There are instances where a topic sweeps across the blogosphere, sometimes it’s referred to as a “meme”. I hadn’t heard of this before, so I checked and found that a meme is described thusly:

a cultural item that is transmitted by repetition in a manner analogous to the biological transmission of gene

In this instance, I found a post from a new blog to me: The Omniscient Mussel, who wrote a post based upon a post at Iron Tongue of Midnight about what pieces (or parts of pieces) of music make one cry. Since I’ve been all over the emotional map this month, and much of that territory was in the sad or worse region, this is a timely topic.

So, without further ado, a small selection of the pieces that, if they don’t make me cry they at least move me deeply.

  1. Adams – On the Transmigration of Souls. I really didn’t expect that this piece would get to me, especially as a performer. There’s a lot to do in this piece, and it’s easy to get lost, so there isn’t a ton of time to devote to getting emotionally involved. However, the street sounds and voices of relatives that bookend the work immediately got right to the core of me from the first moment of the first rehearsal. There’s such a sense of time and place, of empathy for those people who were there at Ground Zero, or were just going about their lives, not realizing that they or their loved ones were being irrevocably tied to history.
  2. Mahler – Ninth Symphony, mvt. IV – Adagio. I played this piece in conservatory orchestra, as principal viola, and it was a life changing experience. This last movement of a composition that is essentially a farewell to the world, and a premonition of death, is one of the great valedictory statements in music. Such sweep and intimate grandeur (if that can be made to make sense) – and the entry of the woodwinds after nearly 15 minutes of incredibly moving string passages just makes my heart break every time I hear it.
  3. Puccini – Nessun dorma, from Turandot. This always made me weepy, especially the Pavarotti version. It’s pure emotion for the sake of emotion, and that is something that I’m a bit ashamed to love, but I do.
  4. Bach – Goldberg Variations. It’s such a journey, through the whole range of keyboard possibilities and the final return of the opening Aria is always a moment that brings such relief and feelings of an epic journey brought to a satisfying conclusion.
  5. Mozart – Piano Concerto No. 21, Kv. 467Elvira Madigan” – I hate these nicknames derived from films, but you use this one and everyone knows the concerto you’re talking about, so there you go. The Andante from this movement is just so absolutely sublime, it did actually bring me to tears the first time I played it. It was during my first season with the OSO, and Yoël Levi was conducting. I don’t even remember who was playing the piano, but they were terrific whoever they were. We got to the Andante and to the section where the pizzicato accompaniment by the strings doubles in tempo – it’s such a great spot, just absolute perfection – you cannot imagine anyone else writing something this perfect. Man, Wolfie knew how to write a good chart.
  6. Brahms – Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, mvt. 3 – Andante. The stumbling, ruminative, despairing piano solo passage that precedes the return of the opening cello solo in the slow movement of this concerto never fails to move me. I remember the first time I ever heard this piece, it was a recording of Leon Fleisher with the Cleveland Orchestra under Georg Szell, and I knew that Brahms would have pride of place in my musical heart forever.
  7. Beethoven – String Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 130 – mvt. 5 – Cavatina. Anyone who loves listening to or performing string quartets must claim this piece, and this movement of this piece as being near the top of their personal best list. For me, the unbelievable passage where the world is shut out and we find ourselves at the very core of Beethoven’s experience is the pinnacle of the art of the quartet. If you haven’t heard the Guarneri Quartet‘s performance of this movement in their second cycle of the quartets, then you really owe it to yourself to get hold of the recording and prepare to shed a few tears.
  8. Bach – Partita No. 2 in d minor for Solo Violin, BWV 1004Ciaconna. Truly one of the towering works for any solo instrument, or for any instrumental combination for that matter. Mahler liked to describe the symphony as a container which could hold an entire world in its confines. Bach beat him to it by a couple hundred years, and with a single instrument. The maggiore section is one of my favorite places in this piece, a place near the emotional nadir of the work, and then there is the miraculous return to the opening minor sequence, with the violin clawing its way back up from the edge of the abyss only to triumph. Amazing.

There are many more, but this is a good top of the list for me. Have your own nominations? Send a comment along.

2 Replies to “lachrymae”

  1. How about a pair from OSO concerts?

    Slow movement from Brahms Piano Concerto #2 w/Stephen Hough-first time hearing this piece live; will remember this concert for a very long time.

    Shostakovitch Symphony #8-actual tears after this one.

  2. Yeah, that’s what got me to thinking about the Brahms in the first place – that was a great performance – Hough is a god of the piano. Shosty 8 is also a tough piece – I was depressed all week after that run.

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