you would be right. “From the New World” refers to the influence Native American music and the African-American spirituals had on the creation of this symphony by Dvořák. It was popularly known as the New World Symphony. Commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, Czech composer Antonín Dvořák composed this in 1893 while he was the director of the National Conservatory of Music of America from 1892 to 1895.

I first heard the “Largo” as a “pop” version on an album called Symphonies for the Seventies – Waldo De Los Rios where you had “Classics with a Beat”. The idea for this album was that maybe the masses would be more into classical music if an up-tempo pop beat was added to the “classics”. Well it was a horrible idea to begin with and the music produced was atrocious. But it did make me want to check out how the “original” classics sounded (without the beat).

And so I discovered the “real” Dvořák Symphony No. 9 while I was stationed with the U.S. Air Force in England (from 1969 to 1972). I fell in love with this symphony — especially the “Largo.”. Its music really did remind me of America and why I love this country (the New World) so much.

 

Suite bergamasque: “Clair de Lune”  (1905)

Claude Debussy

Marnie Laird of Brooklyn Duo, piano

“Clair de lune” is the third and most famous movement of the four movements of Suite bergamasque by Claude Debussy, a piano depiction of a Paul Verlaine poem. Debussy began composing the suite in 1890 at age 28, but he did not finish or publish it until 1905. The suite has been orchestrated by many composers.

As a child, I grew up listening to classical music by Mozart and Tchaikovsky. And which composer would probably come in third on my childhood listening list? That would probably be Debussy (even ahead of Bach and Beethoven!). That is because my step father loved Impressionist music with such composers as Debussy and Ravel.

One classical album that was played a lot in our household had a big moon on the album cover. Of course the moon represented “Clair de lune” the ever popular piece by Debussy. So I heard “Clair de lune” plenty over the years. Yes I know it’s an overplayed “warhorse” but I never tired of listening to it. What I listen for now are different performance interpretations of it. I especially love the Marnie Laird performance in this video! I like to also hear different transcriptions of it for various instruments. But whatever, I love the piece and it still moves me.

 

Suite from Much Ado about Nothing, Op.11, III. Garden Scene  (1918)

Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Lin He, violin
Lina Morita, piano
(LSU School of Music Recital Hall)

Erich Wolfgang Korngold was an American composer of Austro-Hungarian birth.

Like Mozart, Korngold was a child prodigy. At the age of 9 he was even called a musical genius by Gustav Mahler for some of the music he had written and performed. At the age of 11 he composed a ballet which became a sensation when performed at the Vienna Court Opera in 1910. By the age of 20 he became a veteran theater composer. So it was no surprise that he would become a major film composer during the 20th century.

At age 20 he was invited to write incidental music to Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing. Included in this is the beautiful violin suite “The Scene in the Garden” or “Garden Scene” as an idyllic slow waltz.

 

Symphony No. 2 in D-flat major, Opus 30, the “Romantic” — “Interlochen theme”  (1930)

Howard_Hanson

Interlochen Arts Camp,
conducted by Jeffrey Kimpton

My son Kevin is a music major at the University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music in Stockton, CA where he is in his junior year. I attended a concert there recently where I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Howard Hanson was the first dean of that conservatory back in 1919. He was only 22! At that time the conservatory was called the Conservatory of Fine Arts and the university was called College of the Pacific.

Hanson wrote his Symphony No. 2, the “Romantic” in 1930 for the 50th anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. This is a symphony in three movements. The “lyrical, haunting second theme” of the first movement has become known as the “Interlochen theme.” It is called this because it is used as the closing music at all concerts at the Interlochen Center for the Arts.

Although Jerry Goldsmith wrote the complete score for the movie Alien, it was Hanson’s “Interlochen theme.” that was used during the closing credits of the movie. Hanson was not happy about that but he decided not to fight it in court.

 

Grand Canyon Suite – IV. Sunset  (1931)

Ferde Grofé

New York Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Bernstein

The Grand Canyon Suite has five movements so when Ferde Grofé composed this between 1929 and 1931 he initially titled it “Five Pictures of the Grand Canyon.”

The most famous and popular movement seems to be “On the Trail” which I love, but the most emotional, romantic, and passion filled movement for me is “Sunset.”

 

“Spiegel im Spiegel” (“Mirror in Mirror”)  (1978)

Arvo Pärt

Tasmin Little, violin
Martin Roscoe, piano

Here is an example of “minimal” music with a most “minimal” piece from Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.

The structure of the piece is quite simple with the piano playing slow patterns of three notes with an occasional deep bass note as the melodic voice of the violin plays and holds long notes overhead. The result is a beautiful spellbinding musical experience that is also very relaxing.

What classical music pieces would you recommend to calm, relax, and refresh?
Feel free to leave comments.

Thanks for visiting my blog and my 3rd post.

Mike Fallon

 

 
Blog Post 3 — “Classical Music to Calm, Relax, and Refresh You” — November 18, 2013 (Revised July 16, 2017)

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Mike Fallon

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3 thoughts on “Classical Music to Calm, Relax, and Refresh You

  1. Wow, couldn’t agree more on this topic. I can say without conviction that classical music has defiantly helped awaken my sense of emotion and makes even the littlest moments in life all the more breathtaking. There are many pieces of music that come to mind that I have subconsciously associated to key memories in my life that have meant so much to me.

    Thanks so much with sharing such a fascinating topic along with how it has influenced your perception and feeling about the world on a personal level. Absolutely beautiful article with many amazing musical choices provided.

    Look forward to your next article. You keep outdoing yourself with each new posting 🙂

  2. I will come back to this when I need to relax for sure Mike. I loved it and didn’t even listen to all of it yet, but the last piece was one of my favorites, the simplicity and pictures took me far far away, thank you so much for your musical genius expressed here in such a professional way.

  3. Thank you so much for the video of the KRON signoff; it’s a comforting reminder of younger days. The squirrel eating always made me cry, because it “looked lonely.” I even wrote a letter (yes, a letter!) to KRON, asking what the music was. I got a personal, typed letter back from KRON, telling me it was Faure’s Pavane. Those were simpler times. The little furnished apartment I rented for $135./month now rents for $1800/month. Thanks for allowing me to share the memories, and thanks again for the video… I had no idea one even existed out there, until today. 🙂

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