This semester I’m driving from New Haven to Boston and back once a week, and have started to use the time to listen to music, which unfortunately I don’t have as much time to do as I once did. Two pieces have really grabbed me, one exceptionally well-known, one not. The first are Chopin’s Nocturnes. Everyone has heard them at some point, and Chopin is sometimes put down for being too “pretty.” I disagree. Listened to closely, the Nocturnes are just heart-breaking–bittersweet, deeply emotional. Barenboim’s recording of the Nocturnes is especially fine–and a real bargain.
The second piece is much less well-known–Scriabine’s Etudes. I first heard this at the Tsai Center at BU, and it reminded me why it is sometimes worth hearing music in live performance. The Etudes are a real work-out–the pianist (I wish I could remember who it was!) seemed completely drained at the end, as was the audience. I don’t recall ever hearing such a rapturous wall of applause after a performance. If you don’t know the Etudes, I strongly encourage you to listen to them, straight through, alone—a fine use of your time on a long drive. Quite different in some ways from Chopin, but similar in its deep emotional seriousness.