Hector Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique.

Dream of a Witch’s Sabbath.” John Elliot

Gardniner and Colin Davis handle this best.

The Damnation of

Faust, and Symphonie Funèbre et Triomphale.


Johannes Brahms  Symphony #1 was the first substantial successor to Beethoven’s

symphonies Listen to the other three… as well. Herbert von Karajan and Bruno Walter do

these great justice.

Benjamin Britten: Sinfonia da Requiem, Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes…


Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) Symphony #4 ….The Romantic. #5, #7, #8, and #9.


Aaron Copland Billy the Kid, Rodeo,

Appalachian Spring, and a powerful Symphony #


Paul Dukas  The Sorcerer’s Apprentice



Antonìn Dvořák: His Sixth through Ninth Symphonies…The Noonday

Witch and his two sets of Slavonic Dances are quite rewarding…..




Edvard Grieg  Peer Gynt Suite….written for a play featuring a journey into the Mountain

King’s hall, deep beneath the earth. You’ll know that episode when you hear it….



Gustav Holst: The Planets is an evocative journey that has influenced countless film

scores. Perhaps the best piece to begin your journey into orchestral music.


Alan Hovhaness: Symphony #50 “Mt. St. Helens,” has an explosive eruption section.

Symphony #22 “City of Light” is solemn and majestic.

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Aram Khachaturian: Symphony #2


Franz Liszt  A Faust Symphony, Dante Symphony, The Mephisto Waltz, and Totentanz, are must-hear pieces for the

gothics….Les Preludes and Hunnenschlacht, and the two piano There’s a wonderful recording by Alfred Brendel of the

Piano Sonata in B minor along withFunerrailles… A de facto gothic heavy metaller




Felix Mendelssohn A Midsummer Night’s Dream is full of

nocturnal shimmering and contains the famed Wedding March. His Forth Symphony, the

Italian, is energetic and tuneful with a furious tarantella finale. His overture The

Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave) is an excellent tone painting. Finally his romantic oratorio The

First Walpurgis Night….



Olivier Messiaen Et

Exspecto Ressurectionem Mortuorum ….Turangalîla




Modest Mussorgsky  Pictures at an Exhibition in the Ravel orchestration and Night on

Bald Mountain in Stokowski’s version as seen in Disney’s Fantasia true classics

These both rank with Holst’s The Planets as perfect works of bombastic majesty   




Carl Nielsen  His Symphony #5 …The Symphony #4, called “The Inextinguishable” embodies the exuberance and

inexorability of life.












Francis Poulenc  Concerto for Organ, Tympani and Strings often sounds as if it could

have been a score for a horror film.


Sergei Prokofiev: The Symphony #5 …The Symphony #3 is very dark, dissonant and powerful. The Romeo and

Juliet ballet is full of deep passion and violence. Try the suite compiled by Michael

Tilson Thomas. The Alexander Nevsky Cantata is based on his film score. In particular,

the galloping “Battle on the Ice” movement rules beyond belief.





Maurice Ravel    Bolero  




Ottorino Respighi: The Fountains of Rome, The Pines of Rome, and Roman Festivals

are colorful, exciting pieces, very much like film scores.

Paul Tortellier conducts the

Philharmonia Orchestra on the Chandos label in a spectacular recording.












Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov       The Russian Easter Festival Overture, Capriccio Espagnol,

Golden Cockerel Suite, and Scheherazade.

 Known for smoothing out Mussorgsky’s pieces, he was one

of the pioneers of orchestration and his own works are based on fantastic exotic tales.

Worthy compositions are the Russian Easter Festival Overture, Capriccio Espagnol,

Golden Cockerel Suite, and Scheherazade.



Bedřich Smetana     Má vlast 

 My Country is a series of six symphonic poems describing Czech

legends and landscapes. It includes The Moldau depicting a river and it truly gives one

the sense of the ebb and flow of the water and the sites it passes.




Camille Saint-Saens: His tone poem Danse Macabre, depicting death as a seductive

violinist, has been oft-quoted by other composers—and James L. McHard did his own wonderful

version on his synthesizers, and organ. His third symphony, the Organ Symphony, is splendidly




Franz Schubert: He followed Beethoven with works generated by melody, and his art

songs are among the most expressive. The Symphonies #8 and #9 are potent constructs,

and you’ll note that the first movement of the Eighth, famous as the Unfinished

Symphony, has been used in film scores from the 1930s onward, such as Ulmer’s The

Black Cat.

Alexander Scriabin: A passionate and mystical composer whose interest spanned

Nietzsche and Blavatsky. The Poem of Ecstasy, Prometheus—Poem of Fire, and his

Piano Sonata No. 9 (Black Mass) are sure to delight.

Jean Sibelius: His Second Symphony is stark with a finale full of grandeur while his

tone poems deal with Scandinavian mythology, Tapiola being particularly foreboding.

The rest of his seven symphonies are landmark works worthy of hearing.

P. Sousa: His marches are peerless and any collection of them will make you perk up.

Instantly recognizable are The Stars and Stripes Forever as well as The Liberty Bell

which was used as theme music for Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Johann Strauss: The “Waltz King” wrote unforgettable life-affirming pieces such as The

Blue Danube, Tales From the Vienna Woods, and The Bat.

Igor Stravinsky    The Rite of Spring

….The Firebird (with the “Infernal Dance of

King Kashchei”) and circus-themed Petrouchka are colorful, powerful, and enduring.

The suites from both of these ballets fucking rule!!



Pyotr Tchaikovsky Symphonies #4, #5, and #6, The Nutcracker and Swan Lake ballets, the Romeo &

Juliet Overture Fantasy, and the always thrilling 1812 Overture with parts for actual

cannons written into the score……..






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Ralph Vaughan-Williams   Symphony #4  …The Symphony #7, “The Antarctic,” is based on his film score for

Scott of the Antarctic and it uses very pictorial means to evoke the vast power of nature in

that frozen wasteland, including wordless choirs and pipe organ. His Symphony #6 begins

in agony, has a pounding slow movement, a cynical scherzo with braying saxophones,

and then finishes with what seems to be a quiet portrait of desolation. Kees Bakels

recording on the Naxos label are excellent.






Richard Wagner    Tristian Und Isolde


 Richard  Wagener transformed opera into what he called a “Gesamkunstwerk”

meaning total theatre. Here all elements of the production from the music to the sets,

costumes, and lighting design must be controlled for maximum dramatic impact. He

made orchestral excerpts from these large scale music dramas to help popularize them

and recordings of these as well as the overtures make a splendid introduction to his

masterful music—Gerard Schwartz has recorded excellent compilations. Lorin Maazel’s

The Ring Without Words is a potent symphonic synthesis of highlights from all four

operas in the Ring cycle….




“THE MUSIC I CHERISH the most that has the most evocation ……………..can be categorized as
bombastic music for the symphony orchestra. Historically, this type of composition using
the orchestra for grand emotional expression as well as time scale began with Beethoven.
I here present profiles of several major composers whose work I find to be deeply
rewarding. They are worthy of your attention.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827): Musical Titan
Despite the prevailing cultural illiteracy, is there anyone out there who hasn’t heard the
name of the mighty Beethoven? And who is not familiar with the famous four-note
motive—three shorts and a long—that begin his incomparable Fifth Symphony? (Who
still recalls what that symbolized in Morse code during World War II?) Yet how many of
you have taken the time to explore the works of one of the titans of music, whose
compositions combine emotional heights and formal brilliance at a level that few have
Beethoven was the prototype of the maverick composer, who told his patrons
what he wanted to do, rather than vice versa (unlike Mozart, who enjoyed his life but was
constantly having to do what his patrons wanted). The youthful Beethoven was hailed by
Mozart as one who would make a stir in the world. Beethoven was thus accepted into
aristocratic circles and was supported by wealthy music fanciers who tolerated his gruff
manner and often unkempt appearance. In 1798 he became aware of a progressive loss of
hearing and finally became completely deaf by 1819. Despite this tragic handicap, he
continued to produce works that expanded western music to new heights of achievement
and he maintained his love of existence through all of these, choosing to celebrate the
forces of life in the face of his own tragedy. The dark current flowed through his being so
strong that he could continue despite the extinguishing of his sense to perceive the results
of his efforts. The sound world that existed in his imagination went directly down on
paper, for performers to later recreate so that we can share Beethoven’s musical visions.
Beethoven turned his efforts to just about every genre of music that was extant in
his time, transforming and expanding each of them, from chamber music and art songs to
concerti, large scale vocal works and symphonies. The emotional hallmark to be found in
all of these is a heroic sense of struggle and victory, the personal “I” making a direct
assault on the universe and bending things to its will. Though Beethoven did write works
on Christian texts, his Miss Solemnis being a prime example, he generally seemed to be
more attracted to works by Schiller and Goethe for inspiration, as well as Greek
mythological tales.
It is perhaps best to start one’s exploration of Beethoven’s music with his
symphonies. His Third Symphony, subtitled Eroica, was originally dedicated to
Napoleon. He failed to live up to Beethoven’s concepts of what an enlightened leader
should accomplish, so his name was removed from the dedication page. This symphony
amazed audiences at the time for being about half again as long as any previous work in
his genre. But Beethoven need this enlarged time-scale to explore his concept of the hero,
who is carried to the grave in the funeral march of the second movement.
His Fourth Symphony was on a smaller scale, but with Symphony #5 he achieved
a masterpiece. It details in an amazingly compact way the struggle through the victory,
and every movement, from the driven first through to the soaringly triumphant finale
emerging from a shadowy transition, is based on the opening motto. Symphony #6,
Pastoral, revels in a purely pagan appreciation of nature with Beethoven creating images
of brooks, bird-calls, a rainstorm, and a peasant wedding, but really depicting the glorious
emotions he felt by reflecting on the beauty of nature culminating in the final
movement’s hymn to nature. Symphony #7 intensely examines rhythm, concluding with
a Dionysian dance. Symphony #8 is compact and full of wit and humor. The renowned
Ninth Symphony is his largest. The first movement was unlike anything written before,
being colossal in sound. The scherzo is fugal and developed in sonata fashion, and its
movement is like the dancing of infernal flames. The lyrical adagio provides a soothing
respite before the expanded finale. For the first time, this concluding movement included
a chorus and vocal soloists in a celebration based on the never to be forgotten “Ode to
I suggest that you seek out the recordings by John Eliot Gardiner and the
Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantic, as he uses Beethoven’s tempo markings and the
ensemble of original instruments preserves the proper orchestral balance making the
detailed part-writing crystal clear. These pieces will repay repeated listening; they are to
music what Shakespeare’s plays are to literature. Start off with the Fifth Symphony and
partake of a sound world embodying man the prideful hero…
…You’ll be swept along in a current of upward motion, of evolution, of
titanic battle and ultimate triumph. Here the dark force in nature has been given an aural
existence. Hail Ludwig!
Gustav Mahler (1860-1911): Urbane Visionary
He composed one of the most dramatic and complex series of symphonies ever
conceived—they are my favorites. Nine were completed, while the Tenth was unfinished
at the time of his death but there are completions by musicologists and they are excellent.
The song cycle symphony Das Lied von der Erde preceded his Ninth Symphony and
Mahler himself saw it as an unnumbered symphony. As a student he was passionately
interested in Nietzsche and adored Wagner, and his major life career was as one of the
world’s leading conductors, celebrated for his detailed interpretations of Wagner and
His work grows progressively more complex over the course of his career, so it is
often well to start with his Symphony #1. It evokes nature in the first movement, has an
earthy peasant dance for a scherzo, a mocking funeral march for the slow movement and
an apocalyptic/triumphant finale. His Symphony #2 is subtitled Resurrection but it isn’t
what one would expect from the Christian point of view. Mahler intended it to symbolize
his own artistic triumph over negative critical response and it takes the paradigm of
Beethoven’s Ninth to even greater lengths and depths. His Third Symphony is his longest
and it embodies Mahler’s love of raw, pagan nature. The first movement is gigantic and
pictures the awakening of Pan and the volcanic paroxysms of life’s struggle. The
following five movements take one on an evolutionary journey through several worlds, of
plant life, of animals, of loneliness—a setting of a Nietzsche text, of naïve religion, and
finally of deep human passion.
The middle group of purely orchestral symphonies is complex and exciting. The
Fifth begins with a funeral march and finally ends in raucous triumph, based on a melody
he wrote for a song that lampooned people with unsophisticated tastes. The tragic Sixth
Symphony is one of the darkest pieces ever written, ending with a vast movement
interrupted by actual sledgehammer blows, shattering the symbolic hero of the piece. The
Seventh is sometimes called the “song of the night,” and it evokes the night in many
guises. His Eighth is another vast choral symphony, called at the premiere the Symphony
of a Thousand because of the gigantic forces needed to perform it. Mahler goes back to
Bach for contrapuntal thinking and sets a text invoking the creative spirit, and then
moving on to a setting of the final scene of Goethe’s Faust. His Ninth, written under the
specter of declining health, is a sophisticated leave-taking, wrenchingly despairing, then
finally resignedly detached. The unfinished Tenth goes even further in its despair, but
finally concludes with a cherishing love of having lived.
Hyper-emotionalism is the rule in this music. If you like this then keep going with
the rest of the symphonies in order, give them time and attention for it is repaid—get
Leonard Bernstein’s recordings, either the old on Sony or the new on Deutsche
Richard Strauss (1864-1949): Celebrating Himself
Who could forget the thrilling opening music to Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space
Odyssey? Who hasn’t been moved by that sonic sunburst that Kubrick wisely used to
herald the birth of conscious intelligence in Man’s ancestors, and underscored the first
use of tools—a weapon, I might add? That magnificent fanfare was penned by Richard
Strauss as the opening for his tone poem Thus Spake Zarathustra, which was the
composer’s effort at creating an audio equivalent to Nietzsche’s iconoclastic book.
Strauss was known in his youth as a radical modern, shocking the critics with his
voluptuous music, whether it be purely symphonic or operatic. In his final years he was
considered to be an aging reactionary, co-opted by the Nazis, and thus generally ignored
by a world that had moved to embrace less human music, that had lost the ability to
appreciate splendor and skill. To the modern listener, he appears as an artist that created
works of great beauty overflowing with the joy and struggle of life.
Strauss actively rejected Christianity and its disgusting creed of self-sacrifice. He
saw life as a heroic battle and himself as his own God. Thus, when he composed a tone
poem called A Hero’s Life, one should not be surprised that he made it a selfportrait.
In this, he depicts himself as a mighty life-embracing warrior who enjoys a war
against his critics—lampooned as the toads that they were, and who enjoyed his sensuous
pleasures to the fullest.
He again celebrated himself and his family in the Domestic Symphony, a musical
depiction of grandiose proportions that glorifies his home life with his wife and child.
Though his detractors were always outraged at his self-glorification, they did not stand in
the way of his fame, achieved at an early age as both a composer and conductor.
Strauss’ mastery of orchestration was second to none, and he created soundscapes
that astonished audiences with the verisimilitude of their tone-painting. Listen to his Don
Quixote, where he uses woodwind and brass trills to sound like a noisy herd of sheep.
The storm segment of his An Alpine Symphony is one of the most violent and realistic in
all music literature, complete with both a wind machine and thunder sheet. We’ll speak
more of this piece.
As a young man, Strauss wrote Death and Transfiguration which depicts a man’s
recollections of his very full life while on his deathbed. Here he likened life to a series of
even more magnificent strivings after one’s goals which are attained. Death is finally
heralded by an ominous tam-tam stroke, yet the heroic spirit is not stopped, but soars on
to self-glory. When he ultimately lay dying, Strauss claimed that it was just as he
composed it years before.
His operas often caused scandals because Strauss was not afraid to embrace
unbridled lust in Salome or poisonous vitriol in Elektra using surprising dissonance for
the time to accompany lasciviousness and violence on stage. His later operas retreated
into a more genteel but elaborately crafted style influenced by Mozartean grace, such as
The Knight of the Rose and Capriccio.
This carnal philosophy of life permeated his work in all media, but it came most
strongly to the fore in his mightiest tone poem, An Alpine Symphony. Ostensibly, this
piece portrays a journey by a mountaineer, starting out in primal darkness, then greeted
by another blazing sunrise, and continuing until he reaches the mountain’s summit,
experiences an apocalyptic storm, and then descends to the final darkness of night.
Strauss said that the true intent of the piece was a representation of Man’s appropriate
existence. Here life is experienced as if it were a mountain to be conquered by dint of
personal struggle, in heroic harmony with the magnificence of Nature. He clearly defined
this as being in direct opposition to the Christian attitude towards life, and indeed the first
title of this piece, which he later dropped, was Antichrist. You will find here an utterly
Satanic embodiment of life. From out of the darkness, the rising theme of aspiration leads
to a birth in triumph, a “yea saying” to the challenges before one. Next, life is launched
with a vigorous assault on the universe that bears with it moments of astonishing beauty
as well as bracing terror. In the end, death comes, but the ascending theme still struggles
up out of the gathering darkness, expiring only in the final exhalation in a downward
glissando into the night of non-existence, the Black Flame guttering out, but with the
primal sounds of Nature still there to support the next hero to arise. No more Satanic a
view of the human condition has been put into sound.
For the listener new to Strauss’ works, I recommend that you seek out recordings
conducted by Herbert von Karajan and Karl Böhm, as these are superbly realized with
just the right touch of virtuosity and violence. First, listen to the tone poems that have
been mentioned in this article and if you enjoy them move on to his other orchestral and
operatic works. There is an exquisitely melancholy work for string orchestra,
Metamorphosen, which is a lament for the shattered culture of Germany at the close of
World War II, which may move you with its direct emotional expression. Strauss’ music
is rich and complex late romanticism which is decidedly passionate and totally Dionysian.
Be prepared for the intricate textures, chromaticism, and detailed development of
thematic material. At first, just let the sound sweep you along in its epic journey. Later,
there is much more to appreciate structurally, if such is your inclination. Try listening to
the rest of Thus Spake Zarathustra beyond the famed sunrise and you will be amazed at
how much more wonderful music it contains, fulfilling the promise of those first few
minutes. Yes, Strauss did conquer death, for by hearing his works you will feel his
essence moving within you. And you too will be transfigured.
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975): Honest Witness
Dmitri Shostakovich was the great atheist composer who suffered under the tyranny of
Stalinist Russia, writing music that wryly commented on the totalitarian society in which
he lived. He found a way to produce works that could pass for the vapid “socialist realist”
paeans demanded by the government, yet still voiced opposition and mockery of the
dominant authoritarianism. He did not flee this society, but remained to bear witness to
the suffering and bravery of the millions who were prisoners to this grim nation.
You won’t find much that is light in Shostakovich’s work, for when it comes time
to be humorous his laughter is often worked into a shriek. Triumph comes not from the
forced public celebration, but from the intimate treasuring of the fragility of human
tenderness, like a rare and ephemeral blossom clinging to a barren crag. He is one of the
great symphonists, completing 15, directly inspired both in style and content by the might
ten written by Gustav Mahler. He also wrote 15 string quartets, and these are as
structurally dense as his symphonies and even more revealing in their exploration of
Shostakovich’s psychological states. There are as well film scores, operas, ballets,
concerti, piano works and pieces written for specific occasions—a wealth of exquisite
music that will take you years to fully explore.
His genius is to be starkly realistic in his exploration of the context of human
consciousness in a universe that is fraught with danger created by other humans whose
goal is control and suppression of individuality. Thus his work chronicles a struggle for
freedom that is dear to the hearts of all truth seekers, who must often hide their true nature from
the bigots who have the power to throttle their quest for the joys that life can offer.
Let us explore Shostakovich’s powerful works from his series of symphonies. At
the age of 19 his First Symphony made him an international star. It set the tone for what
was to follow, wittily commenting on prior works by Tchaikovsky by using the biting
satirical sense one finds in Mahler but in a uniquely Russian way. It was played the world
over and put Dmitri in the spotlight. His next two symphonies written under the watchful
eyes of the Soviet bosses are attempts to integrate modernist dissonant musical language
with messages supporting the “Glorious Communist Experiment.” These are oddly
hollow pieces, perhaps that in itself being a personal commentary.
His massive Fourth Symphony, deeply indebted to Mahler, carried dissonant
grotesquerie to new heights. Since Stalin had detested his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtzensk
written in a similar style—and to displease this boss literally meant you would be
dragged away in the middle of the night to be exiled to die in frozen Siberia—
Shostakovich withdrew this symphony before its official premier and produced another
one far more conveniently tonal, the Fifth Symphony, and it too had the sort of success
that the First had achieved. Listen to this work, with its almost Beethovenian first
movement—stern and well-developed, the scherzo a Mahleresque peasant dance, the
largo a darkly passionate lament, finished by a finale that works itself into a mighty
peroration. Of course, those who understand this finale see it as a forced celebration, and
conductors who knew the composer play this so that the triumph is more an agonized
pounding than an actual victory.
His Sixth Symphony used three movements to make its point, starting with an
adagio plumbing the depths of despair, influenced by the first movement of Mahler’s
8unfinished Tenth Symphony. Its scherzo then continues in the cheeky vein so definitive
of this composer, while the finale is a vigorous march, athletic and confident in tone. The
Seventh, called The Leningrad, was written while Shostakovich was in Leningrad, under
attack by the Nazis. He volunteered as a fireman to protect the city—a famous picture of
him in a fire helmet was circulated for propagandistic purposes. The first movement of
what is his longest symphony depicts Russia invaded by the mechanistic Nazis, who are
portrayed by a simplistic march that proceeds through a series of pedantic variations,
becoming more brutal as it goes along. This march is developed into battle music that
finally vanquishes the invader. The moderato is a wood-wind-dominated scherzo
movement with a harrowing climax and the adagio that follows has much poetry and
passion. The finale movement brings back the battle, reaching a truly bombastic
culmination with the return of the first movement’s main theme. This work was
supported by the Soviet government and was immediately played in the Western world as
a symbol of the Soviet people’s struggle against Hitler. Bartók was sick of hearing it on
the radio, so he parodied the Nazi march in his own Concerto for Orchestra.
The five movement Eighth Symphony was also a wartime work, but it grimly
explores the repressions of the communist regime, ending in a mode that is not shouting
victory, but which is more an appreciation of having survived a nightmare—just barely.
The government expected a triumphal choral Ninth, celebrating the end of the war. They
got a sarcastic brief symphony that challenges the skills of the musicians thumbs its nose
at convention. Stalin finally died, and so the Tenth Symphony is a personal work,
musically referencing one of Shostakovich’s love interests and mocking Stalin with a
fierce scherzo that ends with a scream.
His Eleventh Symphony is a vast tonal canvas often quoting Russian
revolutionary songs, ostensibly depicting a Tsarist massacre during a protest. But of
course it seems aimed at similar doings by the Soviet overlords. It is a long work, but
very evocative, almost cinematic in effect. The Twelfth is much like an “agit-prop” film
score, and it has a bombastic finale akin to the Seventh.
The Thirteenth Symphony is the one work by Shostakovich that should be heard
if you explore no other. Based on five poems by Yevtushenko, it is scored for full
orchestra, bass soloist and male choir. Here the sound of Russian Orthodox liturgical
singing is absorbed and transformed into a secular “Greek Chorus,” chanting texts
damning totalitarian repression in many forms. The first movement is a frightening
monument to the slaughter of thousands of Jews by the Nazis at Babi Yar. With its tolling
deep bell and explosive outrage, there are hair-raising passages that will astonish. The
second movement mordantly speaks about humor resisting all attempts to suppress it. The
third movement sadly depicts the tenaciousness of the women in the Soviet Union who
do their best with meager earnings to bring home food for survival, a heroism based on
drudgery so foreign to most Western people. The Fourth gets even darker, telling of fears
of all sorts, the worst being the fear to speak freely lest one be arrested and slaughtered
by those who watch. Finally, the fifth movement begins with Galileo and then other
creators finding “careers” that make them cursed for being truthful while “yes-men”
lackeys often succeed over these iconoclasts by catering to society’s rulers. The music
here is wistful, delicate, ironic and warm, knowing the scarceness of such bravery in the
face of the inertia of collective conformity. It is a masterpiece.
The Fourteenth Symphony was inspired by Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde and
is for soprano and bass soloists, and string orchestra with percussion. It is based on
collected poems confronting death in many forms, and is thus a secular meditation on the
preciousness of life by examining the consequences of death. The final Fifteenth
Symphony sums up Shostakovich’s life with musical quotations of his own and other
favored composer’s works, with much parody, explosive lamentation, and finally a
strange icy calm detachment, ending with a warm smile that fades Cheshire Cat-like into
the air.
There is a set of the complete symphonies conducted by Rudolph Barshai, who
premiered the Fourteenth Symphony, that are exquisitely played with all the beauty,
terror, and mockery required. Other outstanding interpreters are Mravinsky, Rostropovich,
Rozhdestvensky, Ashkenazy, and Haitink.
And so, fellow non-believers, you will find this music to be worth your while as it
exhibits how an artist of wit and passion can resist dictatorship to speak his mind and
poignantly capture what it meant to be a person of awareness in a society that destroyed
so many who refused to conform.
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990): Maestro of All Trades
On October 14, 1990 the world of music lost not only a star but an entire constellation
with the death of Leonard Bernstein, Composer, conductor, teacher, showman, egoist,
libertine—all were facets of this extraordinarily talented man who lived to suck the very
marrow from the bones of life. He made his own way, developing his talents to the fullest
and using his own mind as the arbiter of his direction, resisting those who would put him
off his goals from his father who opposed Lenny’s desire to be a musician to colleagues
who wished for him to limit his scope to one facet of music.
He is an example of a de facto Satanist in his concentration on enjoying the
present to its fullest. As a conductor, Bernstein was known as one of the most charismatic
and Dionysian of podium personalities, having won his way to a status that had
previously only been available to Europeans. I was fortunate enough to have witnessed
several of his performances and can vouch for the pure ecstatic galvanism of the
experience. He would completely identify with the composer of the work as he conducted,
whipping the orchestra into a performance that would be filled with blood and fire,
bringing the printed notes to life as if one were experiencing the music for the very first
time. We are enriched by the legacy of recordings he made over the entire span of his
conducting career. Indeed, everyone reading this will almost certainly have been
introduced to some classical music via one or more of Bernstein’s recordings. He
excelled in works that gave reign to emotion on a grand scale, particularly the
symphonies of Gustav Mahler.
As a conductor alone, Bernstein carved out a niche as one of the very greatest, but
he also found time to compose original music as well, ranging from symphonic works to
ballet scores and Broadway musicals. Again, I’m certain that all of you will have been
touched by his compositions at some point in your lives. He gains immortality from West
Side Story, and updated Romeo and Juliet set amidst rival gangs in Manhattan. This score
is permeated with the interval of the augmented fourth, known as diabolus in musica. The
milieu isn’t that important, but the responsive melodies he crafted matched the words to
perfection, and shall remain perhaps his greatest legacy.
For sheer non-conformist satire, one can turn to Candide, which tears apart the “Best of
all possible worlds” bunk by revealing the brutality of existence, the callous
monstrousness of hierarchies, both religious and governmental, and in the end, the need
to create your own meaning through what you yourself can do. The score sparkles with
musical witticisms and the libretto is equally wry. Bernstein had a lifelong struggle
against the idea of faith in external figures. He composed pieces that constantly turned
the focus for meaning back to Man himself. His Mass, though dated with rock-influenced
elements, was written as a condemnation of organized religion.
One of my favorite works is the Symphonic suite derived from the score to the
film On The Waterfront. Here we find a truly majestic symphonic poem which captures
the breadth of the struggle of life itself. It begins with a haunting, searching theme, then
segues into an aural depiction of the violence and brutality of existence. Later we are
embraced by a sweepingly romantic love theme. Throughout the work, these ideas are
developed and combined in a way that signifies the struggle of existence, full of tragedy,
but ultimately of triumph. The final peroration includes a combination of the opening
searching theme with the love theme, passion united with purpose to achieve the chosen
end. Life as a struggle, to stand above the herd and derive your own ends. Truly a
masterpiece. Another noteworthy aspect of Bernstein’s work is his depiction of New
York City for its full range of majesty and terror. He even composed the famous, “New
York, New York, a Hell of a Town,” tune, certainly a metallic gem.
In his personal life, Bernstein didn’t stint on his enjoyment of anything. Known
for having a mighty ego, and his talents certainly justified it, he also was reputed to be
generous to his friends and lovers of either sex. His desire for success and the magical
events that shaped his life prove that he knew where best to direct his energies.
Yes, he certainly had his flaws which included a certain vapidity concerning
socio-political issues. Here he often followed the liberal herd. His infamous party for the
Black Panthers was justly satirized by Tom Wolfe. But such things are minor when
compared to the musical legacy that remains. He truly lived a authentic kick ass existence, having
flamed and tossed the fires about him, igniting passions in those whom he touched. He
shall remain immortal in the brains and sinews of those whose respect and admiration he
has gained. Hail Leonard Bernstein! Bravissimo!
Here follows a list of compositions beyond those mentioned above that are certain to
stimulate. This is by no means exhaustive, but is intended as a beginner’s guide for
commencing the journey into this vast world of extraordinary sounds. I sometimes note
particular conductors or recordings I consider to be KICK • ASS


Here I list some favorite scores by each composer. If you enjoy these works, there are
many more scores from most, so keep on listening.
The Omen
The Titantic Soundtrack
Fright Night Music That Goes Bump In the Night
Elmer Bernstein: The Ten Commandments, Robot Monster, The Great Escape, Animal
House, The Black Cauldron.
Wendy Carlos: A Clockwork Orange, Tron, The Shining. Her albums of electronic
music, Beauty In The Beast, Tales of Heaven & Hell, Digital Moonscapes, as well as the
Switched-On Bach Series, should not be missed.
John Corigliano: Altered States. His Symphony #1 “Of Rage and Remembrance,”
mourning the deaths of many of his friends, is a powerful work with one of
the most frightening scherzos ever written.
Cliff Eidelman: Star Trek VI.
Danny Elfman: Batman, Darkman, Nightbreed, Sleepy Hollow, Peewee’s Big Adventure,
Mars Attacks, The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Elliot Goldenthal: Alien 3, Titus, Batman and Robin, Batman Forever, Cobb, Interview
with the Vampire.
Jerry Goldsmith: The Omen Trilogy, Patton, Star Trek 1 & 5, Alien, The Blue Max,
Planet of the Apes.
Bernard Herrmann: Psycho, Citizen Kane, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The 7th
Voyage of Sinbad, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Vertigo. My favorite film
James Horner: Aliens, Brainstorm, Krull, Glory, The Rocketeer, Star Trek 2 & 3.
Akira Ifukube: Godzilla, Destroy All Monsters, Godzilla vs. Destroyer, Ghidorah the
Three Headed Monster, King Kong Escapes. Most of Toho Studio’s classic monster films
were graced with his scores.
Wojciech Kilar: Bram Stoker’s Dracula. His Symphony #3, “September Symphony,” in
honor of the victims of 9/11 is a powerful work.
Erich Wolfgang von Korngold: The Sea Wolf, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex,
The Sea Hawk, Kings Row. His only symphony is also a superb, post-Mahlerian work
utilizing themes from some of his film scores.
Basil Poledouris: Conan The Barbarian, Starship Troopers, Robocop, The Hunt for Red
Leonard Rosenman: Beneath the Planet of the Apes, The Car, Star Trek VI.
Miklos Rosza: El Cid, Ben Hur, King of Kings.
Davis Shire: A Return to Oz.
Howard Shore: The Fly, Ed Wood, The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Alan Silvestri: Predator 1 & 2, The Abyss, Van Helsing.
Dimitri Tiomkin: The Fall of the Roman Empire, The Guns of Navarone, Land of the
Franz Waxman: The Bride of Frankenstein, Sunset Boulevard, Taras Bulba.
John Williams: Dracula, The Fury, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1941, Star
Wars (I-VI), Superman.
Christopher Young: Hellraiser 1 & 2, The Fly 2.
Idol Pleasures ”
Liner Notes to the upcoming James L. McHard book The Future of Modern Music Volume 3 in the Event Mr. McHard Comes out of Retirement