So, with the festive season’s excesses not long past and New Year resolutions on our minds, it doesn’t take much of a leap to imagine that many of us will be thinking about taking more exercise. Going to the gym these days seems to demand the heavy beat of pop music as a constant companion. These rhythms can certainly give your energy a boost, but if that all seems too noisy there are plenty of alternatives for your earphones.
It’s not difficult to compile a personal playlist of tracks that match your natural tempo. Baroque music is a good place to find uplifting music with a steady pace to help you on one of those exercise machines or on a brisk walk, and what could be more bracing than the opening to J. S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 1? The Swiss Baroque Soloists are livelier than most in this glorious set of concertos (8.557755-56). Just about any track will do, but try keeping pace with the first movement of the Concerto No. 3 and I can guarantee your colour will be rosier by the time it’s finished.
Romantic music will probably have too many tempo changes for a workout, but there’s a wealth of music from the Classical era that keeps up a good pace, and you can use the cadenzas in Mozart’s piano concertos to indulge in your HIT (High Intensity Training) moments. Picked almost at random, try moving to the Allegro Vivace finale of the Piano Concerto No. 18 (8.550205).
Getting the most out of an exercise session can seem like a life-or-death struggle. Having led a precarious existence in the dark years of World War II and Stalin’s Soviet Russia, Dmitri Shostakovich might empathise with you. The sheer energy in the third movement of his Eighth Symphony (8.572392) might have just the right amount of desperate intensity to get you over the finishing line.
There must be something about those Russian composers, as this also brings to mind Prokofiev’s Seventh Piano Sonata (8.553021), the final Precipitato of which can certainly feel like being pushed in the back while you are already running down a steep hill!
Composers are always exploring different genres, and much contemporary music has assimilated styles from pop music and beyond. Michael Torke’s works are always approachable, and if you want help in finding your get-up-and-go mojo then the final movement of his Rapture (Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra) (8.559167) might do the trick. Have a listen to Metal and try to stop your hips joining in. John Adams is another composer whose roots in minimalist music can deliver a healthy rhythmic boost, and stepping on board for a Short Ride in a Fast Machine (8.559031) will burn off some calories, even if it’s only your imagination that’s doing the workout.
The other side of the coin when it comes to general health and well-being has to be peace of mind, and it’s always useful to have compositions to hand that you know can transport you into a world far away from daily concerns. This is more subjective, of course, but if you don’t know where to look, then the human voice in a choral setting can be a good place to start. The simple effectiveness of Eric Whitacre’s music in a piece such as Sleep (8.559677) is guaranteed to soothe. Another excellent composer of reflective music for choir is John Tavener, whose Song for Athene (8.555256) builds on a timeless tradition of religious faith.
Estonian composer Arvo Pärt is also well known for his vocal music, but the essence of meditation and other-worldliness can be found in the Silentium movement of his orchestral work, Tabula Rasa (8.554591). Sometimes we all need a bit of catharsis, and a wonderful place to find an instant fix if you need to shed a tear at short notice is Karol Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater (8.570724). The opening of the final Chrystus niech mi bedzie grodem (Christe, cum sit hinc exire) has to be some of the most movingly beautiful music ever written.
If all this is too experimental then it never does any harm to go back to the great master J. S. Bach. The serenity of the Adagio from his Violin Concerto in E Major, BWV 1042 (8.553231) is wonderful for a dreamy break from reality. Bach’s Goldberg Variations (8.557268) were once said to have been written to help ease Count Hermann Karl von Keyserlingk’s insomnia, but whatever the truth behind the origins of this masterpiece it can certainly provide an eternal source of comfort. Few can resist the charm of the Aria which opens and concludes this endlessly fascinating cycle of variations.
Back to the treadmill…