The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Today is Thanksgiving. Which composer, or piece of music, or performer, do you most give thanks for? | November 22, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.

I give thanks for all kinds of music and don’t know how I would live without music. I think of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (below) and his observation in “The Twilight of the Gods”: “Life without music would be a mistake.”

But is there a special reason for or object of my gratitude?

It can and does change from year to year, from age to age, from mood to mood, and from event to event.

But at any given moment there is usually a piece of music for which I give special thanks, music that seems to embody and enhance and grace my existence. Bach and Mozart have done it. So have Chopin and Schumann. Beethoven does it, but to a lesser degree generally.

These days the composer that I, as a devoted amateur pianist, most give thanks for is Franz Schubert (1797-1828), and the pieces by Schubert I most give thanks for are two.

First comes the big last Piano Sonata in B-Flat Major, D. 960, which I can’t play, but the poignant and haunting beginning of which – to say nothing of the rest of the sonata  — is especially moving and memorable as performed by Alfred Brendel in his “Farewell Concert” for Decca recording and by Murray Perahia in a Sony Classical set of the last three piano sonatas.

Second comes the miniature “Allegretto” in C Minor, D. 915, also a very late and intimately bittersweet work, which I can play, and which I enjoy as performed by Paul Lewis (on Harmonium Mundi, below) and Maurizio Pollini (on Deutsche Grammophon).

I find Schubert’s warmth and sense of empathy so very touching. His sublime melodies, his sudden major-minor harmony shifts, his sense of accessible counterpoint, his blending of joy and tragedy -– they all are irresistible. Schubert’s music contains worlds, and reassuring worlds at a time when I need to be reassured, and at a time when I also think the world needs to be reassured.

And there is so much music to choose from: the hundreds of fabulous songs and song cycles; the late string quartets, the otherworldly String Quintet, the Octet and the “Trout” Quintet; the Sonatas, Impromptus and Moments Musicaux for solo piano.


In a similar way, famed New York Times senior music critic Anthony Tommasini (below) touched on this same theme in a “Musical Moments” column that he published last week and in which he talked about longtime favorite passages or moments in music by Chopin, Wagner, Puccini and Stravinsky. He even coupled his thoughts to short audio-visual clips he made especially to accompany the column.

You should read and listen to the column, plus pay attention to the more than 600 reader comments:

And here are links to the short videos that he did to go with his column:

And just as Anthony Tommasini asked you for your favorite moments, I am also asking you to leave something in the COMMENT section with the name of the composer or piece of music for which you are most giving thanks this Thanksgiving.

Let me know what they are.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!


  1. […] Classical music: Today is Thanksgiving. Which composer, or piece of music, or performer, do you most… ( […]

    Pingback by Strangely beautiful heartache | LaDona's Music Studio — December 6, 2012 @ 9:50 am

  2. Faure’s Requiem is beautiful, and so is Smetana’s The Moldau (Ma vlast).

    Comment by Genie Ogden — November 22, 2012 @ 11:12 am

  3. Having recently sung the Faure Requiem for All Saints’ Sunday at Grace Church on the Capitol Square, I find that it never ceases to move me deeply. We used an orchestration by David Hall (?) with violin, cello, harp, and organ. Beautiful!

    Comment by Margaret Irwin — November 22, 2012 @ 9:17 am

  4. The piece of music that is a miracle to me is the Goldberg Variations. When I first heard it in my early 20’s, I didn’t understand it. I have come to hear it as a non-narrative story of being human. That’s not quite right, but I’ll bet you know what I mean.

    I don’t think it can be harmed: I have recordings by many performers played on harpsichord, piano and harp, and by string quartet. It does not suffer loss.

    Comment by Susan Fiore — November 22, 2012 @ 8:35 am

  5. I am most grateful for the My Score publishing program recently begun by the online music seller J.W. Pepper. It has allowed me to get full world-wide distribution for all my compositions, arrangements, resettings, transcriptions and technique books. If you put in my last name, Bomier, or my company name, GateWay Editions, into the Pepper search window, my catalog is available to preview and consider for purchase. This has really given my motivation to continue composing a BIG boost. This looks like an ad, but it is the best way I can share my joy about this program. If you are a composer, JUMP on it yourself! Ravel’s music and life motivate me always to carry on with music and the piano. MBB

    Comment by Michael BB — November 22, 2012 @ 8:22 am

  6. I suppose that if we’re talking about music without which our lives would have been irrevocably different, then the one piece of music that stands out above all the others would be Charles Wesley’s hymn, “And Can It Be That I Should Gain.” It was reading those words in January 1991 that turned my then-recent kidney transplant into an ikon of Christian redemption, and gave my life a meaning that has remained inescapable to this day.

    In saying that, of course, it’s not so much the music as the words and the context; however, perhaps it would be true to say that if these words had not been set to music, they might have remained an historical obscurity.

    John Rutter’s settings of various hymns and benedictions rank among my favorite contemporary works, while Chris Hazell’s anthem settings of “Amazing Grace” and “Abide With Me” are truly magnificent.

    Comment by Paul Clutterbuck — November 22, 2012 @ 3:30 am

  7. The work of music for which I’m probably most thankful right now is J.S. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 538 (“Dorian”). I’ve tried out parts of it from time to time, but the last organist who taught me in 2007-2008 said neither he nor his twin brother had ever been able to master it.

    Comment by Paul Clutterbuck — November 22, 2012 @ 3:02 am

  8. I enjoy playing Bach, Mozart, Scott Joplin, Gershwin, Chopin. I think my favorite piece to play is Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.

    Comment by Genie Ogden — November 22, 2012 @ 1:03 am

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