Music in an Age of Anxiety — Suggestions for Classical Listening

April 21, 2020 | By Kurt Loft

. . .

The unease we feel right now needs a balm, and many find it in classical music.

With this in mind, I reached out to five people and asked them to pick five works – big or small – that offer solace or diversion, and to say something about each piece or its performance.

Curious readers can click on the links for videos. So, here we go.

I hope you find some gems here, and don’t mind me sharing my own suggestions at the end.


Susan Giles Wantuck – photo by WUSF Public Media

Susan Giles Wantuck
news and classical music host for WUSF Public Media

. . .

Claude Debussy, Clair de lune
“So quiet and intimate, it’s like gazing at the moon with someone you love.’’

William Bolcom, Graceful Ghost Rag
“He wrote Graceful Ghost after his father died. It’s imbued with a gentleness and sweetness that I love.’’

Traditional, Shenandoah
“There’s just something about this piece that feels like a heart song to me. I really can’t find the words to explain. Probably because it’s something my dad used to play for me.’’

Maurice Ravel, String Quartet
“Two years after Ravel wrote his Quartet, Debussy wrote him and reportedly said ‘In the name of the gods of music and in my own, do not touch a single note you have written in your Quartet.’ I can’t top that.’’

Ralph Vaughan-Williams, Serenade to Music
“I feel like I have always loved this work. It was inspired by music itself and was originally written for 16 voices. It’s gentle to start out with and is soul-stirring.’’

. . .

Catherine Daniel as Carmen – photo by Opera Tampa

Catherine Daniel
Canadian-based opera singer who appeared in the lead role in
Opera Tampa’s production of Bizet’s Carmen  in February

. . .

Gustav Mahler, Songs of a Wayfarer
Jessye Norman is one of the greatest singers of all time. She has a breadth and depth that were unparalleled.’’

Giuseppe Verdi, O Don Fatale from Don Carlos
“One of the hugest compliments I could ever receive is if someone were to tell me that I sound like Shirley Verrett. She was graceful and poised and her voice was sublime.’’

Aaron Copland, Appalachian Spring
“This is a neo-classical piece that inspires hope. There’s something about this music that makes you feel everything is new and bright.’’

Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 6
“This next one is for the kids! I often use this excerpt (first movement) when introducing classical music in the classroom. Fantasia (1940 Disney classic) did a great job of animating this piece.’’

George Bizet, Carmen
“I have to end with another opera excerpt. Carmen, which I had the great privilege of singing in Tampa, is my favorite opera. Agnes Baltsa is a singer who I found to be absolutely fearless! Here she is singing Je vais danser.’’

. . .

David Nero

David Nero
Tampa-based contractor retired from the military

. . .

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, 1812 Overture
“It conveys in music Napoleon’s invasion and retreat from Russia in 1812.’’

George Frideric Handel, Hallelujah chorus from Messiah
“It brings out the Holy Spirit in me and always brings me up when I’m down spiritually.’’

Carl Orff, O Fortuna from Carmina Burana
“As a warrior, it makes me want to grab my sword and fight in a battle.’’

Johann Strauss II, Blue Danube Waltz
“Always a soft, pleasant melody to listen to at any time.’’

Stanley Myers, Cavatina from the movie The Deer Hunter
“A fabulous piece of classical guitar to listen to on a cool relaxing afternoon or night.’’

. . .

Bethany Cagle – photo by WSMR

Bethany Cagle
classical music host at WSMR 89.1 and 103.9 FM,
broadcasting from Tampa Bay to Sarasota

. . .

Alan Hovhaness, The Spirit of the Trees for harp and guitar
“Hovhaness embraces the interconnectedness of humankind and nature and it’s a good one to listen to during this time when Mother Nature has put us all in time-out.’’

Johann Sebastian Bach, French Suite No. 3
“It calms all the fear-based mind clutter.’’

Arvo Part, Stabat Mater
“If you’re wanting to really embrace the contemplative side of isolation, Stabat Mater (sorrowful mother) will take you to your inner monastery.’’

Amy Beach, Hermit Thrush at Eve
“This is based on birdsong and fond memories, something we finally have time to notice.’’

Jennifer Higdon, Blue Cathedral
“This is such a hopeful-sounding work about the profound experiences of beginnings, endings, solitude, fellowship, contemplation and growth.’’

. . .

Thomas Wilkins
music director of the Omaha Symphony Orchestra, principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra
former resident conductor of The Florida Orchestra, now living in St. Petersburg

. . .

Thomas Wilkins conductor, Omaha Symphony – photo by San Diego Symphony

Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 1
“This is music that begins with a serene invitation to what becomes a place of rich and sure hopefulness.’’

. . .

Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 9
“With this music, Beethoven tells humanity that after all he’s said in the past, there’s still one more thing left to say. And it’s really important.’’

Johannes Brahms, Symphony No. 3
“This is the sound of honesty and a genuineness that only Brahms can pull off.’’

Sergei Rachmaninoff, Piano Concerto No. 2
“The second movement is music that reminds you of what it feels like to be in love, and if you’re not, wish you were.’’

Franz Schubert, Symphony No. 5
“Every moment of this symphony is delicious and makes you smile all over.’’

. . .

Kurt Loft
senior writer at PricewaterhouseCoopers and former classical music critic for The Tampa Tribune
. . .

Kurt Loft

Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 3
“If I had one last piece of music to enjoy before I signed off in this world, it would be the last movement of this delirious and gargantuan creation.’’

Ludwig van Beethoven, String Quartet No. 15, Op. 132
“At the center of this 45-minute masterpiece sits a prayer divided into five sections and woven in a solemn Lydian mode, creating a sonic space both ancient and modern.’’

Joaquin Rodrigo, Concierto de Aranjuez
“Not every composer can write a melody that brings you to tears, but Rodrigo nailed it with this haunting adagio for guitar and orchestra.’’

Johann Sebastian Bach, Mass in B Minor
“One of the supreme creations of Western art shows Bach at his most profound and exudes his unshakable faith in a higher power. The opening Kyrie is from another world.’’

Thomas Tallis, Spem in Alium
“This ethereal Renaissance motet for eight choirs of five voices each doesn’t just reverberate through the centuries, it stops time.’’

Note to Readers
If you’ve got a favorite classical piece you’d like to share,
please look for a performance you on YouTube and
send that to the Arts Coast Journal at


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