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classical-music

Five classical works which may help with your health

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has argued that the arts are an 'indispensable tool' for doctors to help patients with mental health conditions.

'[Social prescriptions] can lead to the same or better outcomes for patients without popping pills,' Mr. Hancock claims; 'And it saves the NHS money. Because many of these social cures are free.'

Being relatively ignorant of mental health and its treatments, I cannot pass an informed judgment on this claim, though will take this opportunity to promote my favourite form of art: classical music.

And so, with the risk of seeming dull—and perhaps even like a grandad—I will list (in no particular order) a few of my favourite classical works (I have limited myself to five works, though there are still plenty of hours worth of music here for you to listen to!).

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony:

Though it's said the best must be saved until last, I am starting this list with what I believe to be the greatest piece of music ever composed. Since its legendary premier in Vienna, 1824, Beethoven's ninth (and final) symphony has received tremendous levels of (deserved) praise.

The ninth, with its vigorous first and second movements, calm, reflective third and rousing fourth (featuring Schiller's Ode to Joy—the theme of unity which makes you feel connected not only to others but to the music itself), is certainly a good place to start if you've not listened to much classical music before. You'll certainly recognise a number of the piece's themes and motifs.

Daniel Barenboim, with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, has produced what I believe to be the best recording of this work, though I advise you to listen to other recordings as well—then you can make up your own mind!

Puccini's 'Turandot':

No list of classical works would be complete without at least one opera (indeed, I mention a second further down, just to be sure that I'm doing justice to this beautiful genre!), and no mention of opera can be made without a reflection on Puccini's work.

Turandot, Puccini's last opera, tells the tale of a prince (Prince Calaf) who falls in love with a Chinese princess (Turandot) and who must answer three riddles in order to obtain permission to marry her (I recommend you read along with the libretto while listening to the opera, if you want to fully appreciate the story).

Since seeing it performed last year, I have listened to various recordings of the opera on record and CD and have, on each listening, found myself to be most drawn to a different section. My conclusion from this is that the work is, as a whole, fantastic and must be listened to in whole for full appreciation.

Mozart's Requiem:

Much more solemn in style, having been written in the memory of its commissioner's dead wife, Mozart's Requiem is the oldest work on this list (1791).

The work wasn't completed by Mozart as he died from fever partway through the composition process (aged only 35), though it has been completed by other composers, with reference to the notes Mozart left behind.

Though explosive at times, the work is more often calm and reflective, particularly the in Lacrimosa movement; listening to this, you will likely become detached from the world and simply feel attached instead to the music itself.

Verdi's Requiem (first performed in 1874) is very different in style but is also worth listening to (indeed, it is my favourite of the two!).

Beethoven's eighth piano sonata, 'Pathetique':

Here I return again to Beethoven.

Considered by many—rightly, in my opinion—to have been the best of the classical composers, Beethoven's most notable works also include his brilliant seventh symphony (and, indeed, his fifth—easily the most recognisable piece of classical music), the Grosse Fuge string quartet, and five piano concertos.

His most common form of composition, however, was the piano sonata. It's hard to choose from the 32 which he composed; his most well known is the 14th (nicknamed the Moonlight Sonata), but my own personal favourite is his eighth.

Again, many excellent recordings of this exist (you can never fail with Daniel Barenboim's piano performances), and I'm sure you'll recognise much of what you hear—or be glad to hear it for the first time if not.

Leoncavallo's 'Pagliacci':

I end with another opera, this one more typical of the genre than the last in the sense that, after following a destructive love affair, the work ends in disaster.

Being Leoncavallo's only widely-performed work (unsurprisingly, as this is a hard one to follow up from), Pagliacci (often performed on stage alongside Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana) is incredibly passionate and moving. The repetition of its recognisable key theme throughout in different styles (first played only by the horns in the overture and later popping up again every now and then) produces a sense for the listener of being at home with the work.

This is definitely an opera which deserves more recognition than it currently receives.

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