We really poured our heart and soul into making this list of pieces all about… heart and soul! Check it out:
- Johann Sebastian Bach – Cantata BWV 78 “Jesu, Der Du Meine Seele” – “Jesus, by whom my soul has been mightily torn free through your bitter death.” These are the opening lines to Bach’s Cantata number 78, a work first performed at a Sunday service in Leipzig in September of 1724. The words however don’t come from the Gospel. Rather, they were derived from a popular German hymn by 17th-century theologian Johann Rist, with the rest of the poetry written by an unknown librettist. This was true of a number of Bach’s sacred cantatas from 1724—a non-liturgical chorale with additional anonymous text, all set to music for the musicians Bach had on hand in Leipzig. This is music for practical use, and that’s clear when we look at Bach’s revisions. In the 1730s, Bach added to this cantata a part for violone and took out a part for horn. Scholars suspect that these changes weren’t for musical reasons, but simply because of the instrumentalists available to perform.
- Johann Strauss II – Herzenskönigin (“Queen Of Hearts”) Polka Française – When Strauss Jr. composed his Polka française in 1892, it was for a popular occasion: the yearly dance of the Vienna Journalists’ and Authors’ Association, known as the Concordia Ball. Strauss initially titled his work the Sensational Polka, and it was premiered under that name by the Strauss Orchestra which accompanied many high profile dances in Vienna. When Strauss wrote his publisher Fritz Simrock to print the work however, some complications ensued. Strauss and Simrock had developed a somewhat strained relationship after the dismal failure of their joint project, the comic opera Ritter Pásmán, and Simrock was hesitant to publish more of Strauss’s work. For reasons unknown, it seems that a name change was enough to make up Simrock’s mind. In 1892, he released a new catalogue of Strauss’s work, under which the Sensational Polka now appeared as the Herzenskönigin, or Queen of Hearts Polka.
- Gaetano Donizetti – La Fille Du Régiment: “Pour mon âme” (“For my soul”) – In this opera, the 21st regiment of the French Army is stationed in a small Austrian village, where a local young man named Tonio falls in love with Marie, the titular “daughter of the regiment.” Marie loves Tonio back, but she’s been told that she can only marry a soldier in the 21st regiment. So at the end of act one, Tonio enlists, and sings this infamous aria, saying “For my soul, what a future! I have her heart and her hand … here I am, a soldier and a husband!” The aria is known today as the “Mount Everest” of tenor arias, because of the especially difficult nine high Cs! The tenor at the premiere in Paris wasn’t up to the task, and the opera got terrible reviews. However, years later Luciano Pavarotti was, and his spectacular performance of this aria at the Covent Garden earned him the nickname “King of the High Cs.”
- Robert Schumann – Myrthen, Op. 25, No. 1 “Widmung” – The song cycle Myrthen or “Myrtles” was written as a wedding present to Robert Schumann’s new wife Clara, and published on September 12, 1840, the day they were married. The two lovebirds had been kept apart from one another by Clara’s overbearing father (and Robert’s former teacher), and as Robert’s passion grew, so did his creative energy. He composed dozens and dozens of songs for Clara, including this one “Widmung” (or “Dedication”), a setting of a text by Friederich Rückert. It’s one of Schumann’s most passionate songs, and begins with the lines “Du meine Seele, du mein Herz”—”You, my soul, you, my heart.” Robert even encoded a little love message into the closing bars of the song. You may have heard the brief quotation of Schubert’s Ave Maria from 1825. This was evidently one of Clara’s favorite melodies.
- Hector Berlioz – Damnation of Faust – The German legend of Faust is a centuries old Christian morality tale. In this story an alchemist by the name of Heinrich Faust makes a pact with the Devil, wagering his soul so that he may be able to accomplish anything that he wanted. The character of Faust has a counterpart in Polish folklore as well, by the name of Pan Twardowski, and the legend has been adapted by a wide range of writers, from Christopher Marlowe to Oscar Wilde. It has also been set by a number of composers, including Berlioz and Mahler. The most famous setting of the legend of Faust was penned by Johann Goethe, who was and still is considered to be one of the greatest writers in the history of western civilization. It was this version of the legendary story that Berlioz used as the basis of his opera, The Damnation of Faust.
- Edvard Grieg – Jeg Elsker Dig (“Melodies Of The Heart”) – The early Romantic era notion of empfindsamkeit or “personal expression” was initially a notion of German music, but over time it was adopted by many European composers, including Edvard Grieg, who gained a reputation as Norway’s most expressive composer. Like many of his German contemporaries, Grieg paralleled his choice of song text with his personal circumstances. In 1864, he met and became secretly engaged to his cousin Nina Hagerup. At the same time, he set his early collection of four songs titled Melodies of the Heart to lyrical texts by Hans Christian Andersen and presented them to Nina as an engagement gift. The third song of the collection became one of Grieg’s most famous and widely performed works. After Grieg’s death, the song entered the realm of popular music when it was performed in English by Frank Sinatra.
- Orlando de Lassus – Justorum Animae (“The Souls Of The Righteous”) – The text to Lasso’s Justorum animae is taken from a liturgical song in the apocryphal Book of Wisdom. It is usually sung while Communion is administered during the Catholic Mass on All Souls Day, the day after Halloween. The words read “The souls of the righteous are in God’s hand and they are not affected by the torments of death. In the eyes of fools, they appear to die but they rest in peace.” This is, obviously, a vocal work. Lasso seems not to have composed any strictly instrumental music, despite its increasing popularity in Europe at the time. Lasso was born in Mons, a city that is now part of modern-day Belgium. His treble singing, according to legend, was so beautiful that he was kidnapped three times by would-be employers. From early childhood, he worked almost constantly as a singer and composer, never pursuing any other career.
- David Diamond – Heart’s Music – There was a time in the 1940s and 50s that David Diamond was one of the most promising young composers. He studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and later at the Eastman School of Music, working with Roger Sessions. In 1935 he was awarded a scholarship sponsored by dance bandleader Paul Whiteman that allowed him to study in Paris. While in Paris, he received encouragement from Ravel and Milhaud, and later began studies with legendary teacher Nadia Boulanger. Diamond earned a number of Guggenheim fellowships and a position on Juilliard’s faculty, after becoming known for his tonal symphonic works. However, the dominance of atonal, modernist music in the 1960s and 70s pushed Diamond’s conservative music into the margins. Nevertheless, Diamond’s style remained consistent throughout his life. He composed this fanfare for wind ensemble titled Heart’s Music when he was 75 years old.
And just for fun…
- Sam & Dave – Soul Man – Sam Moore and Dave Prater were two of the biggest stars on Memphis’s Stax Records in the 1960s. Their 1967 mega hit “Soul Man,” written by David Porter and Isaac Hayes (later of Shaft fame), was a civil rights anthem, with “soul” representing that proud quality that African-Americans possessed to keep them going amid the chaos. It’s perhaps ironic then that the song was later adopted by the (white) Blues Brothers in the 1970s. The electrifying backing band on this recording was Stax Records’ house band Booker T. & the M.G.’s—you can even hear Sam (or Dave) yelling out “Play It, Steve” before a guitar solo by the M.G.’s guitar player Steve Cropper.
- Hoagy Carmichael – “Heart and Soul” – Maybe you heard it played by Tom Hanks in the movie Big, or maybe you played it yourself on the piano as a kid, but the song “Heart and Soul” has a long history. It was written in 1938 by Hoagy Carmichael and lyricist Frank Loesser, and became a hit for singer Helen Ward in 1939. It was revived a few times over the next few decades, including in 1952 when it became a hit for The Four Aces and again in 1961 when it became an R&B hit for The Cleftones. Today, the song’s verse features a quintessential version of the “doo wop” or “50s progression” from pop music, a chord progression that goes I-vi-IV-V, featured prominently in the version by the Four Aces. This progression showed up a lot in pop songs around this time, including “Heart And Soul,” “Stand By Me,” “Blue Moon,” “Earth Angel,” and “Duke Of Earl.”