( read )

Classical ‘Guilty Pleasures’ by Primephonic

Find out what do people working in the classical music streaming service consider as their classical guilty pleasure


There it is, that one piece of music which you have been listening to on repeat. However, deep inside, you have some conflicting emotions towards it. Perhaps you know that the piece sounds tacky, people find it overrated, or there is something problematic buried within the theme or lyrics of the piece. Yet, you have chosen to acknowledge these shortcomings, and continue enjoying it whenever you wish. Here at Primephonic, we have asked some staff members to share some of their ‘guilty pleasures’ which are either classical music, or are simply related to it.

To start off, we have our catalogue team, the people who are in charge of organising and building Primephonic’s music database. Our catalogue editor Liam, has chosen Different Trains by Steve Reich, a piece that he would often listen to for multiple times a day to help him focus on university work back in London. In this late 20-century piece, Reich used a string quartet and pre-recorded sounds of interviews, train announcements and sirens from the Second World War period. “I find it so fascinating and interesting on how he has used real audio and composed a melody around the vocal pitches,” said Liam. “It drove my flatmates wild as they found it so annoying as I used to play it so loud, and they even used to call it ‘the stupid train song’”.

0_RJM9EQT2sc9aKjq6Image by Nonesuch Records

Another catalogue editor, David, has selected a recording of Gershon Kingsley’s Popcorn, arranged by Sylvia Rosin and performed with three recorders by the Berlin Dreiklang Ensemble. This makes it one of the several examples of music that pushes the “classical music” boundaries. Originally a synth-pop instrumental, David played a xylophone variation of this piece while starting out with learning classical percussion, hence making him associate the arrangement’s instrumentation and note-by-note writing style with classical music. He felt nostalgic for its melody and as soon as he heard it again, while researching that composer at Primephonic, he rekindled his appreciation for it. The wordplay involved in the title is also worth mentioning, as it can either refer to the piece’s staccato-styled performance, or ‘corny and kitschy’ ‘popular music’ in the words ‘pop’ and ‘corn’.

0_SHWjtbrIQUdjxXp2Image by Profil

Our music specialist, Natalia, has chosen the famous canzone La donna e mobile from Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto. “I really love the music and tenor voice, but when I realise about the lyrics, I feel a bit of a guilty feminist,” Natalia admits. The song’s themes can be controversial today, as the libretto sings about how women are fickle or deceiving from a man’s perspective. Yet due to its notoriously catchy melody, it was even reported that after the opera’s first public performance in Venice of 1851, people were singing it on the streets on the very next day. The piece has also been featured in multiple forms of media, from television advertisements to video games.

We continue exploring our staff members’ selections by making a stop at the marketing team. Visual designer Mitra chose a piece by someone who one would normally associate with acting instead of music composition, and that would be And The Waltz Goes On by Sir Anthony Hopkins, composed in 1964 when he was 19 years old. His wife sent the music score to Dutch violinist André Rieu, which he would give a world premiere of the waltz with his orchestra in Vienna of 2011. Recognising Hopkins’s name, Mitra decided to give this a chance while browsing music online. As a fan of film music, she loves the music’s ‘filmy’ and dramatic atmosphere as the mood “builds slowly and grows bigger” at the end of the waltz. She felt that she “was in Hogwarts or watching a bittersweet movie”. The piece also reminds her childhood with its use of the barrel organ.

0_G0Nb8vLm8IuQylU-Image by André Rieu Productions Holding B.V.

Our content editor Mary from the Primephonic’s curation team went for a whole album instead of a single composition. She chose an album that was introduced to her by a friend, As Time Goes By as her guilty pleasure. The album is a collection of film music from Titanic to Schindler’s List, covered by the renowned group of 12 cellists from the Berlin Philharmonic. “There isn’t any place for snobbery about film music nowadays,” Mary comments, “especially not when it is being played by some of the best cellists in the world and their colleagues!” Although she would not consider this album as a ‘guilty pleasure’ anymore, she still does return to it from time to time due to the musicians’ performance and arrangements. However, she did regret “not listening to something more serious” when she was listening to it regularly in the past as an undergraduate music college student.

Image by EMI Records Ltd

Our customer service representatives have also shared some of their ‘guilty pleasures’ from the stage works category. For Francesca, it would be the Flower Duet from Léo Delibes’s opera Lakme. Francesca was analyzing the opera where the aria originated from, while studying musicology in university, and it became her “go-to musical piece for when she is in a peaceful and relaxed state of mind, be it after a long run or swimming in the sea.” To her, the main takeaway from that piece is ‘epic relaxation’. As for Marco, he picked Dance of the Hours, the famed ballet scene from La Gioconda by Amilcare Ponchielli. When asked about his choice, Marco said that he found it in a compilation CD he had at home and that this piece certainly makes him feel cheerful.

Melisa, our quality assurance engineer from the tech team, also contributed with her interesting choice for a ‘guilty pleasure’. A piece that combines the sounds of rock from the band U2 and Brian Eno with the operatic voice of Luciano Pavarotti, that would be Miss Sarajevo. While she was not a fan of the band’s leading man Bono, as the music reaches the 2:30 minute mark, it connects with Melisa’s Bosnian origins and the story of a documentary on Sarajevo that she watched as a teenager. While she was on holiday, she went to an exhibition about the Bosnian War and it showcased the documentary which ended with that song. To her, the documentary was not just about sorrow and death, but also had a cheerful tone to it, as the people of Sarajevo tried to enjoy life to the fullest amidst the ongoing war and oppression in the city. The ending song thus portrays hope and courage and would always “hit her back down to the cold earth”. “Nowadays when I feel sad or complaining about the little things in life, I listen to the song and think back on the people from Sarajevo, my family, my roots and feel proud and lucky I can still be on this earth,” said Melisa. She also mentioned that finding this song on the Primephonic platform while she was in the interview process convinced her to join Primephonic’s team.

Finally, our CEO, Thomas, sat down with me to quickly share his ‘guilty pleasure’. While it was a struggle for him to pick one guilty pleasure when there can be many to choose from, he eventually went with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony №39 in E-flat major, specifically the symphony’s third menuetto and trio movements and a recording from Concentus Musicus Wien and Nikolaus Harnoncourt. With its vigorous menuetto, it follows up with a smooth trio that is inspired by Austrian folk dance and includes a clarinet solo. Thomas said that he listens to it when he is low on energy and needs something elevating. The way he came across this work was during a holiday in Vienna with his wife, where there happened to be a performance of this symphony at one of the concert halls where Mozart debuted most of his works.

0_04hhYl3RlEBsW8TrImage by Sony Music Entertainment

While there is a mix of pieces from traditional and contemporary Western classical music from our staff, there are also pieces that one may not fully consider it to be ‘classical’, such as music being performed or covered by classical music instruments or musicians. It was still a surprise to see the variation in choice when asked to share something related to this topic, yet entertaining to hear stories or anecdotes behind their choices.

Do you have a classical ‘guilty pleasure’ too? Is it a piece that has been performed everywhere, yet, you still enjoy it? Or something that you think sounds unusual to others but interesting to you? We would love to know all about it.