Playlist: Classical Music to write your book to (Part 2)

Welcome back to our ‘Classical Music for Writing’ Playlist. We have pooled 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.

The full playlist is available to listen to on Spotify. In this blog post, our music authors give insight into their writing processes and why their particular music selection works for them.

You can also read Part 1 of the series for some further inspiration.

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 recommendation to our playlist!

Missa Papae Marcelli, Gloria

Composer: Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

Recording: The Oxford Camerata, Naxos Label, 1992

Chosen by Jonathan Arnold

This is a sublime setting of the Mass and still widely sung in Cathedrals, Chapels and Churches, but it is wonderful to listen to at home, especially when writing. It conveys a kind of divine serenity. It also has a legendary story behind it. When the Catholic Church was reinventing and renewing itself at the Council of Trent in order to define and defend itself amidst the rise sixteenth-century Protestantism, they decided that sacred music for the Church should be less elaborate and complex than it had been in the past, but also remain so beautiful that it could both transport the meaning of the words and the prayers of the listeners. This masterpiece does just that. Composed in honour of Pope Marcellus who very briefly presided over the Council, Palestrina’s work allegedly saved classical sacred music for the Catholic Church by its exquisite vocal lines and sympathetic setting of the text. It also has a very personal connection for me too. I have recorded it with The Tallis Scholars and The Sixteen, but the recording I hold most dear is that by The Oxford Camerata, which we recorded when I was barely out of university, but which recently became ‘Critic’s Choice’ for BBC Radio 3’s ‘Building a Library’. I think Palestrina’s music speaks directly to the human spirit and is able to both transform us in body and mind, as well lead to towards transcendence and the music of the spheres. As I have recently written in my new book for Boydell and Brewer Music and Faith this music is for everyone, regardless of faith, for ‘even those who do not have a Christian faith find that sacred music has a transformative effect on the mind and the body and even, to use a word deliberately employed by Richard Dawkins, the ‘soul’.’

Jonathan Arnold is Dean of Divinity and Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford. Before being ordained, he was a professional singer. He is the author of Music and Faith: Conversations in a Post-Secular Age (Boydell Press).

Harold in Italy Op. 16: IV. Allegro frenetico (Orgy of the Brigands)

Composer: Hector Berlioz

Recording: Orchestre National de France, Leonard Bernstein, Donald McInnes. EMI Classics Label, 1993 Digital Remaster.

Chosen by Matthew Mugmon

I do much of my writing in spurts. So, I appreciate a soundtrack that mirrors the urgency — and the twists and turns — of the creative process. Eugene Ormandy’s recording of Hector Berlioz’s symphony Harold and Italy is one of the first classical recordings I can remember connecting with on a deep level, and it never fails to jolt my brain into focus. The symphony’s finale, “Orgy of Brigands,” is signature Berlioz, shuttling quickly between wistful reflections and stormy outbursts. Berlioz’s colorful treatment of sound and flair for narrative never fail to stimulate my own storytelling efforts.

Matthew Mugmon is Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Arizona. He is the author of Aaron Copland and the American Legacy of Gustav Mahler (Boydell Press).

String Quartet No. 1, “Kreutzer Sonata”, Con moto – (Adagio) – Più mosso

Composer: Leos Janacek

Recording: Pavel Haas Quartet, Supraphon Label, 2007

Chosen by Nigel Simeone

Listening to music – by which I mean concentrated, intensive listening – can be a wonderful stimulus to work and to writing, and a though during the actual process of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) I prefer to work in silence. But I need the inspiration of music to get started with something – it’s a very personal reaction, hard to describe but a necessity – and it’s a wonderful way to reward oneself afterwards too. The piece I’ve chosen is the First String Quartet (1923) by Leoš Janáček, a work to which I was first introduced by my musical grandad when I was 13 years old. It was inspired by Tolstoy’s gruesome novella The Kreutzer Sonata, but it’s not necessary to know that story to be overwhelmed by the music itself (though it was important for Janáček himself). It is some of the most engrossing chamber music I know. The last of the four movements, recalls ideas from earlier in the work. Its trajectory is highly charged and dramatic, from hushed unease at the start to a kind of controlled hysteria, driven by several obsessive ostinatos, and culminating in a glorious moment of catharsis (at 4:38) where Janáček crowns the whole movement with an ecstatic variation of the main idea which slowly subsides to the melancholy quiet from which it came. For me, the whole quartet is an extraordinary and marvellous emotional journey, beautifully realised in this recording by the Pavel Haas Quartet.  

Nigel Simeone is a widely respected writer and lecturer on music, with a lifelong interest in Czech music. He is the author of The Janacek Compendium (Boydell Press).

Symphony No.2 In D, Op.73 – 1. Allegro non troppo

Composer: Johannes Brahms

Recording: Berliner Philharmoniker and Herbert von Karajan, Deutsche Grammophon, 2010

Chosen by Laura Watson

As a musicologist I struggle to treat complex music as an accompaniment. It competes with whatever else I do. But a very low-volume soundtrack has become a default part of my writing process. The right music can be stimulating without overpowering. For me, it should be moving but not excessively so. It must be tonal, with robust ideas satisfyingly developed. Wild, irregular dynamic fluctuations are distracting; ditto for swirls of overly vivid or experimental orchestrational colour. Above all the music must be instrumental, ideally orchestral. For these reasons, Brahms’s symphonies (especially No. 2) play on repeat as I write.

Laura Watson is Lecturer in Music at Maynooth University. She is the author of Paul Dukas Composer and Critic (Boydell Press).


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