When Mom wasn’t playing, radio station WQXR was. I still listen to it today, all the time — not only is it commercial free, but it has the least pretentious DJ’s ever (and that includes the classic-rock ones). Tune in at 105.9 FM, especially in the mornings during what used to be called “drive-time,” with the perennially upbeat Jeff Spurgeon.
One day soon, Carnegie and all the other halls will open their doors again. Until then, open your ears to some wonderful music, some of which you may recognize from the movies.
“Jupiter,” from Gustav Holst’s “The Planets”
This 20th-century English composer decided to re-create the solar system in music, assigning each planet a certain mood. The most beloved of the batch is Jupiter, whose full title, “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity,” tips you off to what’s to come: a whirlwind of strings, a pumping of French horns, an answering trumpet and a crash of cymbals. As the tempo races, so will your pulse.
“Au fond du temple saint,” from Georges Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers”
Two good friends realize they’re wild about the same woman. But rather than duel about it, they duet, their voices mingling sublimely as they pledge their eternal (platonic) love for one another. Peter Weir used this in his 1981 film “Gallipoli,” as a brave band of soldiers head off to battle. Some of the greatest tenors and baritones have teamed for this one, but one of my favorites is the concert performance, available on YouTube, by Jonas Kaufmann and the late, great Dmitri Hvorostovsky. The way their voices intertwine is divine.
J.S. Bach’s “Brandenburg” Concerto No. 4
Talk about your job applications: The phenomenally prolific Bach — 20 children, over 1,100 musical works — wrote a set of six concertos to ingratiate himself with the Margrave of Brandenburg. Not only did Bach not get the gig, but the Margrave didn’t even thank him. Yet here we are, nearly 300 years later, playing and loving all six, especially the spirited No. 4, with its warbling (wooden) recorders and answering violins. If you saw the movies “Cruel Intentions,” “Enigma” or “Slaughterhouse Five,” you’ve heard parts of this delightful piece.
Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony (No. 6)
Before the composer lost his hearing, he loved nothing more than striding through the woods, hearing the birds sing and the wind rustling through the trees. He gives us all that and more in this piece, whose first movement begins as softly as a lullaby. This is the symphony Edgar G. Robinson’s character died to in 1973’s dystopic cannibal fantasy “Soylent Green.” Clearly, he was a man of taste.
Finale of Saint-Saëns’ “Organ” Symphony (No. 3)
The melody, much simplified, is the melody the kindly farmer sings to his sheep-herding pig in the movie “Babe.” Now imagine hearing that same theme pounded out by a mighty organ, surrounded and underscored by an orchestra. Thrilling, thunderous and, in the quiet passages, beautifully sweet, it sounds as if the gates of heaven have opened up. It was one of Mom’s favorite symphonies, and the one that closed her memorial service. Every time I hear it, I think of her and her conviction that wonderful music can make anything better.