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Liz Lambson

The Comfort of Music: Ten Relaxing Classical Pieces

December 15, 2012 at 2:38 AM

I recently wrote a post entitled, "Tidings of Comfort and Joy: 10 Ways to Tune Up the Holidays," and have since been thinking more about music as a source of comfort in our lives. Today news spread of another terrifying shooting at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, just days after one just miles from us at the Clackamas Town Center Mall in Oregon.

During this Christmas season, there will be many families gathering together to find a sense of peace and comfort through music, whether to feel the spirit of the holidays or to overcome a sense of grief as they remember loved ones lost.

There have been times in my life when music has been like medicine to me. I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. Music offers an escape from the noise and chaos in the world. Music therapy is even a popular, effective, and growing practice.

I thought I'd share a list of a few beautiful classical pieces with a brief description of their backgrounds in case you're looking for a calming piece with which to reflect, rest, or even fall asleep. Perhaps take a listen to a recording on Spotify, or put together your own compilation of "Musical Comfort" with downloads from iTunes. You could even pick up some sheet music and learn one of these numbers for performance. Enjoy these magical and comforting pieces during a season of love and togetherness!

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Ravel's Mother Goose Suite is soothing collection of childhood stories set to music.

  1. The Mother Goose Suite (Ma Mère l'Oye) by Maurice Ravel – This nostalgic set of fairytale pieces includes musical dramatizations of Sleeping Beauty, Tom Thumb, and the Beauty and the Beast. Each dreamy movement transports you into each character's world, allowing you to step away from the present and into the fantasy land of a child's imagination.

  2. Gymnopédie No. 1 by Eric Satie – This simple waltz has a childish feel, like something you might hear from a music box with a slow, repetitive phrase that rocks back and forth between two major seven chords. The piece feels distinctly French, like its composer, with a light and thoughtful melody.

  3. "Vocalise" from "Fourteen Songs" by Sergei Rachmaninoff – "Vocalise" was written for soprano as a vocal composition with no words. This soothing melody has since become extremely popular, transposed and arranged for almost every instrument and even put to words in choral compositions.

  4. "Nimrod," Variation IX, from The Enigma Variations by Edward Elgar – This single movement from the famous Enigma Variations has become one of the most loved and cherished pieces of British composition. When composer Edward Elgar nearly gave up on music altogether in a state of depression, music editor Augustus J. Jaeger encouraged him to continue composing. This movement was written in reference to that conversation in which Jaeger mentioned Beethoven's struggles and composition of the "Pathetique" Piano Sonata No. 8. This movement is commonly performed at memorials and funerals and is also included in numerous film scores. "Nimrod" is the name of an Old Testament patriarch.

  5. Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber – Adagio for Strings has become an iconic piece used for memorials, funerals, and in many film scores including movies such as in Lorenzo's Oil, Amélie, and The Elephant Man. This piece was performed in memoriam for historical figures Albert Eistein, John F. Kennedy, and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

  6. "O mio babbino caro" ("Oh My Beloved Father") from Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini – This is a famous melody that has become a favorite for vocal performers. Italian for "O, My Beloved Father," this song is beautifully expressive and hopeful with a rising and falling lyrical melody that is both simple and charming.

  7. Appalachian Spring, Movement 1 (Very Slowly) by Aaron Copland – This suite was rewritten as the score of a ballet, but is now one of the most popular pieces performed by professional symphonies. In 1945, composer Aaron Copland even one a Pulitzer Prize for this work. During this movement the characters and setting of the story are introduced with the folk-like and airy harmonies typical of this iconic American composer.

  8. Für Alina and Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt – These minimalist pieces for solo piano are mesmerizing with their simplistic, repetitive, and echoing melodies. These two compositions are somewhat different from Arvo Pärt's other 20th century pieces with their calm essence and strong tonal centers.

  9. "Prayer" from Jewish Life by Ernest Bloch – This haunting, rich melody was written for solo cello. The Eastern European character can be felt in the tone of the piece. "Prayer" is an excellent piece to add to a recital if you're looking for a moving number that inspires reflection.

  10. The New World Symphony, Movement 2 by Antonin Dvorak – Dvorak's popular symphony is one of the most regularly performed by orchestras today. This largo's melody, performed by solo English horn, has become absolutely iconic and was set to words in the folk song, "Going Home."


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Are there pieces or songs that bring you a sense of peace and comfort? We would love to hear from you! Leave a comment to share your favorites.


From Corwin Slack
Posted on December 15, 2012 at 6:09 AM
Nimrod in the Old Testament is mentioned very briefly as a hunter (Genesis 10:9). Jaeger is the German word for hunter. Thus the name of the "enigmatic" variation. I consider this variation one of the greatest homages ever written. Elgar immortalized a man who would have been a footnote in a biography. My head explodes thinking of the honor Jaeger must have felt to hear this wonderful variation.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on December 15, 2012 at 7:15 AM
This post on music that brings peace and reflection is timely, with the tragedy that occurred earlier today in Connecticut. Those families and that community are in my thoughts and prayers.

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