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Beautifully Painful


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Everyone's familiar with Barber's Adagio for Strings, but just in case you feel the need at this moment to cry, here it is performed on the last night of the BBC Proms on September 15, 2001, a date you will note that fell four days after the 9/11 attacks. This is the BBC Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin who, you will see, was moved to tears himself at the end. This piece always moves me and makes me think of all I have lost. It is beautiful.

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It further amazes one when you know that the bulk of Barber's work was atonal and not terribly interesting or approachable by many audiences. This piece is a triumph, and perhaps moreso because it's so atypical of its composer.

Tchaiskowsky's Serenade for Strings is another masterpiece for the same ensemble. While it is moving in places and delightful throughout, it doesn't quite strike the heart in the way the Barber does.

The Barber has been also been adapted as a choral work by Robert Shaw, America's most eminent choral director and later the music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Here's a link to one performance of it:


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I'm reminded of one of my favorites, the old classical chestnut "Holst: The Planets," particularly "Jupiter." Reportedly, the composer hated this entire work, and often got miffed when people met him and told him how much they loved this symphony.

Whenever a rock fan/friend of mine tells me he or she dislikes classical music, I'll play them "Jupiter," and they usually wind up saying, "well... I guess that one's OK."

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I love "Jupiter" and one of the reasons is that it was adapted to an Anglican hymn called "Jerusalem," the lyrics of which are from a poem by Blake,

And did those feet in ancient time.

Walk upon England's mountains green:

And was the holy Lamb of God,

On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

It has been adopted as an anthem for England and it is always moving to me. It plays an important part in a story I earlier recommended, The Magic Cap, by John Teller, a beautiful love story about two high school boys growing up in the north of England in the fifties.

If you saw the opening ceremonies to the London Olympics, you saw a ten year-old boy sing the hymn and, quite possibly, you had tears in your eyes, as did I.

I'm glad Pecman mentioned this. I love The Planets.

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