By on May 11, 2014


Our imaginary road trip with great music (see Part 1 here and Part 2 here) continues with music usually thought of as “classical.”

6: Consortium Vocale Oslo: Exaudiam Eum

Chant. Ya gotta luvvit. Western music started there.

The composers of the early Classical style (Haydn, Mozart, and others) wrote “symphonies” as a set of separate but (usually) thematically related pieces of music called “movements.” In doing so, they were only following the pattern that had been set centuries before, when composers would write vocal-only or accompanied settings for the Catholic Mass as a series of pieces connected by their being based on the same musical theme.

While the Renaissance use of multiple vocal or instrumental parts for sacred music was a revolutionary development (compared to the all-voices-on-the-same-note model of chant), the result was often evolutionary, in that the thematic material often was a borrowed chant melody. During the 19th century—and even today—certain ancient chant fragments (such as the Dies Irae—Day of Wrath—motif) were quoted in newly composed music.

The otherworldly, organic simplicity of chant provides a much-needed respite from the hurry, noise, and chaos of modern life. The 10th century is not a bad place to visit—as long as you can get back. The recommended recording is so realistic that you can almost smell the incense.

Sound samples and downloads here.

Buy the physical disc here.


7. Glenn Gould: J.S. Bach: The Goldberg Variations

J.S. Bach wrote music to glorify God by illuminating the workings of the cosmos. Bach’s greatest works encompass the entire universe (or at least, the entire human experience) in music for one violinist, one cellist, or one keyboard player.

Even more so than Beethoven’s (to my mind, somewhat over-rated) Fifth Symphony, I think that one indispensible (and perhaps the indispensible) work of Western music a person must be aware of in order not to lack “cultural literacy in music” is J.S. Bach’s “Aria with Diverse Variations,” popularly known as the Goldberg Variations. Johann Gottlieb Goldberg may have been the first performer, but that is the subject of dispute. Neither Goldberg’s name nor that of his supposed patron Count Kaiserling appears on the title page of the sheet music published during Bach’s lifetime, in 1741.

Pianist Glenn Gould commercially recorded the Variations twice. His 1955 version fell like a thunderclap upon the musical world because of the precision and freshness of his articulation. In 1981, the mature Gould recorded his reconsideration, which is slower and is less concerned with vertical structure than with horizontal flow. Either or both are essential to any serious record collection. Note: Gould could not stop humming along with the music, even in a recording session. Just get used to it.

Listen to the complete 1981 version here.

Buy a set of both versions here.
David Oistrakh Mozart

8: David Oistrakh: Mozart Sinfonia Concertante

It’s rather hard to fathom that only 25 years separate the death of J.S. Bach (1750) from the time Mozart hit his stride as a composer (1775). Mozart wanted to move people directly and immediately. To do so, he had to invent a new way of writing music. Once that new way had taken the field, there was no turning back.

Dismissing a friend’s compliment, Mozart once said, “Oh, I write music the way cows piss.” Mozart’s music is “natural,” but only in the most sophisticated way imaginable. His double concerto for viola and violin is one of his most luminous works.

Listen to the slow movement here.

Buy it here.


9. The Cypress String Quartet: Beethoven Late Quartets

Beethoven’s symphonies and piano sonatas are among the best known of all classical compositions. However, not only are they painfully over-exposed; many hard-core classical listeners end up concluding that they are ultimately less rewarding than Beethoven’s more intimate chamber works, especially his late string quartets.

One could easily while away an 898-mile road trip by listening to all of Beethoven’s quartets (he wrote more than a dozen), but here I recommend that you dive into the deep end of the pool by obtaining CDs (or hi-res downloads) of his late quartets as played by San Francisco’s Cypress String Quartet. (I recommend Volume 3; if you like that, you can get the earlier two CDs in the series.)

Listen to Op. 127’s first movement on YouTube here.

Sound samples, downloads, and physical-disc orders here.


10. Tracy Silverman: John Adams The Dharma at Big Sur

Not all the great music was written 200 years ago. A very unlikely piece that has totally knocked me out is John Adams’ recent concerto for six-string electric violin and orchestra, The Dharma at Big Sur.

Blending elements of Indian music, trance music, and electric-guitar-style virtuosity, The Dharma at Big Sur defies description. Silverman plays the pants off the solo part. So just click below for an audio-only YouTube.

Listen to The Dharma at Big Sur Part 1 here.

Buy it here.

Record producer John Marks is a columnist for Stereophile magazine.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

19 Comments on “Grand Touring Music, Part 3...”

  • avatar

    1 – The ‘ chant ‘ CD . Decent enough but I’d go more contemporary with any of Arvo Parts works for the road

    2 – Glen Goulds ” Goldeberg ” 2.0 . Agree completely and without reservation

    3 -Mozart – We don need no stinkin Mozart ! Unless of course its Keith Jarret’s interpretations of Mozart . The whole Mozart thing being severely overblown in my never so humble opinion

    4 – Beethovens string 4tets – the Emerson does it better . All of them

    5 – John Adams – ” Big Sur ” is a personal favorite .. but ” Road Movies ” is more appropriate [ even if a bit obvious ] with ” Gnarly Buttons ” being more accessible to the general public

    And I’ll add to the fray ;

    Frank Zappa – ” Yellow Shark ” The serious side of Frank most in the ‘ classical ‘ world wishes didn’t exist

    • 0 avatar
      John Marks


      1. I love Pärt and Geoffrey Burgon and Tavener and all the others I call “Neo-Orthodox.” However, in making my decisions, I wanted to expose people to landmarks of musical history–but NOT coming across as “Eat your spinach–it is Good for you!” The recommended SACD is the best-sounding chant recording I have heard, and a colleague who formerly was on the music staff of the Vatican affirmed that the performances were the real deal–as far as contemporary professional singing goes. He also tells me that one has not really heard chant until one has heard it sung by untrained men who have sung the Office together for decades. I do have one CD that is I believe no longer available of confraternal Corsican chant, pretty much an ethnomusicology disc, and it can make the hair on the back of one’s neck stand up.

      2. If you like Goldbergs 2.0, you really owe it to yourself to hear the 1954 (1954!!!) Goldbergs 0.0.

      Gould played the set live for the CBC in 1954, and Sony briefly had it out on CD as Sony Esprit 88697292082. No trace of that now, new or used. There is a CBC CD version that is also OOP, but used copies are available for reasonable money on Amazon There are also MP3 downloads and there are sound bytes so you can hear the pace at least. The rediscovery of this performance (NB, the sound is terrible–the rhythmic swishing tells me that in 1954 the CBC was still archiving on acetate transcription discs) has shaken the chessboard in Gould scholarship.

      3. Mozart was too facile for his own good–or at least the good of his reputation in some quarters. Had I not been limited to 800 words I would have noted that Mozart’s facility for melody meant that he did not feel a need for radical formal or harmonic innovations the way Beethoven did. And I agree that “Chocolate Box Mozart” can get tedious. But, just as Bach is the Gold Standard for formal mastery, and for not only Western culture but lots of Asian culture too, Beethoven represents Heaven-Storming Rage Against Fate(TM), Mozart set the standard for music that is communicative songfulness first, and elegance second. And anyone who wants to reply that “that is all the there that is there” will not be challenged to a duel by me.

      4. I think we have to agree to disagree. There is no shortage of great LVBQt sets. Quartetto Italiano is a favorite of mine. But if you check out their schedule, you can hear the Cypress Quartet actually play live in the same room you are in, and you can’t say that about the classic performances. And this one is in killer sound, and there are vanilla and hi-res downloads. NB, the Cypress Quartet’s Dvorak CD is wonderful. Perhaps you would like them more in that music.

      5. The attraction of solo concerto music for casual listeners is that it partakes of the same spirit of an athlete contesting against limitations as the Olympics. People watched Gene Fodor on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show for the same reason they still watch the Olympics–“Wow! Look at him do THAT!” For the generations raised on guitar solos, “Dharma” is one of the most natural and fruitful points of entry into concert music that I know of. BTW, Leila Josefowicz, bless her, played it live in LA and DG recorded it: (download only).



      • 0 avatar

        I’ve owned one copy or another of Goulds 54 ” Goldberg ” since 1964 . I prefer the maturity and calmness of the 82 .. by a fair amoung

        As to chant … if we’re going to go ‘ancient ‘ … lets go for the best ; Carlo Gesualdo . My favorite being ECMs ” Tenebrae ”

        As to John Adams . I’ll still maintain that ” Gnarly Buttons ” is by far the most accessible of all his works … with the Kronos CD [ including the ” Johns .. ” dances ] Being the best . Drop this one into say a Radiohead – Punch Brothers – Zappa – Andrew Bird – hell even a Grateful Dead fans hands and nine times out of ten they’ll go batsh*t crazy for it

        ….. but …. lets skip over all the somewhat blatantly obvious choices [ even the ones I mentioned ] and go for the bit more obscure ;

        Henry Dixon Cowell ” Music for Strings ” cPo label

        One of the most under rated , least appreciated and yet most ‘ American ‘ * of all the modern composers [ as well as one of the best ] … with this CD being one of the best overall examples of his works . A difficult one to find . But well worth the search once you have .

        ( FYI ; I had the pleasure as a very young musician/composer back in the day of being introduced to Henry Dixon Cowells music while ‘ studying ‘ under a certain LB … yes … that LB )

        Another obscure possibility ? Most anything by and again American composer [ though a bit more world music in reality ] Alan Hovhaness* .

        *Remembering Dvoraks mandate that we create a truly American classical music lest the genre die the death it is currently suffering nationwide . His prediction becoming more accurate by the year

        • 0 avatar
          John Marks


          Are you sure you got right what I was saying?

          How did you get a copy of a Canadian Radio Corporation aircheck acetate from 1954 in 1964?????

          I am NOT talking about Gould’s 1955 Columbia US NYC recording that was released in 1956.

          That was as common as Chemex coffee carafes in the 1950s and 1960s.

          What I am talking about is a recording made to archive a live CBC radio broadcast Gould made the year BEFORE he recorded in NYC.

          The reason it is so hugely important–I am not overstating when I say it has shaken the chessboard in Gould studies–is that the pace is much more similar to the 1981 version than the 1955 version!

          So, 1981 was not so much a total reappraisal but rather even in the mid-1950s, Gould had a variety of mutually exclusive interpretative paths to choose, and at 30th Street Studios, he chose a path markedly different from when he for the one of the first times and perhaps the first time played the whole set in public.

          So, please clarify. Because you must have had AMAZING connections in 1964 to get access to a Canadian radio aircheck that as far as I know was in a store room and forgotten about.

          So, I repeat, seeing as you love the 1981 (a Yamaha piano that perhaps was not in the best state, seeing as they were about to tear down the studio building and build luxury apartments), bad sound and all you should hear the 1954 1954 1954 1954

          SORRY! The needle got stuck!!!


  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    John, all interesting and worthy choices, if a bit arbitrary. Perhaps your thought is to expose the uninitiated to lots of different kinds of music in the hope that one or another inspires further investigation. If so, then I’m all for it. From Gregorian Chants to Delta blues to Duke Ellington, it’s a big world out there.

    • 0 avatar
      John Marks

      Dear Jeff,

      Thanks. Were this a two-semester course and I were able to assign four hours of listening a week, things might appear a little differently.

      I also think that if you had a question, you also provided the answer. Yes, I wanted to cover the waterfront as best as one can in 15 CDs for the three prime divisions of music one is likely to hear today, while avoiding warhorses like “Kind of Blue” and “1812 Overture.”

      I don’t think my choices were so much arbitrary, as in that in the event of a tie (or the risk of “decision paralysis), I always chose in the direction of music that was likely to be off the radar screen of modern casual listeners, and equally in the direction of “accessible,” and even “catchy.” I do not seriously expect 75,000 TTAC readers to order an import SACD of chant for Lent and Holy Week. But if 5,000 of them click and listen, I will think that I have paid my rent here on earth for one more week.

      Thanks for reading.

      I can only imagine how many opinions my installment next week on “Pop” music will bring. But at least I get to offer my reasons in the Comments section.

      And also thanks to all those who read but don’t post, and special thanks to the likers and tweeters.



  • avatar

    Gould’s Goldberg Variations is simply sublime. In either version. Music
    for the ages. I do, however, think it is better enjoyed in the comfort
    of one’s easy chair.

    • 0 avatar
      John Marks


      And I promise not to rat you out to the NSA if instead you listen to my recommended recordings at your computer or in your easy chair.

      Thanks for reading,


  • avatar

    My definition of classical music for long-distance driving and the road has to Herbie Mann’s rhythmic Memphis Underground.

    Ironically, it is best listened to when driving alone. When my wife is driving these days, it’s 50s on 5 on Satellite Radio. When I’m driving, it’s 70s on 7.

    I think there is a time and place for classical music but you can’t do justice to its intricate passages and sweeping scores that immerse you into the music, while you need to focus your attention on driving and the other nuts behind the wheel.

    Anyone who can drive with their eyes closed while visualizing the musical pictures classical music conjures up in the mind, is a better person than I am.

  • avatar

    Myself I love classical music, but I find myself craving a higher fidelity experience with deeper bass, strong crescendo, etc. that only electronics seem to be able to accomplish.

    I advise someone to pick up this older analog recording and take it for a test drive. The entire CD flows together for a complete listening high fidelity experience.
    Here is the youtube copy & paste link. (no video, only audio)

    Of course on youtube it will be missing most of the fidelity, especially the bass and treble.

  • avatar


    Are you familiar with the work of Solomon Rossi? Pre-baroque Hebrew choral music from Italy, he played in Monteverdi’s orchestra.

    Here’s a documentary about him:

    Speaking of Hebrew choral music, have you ever listened to recordings of the great cantors like Yossele Rosenblatt and Moshe Koussevitzky?

    • 0 avatar
      John Marks

      Yes. I have been aware of Solomon Rossi since my late friend Gabe Wiener of PGM Recordings made one of the first if not the first commercial recordings, IIRC 1994:

      Yes, one of my colleagues is a cantor and I have sampled but not listened extensively to cantors such as Leib Glantz:

      I can’t say that I would listen to that as much as I do ancient or modern Christian sacred music. And of course I know that early Christian chant was derived from Jewish chant–but there are also theories that Jewish chant was expanded and regularized with a strong Greek (Pythagorean) influence post the Babylonian Captivity.

      One thing I can listen to for far longer than I would expect is Sikh chant, which I find rather hypnotic:



      • 0 avatar

        I can’t hear the word “chant” without thinking of the Ramayana monkey chant.

        My ex got our copy of that New York Baroque PGM recording of Rossi. She’s a big fan of his.

        Glanz had pipes for sure and he knew how to cry. A good cantor has to be able to cry. Truly great cantors are brought to tears by the prayers.

        A few years ago, my brother’s synagogue hosted the Yuval Choir, an Israeli cantors’ choir, over a Sabbath. They sang at Saturday morning services and were scheduled to sing again during the festive third Sabbath meal late in the day on Saturday, which takes place following the afternoon prayer service. They weren’t scheduled to sing during that service which as it happened was being led by an older gentleman named Manny Mittleman. Manny’s a great amateur chazzan [cantor] and a bit of a character, a Holocaust survivor who is tough as nails but has a great sense of humor.

        He started the service and then while he was praying the Amidah, the silent standing prayer at the heart of Jewish religious services, which is then chanted out loud by the cantor, the choir started filling in behind him, which he didn’t notice. When he started the reader’s repitition, which includes some call & response, the choir did the first response. A male choir can sing with some power.

        As soon as Manny realized that he had a choir of professional cantors behind him, he seized the opportunity and did a magnificent job, adding in all sorts of trills and flourishes. At the end he was beaming and everyone in the shul was smiling.

        • 0 avatar
          John Marks


          Small world. So you had Gabe’s PGM Rossi CD. I remember how proud he was. And about two years later he was gone. I was stunned, and still am. Gabe was a real Renaissance man, and a bit of a Libertarian (and also an antique firearms enthusiast). One of his favorite catchphrases was, “The US Constitution is a great idea–we really should try it some time.”

          Ramayana–do you know the film “Baraka”? A classic.

          I have spent months researching Isaac Leeser, the Philadelphia hazzan who made his own bilingual Hebrew/English Pentateuch translation (freely modeled on the KJV) and paid to have it printed in Philadelphia in 1845.

          A pioneer, but perhaps also a “Protestantizer.” It was Leeser who prevailed upon President Lincoln to appoint a Jewish chaplain for the Union forces in the Civil War, etc.



          • 0 avatar

            John, I didn’t know about Leeser and the chaplaincy. I’ve read a bit about Arnold Fischel, who lobbied Abraham Lincoln to allow Jewish chaplains. Supposedly Lincoln met with him in part because he was the only person not seeking a patronage position that day.

  • avatar

    Baroque string concerti are mighty fine driving music. I like Vivaldi and Locatelli best. Wish I could find MP3s of the old Vox Box of Susanne Lautenbacher playing L’Arte del Violino.

  • avatar

    One last : to be filed under ;

    Is it is or is it aint [ classical music that is ]

    I’ve heard and read compelling arguments on both sides … including from the composer/performer [ that it aint … though I may of swayed him otherwise ]

    Gabriel Kahane “Gabriel Kahane ”

    In my opinion this album is . Classical that is . An American song cycle in the tradition of German lieder . With an occasional node towards Herr Bach . Think the most accessible of Charles Ives vocal music with a touch of pop and you’d be right on the mark . The fact that this California Kid can portray the New England I grew up in and still love [ though not VT ] so well musically never ceases to amaze me . His ” North Adams ” being the perfect road song while driving on the “Blue Highways” of American . His ” Underberg ” being an accurate albeit sad commentary as one travels thru the many dying and dead towns on those “Blue Highways” through out the US .

    Mr Kahane … though not yet receiving the attention he deserves [ despite his young years ] should be considered an American Treasure … due in part to his appeal across a wide range of audience … from Classical to Hipster …. along with his talents both musical and lyrical . The kid comes from a fine set of musical genes as well . The old man being a master/maestro .. with the son being a genius

    Check out his ” CraigsList Lieder ” on YouTube and on his site . Musically and lyrically it is a gem .

    Ecco . Va bene . Basta !

Read all comments

Recent Comments

  • Jeff S: Midsize trucks are easier to park and fit in most garages. I believe we might see more compact trucks with...
  • Jeff S: Full size pickups are far from dead but with rising fuel prices they will not be in as much demand but demand...
  • Sobhuza Trooper: The reason for the mid-sized truck isn’t just economy, it’s the ability to park it in an...
  • Dave M.: His keyboard doesn’t have spell- or IQ-check.
  • Lou_BC: I’m seeing less pickups on the road. I was talking to a guy with a new F350 Tremor with the 7.3. He...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber