Music for the Shortest Day

Today, the shortest day of 2016, felt like a good enough excuse[1] to throw together a list of ‘happy pieces’: Berocca for the cochlea, Ecstasy for the eardrum (but without all the unwanted side-effects), that sort of thing. This isn’t an attempt at a conclusive list, nor does it get to the heart of anything, but it’s more along the lines of a temporary squirt of Savlon, a plaster on top, some over-the-counter stitches standing by, and a hot drink of one’s choice within reach. Musically-speaking…

  • W.A. Mozart – Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467

A sprightly piece of Mozart’s that, like a child at play,[2] confidently enjoys its own existence. It delights in its own themes and their developments, the interplay between piano and orchestra, and the blossoming of its structures. The centre of the first movement shimmers with many rich hues.

  • Claudio Monteverdi – Beatus Vir

Musically, a seemingly spontaneous outburst of joy that makes you forget the very simple and cyclical bass line that dominates the 10-minute work. If one ignores the final two lines (‘The sinner will see it, and will be grieved; He will gnash with his teeth, and melt away.’), the text is mostly upbeat, too.

  • Florence Foster Jenkins – Der Hölle Rache et al.

If I ever need a boost, a laugh, or just a reminder that things could be worse.

  • Sasha Johnson Manning – The Manchester Carols

Written in 2007, Carol Ann Duffy and Sasha Johnson Manning collaborated to produce 16 new Christmas carols for the 21st Century, telling the Christmas story. They are charming, inventive and very Christmassy, if you like that kind of thing.

  • Darius Milhaud – Scaramouche for 2 Pianos Op. 165b

A giddy, whizz-popping first movement (with a reference to ‘ten green bottles’ in the centre), a heart-on-sleeve Modéré and a fun Brazileria to finish. When the coffee jar is empty and you’re out of Coca Cola or Red Bull, this should keep you awake whilst you pop to the shops for more. Whilst there is a version for alto saxophone or clarinet and orchestra, the version for 2 pianos played by Martha Argerich and Karin Merle (or Evgeny Kissin) is worth dropping in on.

  • Robert Schumann – Scenes from Childhood, Op. 15

Whimsical, personal, unpretentious miniatures. At times as consoling as they are joyous.

  • Antonio Vivaldi – Gloria, RV 589

I feel I ought to explain myself: I’m afraid I’m one of those who enjoys this piece,[3] but only when performed at extreme tempi – the fast movements fast, the moderate movements not too slow, and the slow movements (particularly the Domine Deus, Agnus Dei) spaciously paced. Rinaldo Alessandrini and Concerto Italiano offer an excellent recording from 1999.[4]

  • C.P.E. Bach – Trio Sonata for Flute, Violin and Continuo, H. 570/Wq. 146 (3rd Movement)

To almost return to the description of the Mozart Concerto above, this effervescent movement simply revels in its own musical content and mischievous nature. There’s a fluffy and playful recording by Rachel Podger, Katy Bircher, Tomasz Pokrzywinski, and Kristian Bezuidenhout released by BBC Music Magazine.


[1] I’m still very aware that, in 2016, one doesn’t need to worry about explaining away a need to seek solace.

[2] A child of the Enid Blyton variety, that is. The ones you can be sure won’t pull the cat’s/dog’s tail, pull things off shelves, or set fire to the carpet whilst you’re out of the room.

[3] Richard Morrison (from The Times), described it as ‘the dreariest thing to drop from the Red Priest’s quill’.

[4] I’ll mention as an aside, here, that Vivaldi’s Flautino Concerto, RV 443, also always perks me up.

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