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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Punxsatawney Playlist: Music For Eternity

"OK, campers. Rise and shine! And don't forget your booties 'cause it's cooooold out there today!"--Groundhog Day
A scene from Groundhog Day, with Bill Murray playing Rachmaninoff.
 © 1993 Columbia Pictures/Sony Entertainment
For some, February 2nd is the longest day of the year.

In the film Groundhog Day the day Bill Murray found himself trapped in Punxsatawney, PA for what (literally) seemed like an eternity. (According to director Harold Ramis, it was actually about ten years.) Over the course of the film, he experiences Feb. 2, 1993 over and over, spending his days as a romantic lover, a bank robber, and eventually, a decent human being...

...who can play the piano real good.

Part of the fictional Phil Connors' path to redemption is an infinite series of daily piano lessons with a local instructor. By the time the movie ends, he has progressed to playing a jazzy improvisation on the Eighteenth Variation from Sergei Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini.

So with Mr. Connors in mind, here's a list of musical works I wouldn't mind spending eternity with. No particular order.

1) Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I & II.
These 48 preludes and fugues in all the major and minor keys are the touchstone of modern keyboard playing, be it on the piano, harpsichord, or (possibly) calliope. Bach's work is immortal, and endlessly rewarding to the listener. (If I had to choose: piano, please.)

2) Wagner: Parsifal
Yeah, I know. You'd expect The Ring to be in this spot. But Parsifal offers an endless contemplation of the very meaning of time and space in the course of three acts. Not to mention, it's about why living forever may not be the best deal.

3) Schubert: String Quintet in C Major
My favorite piece of chamber music. I wrote about this yesterday in the Schubertiade piece. It deserves to make the list twice.

4) Beethoven: 32 Piano Sonatas
OK, I'm cheating. But this is eternity we're talking about. If I have to pick just one I'll take the mighty Hammerklavier, a work that like many music lovers, I'm still trying to wrap my brain around 200 years after its publication.

5) Richard Strauss: Eine Alpensinfonie
This symphony/tone poem depicts (in 22 movements and 45 minutes) man's struggle for existence. The fun part: all that philosophy is disguised as a travelogue--the story of a journey up and down an Alpine peak, with a thunderstorm wetting the descent.

6) Liszt/Beethoven: Piano Transcriptions of the Nine Symphonies
The beauty and power of Beethoven's symphonies, redesigned to be played by only ten fingers. After contemplating the brilliance of Beethoven's invention, you can spend the rest of eternity trying to figure out how the hell Liszt managed it.

7) Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro
It's still my favorite Mozart opera, filled with endless melodic invention--and it sounds fresh every time you hear it. Figaro is a score full of small miracles. As it's eternity, a recording that includes the Barbarina and Basilio arias in Act IV is preferred.

8) Verdi: Requiem
Some writers joke that this setting of the Latin death mass is in fact, Verdi's best opera. Elevating the composer's art from the stage to the church, the Requiem throbs with power and musical invention.

9) Brahms: Piano Concerto No 1
Brahms' profound first concerto carries all the weight and power of a great Beethoven work, redolent with the thick musical textures that characterize this composer's music. The challenging piano part is endlessly rewarding, particularly in the long, singing Adagio.

10) Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen.
OK. I give. I'm a Wagnerite. And I couldn't imagine eternity without the political machinations of Das Rheingold, the passion of Die Walküre, the optimism of Siegfried or the complex profundity of Götterdämmerung. Not to mention Hagen's dirty jokes in the second act.

As you contemplate eternity, watch Phil's piano solo!
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.