A “Year of Wonder”-Ful Classical Music: October

October has come and gone, and the time has come for me to share with you my top five songs for this month of crisp winds, fiery leaves, and pumpkins galore! Enjoy the whimsical selection!

1) Mélodie from Orfeo ed Euridice, by Christoph Willibald Gluck, arr. by Giovanni Sgambati

This piece comes from an opera based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and was first performed in 1762. Orpheus was a musician with skills to rival that of Apollo’s, and when his love, Eurydice, becomes trapped in the underworld, he uses his music to persuade Hades to release her. Hades agrees on the condition that he does not look behind him until both of them cross into the land of the living. Orpheus makes it out, but turns just before Eurydice can take her last step to freedom. She is whisked away, and his chances are gone. This piano melody is so wistful and sad that it caught me by the heartstrings. Plus, hey, it’s October! I’m up for some sad ghost stories (so long as we nix the horrific, the creepy, and the demonic, thank you very much)!

2) ‘Touch her soft lips’ from Henry V Suite, by William Walton, arr. Bob Chilcott

This is a romantic vocal piece is meant to illustrate the budding relationship between Henry and Catherine of Valois in Shakespeare’s Henry V. In the play (and in real life), their marriage was necessary for an alliance between England and France, but this sweet melody captures how Henry tries to woo his reluctant bride-to-be.

3) 3 Pieces for cello and piano 1: Modéré, by Nadia Boulanger

More nature imagery popped into my head for this one…. Gentle autumn rains, a gusty wind, and falling leaves swirling on the ground. The composer actually put aside much of her own work to promote that of her sister, who had tragically died young. I think this is a tender example of what she herself was capable of…

4) Canon and Gigue in D major, 1: Canon, by Johann Pachelbel

When I was small, I had a cassette tape with this piece on it. It had the sound of ocean waves in the background and a dolphin on the cover. So to this day, I don’t associate this music with weddings. I just think of dolphins arcing out of the water… Instantaneous relaxation.

5) Má Vlast—My Homeland 2. ‘Vltava,’ by Bedrich Smetana

This piece was such a pleasant surprise! Normally, a lot of the classical pieces about nature seem to fall a little flat for me, but this was as described in the book: “a musical magic carpet ride!” I was also thrilled to see a little representation from a Slavic composer. Smetana was from Bohemia, and much of my family hails from Slovakia, but I find that a lot of the music from Eastern Europe in general has incredibly creative melodies that somehow combine a sense of sadness, mystery, and adventure all at the same time. This piece is meant to be the musical equivalent of the Vltava River as it transforms from a trickle in a stream to the mighty force that runs through Prague. The sounds and the imagery match perfectly in my head!

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