Monumental sounds

Great-Gate-of-KievAlthough composers have often painted the atmospheres of exotic countries, the drama of historical events and the narrative of colourful stories into their works, a few of us in the Naxos office were left struggling to find examples that take physical monuments as their prime focus. Although there must be more, the only one that immediately sprang to mind was The Great Gate of Kiev from Mussorgsky‘s Pictures at an Exhibition (Naxos 8.553249 track 21).

The subject arose following the release this month of our world première recordings of works by GRAMMY® Award-winning composer Michael Daugherty (Naxos 8.559749). Opening the disc is Mount Rushmore, a dramatic oratorio inspired by the monumental sculpture of four American presidents carved into the Black Hills of South Dakota: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Daugherty’s irresistible slabs of sound that permeate the work tally with the bold stone carvings they represent.

The work is followed on the disc by Radio City, continuing the physical thread by taking the noted entertainment complex located in the Rockefeller Radio-City-Music-Hall-PanoramaCentre in New York City as its title. It was from there that the legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini made live broadcasts with the NBC Symphony Orchestra from 1937 to 1954, an episode in American cultural history which Daugherty’s symphonic fantasy captures.

“In the final movement of Radio City, I have composed music that captures Toscanini’s tempestuous temperament, his musical intensity, and the frenzied tempos of his performances,” Daugherty explains. The performance by the Pacific Symphony under Carl St Clair certainly achieves all of this and, if you want a bit of the ‘real thing’, check out Toscanini’s Radio City broadcast of Verdi’s Otello (Naxos Historical 8.111320-21), performed by the NBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. It’s a particularly compelling experience, given that Toscanini himself played cello at the opera’s first performance at La Scala, Milan in 1887.

Ravel‘s Tombeau de Couperin might just fall into our definition of music for monuments, ‘tombeau’ being French for ‘tombstone’ and a generic term for pieces written to commemorate the death of someone of importance. It was a common form of composition in the 17th century and Ravel revived the practice as a memorial to friends of his who were killed in World War I. Subsequently re-scored for orchestra, its original version for piano solo can be heard in its entirety on Naxos 8.550254, while the great British pianist Phyllis Sellick, a young girl at the time of its composition who became known for her affinity with Ravel’s music, can be heard playing the Toccata from the work on Naxos Historical 8.111217.

Sibelius-monumentTurning things on their head, there are monuments dotted around the world that commemorate the lives of composers, usually with a simple portrait sculpture of the subject, but few are as arresting as the structure built to commemorate Jean Sibelius‘ contribution to the music of Finland. Located in Helsinki’s Sibelius Park, the Sibelius Monument is a fascinating piece of abstract sculpture, made up of some 600 hollow steel pipes. You can take an audio-visual tour that combines music of Finland’s greatest composer with its stunning scenic landmarks on Nordic Landscapes, part of the Naxos Musical Journey series (Naxos DVD 2.110320).

What has proved to be one of the most exciting structures of the past half century, however, now with us in radio-wave spirit voyager-spacecraftonly, is the Voyager Spacecraft; launched in 1977, it’s now believed to be approaching the edge of the solar system. As 12 April is marked by the United Nations as the International Day of Human Space Flight, we thought we’d take a small liberty by highlighting this example of an unmanned venture on the same day.

No music was written specifically to mark Voyager’s mission, but a number of classical pieces are inextricably bound up with it in the form of on-board recordings that help represent the diversity of our civilisation’s culture, in the event that the craft ever connects with another.

If you would like to let your imagination roam to the frontiers of space with this music, follow the links to the pieces that were selected:

• J. S. Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, First Movement (Naxos 8.554607, track 5)

• J. S. Bach, Partita No. 3 in E major for violin solo, Gavotte en rondeau (Naxos 8.557563-64, disc 2, track 12)

• J. S. Bach, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, Prelude and Fugue in C (Naxos 8.550970-71 disc 1, track 1)

• Mozart, The Magic Flute, The Queen of the Night aria (Naxos 8.660030-31, disc 2, track 8)

• Beethoven, Fifth Symphony, Movement 1 (Naxos 8.550289, track 1)

• Beethoven, String quartet No. 13 in B flat, Op. 130, Cavatina (Naxos 8.554593, track 5)

• Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring, Sacrificial Dance (Naxos 8.557508, track 20)


* Radio City Music Hall credit: CC-BY-SA-3.0/Matt H. Wade at Wikipedia