Let it Snow! A Winter Classical Playlist

a winter classical playlistAs we enter a season of darker days and longer, colder nights, we look for ways to warm our souls from within. Add some wintertime joviality to your season with our winter classical playlist! It’s perfect for an evening curled up by the fire or a weekend afternoon with a good book and a warm cup of tea. Without further ado…

Let it Snow!

Click the hyperlinks below to listen on Youtube or listen via Rdio.


Franz Liszt, “Chasse-neige” from Twelve Etudes D’exécution Transcendante in b-flat minor (1852)

Franz Liszt was born in Raiding, Hungary in 1811.

Franz Liszt• Known for his incredibly virtuosic piano works, it is no surprise that Franz Liszt showed early promise for being a talented musician and composer. He began writing music only a year after beginning to study music.

• Liszt’s flamboyant music was inspired by his unwavering admiration for composers such as Chopin, Berlioz, and Paganini.

• You’ve likely heard the term “Lisztomania” thanks to the French band, Phoenix. It was real! Franz Liszt was a total stud and women fawned over him. Fans would attend Liszt’s concerts and grasp for any Liszt artifacts they could get—handkerchiefs, cigar stubs, coffee grounds—anything.

“Chasse-neige” depicts a whirling snowstorm. One that buries the landscape as it goes. What do you picture when you listen to it?


Leopold Mozart, Divertimento for Orchestra in F Major: Die Schlittenfahrt (A Sleigh Ride) (1755)

Leopold Mozart was born in Augsburg, Germany in 1719.

leopold mozart• Leopold Mozart was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s father. (That guy had a dad?)

• He was an accomplished violin teacher who put his career aside to foster his son’s professional advancement.

• He also worked as a court musician for the Archbishop of Salzburg for most of his life.

“A Sleigh Ride” is wonderfully fun wintertime piece and a popular children’s classical work. Don’t worry. It isn’t nearly as serious as this guy looks in the above photo. Hear those sleigh bells ring!



Claude Debussy, The Snow is Dancing from Children’s Corner (1908)

Claude Debussy was born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France in 1862.

Claude Debussy• Growing up, Debussy was largely an autodidact and didn’t study in school other than taking music lessons.

• He won the Prix de Rome (a prestigious scholarship for a years-long stay in Rome) in 1885. At age 23! Go, Debussy.

• Debussy was known for his creative harmonies. See if you can spot some of them in this piece!







Just for fun, a cartoon by Pablo Helguera, inspired by Liszt’s etudes highlighted in this playlist!

Liszt cartoon

Music and Data Visualization, part 5

In our last music and data visualization post, we featured a selection of data viz-based sites for discovering new music. But this time you are the musician! The tools featured in this post deviate slightly from what we would typically refer to as “data visualization” but they are interesting and entertaining nontheless.

And now…

3 Tools to Discover Your Inner Musician:

1. Patatap

Do you ever think work would be way more fun, if only cool sounds came out of your computer as you typed? This fantasy is more attainable than you think! Enter Patatap. In addition to creating your own soundscapes as your type, colorful abstract images accompany each note you play.

2. In B flat

in b flat is a project created by Darren Solomon after realizing that YouTube allows users to play more than one video at a time. He played all the instruments for In B flat 1.0 but crowd-sourced videos of musicians performing in Bb major for version 2.0. Hit pause and play on the videos as you please to create you own soundtrack!

3. Querty Beats

You’ve always wanted to be a drummer, right? Now is your chance! Querty Beats turns your keyboard into a drum machine.


In our previous music and data visualization posts, see beautiful visual representations of music, an aural portrayal of climate change and classical masterpieces depicted with bar graphs, science-based visualizations and sonifications, and interactive musical data visualization.


Did you know? The band Phoenix wrote Lisztomania in honor of composer Franz Liszt‘s stud factor.

Here’s Lisztomania by Phoenix (yes, it was featured on Gossip Girl, too. When that was a thing):

As for the term itself, “Lisztomania” was first coined by German critic/poet/journalist Heinrich Heine as he discussed the fanaticism and fandom surrounding virtuosic pianist and composer Franz Liszt. He was a bona fide chick magnet. And the phenomenon bore a striking resemblance to how today’s music fans revere icons such as Michael Jackson and The Beatles: swooning, screaming, and wearing broaches bearing Liszt’s portrait. Liszt lovers would fight over any physical souvenir possible; from coffee grounds, to cigar butts, and some even tried to steal locks of hair.

Lisztomania and Franz Liszt

A young, handsome, and enormously talented Franz Liszt.

Here is how Heine first described Lisztomania:

When formerly I heard of the fainting spells which broke out in Germany and specially in Berlin, when Liszt showed himself there, I shrugged my shoulders pityingly and thought: quiet sabbatarian Germany does not wish to lose the opportunity of getting the little necessary exercise permitted it… In their case, thought I, it is a matter of the spectacle for the spectacle’s sake…Thus I explained this Lisztomania, and looked on it as a sign of the politically unfree conditions existing beyond the Rhine.

And that isn’t where “Lisztomania” ends, either! In 1975, a film called Lisztomania was released; it has a reputation for being a pretty terrible movie.

Get started on your own Lisztomania with over an hour of Franz Liszt’s best!




Spooky Music for Halloween!

music for halloweenIt’s that time of year again,’tis the spooky-music-for-Halloween season!

Here are three classical Halloween hits, complete with fun facts and cocktail party-worthy trivia. Which is your favorite?

Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain

Modest Mussorgsky taught himself to compose by playing piano arrangements of orchestral compositions. And after his decline into alcoholism, he was known for his eccentric, erratic, and unreliable demeanor.

Night on Bald Mountain was originally titled “St. John’s Night on Bald Mountain” and celebrates St. John’s Eve, the shortest night of the year (June 23) despite the fact that we typically listen to this piece in autumn.

Mussorgsky’s composition was not heard in his lifetime. The version of Night on Bald Mountain we all know and love today was arranged by Rimsky-Korsakov–Mussorgsky’s original is rarely heard.

Learn more about Modest Mussorgsky and Night on Bald Mountain on the Salon97 podcast!

Camille Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre

Camille Saint-Saens, truly a compositional force to be reckoned with, began studying piano at age two-and-a-half and was known for writing in numerous classical genres: chamber music, orchestral music, opera, solo piano music, sacred and secular choral music, and concertos.

Danse Macabre was written in 1875, at the beginning of the darkest period of his life. He married in the same year, and both of the couple’s children died within six weeks of each other.

Hector Berlioz’s “March to the Scaffold” from Symphonie Fantastique

Hector Berlioz was an incredible romantic who pined after women, had torrid love affairs, and relished romantic literature. As a result of his father’s disapproval of Berlioz’ involvement in music, he never learned to play the piano but instead played guitar and lute.

Symphony Fantastique tells the story of an artist with a lively imagination who poisons himself with opium in the depths of despair caused by his hopeless love. The work was written for Irish actress Harriet Smithson. Harriet did not attend the original premiere, but Berlioz remained persistent and finally convinced her to attend a performance. Upon attending, she realized the piece was written for her. They courted, and this being painful for Berlioz, he convinced her to marry him by drinking a lethal dose of opium. When she said yes, Berlioz drank the antidote. They married after he recovered. Wow.

What are your favorite spooky pieces of classical music? Happy Halloween!

Classical Music Insults

keep calm and keep insulting

Throwing shade, tossing zingers, lobbing jabs. It’s always entertaining to hear about a superbly-delivered insult. Especially when we aren’t at the brunt of it! Here are 10 truly delightful classical music insults and music by the composers that inspired them:

1. “Listening to the fifth symphony of Ralph Vaughan Williams is like staring at a cow for 45 minutes.” –Aaron Copland
And here is the work in question! Vaughan Williams’ Fifth Symphony.

2. “Anton Bruckner wrote the same symphony nine times (ten actually), trying to get it right. He failed.” –Edward Abbey
Here is Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony.

3. “I found [the Second Symphony] vulgar, self-indulgent, and provincial beyond all description. I realize that there are sincere Sibelius-lovers in the world, though I must say I’ve never met one among educated professional musicians.” –Virgil Thomson on Jean Sibelius
It would be difficult to hate Sibelius’ Second Symphony as much as Thomson did!

4. “I can compare Le Carnival Romain by Berlioz to nothing but the caperings and gibberings of a big baboon, over-excited by a dose of alcoholic stimulus.” –George Templeton Strong
Hector Berlioz’s Le Carnival Romain!

5. “A composer for one right hand.” –Richard Wagner on Franz Liszt
It’s not seeming like Liszt’s Transcendental Etude No. 10 in f could be played with one hand. Look at her fingers fly!

6. “All you need to write like him is a large bottle of ink.” –Igor Stravinsky speaking of Olivier Messiaen
Messiaen’s Turangalia Symphony. A bottle of ink could sound worse!

7. “He’d be better off shoveling snow than scribbling on manuscript paper.” –Richard Strauss on Arnold Schoenberg
Schoenberg’s Fantasy for Violin and Piano. If tasteful dissonance exists, this is it!

8. “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.” –Mark Twain
A man of many famous pieces, here is Wagner’s prelude for Tristan und Isolde.

9. “All of Bach’s last movements are like the running of a sewing machine.” –Arnold Bax
So much sewing machine. Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in a minor, BWV 543.

10. “If he’d been making shell cases during the war it might have been better for music.” –Camille Saint Saens on Maurice Ravel. Rivalry, much??
Here is Ravel’s effervescent Sonatine.


Musical or not, what is your favorite insult?

Music and Data Visualization, part 4

Are you ready for more music and data visualization? We sure are! This time we have a fun selection of interactive musical data visualization. You’ll want to bookmark this page for later, as you are likely find yourself slipping down a music and data visualization rabbit hole!


Carla shares Every Noise at Once which is a scatter-plot of every musical genre imaginable. We could spend days here. Seriously.

Have a look!

Every Noise at Once-music and data visualization


With Music Map, type in the name of any composer/artist to generate a map of other music you are likely to enjoy. Impressive.

For the example below, we selected Beethoven. Awesome that Frank Zappa is just a couple inches away!

Music Map - music and data visualization


So far we’ve looked at tools for discovering musical genres and artists. And with musicovery, we can hear what our mood sounds like!

musicovery - music and data visualization


Do you ever listen to a song or piece of music and wish it would continue forever? Carla shares with us The Infinite Jukebox. Just click different parts of the circle to create your own infinite loop of the song/piece of music of your choice.

Infinite Jukebox - music and data visualization

Do you have a favorite destination for interactive music and data visualization? Let us know and we’ll add it to our next interactive music and data visualization post!


Classical Music Fans in Interesting Places: Susan Orlean

We recently caught up with author (The Orchid Thief, Rin Tin Tin) and New Yorker staff writer Susan Orlean to ask her thoughts on classical music. She happens to be a big fan!

susan orleanWhat is your favorite composer or piece of classical music and why?
Handel’s Messiah. It’s gorgeous, stirring, classic, and majestic but human. It’s hard for me to hear it without feeling moved.

Is there a piece of classical music you don’t like? If so, what is it?
Hard to answer this, since there is plenty of orchestral music that I find sludgy and dull.

What is your earliest memory of classical music? Did this shape the way you feel about the genre today?
I grew up hearing classical music constantly: my parents were great devotees, and they had music playing at home almost all the time. We also went to the symphony (the Cleveland Orchestra — not too shabby!) from the time we were very young. I’m sure being exposed at such a young age and so regularly made me appreciate the music and got my ear accustomed to it. I also think it just made me love music in general.

What is your favorite time of day or place to listen to classical music?​
I’ve begun listening to it sometimes when I’m driving. It’s not the usual driving music, of course, but sometimes it’s just perfect, especially when I’m tired of the rattle and bang of pop music.

If you were to recommend one piece of classical music to someone who is unfamiliar with the genre, what would it be?
Handel or Bach — something beautiful and bright.

Thanks for talking with us, Susan! May your day be filled with the sounds of Handel. Cheers!

Also Sprach Zarathustra: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

also sprach zarathustraIn honor of Richard Strauss‘ 150th birthday, we compiled a selection of tributes to one of his most famous works: Also Sprach Zarathustra!

We know Also Sprach Zarathustra best from the opening sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, but did you know that Strauss’ music was originally intended to serve solely as placeholder sound until the film score was completed? Alex North, the successful Hollywood composer who was hired to write the score, did not learn of Kubrick’s decision to forgo use of his composition until the film premiered! Ouch.


Other Also Sprach Zarathustra fun facts:

-Strauss’ piece is an homage to Friedrich Nietzsche’s poem by the same name.

-Human life and nature are illustrated in the piece by using contrasting tonalities. Can you tell what they are?

-Also Sprach Zarathustra‘s fame is a result of its presence in the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The work wasn’t often performed (or heard) prior to its placement in the film.


And now for the tributes!

First, the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Without this one, the others probably wouldn’t exist!

Eumir Deodado’s jazz/funk Also Sprach Zarathustra rendition was released in 1972. Shake it down!

Do you dig dubstep? Check out Koyunbaba’s remix!

Phish got in on it too!

The list wouldn’t be complete without some Also Sprach Zarathustra fails. This is probably the best one out there. Get ready to laugh ’til you cry! WOW.

Okay, one more fail. We’ll stop while we’re ahead! (Or behind?)

Do you have a favorite Richard Strauss remix to share? Let us know!