Make my ears bleed artfully.
February 17, 2014 7:29 AM   Subscribe

I'm reading Orfeo, the new Richard Powers, and thus started listening to Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time, and was kind of blown away. Now that I know I'm interested in this sort of music... make me a playlist!
posted by dmd to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Oh man, I just finished reading Orfeo two days ago and the best part of the book for me was how it inspired me to listen to some of my favorite classical pieces again. If you are able to elaborate on what exactly you like about Quartet for the End of Time I can try to give more specific recommendations; here are some pieces that remind me of it in some ways. (I do see your title but it sends me off in a couple of different directions.)

Shostakovich is probably my best suggestion. His 5th Symphony is my favorite piece; it's also mentioned in the book. I really like the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra's version. (IMO there is a lot of variation in recordings, because of reasons Powers goes into.) Shostakovich's 8th String Quartet is probably my candidate for closest match to Quartet.

The book also got me to listen to some of my favorite contemporary pieces again. Steve Reich's Different Trains is another Holocaust-inspired piece that I find really powerful. And John Adams, who's mentioned more peripherally, has some great ominous pieces like Dr. Atomic and Harmonielehre.

Mahler's 1st and 2nd symphonies are not quite ear-bleeding but have plenty of interesting, varied, and occasionally sinister passages.

Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra (also mentioned briefly in Orfeo) is fantastic.

And you probably can't go wrong with Stravinsky--maybe The Rite of Spring?

I hope it turns out some of my suggestions work for you!
posted by mlle valentine at 7:52 AM on February 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

Holst - Mars from the Planets Suite

Seconding the Rite of Spring.
posted by Ziggy500 at 8:01 AM on February 17, 2014

That Messiaen is an amazing piece. I agree that there are a lot of places you could go with that. There have been some great suggestions, here are a few more, all maybe a bit more modern/out there.

Krzystof Penderecki - Concerto Grosso 1 for 3 Cellos, Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, and the album Actions, a collaboration with free jazz trumpeter Don Cherry.

Iannis Xenakis - Try pieces such as Kottos and Nomos Alpha for solo cello, Psappha for percussion, Metastaseis for orchstra, the opera (sort of?) Orestia. His work has a lot of advanced technique and range and beauty.

Karlheinz Stockhausen, a student of Messiaen. Try Kontakte, Gesang der Jünglinge, or (excerpts from) his 7-opera cycle Licht.
posted by mountmccabe at 8:50 AM on February 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

That quartet is one of my favorite pieces of music ever. Listen to it live if you can, it's breathtaking. Worth recognizing that it's a very unusual piece of music. First, it's 20th century classical, which immediately sets it apart from 95% of what people think of as "classical". Second, it's chamber music. Third, it's an odd ensemble of violin, cello, piano, and... clarinet. And fourth, it's an intensely mystical and personal bit of music for Messiaen. All wonderful, but all pretty idiosyncratic. I don't know how to recommend "more music like this" but I'll name some other pieces that I love for similar reasons.

Messiaen's other music is certainly worth attention. The Turangalila symphony is his best known work but it never grabbed me. I prefer any of a number of his noodly organ pieces, here's a collection you can preview. I can't honestly tell one from the next, but they have a lovely mysticism and calmness that I appreciate.

From the canon of slightly ear-bleeding 20th century music (to use your phrase), some things to try: the Lutosławski string quartet, Eliot Carter string quartets (such as number 3), Anton Webern (particularly piano, I don't care for his vocal music), Hindemith's Kammermusik. Any Shostakovich is tremendous but that's a deep well; I recommend the Preludes and Fugues. You can also do well exploring the classical music that the Kronos Quartet records, they specialize in 20th century small ensemble music.

That's all fairly difficult music and a lot of it is aggressive, lacks the meditative qualities I love in Messiaen. For more calm crowd-pleasing type music, Satie's Gymnopedies and Gnossiennes are always lovely. So is Górecki's Symphony No. 3. Stravinsky of course, both Firebird and Rite of Spring. I'm also fond of Philip Glass' less propulsive music, like his dance pieces on Glassworks.

Finally a couple of oddball suggestions. Keith Jarrett's Sun Bear series is phenomenal, particularly the Tokyo encore. And weirdly, Sigur Rós scratches the same itch for me as Messiaen when I'm in a mood for popular music instead of classical; Ágætis Byrjun is as good a place to start as any.
posted by Nelson at 9:26 AM on February 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Another thing by Messaien to check out is Vingt regards sur l'enfant Jésus, a really massive suite of solo piano music that got its own FPP a while back.
posted by this is a thing at 7:28 PM on February 17, 2014

Also maybe check out Toru Takemitsu, who acknowledged Messaien as a major inspiration. Try Garden Rain (brass orchestra), or Rain Tree Sketch II (solo piano) which he dedicated to Messaien's memory.
posted by this is a thing at 7:38 PM on February 17, 2014

Oh and if you're into the birdsong stuff that Messaien does try George Crumb, who really took the imitating-natural-sounds thing and ran with it.
posted by this is a thing at 8:37 PM on February 17, 2014

I'm reading Orfeo now and loving it, and it reminds me of another bit of music to add, John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano. Also lyrical and beautiful and just a bit strange.

Reading the novel I realize it talks a lot about much more aggressive, difficult music than the Messiaen. If you want to go down that road then Stockhausen and Xenakis are definitely worth exploring. I'll also throw in Schoenberg and Webern although they come from an earlier generation.
posted by Nelson at 5:49 PM on March 2, 2014

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