My musical tastes are too broad and eclectic to really do justice to them here, so the artists and/or genres found below are just a few of my personal favourites. You will also find some links to music related sites that I find unusual or interesting enough to include.
I first heard the piano music of Charles Valentin Alkan over twenty years ago on a Ronald Smith LP, and it quickly became compulsive listening, as in "I must get a fix of Alkan today". Back then, only a few vinyl recordings of Alkan's music existed, but today, as his music continues to grow in popularity, there are numerous recordings available and several sources of information about him on the web, so I'll restrict myself to a potted biography.
Born in Paris in 1813, Alkan was accepted into the Paris Conservatoire at the age of six, where he excelled. During his early career he became a friend of Chopin, and Liszt greatly admired his playing. Disliking public performance, by his mid-thirties he had become something of a recluse, dedicating the remainder of his life to composing for the piano. He is said to have died under a falling bookcase in 1888, and has since been decomposing in Montmartre cemetery.
If you want an introduction to Alkan's music, the following are my recommendations for pieces you should listen to, which, incidentally, can all be found on Marc-André Hamelin's excellent Hyperion CD:
- Le Festin d'Aesope Op.39 No.12
- Sonatine Op.61
- Barcarolle Op.65 No.6
- The Myths of Alkan
- The Myths of Alkan - a transcript of Jack Gibbon's talks for BBC Radio 3.
- Alkan Charles - Valentin
- A French site, but with some English pages, containing a biography of Alkan and the scores for most of his music, much of which is in the public domain.
Arvo Pärt's music sounds unlike that of any other modern composer and has been much borrowed by film makers. Whether it is the hypnotic sparseness and simplicity of Für Alina, or the dense interweaving of threads in Cantus, I am hooked, and Tabula Rasa is the only piece of music which never fails to wind me down at the end of the day - listened to in the dark, of course. These three pieces, listed below, are all from his "tintinnabulation" phase. I recommend any performance involving Gidon Kremer, since besides being a superb musician, he resists the temptation to add unnecessary and irritating vibrato to Pärt's music:
- Tabula Rasa (for orchestra and prepared piano)
- Für Alina (for solo piano)
- Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten (for orchestra and bell)
- Arvo Pärt Archive
- David Pinkerton's Arvo Pärt information archive.
Kaikhosru Sorabji is a 20th century Anglo-Indian composer-pianist whose music was not heard until the mid 1970's when he eventually granted permission for it to be performed. His music is complex and can be immensely difficult to play and quite challenging to listen to. A notoriously cantankerous and reclusive man, he is said to have kept visitors at bay with a sign saying 'certain nuns welcome, all others not'.
- Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji
- Biography, discography and much more relating to this composer and virtuoso pianist.
- Kaikhosru Sorabji - Adventures in Extreme Piano
- Brief biography interspersed with reviews of the available CD's of Sorabji's music.
By this I mean Chinese traditional music, or Chinese music performed on traditional instruments, which usually amounts to the same thing. I've developed a great liking for this music over recent years (with the exception of the sound of the Jiangnan ensemble, whose parallel melodic lines make me uncomfortable), and I have become completely hooked on the sound of the Guqin, that most ancient of instruments.
If you can appreciate Western classical music, you will find it surprisingly easy to listen to Chinese traditional music in orchestral arrangement. The scales are familiar, the harmony isn't challenging, the timbre of the instruments is refreshingly different, and those beautiful long singing melodic lines...
These are a few of my favourite pieces, let me know what you think, I've added the title in Pinyin because English translations tend to vary enormously:
- Three Variations on Plum Blossom (Mei hua san nong)
- Second spring reflecting moon (Er quan yin yue)
- Butterfly lovers concerto (Liang Zhu)
- Wild geese descending on the sands (Ping sha luo yan)
- DoveSong Foundation -- Music of China
- A really nice site with some beautiful music, this was my first introduction to Chinese traditional music.
- Chinese Music - Pitt state
- A few good quality MP3's of Chinese traditional music.
- The Internet Chinese Music Archive
- Look for the MP3's of traditional music, there are some good tunes here.
- Chinese guqin - playing and notation
- A site with an unrivalled level of technical detail about the construction and playing techniques of this ancient instrument, and a few pieces of Guqin music to listen to.
- Chinese instruments
- A good concise overview of Chinese traditional instruments.
- Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra
- A detailed description of the members of each family of Chinese traditional instruments, including history and musical compass.
What follows is a random collection of links to artists that I particularly like or whose music intrigues me, classical or contemporary, alive or dead, in no particular order.
- Richard Shindell
- A superb singer-songwriter from New York who now lives in Buenos Aires. Check out his "Are you happy now?" for the last word on how to handle a broken relationship.
- Béla Fleck and the Flecktones
- Probably the world's greatest banjo virtuoso, who plays everything from bluegrass to classical, and his own very special blue-jazz-funk.
- Preston Reed
- This guy plays guitar like no-one else does. Take a look at his videos and you'll see what I mean.
- Gotan Project
- I'm not usually a great admirer of tango, but Gotan Project's "La Revancha del Tango" has that something extra about it, almost acid tango.
- Harry Partch
- Described as "iconoclastic American composer, musical theorist, philosophic instrument builder, raconteur, hobo, artist", Harry Partch uses some challenging non-standard tunings, so not the easiest music to get your head around.
- Morton Feldman
- Morton Feldman, who died in 1987, produced the ultimate in quiet minimalistic composition. Some of his pieces make Arvo Pärt's music sound busy.
- Essay on the life and times of Padre Antonio Soler, together with sheet music and MP3's. If you don't know Soler's Fandango, you must give it a whirl.
The following miscellaneous links relate to music theory, alternative tunings, various instruments and pieces of music.
- Kunst der Fuge - Analysis of BWV 861
- There is more than enough material about Bach on the internet, but this site is unique in my experience in explaining the structure of a fugue with simultaneous sound and graphics.
- Chord progressions in tonal music
- Presentation of an intriguing theory relating to chord progressions and syntactic structure in tonal music, with musical examples.
- Tallis’ Triumph Spem in alium
- Although I am not a fan of choral music, there is something about Thomas Tallis' Spem In Alium that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up...
- An interesting idea for a musical tuning system based on Pi, with some musical examples to enable you to stretch your ear a little.
- Intuitive instruments for improvisers
- Articles on temperament, Jankó keyboards etc, together with opportunities for musical exploration using some virtual instruments.
- Organ history
- Fascinating site describing the pipe organ from its origin through to the twentieth century. Takes you on a journey inside an organ, showing how it works and how it sounds.