Wired Magazine, Issue 15, 10 provides insight into the favorite musci of Dr. Oliver Sachs, the author of "Musicophilia" a book that not only contributes to our understanding of the elusive magic of music but also illuminates the strange workings and misfirings, of the human mind (NY Times)
"It is almost impossible to list my ten or twenty favorite pieces of music, because I have an omnivorous love of all classical music. In addition, I often develop a passion for a particular piece or a particular composer, which may last a month or a year, and then be replaced by a passion for something else. Thus I spent an entire year, 1979, playing Mozart's Requiem and his Mass in C Minor, over and over. They absorbed me totally, and I did not want to listen to anything else. But I have rarely played them since, though I continue to love them. Recently I have been enjoying music by contemporary composers like John Corigliano, Tobias Picker and Michael Torke, and listening to everything from Leos Janacek to Hildegard von Bingen and an a cappella jazz group, the Grunyons. But the classical repertoire remains my touchstone. The music I most love has been conditioned by early experience, growing up in the 1930s and 1940s in an atmosphere of classical music, with little exposure either to popular music or to the music of other cultures. I don't have an iPod — I'm too low-tech — but if I did, it would certainly have these pieces:
1. Chopin's Fantasy in F Minor, performed by Arthur Rubinstein. As a teenager, I had all the LPs of Chopin's mazurkas, played by Rubinstein. I would put these on the gramophone and try to accompany them on the piano, and in this way learned all the mazurkas myself. I still play these, and adore them — but the Fantasy in F Minor affects me more deeply.
2. Mozart: Besides the Requiem and the Mass in C Minor, I love all of the great Piano Concertos (23-26), especially the slow movements performed by Alfred Brendel.
3. Mozart's Don Giovanni. In general I am more attracted to "pure" music than to opera or musical drama. But I cannot listen to the finale of Don Giovanni without thinking of the entrance of the terrifying Stone Guest, and of Don Giovanni being sucked into Hell. This was W. H. Auden's favorite opera — he translated the libretto with Chester Kallman — and he gave me his own copy of this. So it is also an opera I like listening to in English, because then I can hear Auden as well as Mozart.
4. Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. As a student at Oxford, I discovered "modern" music in the form of Stravinsky, and love the barbaric splendor of his ballet scores. The Rite of Spring always makes me think of stegosaurs plodding through primordial marshes.
5. Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E Minor, performed by Joshua Bell. Mendelssohn seems to me the most joyous of composers. A tape of his violin concerto was what helped me to overcome a strange sort of paralysis to one leg which I experienced after an accident in 1974. I cannot listen to this piece of music without re-experiencing the sort of resurrection I had then, when I "relearned" how to walk.
6. Schubert's Die Schöne Mühlerin , sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Vocal music can have more power than any instrument, and Schubert was a master song writer, expressing moods, passions, states of mind, as no one before him could.
7. Beethoven's piano sonatas, performed by Alfred Brendel. The fact that I am a pianist (though a very poor one) molds my tastes, and I prefer Beethoven's piano sonatas to all his instrumental music. I have had many recordings, but Brendel's seem to me the most profound.
8. Brahms' Alto Rhapsody. Brahms, for me, represents the final, richest expression of the romantic in music (as opposed to the turgid neuroticism of Wagner and some of Mahler). The Alto Rhapsody is transcendent and heart-piercing.
9. Bach's Mass in B Minor Though I am firmly a materialist, and have never been able to imagine anything "supernatural," the deep spirituality of Bach's music affects me powerfully, and nothing can hold me like his St. Matthew Passion or his great Mass in B-Minor. But when I do not have enough time for these massive works, I settle for Leon Fleisher's beautiful performances of Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, and Sheep May Safely Graze. Fleisher distills the beauty of Bach like an alchemist.
10. Bach's Chaconne in D Minor, played by Yehudi Menuhin. When I was a boy, I heard Menuhin play this piece in Harringay Arena in London. I was overwhelmed, for I had never before heard such playing live, I had never been so close to an actual performer, and there was a special moral sense, too, because it was the middle of World War II, and it had required a special courage for Menuhin to come to a city where bombs were falling, and to perform in so vulnerable a public space. Sixty years later, on the fifth anniversary of September 11th, I was arrested, as I approached the southern tip of Manhattan on my morning cycle ride, by the strains of the Chaconne. It was a young violinist, playing to a totally silent crowd who had gathered to mark this sad occasion. Here again, Bach's piece was a musical and moral declaration, an affirmation of the transcendence of art in the face of violence and fear."