Summary from Goodreads:
‘Year of Wonder is an absolute treat – the most enlightening way to be guided through the year.’ Eddie Redmayne
Classical music for everyone – an inspirational piece of music for every day of the year, celebrating composers from the medieval era to the present day, written by award-winning violinist and BBC Radio 3 presenter Clemency Burton-Hill.
Have you ever heard a piece of music so beautiful it stops you in your tracks? Or wanted to discover more about classical music but had no idea where to begin?
Year of Wonder is a unique celebration of classical music by an author who wants to share its diverse wonders with others and to encourage a love for this genre in all readers, whether complete novices or lifetime enthusiasts.
Clemency chooses one piece of music for each day of the year, with a short explanation about the composer to put it into context, and brings the music alive in a modern and playful way, while also extolling the positive mindfulness element of giving yourself some time every day to listen to something uplifting or beautiful. Thoughtfully curated and expertly researched, this is a book of classical music to keep you company: whoever you are, wherever you’re from.
‘The only requirements for enjoying classical music are open ears and an open mind.’
When one’s mother is a church organist, one grows up with a pretty solid understanding of classical music. I started piano lessons with my mom when I was five and more formal lessons at age eight. I played the oboe and flute in band and sang in choir. And while I no longer perform, I do still practice (occasionally – see also: paraphrasing Elizabeth Bennet and the old saw about not playing as well as I would wish because I don’t actually practice as much as I should). Over the years I’ve amassed a rather sizable classical music collection covering all sorts of genres.
So, obviously I was pretty interested when Clemency Burton-Hill’s new book Year of Wonder came across my radar. A one-piece-per-day devotional, if you will, designed to dive deep into the classical music catalog. Sign me up. How much would be new to me and how much would I already know?
As it turns out, I was familiar with probably 25-30% of Burton-Hill’s recommendations. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, any opera aria except for a few of the very early-genre ones, anything by Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin I already knew. But starting with Hildegard von Bingen on January 3rd (yes, that Hildegard von Bingen who not only was an abbess and philosopher and who knows what all but was also a composer of monophonic songs in early Church music) I found so many “new” composers and less-familiar songs from favorites to track down. I am particularly deficient in late twentieth and twenty-first century composers, especially very new composers in their twenties and thirties such as Max Richter (who I know) and Ólafur Arnalds (who I had not heard, as far as I know, and I really need to).
Now, as with any list like this, a few of my favorites are missing. Some very familiar pieces like Rhapsody in Blue, the Enigma Variations, and any ballet music from Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev do not make an appearance. I was also surprised to Osvaldo Golijov’s Azul left off. However, Burton-Hill has very consciously tried to make an inclusive list to try and get outside the white/male boundaries classical music has tried to keep around itself. The genre has traditionally been very gate-keepy so a conscious effort to shine a light on women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ composers is very welcome. This is also a very wide-ranging selection through all sub-genres of classical music, from early Church mono- and polyphony, to settings of traditional folk songs, to Masses, symphonies, chamber music, jazz, ragtime, atonal, solo instrumental, and on and on and on.
What I do think this list needs are recommendations for which recording to listen to. Some more recent or less popular pieces, such as from Arnalds, will have few or only one recording to choose from but something like “Che gelida manina” from La Bohème will have hundreds available. For instance, when pulling tracks from my own collection I stopped counting versions of “Casta diva” from Norma at six and that was only the traditional recordings. I didn’t count any that had been arranged for instrumental-only or electronica-crossover versions. Although, Burton-Hill has curated playlists by month on Spotify and Apple Music – so if you use either of those services, search for “Clemency” (with the blue tick mark) in Spotify or “Year of Wonder” at Apple Music. I, however, am extra and like making work for myself so I’m pulling multiple versions, favorites, and complete works rather than movements to make my own playlist. It’s kind of exhausting but fun.
Year of Wonder is out October 30.
Dear FTC: I read a paper galley of this book from the publisher.