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Music Freelance The best recordings of Parry’s Songs of Farewell


It is said that Hubert Parry wrote his six Songs of Farewell as a nostalgic reflection on a life filled with music. As a composer, performer and teacher he led, along with Charles Villiers Stanford, a relentless and hugely successful campaign to raise the standards of British music.

But these majestic choral works are not just a goodbye to life. They are also a nostalgic eulogy to the England of his youth, which, by the time the motets were completed in 1915, had been irrevocably lost to the scourge of war.



Only the last song is strictly liturgical – a setting of text from Psalm 39. The five remaining texts are from British poets, each exploring themes of life’s ephemerality and the guiding power of faith.

The first two motets, ‘My soul, there is a country’ and ‘I know my soul hath power’, are harmonically straightforward, relatively short and written for four-part (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) choir. The music then grows ever-more complex over the course of the next four songs.



‘Never weather-beaten sail’ and ‘There is an old belief’, written in five and six parts respectively, have a richer texture, and feature Parry’s distinctive placement of rests to highlight certain phrases in the text.

The final two motets, ‘At the round earth’s imagined corners’ and ‘Lord, let me know mine end’, are significantly longer and more intricate, with dense counterpoint and strong dissonance building to a powerful climax in the concluding moments.  

Here are our recommended recordings of this English choral masterpiece.


The best recording

Tenebrae/Nigel Short
Signum Classics SGCD267 (2011)

Recorded alongside works by Harris, Holst, Vaughan Williams and Howells – composers all heavily influenced by Parry – this spectacular performance places the Songs of Farewell centre stage in a powerful showcase of the English choral tradition.

Conductor Nigel Short extracts the themes of desperate longing beautifully from a clean and well balanced choral sound. The moderate tempos give clarity to the contrapuntal detail in ‘Never weather-beaten sail’ and the imposing complexity of the final three motets.

The highlight of this recording is the final motet, which perfectly captures the emotional depth and drama with controlled dynamics and a vibrant intensity. No wonder it was nominated for the 2012 BBC Music Magazine Choral Award.


Other great recordings

Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge/Richard Marlow
Conifer CFC 155 (1987)

This seminal recording from Richard Marlow has been used as a reference point for choirs across the globe ever since it was first released over 30 years ago.

The sound of the Trinity College Choir is wonderfully bright, perfectly suited to the music, giving this performance a veneer of prestige. The soprano lines alone make this recording worth exploring, sneaking up to those crucial top notes with magnificent ease.  



Choir of New College, Oxford/Robert Quinney
Novum NCR1394 (2018)

This  new disc by the New College Choir is a worthy addition to a recent wave of recordings, concerts and programmes rediscovering the life and work of Parry, a movement passionately lead by HRH The Prince of Wales.

In this recording you’ll enjoy a lively and rousing performance, brilliantly complemented by Mendelssohn’s Sechs Sprüche ­– an unusual but apt choice of companion piece.


Manchester Cathedral Choir/Christopher Stokes
Naxos 8572104 (2009)

Recorded in a Parry bonanza alongside his most famous choral works, I was glad and Jerusalem, this disc represents a ‘cathedral’ interpretation of great choral composer’s work.

There is a real clarity, especially in the opening two motets, which are aided by the large space provided by Manchester Cathedral.

Although this recording lacks in the power the drives the choirs of New College and Trinity College, this recording offers a thoughtful, gentle approach to Parry’s music.



And one to avoid…

Arranged for wind ensembles, David Warin Solomons

This brave attempt to capture Parry’s last musical farewell through the sound of computer generated wind instruments may leave you a little bemused.

Part of the magic in Parry’s motets comes from their power to convey the emotion of the words. In a set of arrangements for woodwind this magic is irretrievably lost, and the added potency of mechanical, sampled instruments would, one fears, have the great composer turning in his grave.



Alex Ross Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks

A Cultural Comment for the New Yorker website, Nov. 13, 2018.

from Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise

Alex Ross Muhly’s Marnie

Escaping Hitchcock. The New Yorker, Nov. 5, 2018.

from Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise

Freya Parr The greatest virtuosos of all time


Virtuosity is the highest standard of musical technique and performance, a skill only truly attained by a handful of exceptionally talented musicians. The BBC Music Magazine team look back on some of the greats from over the centuries, and choose the virtuosos they wish they'd seen play.


Organist Virgil Fox (1912-80)

The American organist had it all – charisma, showmanship, exceptional technique, great musicianship and a seemingly inexhaustible love of touring. Granted, his interpretations weren’t always to everyone’s taste, but his Bach playing was meticulous and his performance of the ‘grand’ repertoire never less than exhilarating. Oliver Condy, editor



Pianist Earl Wild (1915-2010)

I had the privilege of interviewing the US pianist Earl Wild late on in his life but, alas, never had the chance to see him play live. I was first made aware of his brilliance when a friend recommended his thrilling performances of the four Rachmaninov piano concertos with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Jascha Horenstein, recorded in 1965 – they remain my favourite recordings to this day.

Blessed with a peerless technique, his repertoire was wide-ranging, taking in everything from Bach to jazz, plus, his own masterful transcriptions and other compositions. It was, perhaps, that sense of spontaneity that goes with playing jazz that made his live performances of classical music so fresh and exciting? I’ll simply have to take others’ word for it. Jeremy Pound, deputy editor



Pianist Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)

Liszt may loom large in the modern imagination as the great piano whizz of his age, but if I had a time machine to take me back to the Romantic era, it’s Chopin I would really like to hear. By all accounts, his own playing was all about beautiful sound, the singing voice, intimacy and eloquence. To hear him play his own remarkable piano works must have been quite something.

Fellow pianist-composer Robert Schumann noted down what his feelings on it were: ‘It was an unforgettable picture to see Chopin sitting at the piano like a clairvoyant, lost in his dreams, to see how his vision communicated itself through his playing and how, at the end of each piece, he had the sad habit of running one finger over the length of the plaintive keyboard, as though to tear himself forcibly away from his dream.’ Rebecca Franks, managing editor



Cellist Msistlav Rostropovich (1927-2007)

Anyone who saw Rostropovich in action was incredibly lucky. He could breathe new fire into the most familiar repertoire and inspired some of the 20th century’s greatest composers to write new works. Just imagine being at a Shostakovich or Prokofiev premiere. Michael Beek, reviews editor



Pianist Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943)

Anyone with a hand span of over an octave, giving them the ability to reach eye-watering intervals, is always going to be worth a watch. Rachmaninov’s 13-note spread marked him out in the piano world, but perhaps what made him a legend were his clear, crisp textures, incredible technique and voicing.

He also had an awe-inspiring memory, and was reportedly able to hear a piece of music as large-scale as a symphony, and play it the next day. Freya Parr, editorial assistant


Freya Parr Free Download: Doric String Quartet play Mendelssohn’s Fifth String Quartet

'The naturalness of the playing is matched by the comprehensive Chandos sound: not too distant, and with exactly the right amount of resonance'

This week's free download is the second movement, Scherzo, of Mendelssohn's String Quartet No. 5, performed by the Doric String Quartet and recorded on the Chandos label. The recording was awarded four stars for performance and five for recording in the November issue of BBC Music Magazine.


If you'd like to enjoy our free weekly download simply log in or sign up to our website.

Once you've done that, return to this page and you'll be able to see a 'Download Now' button on the picture above – simply click on it to download your free track.

If you experience any technical problems please email Please reference 'Classical Music Free Download', and include details of the system you are using and your location. If you are unsure of what details to include please take a screenshot of this page.

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Music Freelance Six of the best pieces by John Adams


Often described as the US’s unofficial composer laureate, John Adams has become one of the most sought-after musicians of the 21st century, carving out a distinctive and often politically charged niche in the contemporary repertoire.

Adams was raised on a mixed diet of jazz, rock ’n’ roll and classical music in his New Hampshire childhood home, and the impetus placed on musical impartiality by his saxophonist father is evident in the broad range of influences that inform his work.

On being awarded a scholarship to Harvard University in the late 1960s, Adams at first intended to focus on his instrument – the clarinet – and conducting. And indeed, it wasn’t until after he graduated and moved to San Francisco, turning his back on fellow students’ idolatry of serialists like Webern and Boulez, that he began to approach composition seriously.



In 1972 he took up a post at the San Francisco Conservatory, organising concerts of ‘experimental’ music by composers like John Cage and Morton Feldman. However, his own musical style took inspiration from jazz and the ‘pure’ minimalism of Terry Riley and Steve Reich. With a flock of students at his disposal – what he described as a ‘working laboratory’ – Adams had a ready-made platform from which to develop this style.

Here’s a quick look at what we think are the six best works he’s come up with since…



1. Shaker Loops (1978)

Shaker Loops for string septet was written using fragments of an earlier string quartet Wavemaker, which, according to Adams himself, was poorly conceived and had a disastrous first performance

In this, his second attempt at presenting the material, he employs the same principles of repetition ­­– or ‘loops’ – that pervade the music of Riley and Reich. However, expressive melodies and a strong narrative arc set the work apart from its minimalistic counterparts.

Its hugely successful premiere propelled Adams into the international limelight.

Recommended recording: Marin Alsop/Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra on Naxos.



2. Harmonium (1980-81)

Written for SATB chorus and orchestra, Harmonium was composed in a small studio on the third floor of Adams’s Haight-Ashbury townhouse. While searching for inspiration, the composer (in his own words) ‘cast far and wide for a text to satisfy a musical image … one of human voices – many of them – riding upon waves of rippling sound’.

In the end he based the piece on three poems: ‘Negative Love’ by John Donne and Emily Dickinson’s ‘Because I could not stop for Death’ and ‘Wild Nights’. These poems define the three movements of the work, which has become one of his most well-known.

Recommended recording: Edo de Waart/San Francisco Symphony and Chorus on ECM New Series




3. Nixon in China (1987)

With its highly political subject matter and bold mix of contemporary and old fashioned operatic traditions, Adam’s first foray into stage music became an overnight sensation.

The opera is based upon the historic meeting of Richard Nixon and Chinese chairman Mao Tse-Tung in Beijjing, 1972 – the first time a US president had visited the People’s Republic of China. Being set just 15 years before it was written, Nixon in China was unique in that many of the characters portrayed could have attended the Houston premiere.

Recommended recording: Edo de Waart/The Chorus and Orchestra of St Lukes on Nonesuch.



4. Naïve and Sentimental Music (1999)

Written in three movements, this orchestral work is an exploration of the two types of creative personality described by Friedrich Schiller in his essay On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry.

The first is the ‘naïve’ artist, who creates for the sake of creation, as opposed to the ‘sentimental’ artist who is aware of the historical and political significance of their work. Adams writes, ‘This particular piece, perhaps more than any of my others, attempts to allow the naïve in me to speak, to let it play freely’.

Recommended recording: Peter Oundjian/Sean Shibe and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra on Chandos



5. Dharma at Big Sur (2003)

Adams harnesses the ethereal sound of the electric violin in this work composed for the opening of the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. In it he depicts the ‘shock of recognition’ one gets when reaching the end of the continental land mass at the California coast.

The first draft required the orchestra and soloist to play in ‘just intonation’, where the intervals between notes are tuned differently to a conventional scale. He spent weeks in his studio retuning synthesizers and samplers to create the desired effect, which to his disappointment was too difficult for the orchestra to recreate when he finally brought them the score.

Still, even without, the music is undeniably beautiful.

Recommended recording: John Adams/Tracy Silverman and the BBC Symphony Orchestra on Nonesuch




6. The Gospel According to the Other Mary (2014)

This oratorio is one of Adams’s more recent compositions. A rare choice in its religious subject matter, the work focuses on the last weeks of Jesus’s life from the point of view of Mary Magdeline, her sister Martha and brother Lazarus.

The libretto is compiled by Peter Sellers from Biblical sources, as well as original texts by the likes of Dorothy Day and Primo Levi.

A finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Music, The Gospel According to the Other Mary was received with critical acclaim, and confirmed Adams’s place in the composer hall of fame.

Recommended recording: Gustavo Dudamel/The Los Angeles Philharmonic and Master Chorale on DG




Listen to our Best of John Adams playlist on Spotify


Alex Ross Bookshelf

Heidi Waleson, Mad Scenes and Exit Arias: The Death of the New York City Opera and the Future of Opera in America (Metropolitan Books / Henry Holt)
Anthony Tommasini, The Indispensable Composers: A Personal Guide (Penguin)
Alan Walker, Fryderyk Chopin: A Life and Times (FSG)
Paul Kildea, Chopin’s Piano: In Search of the Instrument That Transformed Music (Norton)
Stéphane Mallarmé, The Book, trans. Sylvia Gorelick (Exact Change)
Jean-Jacques Nattiez, Les récits cachés de Richard Wagner: Art poétique, rêve et sexualité du “Vaisseau fantôme” à “Parsifal” (Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal)
E. Douglas Bomberger, Making Music American: 1917 and the Transformation of Culture (Oxford UP, December)
Sabine Feisst, ed., Schoenberg’s Correspondence with American Composers (Oxford UP)
Dana Gooley, Fantasies of Improvisation: Free Playing in Nineteenth-century Music (Oxford UP)
Eugene J. Johnson, Inventing the Opera House: Theater Architecture in Renaissance and Baroque Italy (Cambridge UP)
Robert Philip, The Classical Music Lover’s Companion to Orchestral Music (Yale UP) 

from Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise

François Couperin

Donald Macleod marks 350 years since the birth of François Couperin, one of France’s most dazzling musical talents.

Donald begins by leading us through a gallery of the musical portraits that Couperin composed – depicting his contemporaries Lully and Corelli, his aristocratic patrons, and well-known mythological figures. Next, he delves into Couperin’s extraordinary musical family tree, boasting a long line of 7 Couperins who served as organist of St Gervais in Paris. Throughout his glittering career at court, Francois Couperin maintained a loyal connection with his family church and dedicated several works for liturgical use there. We also hear about Couperin’s time in the court of Louis XIV – as the Sun King’s composer, writing music for the Versailles Chapel and court entertainment, but also as royal harpsichord tutor. Finally, Donald examines how Couperin embraced the new musical idioms emerging from other countries, and in particular introduced Italian flavours to his native French style.

Music featured:
La Couperin
Salve Regina
L’Apothéose de Corelli
La Charoloise
La Princesse de Sens
Arianne consolée par Bacchus
Regina coeli laetare, Alleluia
Louis Couperin: Five Fantasies
Pange lingua en basse
Quatre versets du motet
Armand-Louis Couperin: Simphonie de clavecins, in D major
La Manon
La Fleurie ou la tendre Nanette
Les plaisirs de Saint Germain en Laye
Domine salvum fac regem
Messe pour les couvents (Gloria)
Troisième Leçon
Les Nations (La Francois)
Messe pour les paroisses (Agnus Dei)
L’Art de toucher le clavecin
Respice in me
Concert Royaux (Premier Concert)
Pieces de violes avec la basse chifree (Deuxième Suite)
La Milordine
La Piemontoise
Les Gouts-reunis ou Nouveaux Concerts (Cinquième Concert)
Quatrième livre de Pieces de clavecin, Vingt-troisième ordre

Presenter: Donald Macleod
Producer: Luke Whitlock for BBC Wales

For full tracklistings, including artist and recording details, and to listen to the pieces featured in full (for 30 days after broadcast) head to the series page for Francois Couperin :

And you can delve into the A-Z of all the composers we’ve featured on Composer of the Week here:

from Composer of the Week

What was the impact of World War One on music?

World War One Remembrance


As with all other walks of life, the First World War took its terrible toll on classical music, with many composers and performers dying in battle or left irrevocably scarred. Some pieces of music were written especially for the cause, while others were the result of despair at the tragedy of it all.

Ultimately though, the First World War changed the very course of music history and gave rise to some incredible pieces that may have otherwise not existed. Here are the main impacts that the First World War had on music.


New pieces were composed for the war effort

Numerous composers were inspired to wield their pens for the cause. Although he was ambivalent about the war, Edward Elgar wrote his Carillon for voice and orchestra in support of Belgian resistance in December 1914 and this was soon followed by Polonia, composed for a Polish Victims’ Relief Fund Concert in the Queen’s Hall in London.

Max Reger also wasn’t generally inclined to share many of his colleagues’ enthusiasm for patriotic tub-thumping, but he greeted the beginning of the War with his 15-minute Eine Vaterländische Overtüre (A Patriotic Overture), dedicated it to the German army.

Other composers, including Ruggero Leoncavallo, Valentin Valentinov and Maurice Ravel all rallied to the cause with their music, the latter completing his patriotic Piano Trio just in time to take himself off to war.



Composers were lost

British composer George Butterworth was shot at the Somme in 1916 and he left behind only a small handful of works that gave a tantalising glimpse of what might have been. Another talented composer who only left a small number of works was the German Rudi Stephan, who was killed by a Russian sniper at Tarnopol in Ukraine.

Scottish composer Cecil Coles was still writing music while he served on the Western Front and he sent manuscripts of works such as his orchestral suite Behind the Lines back to his friend Gustav Holst before being killed.

Other composers lost to the conflict were the Hungarian Aládar Rádo, Belgian André Devaere, British composers William Denis Browne and Ernest Farrar, Willie B Manson and Frederick Kelly who were both killed in the Somme, and the French composer Fernand Halphen.



Music was written in response to the tragedy war

The appalling human tragedy of World War One left its indelible mark on a generation of British composers. Some died on the field of battle, while those who survived were deeply affected either by what they had seen or the loss of friends, colleagues and family.

Whatever their stylistic differences, works such as Elgar’s Cello Concerto, Vaughan Williams’s Pastoral  Symphony, Holst’s The Planets, Bliss’s early Piano Quartet (composed during the Battle of the Somme), Gurney’s War Elegy and Bridge’s Oration all bear the scars of human conflict.



Technology changed everything

New technologies, particularly the motor car, the telegraph and the advent of recording had a huge impact on music. The War itself involved new technologies such as tanks and submarines, and above all huge pieces of artillery used by both sides.

The new battlefield became a kind of modernist symphony, vividly described by Cecil Barber in the Musical Times, who spent time on the Western Front. ‘The various timbres stand out clearly,’ he wrote. ‘The melancholy passage of great shells, the whizz and bang of smaller ones, the long swishing strides of the gas shells… and the constant spurt of sniper’s fire, molto staccato, in stupendous counterpoint.' One hears that sound echoed in the monstrous percussion of Holst’s ‘Mars’ from The Planets, composed between 1914 and '16.

And everywhere one finds march rhythms, strangely or threateningly distorted, in pieces such as the first of Stravinsky’s Three Pieces for String Quartet and the third of Alban Berg’s Three Orchestral Pieces. (Ivan Hewitt)



It facilitated the rise of jazz

In one of the prophetic coincidences of 20th-century history, the first jazz records were released in New York in March, 1917, just a month before the US entered World War One. Though it would be silly to maintain that the Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s raucous creation of ‘Livery Stable Blues’ and ‘Original Dixieland One-Step’ was comparable to thousands of American soldiers throwing themselves into the European fray, both events signalled New World energy surging into Old World culture, a wave of modernity that would transform everything in its path.

In fact, Europe had already had a taste of the novel pleasures of American music with the pre-war vogue for ragtime: its catchy syncopation had appealed to ballroom dancers and the likes of Debussy and Stravinsky, who wrote ragtime compositions. But jazz was different, more visceral and raffish, hinting at the prurient origins of the word itself.

The normal, respectable sound of brass instruments took on a new character – pungent and intoxicating – when played by the bands accompanying the US Army’s black regiments, such as the ‘Hellfighters’ and the ‘Seventy Black Devils’. (Geoffrey Smith)



The role of women changed (eventually)

For all its horrors, the First World War gave women unprecedented opportunity to prove they could do what was then seen as men’s work – an important catalyst for some women getting the vote in 1918.

In classical music, though, this doesn’t seem to have been a watershed moment. In 1912 it was, recalls violist and composer Rebecca Clarke, ‘considered very, very strange to have women in a symphony orchestra.’ It was the same after the War. The Hallé’s records show that eight women were admitted in 1916, but by 1920 it was back to being an all-male orchestra until 1941.

Over in the capital, the LSO carried on playing until 1917, when concerts were put on hold until the end of the War. Thirty of its members were in active service, but apart from two female harpists, no other women were employed.

Clarke had been recruited by Henry Wood in 1912 as one of six women to join his Queen’s Hall Orchestra – possibly the first time women had been employed by a professional orchestra – but it wasn’t until many years later that the make-up of orchestras really began to change. (Rebecca Franks)



Composers left behind invaluable letters

As with their literary counterparts, a number of composers who went to fight in the First World War wrote often and at length about their experiences.

George Butterworth wrote lengthy letters home, recording the boredom that was a major feature of life in rest behind the trenches: ‘There is nothing to do here – no places to go, the most frightfully dull country imaginable, and any amount of rain’. Tellingly, he never mentioned the honours he was receiving for bravery in his letters, nor does he mention music; it was as if he had entirely put that chapter of his life to one side, in favour of his new, military identity.

Most prolific of the composer correspondents was Ivor Gurney, who wrote practically every day during the war, to fellow composer Herbert Howells (‘Dear Howler’, he would begin), and to other friends from the Royal College. His letters are a brave mixture of humour and deep affection for the other soldiers. (Kate Kennedy)



Listen to our Music of Remembrance playlist here:


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