Playlist: Classical Music to write your book to (Part 1)

Students often find classical music can help with their concentration during exam revision. A soothing piano playlist can relax a troubled mind in times of stress. While many visual artists, such as painters, use classical music as a source of inspiration.

But what about playing classical music while writing a book?

And, if you want to be more specific, as we at Boydell & Brewer like to be, what about writing about classical music, while listening to classical music?

We have pooled together our music authors to create the perfect playlist for writers who like to listen to classical music. In doing so, we have compiled a selection of musical styles, from Baroque, Romantic, sacred and choral works, and contemporary pieces.

Do you like to listen to classical music as you write? If you have any suggestions for our Spotify playlist, please tweet us @boydellmusic with the hashtag #ClassicalMusictoWriteBy

We might just add your selection to our playlist!

Read Part 2 of this blog series.

An die Musik

Composer: Franz Schubert

Recording: Ian Bostridge, Julius Drake, Warner Classics Label, 2005

Chosen by Anja Bunzel

Franz Schubert

One piece which will always feature in my playlist while writing is Franz Schubert’s Lied ‘An die Musik’. I have fond memories of the first time I heard this piece performed at my Ala Mater, Maynooth University, and, like many of us, I like to reminisce in happy and productive times when tackling a difficult writing task. More importantly, however, the subject of the song itself – an appraisal of music as a consoling and encouraging force in difficult moments – never fails to inspire me to write about music and its socio-cultural context. Throughout the centuries, one of music’s functions in society is to encourage communication and human exchange, both of which it achieved in nineteenth-century regular semi-private social gatherings, so-called salons. Here, music featured either as a stand-alone pastime or in combination with such other activities as the conception and reciting of poetry, painting, or tableaux vivants, to name but a few. A poetry setting with piano accompaniment, the German Lied takes on a special role within this context. Some perspectives on the inspirational process of selected Lieder and other music performed in salons are offered in Musical Salon Culture in the Long Nineteenth Century.

Dr Anja Bunzel holds a research position at Musicology Department, Institute of Art History of the Czech Academy of Sciences, where she pursues a comparative study of nineteenth-century musical salon repertoire in different European cities. Along with Natasha Loges, she co-edited Musical Salon Culture in the Long Nineteenth Century (Boydell Press).

L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, HWV 55, Act I: “Mirth, Admit Me of Thy Crew” Composer: George Frideric Handel

Recording: Gabrieli Consort & Players, Signum Classics Label, 2015

Chosen by Berta Joncus

Kitty Clive

I write best when listening to Classical music, but only certain artists and repertory help my thinking. To prepare my book on Kitty Clive (1711–85), I needed to hear performances capturing her sound world – its instruments, intimate spaces, and ways of improvising. One of the greatest works Clive sang is Handel’s L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, with words by Milton; in fact, Clive chose to hold a leaf from its score in her grandest oil portrait, shown on my book’s cover. Among L’Allegro recordings, that of the Gabrieli Consort conducted by Paul McCreesh excels – give it a try!

Berta Joncus is Senior Lecturer in Music at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is the author of Kitty Clive, or The Fair Songster (Boydell Press).

Piano Sonata No. 21 in B-Flat Major, D. 960 – 1. Molto moderato

Composer: Franz Schubert

Recording: Mitsuko Uchida, Decca Label, 1998

Chosen by Joe Davies

What draws me time and again to the first movement of Franz Schubert’s Piano Sonata in B flat major (D 960), composed in the last months of his life, is its poignant fusion of the intimate and the profound, the real and the imaginary. From the outset, with its intensely concentrated lyricism, the movement withdraws from a sense of the present reality into a space suffused with transience, while simultaneously pointing to an infinite realm beyond its reach. Yet the music is not without its moments of drama. One memorable example is the ominous trill that emerges from the depths of the piano at various points throughout the movement, bringing the music to a standstill then dissipating into silence. These shifts between expressive scenes provide the foundations for a captivating listening experience that inspires intellectual contemplation and creative freedom from start to finish.

Dr Joe Davies is College Lecturer in Music at Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford. He co-edited Drama in the Music of Franz Schubert with James William Sobaskie (Boydell Press).

Widerstehe doch der Sünde, BWV 54: Aria. Widerstehe doch der Sunde

Composer: J. S. Bach

Recording: Yoshikazu Mera, Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki, BIS Label, 1996

Chosen by Hannah French

J.S. Bach

This aria is my call to work, the reassuring motor rhythms of the strings insist on it – but there’s no hint of frenzy! There’s a certain irony that the words implore: ‘Stand Steadfast against Transgression’, and by turning to this rather than the distractions of social media I’m rewarded with heart melting melodies and exquisite dissonances. The aria’s key of E Flat Major has long been associated with the womb, lowering the heart-rate and giving intrinsic comfort; it wraps me up in a musical world that inspires me to go and get creative myself. 

Dr Hannah French is an academic, broadcaster, and Baroque flautist based in London. She broadcasts regularly on Radio 3 and has appeared as a TV presenter and commentator for the BBC Proms. She is the author of Sir Henry Wood: Champion of J.S. Bach (Boydell Press).

Seven Last Words from the Cross (1993), Third Movement: Verily, I say unto thee, today thou shalt be with me in Paradise

Composer: James MacMillan

Recording: Dmitri Ensemble, Graham Ross, Naxos, 2009

Chosen by Phillip A. Cooke

Although music is a huge part of my working life, it rarely intrudes into my personal life – I tend to detach myself from anything musical when I am not writing or composing – it is a learned way of keeping work and home as two separate entities. However, sometimes I have to immerse myself in music to remind myself why I am doing what I am doing, and that was certainly the case in the recent book The Music of James MacMillan. I regularly found myself listening to MacMillan’s music as a sonic backdrop to my writing: either high volume, full of colour and drama, or as a subtle aide-mémoire, creeping round the corners of my concentration and imagination. If there was a piece that encapsulates both of these it would be his 1993 cantata Seven Last Words from the Cross, something I listened to often, here in a recording from The Dmitri Ensemble and conductor Graham Ross.

Phillip A. Cooke is a Composer and Senior Lecturer and Head of Music at the University of Aberdeen. He is the author of The Music of James MacMillan (Boydell Press).


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