Music to Write To

by Tom Ingram

Some time ago, I was writing something with a tight deadline, and I got stuck. It was one of those ruts, where you can’t think of what to do next, so the writing becomes unpleasant, so you avoid doing it or even thinking about it, which makes it even harder to think of what to do next. One day, I steeled myself to do it no matter what. I put on some Holst, sat down at my desk, and wrote until the damn thing was done. It took me less than half an hour. My usual routine had been writing with rock music playing, but I think I get caught up listening too closely to the music and wanting to sing or play along. Classical music seems to transport me away, to put me in that thinky mode where there’s nothing between me and the writing. Same with jazz, but that’s another story for another time.

I don’t think it’s anything to do with the merits of classical versus popular music. It’s probably just the lack of words (I don’t listen to opera or art songs, under the principle that even the best opera and art songs are terrible). Since then, my classical playlist has grown to gargantuan proportions. It’s now about 22 hours long, all told, which allows for plenty of variety. Here it is:

  1. Holst – First Suite in E-flat
  2. Holst – Second Suit in F
  3. Mendelssohn – Symphony No. 4, “Italian”
  4. Mendelssohn – Symphony No. 3, “Scottish”
  5. Mendelssohn – Overture, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
  6. Handel – 2. Allegro from Flute Sonata in G Major, Op.1, No.5
  7. Handel – Concerto Grosso in C Major, “Alexander’s Feast”
  8. Stamitz, J – Clarinet Concerto in B-flat Major
  9. Massenet – Meditation
  10. Mozart – Symphony No. 40
  11. Bach – Toccatta and Fugue in D minor, “Dorian”
  12. Bach – Toccatta and Fugue in D minor
  13. Bach – Toccatta and Fugue in F Major
  14. Bach – Toccatta, Adagio, and Fugue in C Major
  15. Saint-Saens – Danse Macabre
  16. Saint-Saens – Symphony No. 3 in C minor
  17. Sarasate – Faust Fantasy
  18. Liszt – Mephisto Waltz No. 1
  19. Mussorgsky – Night on Bald Mountain
  20. Mozart – Overture from The Magic Flute
  21. Scriabin – Piano Sonata No. 9 in F Major, “Black Mass”
  22. Debussy – Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
  23. Mozart – Clarinet Concerto
  24. Mozart – Clarinet Quintet
  25. Beethoven – Trio for Piano, Clarinet, and Cello, “Gassenhauer”
  26. Brahms – Trio for Piano Clarinet, and Cello in A minor
  27. Buxtehude – Miscellaneous organ works
  28. Hook – Clarinet Concerto in E-flat
  29. Mahon – Clarinet Concerto No. 2 in F
  30. Mahon – Clarinet Duet No. 4 in B-flat
  31. Mahon – Clarinet Duet No. 1 in F
  32. Mendelssohn – Concert Piece No. 2 for Clarinet, Piano, and Basset-horn
  33. Mendelssohn – Concert Piece No. 1 for Clarinet, Piano, and Basset-horn
  34. Tchaikovsky – Serenade Melancolique
  35. Tchaikovsky – Violin Concerto in D Major
  36. Dvorak – Slavonic Dance No. 8 in G Minor
  37. Mozart – String Quartet No. 23 in F Major
  38. Mendelssohn – Overture, “The Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave)”
  39. Mendelssohn – Violin Concerto in E minor
  40. Mozart – Bassoon Concerto in B-flat Major
  41. Debussy – Preludes, Premier Livre, No. 8, “La fille au cheveux de lin”
  42. Debussy – Nocturne
  43. Debussy – Pour le piano
  44. Debussy – Cello Sonata
  45. Mozart – Clarinet Concerto (different version)
  46. Crusell – Clarinet Concerto No. 1
  47. Mozart – Flute Concerto No. 1
  48. Haydn – Trumpet Concerto in E-flat Major
  49. Mozart – Horn Concerto No. 1
  50. Hoffmeister – Clarinet Concerto in B-flat Major
  51. Mozart – Horn Concerto No. 2
  52. Pokorny – Concerto No. 2 for Clarinet
  53. Mozart – Horn Concerto No. 3
  54. Stamitz, C – Concerto No. 11 for Clarinet
  55. Mozart – Horn Concerto No. 4
  56. Mozart – Oboe Concerto
  57. Mozart – Piano Concerto No. 2
  58. Weber – Concertino for Clarinet
  59. Mozart – Piano Sonata No. 5
  60. Mozart – Piano Sonata No. 14
  61. Mozart – Fantasia No. 4 in C minor
  62. Barber – Cello Concerto in A minor
  63. Barber – Piano Concerto
  64. Berlioz – Symphony Fantastique
  65. Barber – Violin Concerto
  66. Barber – Adagio for Strings
  67. Barber – Second Essay for Orchestra
  68. Barber – First Essay for Orchestra
  69. Sibelius – Finlandia
  70. Rachmaninov – Prelude in C-sharp minor
  71. Rachmaninov – Ten Preludes, Op. 23
  72. Rachmaninov – Thirteen Preludes, Op. 32
  73. Mussorgsky – Pictures at an Exhibition (Ravel Orchestration)

As you can see, it’s heavy on the clarinet music. I wanted to space things out a bit so I don’t have a big block of music by the same composer, because if you listen to several Mozart pieces in a row it’s a little dizzying, like saying the same word over and over again until it sounds like gibberish. But the fact is Mozart simply has more music worth listening to than any other composer, so it ended up alternating between Mozart and other people, which feels a bit contrived. There are big blocks of Rachmaninov, Bach, and Buxtehude, but I don’t get the same feeling from them for some reason.

You can tell it leans heavily toward the clarinet, because it’s my instrument and I have a particular fondness for it. The only clarinet pieces on there I’ve actually played are the Mozart and Johann Stamitz concertos. I have only one Mozart symphony, No. 40, the Great G-minor one (I got it after seeing it performed by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra; in my opinion the third movement is the best). There’s also a handful of Mozart’s piano works which were chosen more or less at random because I’m not familiar with his keyboard music; any suggestions on that front are appreciated.

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