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Regular port-swiller Chuck asks:

What are your top 5 heroic pieces–Is there anything in particular that you’d recommend listening to that really gets your blood and testosterone flowing and gets you pumped up and in a mood to kick butt? I need some really motivating music to listen to while at work.  Thanks buddy!

Ah, heroical musick, eh?  Well, if Chuck means what I think he does, then one must turn to the Romantics for this sort of thing.  I don’t know what you do for a living, Chuck, or how much time or under what circumstances you can listen, but assuming a fairly unfettered atmosphere, here are some suggestions that come to mind:

Richard Wagner – (Ha! Surprised some of you, didn’t I?) Forget the “Ride of the Valkyries”.  Instead, try the Overture to the Flying Dutchman.  You’ll quickly realize that the score of every single sea-adventure movie ever made is based at least in part on it.

Gustav HolstThe Planets.  Most of it is rubbish, but the movements “Jupiter: Bringer of Jollity” or “Mars: Bringer of War” really stand out.  C.S. Lewis particularly mentions that he believed Holst got the true, Olympian meaning of “Jovial” down to a tee.

Robert SchumannSymphony No. 4 in D minor.  I’ve always thought this to be Schumann’s best and it’s been a personal favorite since I was a little boy.

Felix MendelssohnSymphony No. 3 in A minor (“The Scottish”).  A big, wide, rolling work meant to capture the spirit of the Highlands.

Johannes Brahms – Among his shorter pieces, try the “Academic Festival” Overture.  All of his symphonies are fine, too, although I think the 1st and the 4th are by far the sternest ones.  Indeed, the 4th was described by a friend of Brahms as sounding “like two dreadfully intelligent people beating the daylights out of each other.”

Antonin DvorakSymphony No. 9 in E minor (“From The New World”) – which I’m listening to as I type this.  He wrote it to commemorate a visit to America and it is said to contain some “Indian” themes.  If you haven’t got time for this, his Carnival Overture is pretty good to.

Camille Saint-SaensSymphony No. 3 in C minor (The “Organ”) – I know a fair number of people who profess to be moved by this piece.  I find it okay, but am not really all that taken with it.   I throw it out simply because it seems to be popular.

And here’s a bonus for you:  I have always loved the soundtrack from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  How much of that has to do with the quality of the musick itself and how much has to do with my love of the movie, I couldn’t say.  All I know is that it always pumps me up.

Of course, this is a pretty basic list.  There are plenty of other choices and, in the end, it’s really a matter of personal taste.  I’d suggest sampling these pieces.  If you like one, try more by the same composer.  If not, move on to another.


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July 2009