Love. It smacks us in the head, simmers when it’s cooking, and smolders when it’s over. The music we associate with love does too. We asked WRTI hosts and reporters to give us their takes on the classical music and jazz that fuels the many emotions of love.
The results: better than a box of chocolates, and just as richly complex.
Bob Perkins: I have long been fascinated by a line in the song "This is Always." The line has to do with an old saying about the custom of tying a string around one’s finger, so one will be reminded not to forget to do a certain thing. The line in the song that refers to this practice on the romantic level goes thus: "You tied a string around my heart, so how can I forget you?"
Gregg Whiteside: Oh, my goodness, “love” can mean so many different things. There’s tenderness, passionate ardor, love that transforms; but there is one piece of music that brings to life all of love’s many splendors–the love theme from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet. If your heart can survive it, you’ll have a bigger and stronger heart! Light the candles and the fireplace, pour two glasses of wine, and put it on! If the Cleveland Orchestra’s inaugural Decca recording with Lorin Maazel is still available, go for that performance; if not, Gergiev and the London Symphony is beautifully recorded, and available on the LSO label.
Bob Craig: I’ve long admired the song, "A Time For Love" from the 1966 movie, An American Dream. While its title suggests hugs and kisses, its lyrics encourage “climbing hills, admiring daffodils, and holding hands together in rainbow-colored weather.” Such lovely imagery. Shirley Horn romances Paul Francis Webster’s florid lyrics, while composer Johnny Mandel provides the fervid orchestration. My favorite version is on the Here’s to Life album.
Jack Moore: One of the greatest works for Valentine’s Day in my mind is the “ultra-romantic” Symphony No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninoff. The melodies are stunning, the sound produced by the orchestra is lush, and all in all it’s a beautiful work with which to spend some quality romantic time on Valentine’s Day, or any time. Try Eugene Ormandy’s interpretation with The Philadelphia Orchestra, Rachmaninoff’s favorite orchestra. Ormandy recorded it twice over the years; first in 1958 in the edited version, which is about 40 minutes, and again in the '70s in its complete version.
J. Michael Harrison: The 1979 film 10 introduced me to Ravel’s Boléro. To be accurate the actress Bo Derek introduced me to Boléro. Larry Coryell’s 1981 album titled Boléro gave the piece new life for me. Later, his Night of Jazz Guitars cover of Boléro deepened it. Watching him perform it live, on his 12-string, at a concert I hosted at The Mauch Chuck Opera House in Jim Thorpe, PA confirmed my love for this emotional beauty.
Kevin Gordon: When my wife Fiona and I were still honeymooning while living in New York City, we were browsing in a Soho shop, where WQXR was playing in the background. A piece of music came on that stopped us both. We looked at each other without a word, and stood and listened. As a classical host on WQXR at the time, it sounded vaguely familiar and I should have recognized it, but I didn’t. At the station the next day I found out it was the waltz movement from the Jazz Suite No. 2 by Dmitri Shostakovich. How had I missed this wonderful piece? Fiona loaded it onto my iPod and it's now our anthem for a shared musical discovery.
Courtney Blue: Originally recorded by Johnny Mathis for the 1957 film of the same title, the song “Wild Is The Wind” has been recorded by many artists, but Nina Simone’s adaptation of the tune is particularly poignant. This enduring ballad is about two “creatures of the wind” desperately clinging to each other before nature tears them apart. With her haunting vocals, slowly delivering the fervent lyrics, accompanied by her adept piano playing, Nina evokes the fleeting pleasure and ultimate longing of an ephemeral love affair. Who better to yank at our heartstrings than "The High Priestess Of Soul" herself, Ms. Simone.
Debra Lew Harder: One of my favorite romantic pieces is Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte. I first heard it one summer night when I was 14 during a visit to a music camp in Hudson, Ohio. The student orchestra’s beautiful playing was augmented by the sound of crickets adding their own line to Ravel’s. One year later, I attended the music camp, which was run by a pianist and choral conductor who became an important mentor to me, and who helped me develop a love of chamber music. Later still, I met my husband Tom on that campus. So you could say that love started with Ravel, musically and matrimonially!
Mark Pinto: I’ve always been beguiled by Bernard Herrmann’s rich and masterful score for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, which is more than capable of standing on its own. For me, the most compelling section is the love music “Scène d’Amour.” It’s as sweeping and romantic as anything that ever came out of Hollywood. The music opens quietly and tenderly, rising and falling, then gradually growing in intensity, reaching a fever pitch that conveys not only great passion, but also impending tragedy. This idea of doomed love is underscored by a climactic descending fifth motif in the strings that never fails to grab me.
David Ortiz: One of the most haunting songs is by the great bandleader from Puerto Rico, Pablo "Tito" Rodriguez. Tito Rodriguez is famous for being a part of the 1950s golden age of mambo, dominating the era along with Machito and Tito Puente. Rodriguez was also a great crooner and the Puerto Rican equivalent of Frank Sinatra. His most famous ballad—"Mio" ("Mine")— is a haunting melody about the sadness of love. The opening lyrics in Spanish translate: “Mine, I never had anything that was mine, not even the love I wanted, that I believed was mine. That love which I thought was mine, was never meant for me.” I love to play "Mio" on El Viaje, especially around Valentine’s Day.
Bliss Michaelson: Back in the late ‘80s when I was going through a rough personal patch, it was Wilhelm Stennhammer’s patriotic cantata The Song, set to a text by follow composer Ture Rangström that pulled me through. We Scandinavians are not noted for open displays of emotion. Very often it is music that gives us the solace we seek in difficult times. The Song was composed between 1920 and 1921 for the 150th anniversary of the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm.
Maureen Malloy: My favorite romantic tune is tied to a lot of different memories. I first heard Nat King Cole sing "That Sunday, That Summer" at my grandparent’s house when I was a kid. I’ve always recognized the song, but never really paid attention to the lyrics until I was on the air with BP during a member drive. He played it one Sunday morning. I fell in love with it, so much so that I walked down the aisle to it. Of course, Nat couldn’t be there, but the wonderful Philadelphia-based Victor North did a great job with it on sax!
Susan Lewis: When I think about love, I think of home, where the people I love have gathered throughout my life: a constant that runs through the generations of parents, siblings, extended family and children. Check out Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble’s version of the song "Going Home," performed in both English and Chinese. It’s a new rendition of a song made famous by Paul Robeson, written by William Arms Fisher, with a yearning melody from Dvorak’s New World Symphony.
Meridee Duddleston: I am a sucker for the second movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major. The 1967 movie Elivra Madigan made me fall in love with it. I can still see the star-crossed lovers gliding along in a boat. He’s rowing. She’s wearing a straw hat with a black band. They’re cocooned in a world just big enough for two. The lilting second movement fits the ominous mood perfectly. It made my heart ache. I was mesmerized.
Matt Silver: In the fall of 2004, I met a nice, very pretty girl in class at the University of Michigan. It was clear she was my intellectual superior, but I made her laugh, so I asked her out to see the Dave Brubeck Quartet. They opened with “Strange Meadowlark” and it was the first time I’d heard that legendary opening movement on piano. The sound was nostalgic and anticipatory at the same time, like the feeling of new love. I was sure at that moment that I’d marry the girl sitting next to me. I didn’t, but no matter. This Valentine's Day, allow yourselves, if just for a moment, the delusional kind of romantic daydreams that only great music can induce.
Rich Gunning: While vacationing in London in the late '80s, I hopped into a taxi and Tony Bennett's version of “Stella by Starlight” was playing on the radio. The cabbie quickly changed the station, assuming I would rather listen to something more “modern.” I asked him to change it back because pure cool should never be disrespected. Today, when I hear Tony sing, I think of all of the travel, new experiences and wonderful people I encountered when I was a young service member stationed in Europe. I hope you enjoy this song as much as I do. Peace.