Bukowski, Beer & Beethoven

Explore classical music through the works of Charles Bukowski

“I have no idea how it began. As a boy I believed that classical music was for sissies, and as a teenager I felt this even more strongly.”

Charles Bukowski is a dead man. He has been a dead man for almost 25 years now. That’s ok. People die. Bach died. Beethoven died. Hell, even Wagner died but they say he had it coming. Bukowski is one of them now. Some talented last name rotting away in some pauper’s grave.

They don’t make ’em like Bukowski anymore. A womanizing antihero, who wrote honest explicit poems and stories about his hard knock life in the city of Angels. His influence is everywhere. Less well known is that he was also a classical music aficionado. He considered wordless symphonic music that presented life in its rawest form the highest form of poetry:

“To my right, the radio works hard bringing me more great classical music. I listen to 3 or 4 hours a night as I am doing other things, or nothing. It’s my drug, it washes the crap of the day right out of me. The classical composers can do this for me. The poets, the novelists, the short story writes can’t. A gang of fakes.

(Excerpt from: The Captain Is Out To Lunch…)

Sex, drugs & symphonies

Through his poems Bukowski lived classical music in a way that would have shamed Keith Richards. He drank and got high on Beethoven, fucked girlfriends and prostitutes with Mahler playing in the background, worked diligently while his radio played Brahms, celebrated freedom with Tchaikovsky and Sibelius in cars, bars and at the tracks and he contemplated matters of life and death with Bach.

Lo-Fi in high places

He preferred his classical music alone in dirty kitchens on dirty nights, with enough beer, wine and cigarettes to last until the crack of dawn. Drinking, smoking and typing away on his Mechanical Lazarus typewriter, with his portable radio tuned to classical stations. To no ones surprise he grew a special liking for composers who wrote close to the bone, colored outside the lines, fell ill, went mad, committed suicide, clashed within the system or otherwise struggled at some point in life. Men like him who had no desire for metaphors. He listened to them, read about them and they became a fixture in his writing.

In ’94 Bukowski wasn’t granted another spring, but he left his tools here. No other influential writer has left us such a reliable record of the music he listened to and his opinion of it.

Bukowski, Beer & Beethoven serves as a guide for people who want to become acquainted with classical music without the usual marble hall exaltation and church-like holiness. Through 50 excerpts of poems related to classical music, Bukowski brings us the gospel of symphonic music like a reverend waving a gun around. Through 50 related Spotify links to legendary recordings that gave heart to his life, you can easily explore classical music in an unusual way.

If you’re somehow under the impression that classical music is for sissies, you better buckle up ’cause Sweet Baby Jesus you’ve got another thing coming…


1. Mahler: 9th Symphony

[…] I am listening as I write this to Mahler’s 9th
Mahler is in the room with me 
and the chills run up my arms,
reach the back of my neck 
It’s all so unbelievably 
splendid, 
splendid!

Excerpt from: Classical Music & Me by Charles Bukowski

Just as rock music has the 27 club, classical music has ‘The Curse Of The Ninth’. In essence it is related to the inconvenient truth that many great composers died during or shortly after completing their Ninth Symphony. The Curse Of The Ninth has an impressive body count, and we sure as hell lost great men to it. Men like Beethoven, Bruckner, Dvorak and Schubert. And Gustav Mahler…

Mahler was 49 when he started working on his Ninth. He was well in his coffin when it premiered in Amsterdam. Official cause of death: a broken heart. Life is seldom kind to the most talented in the arts. Shortly after he lost his 4-year old daughter to scarlet fever, Mahler himself was diagnosed with a heart condition that was bound to send him to an early grave.

His Ninth is is widely considered a prefiguring of his own death, and one of the most death-haunted places in symphonic music. At the end of the final movement — right were the music is slowly dying away — Mahler wrote “Farewell cruel world. Farewell! Farewell!” on the original sheet music.

Bukowski calls Mahler’s Ninth “unbelievably splendid”, whereas great conductors and critics have called it “terrifying”,”‘paralysing”and “the most revelatory, transformative experiences of my musical life.” It is the undisputed #1 on this arbitrary list.

Recommended recording:
Claudio Abbado & Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

Abbado guides us to the cliffs overlooking the Nine Circles Of Hell, from where we stare death straight in the eye.

▶︎ PLAY ON SPOTIFY


2. Bruckner: 9th Symphony

[…] I am still listening to Bruckner 9th. Do you think I am cultured, little girl? I like this stuff. If I weren’t so poor I’d make a beautiful snob.

Excerpt from: Screams From The Balcony by Charles Bukowski

Anton Bruckner was a god-fearing man who dedicated his Ninth to the big man in the sky. Who was so pleased with the whole thing that he summoned Anton to his Kingdom before he was able to finish it. So we ended up with 3 movements instead of 4. It’s the Curse Of The Ninth in full effect, but Judas Priest what a hell of a way to go.

Mahler called Bruckner his forerunner, asserting that his own creations followed the trail blazed by his senior master. We can all learn from Bruckner’s infamous 2nd movement, in which he lays down a freakish wall of sound that destroys everything in it’s path. If this doesn’t effect you, you might as well quit everything. So put your entire street on notice that you’re not to be fucked with, and crank this vile beast into the deepest red.

Recommended recording:
Carlo Maria Giulini & Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

Conductors like Wand, Jochum, Furtwängler, Klemperer and even Karajan are all skilled Bruckner-specialists. But if every single note on the sheet needs to be demolished, I call an Italian who would have been shot in the face in 1943 if Mussolini had his way.

Conductor Carlo Maria Giulini refused to serve in his army and hid in a tunnel for 9 months. All that time there were posters around Rome with his face and name, with clear instructions to shoot him on sight. Forty years after he crawled out, he made the Vienna outlaws play like soldiers on leave. Bukowski, Bruckner and the Gods can be pleased.

▶︎ PLAY ON SPOTIFY


3. Stravinsky: Symphony In C

[…] I switch on the radio 
get Stravinsky 
note the dirt under my fingernails 
he’s the best.

Excerpt from Screams From The Balcony by Charles Bukowski

Strikingly high on the list, compared to the usual shortlists of popular symphonies. But for all the right reasons. Bukowski mentions Stravinsky in no less than five poems. The general point he’s trying to get across is that he seriously likes the guy.

Stravinsky was born to be awesome, not perfect. I mean, look at the guy!

The 1913 premiere of his orchestral suite Rite Of Spring still is one of the best scandals in classical music history. The Parisienne audience hated its revolutionary sound so much, they turned into a full on lynch mob before the beginning of the 2nd movement. Stravinsky climbed the stage madder than a midget with a yo-yo, shaking his fist and telling the crowd to go to hell. At the same time, conductor Pierre Monteux abandoned ship and fucked off through a small window in the men’s room. The riot police had to increase the peace between these enraged elitists. A year after they invented tear gas, but I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

While Stravinsky was abroad, Russia closed its borders. With the subsequent Russian Revolution well on it’s way Stravinsky decided to stay out. He started writing this symphony in 1938 in France, shortly after he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. During the process he would lose his daughter, wife and mother to diseases and his homeland to the Germans. He completed it in 1940 in the United States where he remained awesome until his death in 1971.

Recommended recording:
Sir Georg Solti & Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Solti is a well-respected Wagnerian who was born to bring the thunder. And that is exactly what makes his recording stand out.

▶︎ PLAY ON SPOTIFY


4. Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto

[…] I started my ’57 Plymouth. I drove with great care and courtesy. I hummed the Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky Concerto in D major, for violin and orchestra. I had invented a word passage that covered the major theme, the major melody: “Once more, we will be free again. oh, once more, we will be free again, free again, free again …”
I drove out among the angry losers. their unpaid for and highly-insured cars were all they had left. They dared each other at mutilation and murder, zooming and slashing, not giving the inch. I made it to the exit at Century. my car stalled right at the turnout, blocking 45 cars behind me. I flipped the gas pedal rapidly with my foot, winked at the traffic cop, then hit the starter. It caught up and I moved out, drove on through the smog.
Los Angeles wasn’t really a bad place: a good hustler could always make it.

Excerpt from Tales Of Ordinary Madness by Charles Bukowski

Peter Illich Tchaikovsky would go down in history but he wouldn’t go down on your sister. He preferred his Pjotrs over his Anastacia’s. Now imagine the gay scene on the Russian countryside late 1800’s. A Godforsaken area, colder than a witches tit. Exactly. So Tchaikovsky married one of his female opera students, hoping it would all go away. It didn’t. Instead he suffered a nervous breakdown, during which he took a long walk off a short pier.

After they dragged his floundering butt out of the freezing Moscow River, his physician advised him to take a long business trip through Europe without his wife. When he returned many years later he allegedly killed himself nine days after the premiere of his infamous 6th Symphony.

Bukowski’s poems show there is much love for Tchaikovsky’s music, yet there seems to be little respect for the man. It’s as if he blames Tchaikovsky for living a life in dank submission at peril, instead of freeing himself from society’s morals.

In his fancy coffin Tchaikovsky might have been free at last, but his wife sure as hell wasn’t. She went mad as soon as she found out Tchaikovsky was dead, and remained under lockdown the rest of her life. Don’t expect a Disney biopic anytime soon.

Recommended recording: 
Janine Jansen, Daniel Harding & Mahler Chamber Orchestra

▶︎ PLAY ON SPOTIFY


5. Sibelius: 2nd Symphony

[…] some Sibelius on the radio and
in the apartment house on the corner
a woman screams as a man beats her.
there’s nothing on tv. 
it’s moments like this that the madhouses are better understood.
[…]
the woman screams again as the man beats her. 
he calls her a whore.
what is he doing
living with a whore?”

Excerpt from Sibelius And Etc. by Charles Bukowski

Jean Sibelius was a Finnish national hero who survived cancer at an early age. At age 4o he received an annual grant from the Finnish government, so he could focus on composing.

Sibelius did what any sane man would do. He became a recluse and started drinking like a madman. He died age 92 while walking in a forrest, which proves beyond a reasonable doubt that excessive drinking is less dangerous than a stroll in the woods. Pastoral my arse.

Throughout his career Sibelius wrote eight symphonies, but he threw his last one in the fire. His 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th & 7th are all amazing, but this 2nd Symphony is widely considered his best one.

Recommended recording:
Leonard Bernstein & Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

With Sibelius it’s always hard to choose between Sir Alexander Gibson, Sir Colin Davis and Leonard “blowtorch” Bernstein. A highly sophisticated ranking system that involves a coin decided we’ll go with Lenny.

▶︎ PLAY IN SPOTIFY


6. Wagner (Without The Words): Siegfried Idyll

Tonight
drinking Singha malt liquor from Thailand
and listening to Wagner 
I can’t believe that he is not in the other room 
or around the corner
or alive
someplace tonight.
and he is of course 
as I am taken by the sound of him
he’s here
now.

Excerpt from My German Buddy by Charles Bukowski

Wagner composed the Siegfried Idyll as a birthday present for his wife Cosima, after she had given birth to their son Siegfried in 1869. Jew bashing Macho Man Richard Wagner was the undisputed alpha male of the old composers. His son Siegfried was as gay as a tapdancing hyena. Oh irony.

At age 45 the Wagner family convinced Siegfried to marry a 17-year old British girl named Winifred, so he could produce some antisemitic offspring. Siegfried safeguarded the legacy of his dead father while Winifred became really close friends with Hitler, whom she called “Wolfie.” Apparently in the land of the queer, the man with only a left nut is king.

When Wolfie was arrested after the failed Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, Winifred visited him in jail where he asked her for paper, lots of paper. When they released him 18 months later, he published Mein Kampf.

Siegried died in 1930, having outlived his mother by only four months. Winifred and Hitler continued Richard Wagner’s musical legacy through the annual Bayreuth Festival, where — to this very day — performances of his opera’s are presented to those who are willing to wait four years for a ticket and those who know how to bribe the right fucking people.

Recommended recording:
Hans Knappertsbusch & Munich Philharmonic Orchestra

▶︎ PLAY IN SPOTIFY


7. Bach: Brandenburger Concerto №6

[…] the voice tells me that Bach will be next:
“Brandenburg Concerto”
so I go into the kitchen for a new can of beer. 
may this night never see morning 
as finally one night will not
[…]
and I walk out 
knowing the way 
cold beer can in hand
as Bach begins 
and this good night 
is still everywhere.

Excerpt from Some Notes On Bach And Haydn by Charles Bukowski

Beethoven died completely deaf whereas Bach died completely blind. Contrary to Beethoven, nobody noticed Bach while he was alive. Bach mostly played organ before men of God, betting a life in poverty against eternal days of wine and roses. His spare time was used for composing and fathering 20 children with 2 wives. […] That Bach, he was a motherfucker, what? (Reach For The Sun)

It wasn’t until almost a century after his death, that he was recognised as a musical genius who brought baroque music to its pinnacle. These Brandenburger Concertos had a lot to do with that. A modern concerto is basically a bare-knuckle fight between a soloist and a thinned-out symphony orchestra. Bach however is so old, he had an autographed Bible. In his days there were no concert halls or symphony orchestras.

Instead of inventing them, Bach composed his Brandenburger Concertos for a chamber orchestra of 17 musicians, and the world would almost have been deprived of them. In WW II a librarian was ordered to safeguard the original score by transporting it to Prussia. When his train was bombarded, he fled into the woods with the manuscript under his overcoat.

Recommended recording:
Rinaldo Alessandrini & Concerto Italiano

In 2005 conductor Rinaldo Alessandrini recorded a version in which the Godawful harpsichord was placed way in the back of the studio, thus making it my favourite recording by far.

▶︎ PLAY IN SPOTIFY


8. Beethoven: 5th Symphony

[…] I heard it first while screwing a blonde 
who had the biggest box in 
Scranton.
[…]
The 5th will kill you 
in the grass or at the track,
[…]
if the 5th don’t kill you, 
the tenth will,
said the Caliente hooker.
[…]
but I am tired of the 5th 
I told this to a woman in Ohio once, 
I had just packed coal up 3 flights of stairs
I was drunk and dizzy, and she said:
“how can you say you don’t care
for something greater than you’ll
ever be?”
and I said:
“that’s easy.”
and she sat in a green chair and 
I sat in a red chair
and after that
we never made love
again.

Excerpt from Bee’s 5th by Charles Bukowski

The famous first movement is probably the wildest on the list. The fierce BA-BA-BA-BAM! represents fate knocking on your door to mess up the works. Beethoven was slowly turning deaf when he started writing it in 1804. The mighty 5th gives us an insight view how a professional rageaholic deals with minor hindrances like that.

Bee’s 5th is perhaps the classical equivalent of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Bukowski may very well have grown tired of it, but it still is a must-have for every self-respecting classical music aficionado.

Recommended recording:
Erich Kleiber & Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra

People will tell you to pick Carlos Kleiber’s recording with the Vienna Philharmonic. It proves that opinions are like arseholes, with the exception that few people feel the need to publicly share their arsehole. Thank Christ for that by the way. On-topic: I prefer his father Erich.

Kleiber Sr. truly knew how to bring the nasty. He is one of the legendary conductors of the 20th century, known for his penetrating powerful performances and for being an artistic vagabond in downtown Berlin.

You haven’t heard Beethoven’s 5th until you’ve heard old man Kleiber. It is the tightest, most savage recording of Beethoven’s masterpiece I know.

▶︎ PLAY IN SPOTIFY


9. Mahler: 10th Symphony

[…] Mahler, the 10th,
right after the Bee’s 5th,
some hell of a heavy night 
it’s been a world full of the brave
and I love them all

Excerpt from War All The Time by Charles Bukowski

We cannot discuss Mahler’s incomplete 10th Symphony without discussing his young wife Alma Mahler. And we cannot discuss Alma Mahler without mentioning her nickname was “Bride Of The Wind.” She earned it for being a flirtatious socialite who undressed faster than a speeding bullet for anyone with a noticeable career in the arts. Throughout her life she was surrounded by people like Sigmund Freud, Franz Kafka and Gustav Klimt.

Her first marriage however was with Mahler, who dedicated his 8th Symphony to her. Alma’s physical needs, Mahler’s heart condition and the death of their young daughter left their marks on their marriage. While Mahler drafted his 10th Symphony with the Grim Reaper humming along over his shoulder, Alma started an affair with a famous architect who couldn’t draw and designed door handles.

Mahler’s 10th is considered a reflection of the inner turmoil. Gustav left us only incomplete drafts which Alma send to his friend Willem Mengelberg, conductor at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra. Famous and skilled Mahleristas like Shostakovich have been asked to complete it. They all refused, stating they were not up to the task. In 1963, — one year before Alma’s death — British musicologist Deryk Cooke however produced a version that actually could be performed. As soon as Alma heard it she wrote him a letter stating how much she loved it, giving him permission to present it to the world.

Recommended recording:
Bernard Haitink & Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra

The Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra is still your first line of defense when it comes to Mahler. Mengelberg’s main successor Haitink gives this incomplete piece the intoxicating sound of a complete Mahler symphony. [..] well, Mahler’s 10th on and I’m hungover and climbing out, climbing back in again. (Screams From The Balcony)

▶︎ PLAY IN SPOTIFY


10. Shostakovich: 4th Symphony

[…] I joined her with the scotch.
she put on Shostakovitch’s 4th which she knew I preferred to the 5th.
“James Thurber,” she said, “is a greater writer than you’ll ever be.”
“I know that,” I said.
I don’t know when we went to bed
but with Rod Stewart on the record player
I made sure that time
I gave her a stinky horse fuck.

Excerpt from Culture by Charles Bukowski

Shostakovich and Stalin had a lot in common. They both loved Mother Russia and music. Their main difference was that Shostakovich hated Stalin’s guts, while Stalin considered Shostakovich a decadent douchebag.

The fact that they had to make things work between them was a rather complicating matter. Shostakovich couldn’t perform his works without Stalin’s consent. Stalin in turn couldn’t send the popular Shostakovich to a Siberian Gulag, without causing a riot amongst the people. This didn’t stop them from pissing each other off, whenever an opportunity would arise.

By the time Shostakovich wrote this 4th Symphony, he was highly influenced by Western composers like Mahler. This same influence was noticeable in his opera Lady Macbeth, which premiered prior to the completion of this 4th. Stalin wasn’t amused. He needed Shostakovich to write understandable patriotic music for the people, instead of this Western-style elitist stuff. Stalin made sure the influential newspaper Pravda dismissed the opera as “coarse, primitive and vulgar”, and at the premiere Stalin laughed out loud during the most tearjerking scenes.

Shostakovich’ popularity was rapidly diminishing with all this bad press. So he decided to dash off a more conventional 5th Symphony, while saving this nearly finished 4th Symphony in his bottom drawer until the heat would die. Stalin died sooner than the heat. In 1961 the popular Russian conductor Kirill Kondrashin had the courage to premiere Shostakovich’ 4th in Moscow, but it would never become as popular as his 5th or 7th. Still, Bukowski clearly prefers the 4th, so it’s up here.

Recommended recording:
Kirill Kondrashin & Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra

▶︎ PLAY IN SPOTIFY


11. Bruckner: 7th Symphony

[…] listening to Bruckner on the radio
wondering why I’m not half mad over the latest breakup 
with my latest girlfriend 
wondering why I’m not driving the streets
drunk 
wondering why I’m not in the bedroom in the dark
in the grievous dark
pondering
ripped by half-thoughts.
I suppose that at last
like the average man: 
I’ve known too many women
and instead of thinking,
I wonder who’s fucking her now?
I think
she’s giving some other poor son of a bitch much trouble right now.
listening to Bruckner on the radio
seems so peaceful.

Excerpt from Defeat by Charles Bukowski

Wagner took a lot of post-mortal shit for allegedly being Hitler’s favourite composer. But German public radio announced Hitler’s death with the 2nd movement of Bruckner’s Seventh playing in the background. Hitler has always stated that Bruckner was a shining example of how someone with a simple German upbringing could achieve greatness.

Recommended recording:
Herbert von Karajan & Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

The Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan also wanted to achieve greatness. We shouldn’t rule out that he was the only person who fled INTO Nazi Germany when Hitler and his gang of thugs rose to power in 1933. By that time most conductors had left Germany, and the young Karajan thought he could further his career by filling their shoes.

Once in, he fucked up a performance of Hitler’s favourite Wagner opera in his presence. Pissing off a mass murdering dictator is a bad career move, no matter how you look at it. And as expected, from that moment on Hitler couldn’t stand Karajan. He preferred Furtwängler who — in turn — hated both Hitler and Karajan. Shit was complicated.

When Karajan married a woman who was part Jewish, Hitler wanted his head on a baton. Karajan fled to Italy and had to appear in front of the denazification committee after the war. They concluded Karajan was an egocentric idiot with poor life choices rather than a crowing nazi, and banned him from conducting for two years. Once rehabilitated, he made up for lost time by becoming Furtwängler’s successor at the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Together they sold over 200 million albums.

Karajan’s past, work and character have always remained controversial in certain circles, including his own orchestras. A reporter once asked a member of the orchestra what Karajan would conduct that night. He replied: “God knows what that man will conduct, but the orchestra will play Beethoven’s 9th.”

Never a dull moment with notorious Karajan, still his last public appearance before his death in ’89 is undeniably the most beautiful recording of Bruckner’s 7th out there.

▶︎ PLAY IN SPOTIFY


12. Beethoven: 9th Symphony

[…] On my couch sleeps a wine-soaked whore 
who for the first time has heard Beethoven’s 9th
[…] just think, daddy, she said,
with your brains
you might be the first man
to copulate
on the moon.

Excerpt from No Grounding In The Classics by Charles Bukowski

Beethoven started the whole Curse Of The Ninth-thing unknowingly, by being the first to kick the calendar after completing his Ninth. He was completely deaf when he wrote it, but Beethoven wasn’t the sort of man to be impressed by such futilities. His ode to freedom, equality and brotherhood would become one of the best-known and best-loved symphonies of all time.

Recommended recording:
Leonard Bernstein & a shitload of all-stars from various orchestras

Furtwängler’s legendary recording of the Ninth is as wild as they come. Vinyl versions of this album still exchange hands for hundreds of Euro’s. But one recording truly stands out.

Late ’89, public prodigy no.1 Leonard Bernstein hastily put together an all star orchestra to perform Beethoven’s Ninth on the remains of the Berlin wall. Blasting the sound of “All Men Will Be Brothers” loud and relevant as fuck through the streets and front doors of a confused city and nation. Good man.

▶︎ PLAY IN SPOTIFY


13. Franck: Symphony In D

[…] I prefer the symphony — Shostakovich 5th, Symphony in D by Franck, Stravinsky, the better parts of Mahler, etc. — but don’t care for the symphony crowd. Stiff phoney crows, all this marble hall exaltation, this church-like holiness. They ought to play this stuff in the jukeboxes of beerhalls, bars. Think of trying to hold the price-line with a whore while listening to Beethoven. This would be life out of the stems of flowers.

Excerpt from Living On Luck by Charles Bukowski

César Franck died in the middle of a street, after being run over by a horse and carriage. How the hell do you not hear that coming?

Franck was a child prodigy, destined to become a famous concert pianist. Instead he became a nameless piano teacher, who wrote symphonic music and operas in his spare time. He received his first round of applause at age 67, at the premiere of this Symphony In D. And then he crossed paths with a horse. If that isn’t life spitting you in the mouth, I don’t know what is.

Recommended recording:
Sir John Barbirolli & Czech Philharmonic Orchestra

Sir John Barbirolli’s physiotherapist was a wealthy man. Had to be. Barbirolli’s conducting style was a mixture of professional understated passion and a horny gorilla on crack. Often his body would go into a spasm in the middle of a performance. Hilarious shit, unless your name is Sir John Barbirolli. Bukowski had every reason to enjoy it like he did.

▶︎ PLAY IN SPOTIFY


14. Tchaikovsky: 5th Symphony

[…] take Tchaikovsky, that homo, marrying a female opera singer and then standing in a freezing river hoping to catch pneumonia while she went mad;

Excerpt from No Wonder by Charles Bukowski

Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. is a shitty name for a pilot, so he changed it to John Denver and launched a career as a country singer. Henry was married to Annie, who — as far as I know — was neither an opera singer nor mad, which would explain why he loved her.

The first time he played Annie’s Song for his wife, she stated it was the best performance of Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony she had ever heard. Bless her. And she’s right. Anyone who can listen to the 2nd movement without bellowing “You fill up my senses / Like a night in a forest” along with the horn section is a better man than I. So is anyone who can make it passed 6 minutes 25 seconds without chanting “We will, we will rock you.”

Recommended recording:
Evgeny Mravinsky & Leningrad Symphony Orchestra

No time is wasted on picking a recommended recording. It’s Tchaikovsky. Go with Mravinsky and his Leningrad Cowboys.

▶︎ PLAY IN SPOTIFY


15. Schumann: 4th Symphony

[…] July 14
in 1965
in Los Angeles
in America
in a kitchen drinking beer
and smoking a Dutch Master panatella,
and lost $8 at the races today,
and listening to Schumann.

Excerpt from Screams From The Balcony by Charles Bukowski

Bobby Schumann had a dark and troubled mind. He thought he could fly and swim and jumped off a bridge. Turned out he sucked at both.

When they saved him they took him to a nut ward instead of a hospital. Shumann had demonic visions and wanted to slaughter his wife. Once in, they treated him for syfillis. He recovered. Then he died from mercury poisoning. Mercury being the common treatment against…..syfillis.

Recommended recording:
Leonard Bernstein & New York Philharmonic Orchestra

I suggest we do the man some justice with an enraged Bernstein, while we ache for his dead guts.

▶︎ PLAY IN SPOTIFY


16. Mozart: 25th Piano Concerto

[…] here I am 
in the ground
my mouth open
and I can’t even say mama,
and the dogs run by and stop
and piss on my stone;
I get it all except the sun 
and my suit is looking bad.
[…]
at least a drunk 
in bed with a cigarette
might cause 5 fire engines and 33 men
I can’t do anything
but p.s. — Hector Richmond in the next tomb
thinks only of Mozart and candy caterpillars.
He is 
very bad
company.

Excerpt from Mama by Charles Bukowski

The cracks. That’s how the light gets in. The more uplifting 25th Piano Concerto lacks the popularity of darker predecessors like the 21st and 23rd. But Bukowski made damn sure the 25th was added to the soundtrack of the movie Barfly, a semi-biographic road movie passed bars in Los Angeles.

Despite a somewhat ambivalent relationship with Amadeus […] Mozart was only good when I was feeling good and I seldom felt that way, (Classical Music And Me), Bukowski hardly wasted any time referring to Mozart as soon as things were working well for him.

Recommended recording:
Murray Perahia & English Chamber Orchestra

Perahia’s career was literally cut short when he somehow managed to jam a knife into his thumb in 1990. It became septic and doctors told him he could never hitchhike again. Fortunately he masters the 25th even with one arm tied to his back.

▶︎ PLAY IN SPOTIFY


17. Schubert: 9th Symphony, “The Great”

[…] Listening to Schubert’s 9th now, real bad reading,
guy conducts like he’s afraid a carrot will fall out of his ass.
Fucking shame. 
The 9th properly played is a mighty work.

Excerpt from Reach For The Sun by Charles Bukowski

Schubert was a short fat kid with the nickname “mushroom”. That did not stop him from catching a fatal case of syphillis and writing this Ninth Symphony on his deathbed at age 28. Wether it was The Curse Of The Ninth or poor prostitute management remains to be seen. Regardless, his Ninth indeed is as mighty as they come.

Like Brahms’ First, it is strongly linked to Beethoven’s Ninth. Contrary to Brahms — who was born after Beethoven’s death — Schubert crossed paths with Beethoven during his lifetime. And not just musically. He carried Beethoven’s coffin at the handles and would become his neighbour in the muddy waters a year later.

Recommended recording:
Wilhelm Furtwängler & Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

Schubert’s Ninth requires a skilled madman with balls of steel and the right amount of expressed intensity at the wheel. Witch such criteria, revered conductors like Wand or Furtwängler come to mind. The latter once told an agitated Hitler to his face to go fuck himself. It is safe to assume Bukowski would have enjoyed his recording, since it is ravishing and tighter than a clam’s ass at high tide.

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18. Brahms: 1st Symphony

[…] Brahms is the only friend you have,
the only friend you want,
him and the wine bottle,
as you realize that 
you will never be 
a citizen of the world.

Excerpt from A Place In Philly by Charles Bukowski

With Beethoven dead and buried, the symphony crowd anxiously looked for a successor. All eyes were on big bearded bad boy Brahms, who played piano in brothels to bolster the family income.

Brahms’ First is sometimes referred to as ‘Beethoven’s Tenth’ since the 4th movement is clearly ‘inspired’ by the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth. Bukowski was aware of that, and refers to it in the poem Brave Bull: […] “and although Brahms stole his First from Beethoven’s Ninth”. Brahms has always dismissed claim of plagiarism by stating it was done deliberately as a tribute to the Master: “Any ass can hear that.”

Recommended recording:
Kurt Sanderling & Staatskapelle Dresden

There are many decent recordings of Brahms’ four symphonies. There’s Klemperer, there’s Walter and more recent there’s Chailly. All trusted Brahms devotees, who clearly know what they are doing. Yet it is Kurt Sanderling who gives his First the passion, pulse and power it bloody well deserves.

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19. Shostakovich: 5th Symphony

[…] KFAC symphony now coming on, hope they give me something to lean against this high rise across the way…Not bad, something off brand by Haydn, who was a kind of a kool suckass in his time but managed to save some juice. There is much of him that I haven’t heard — the masses, Mass in Time of War, so forth. But prefer Mahler, Bruckner, Wagner without words, Stravinsky, Shostakovich. Shit, so what?

Excerpt from Screams From The Balcony by Charles Bukowski

Beethoven wrote his 5th Symphony in 4 years, Shostakovich dashed off his in less than 4 months. During the spring of 1937 Shostakovich started developing visions of long cold summers in a Siberian Gulag. He had to pull his 5th Symphony out of his arse after falling from favor with both Stalin and his Russian fanbase, who both considered his recent work difficult and unpatriotic.

After the premiere, all was quiet on the Eastern front again. Stalin and the crowd were both happy with the result, be it for different reasons. Stalin liked the fact that it was understandable and conventional, with little Western elitist influences and a rousing march at the end. The public considered that same march a secret message, depicting the suffering and subjection of the working class under Stalin’s dictatorial leadership.

Recommended recording:
Kirill Kondrashin & Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra

When it comes to picking a Shostakovich recording, I’ll choose Kondrashin & the Moscow Philharmonic six days a week and twice on a Sunday. This 5th is no exception, but not without a honourable mention for Bernstein’s recording with the New York Philharmonic.

Bernstein met Shostakovich shortly before this legendary recording. Like Kondrashin, he understood that the last movement wasn’t a happy ending. Both versions are as violent and fierce as they come.

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20. Tchaikovsky: 6th Symphony, “Pathétique”

son-of-a-bitch, I don’t know why
late at night he keeps playing
the Pathétique.
he plays it as I sit here naked
as a pink pig
while I type.
I get through the days. now
down at this radio station the host
(I don’t know his name)
keeps playing the Pathétique late at night
which only reminds me of the
billions of bones buried in the earth
and of
all my x-girlfriends now with other
men.
honeysuckle summer madness.
the day has now passed into night.
night is when I think of going
quietly to bed,
letting the starlight puzzle over
my senseless life;
I don’t want any heavy
thoughts
I don’t want to be reminded of
the rankness of
life.
it makes me
fitful and inept 
[…]
this nameless host at the radio station
this son-of-a-bitch
[…]
I turn the radio off and
when I look down there’s a spider
walking across my desk.
he’s just walking along
by himself
 without a web or
anything.
honeysuckle summer madness…
I name him Tchaikowsky,
Peter Illich Tchaikowsky (1840–1893)
then I press my hand down and
kill him,
walk to the bedroom thinking,
I will write that son-of-a-bitch
down at the radio station
(knowing all along that I won’t)
and tell him how I feel.
I fall on the bed
face-down
my body resting over the
millions and billions of bones
buried in the earth
and all the billions of bones
to follow,
son-of-a-bitch,
including mine.
[…]

Excerpt from Troubles In The Night by Charles Bukowski

Through his poems Bukowski often expresses a preference for classical music that lifts his spirits. Tchaikovsky’s best work was a mood killer that gave him heavy thoughts about dead people and ex-girlfriends. The story behind the 6th apparently is strongly related to Bukowski’s mixed emotions.

Nine days after the 6th premiered in St. Petersburg, Tchaikovsky was dead. “Cholera” said the authorities, who stated Tchaikovsky must have drank unboiled water. “Suicide” said the musicians, who stated the sheet music of the 6th was to be considered a sad letter in which Tchaikovsky kissed the world goodbye.

Both theories regarding his death lack undismissable proof, but at its first posthumous performance the original title Pateticheskaya (passionate) was changed to Pathetique (pitiful). Like Mahler’s 9th, it ends with a beautiful lamenting finale that could very well depict a race towards the unavoidable.

Recommended recording:
Evgeny Mravinsky & Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra

Gergiev’s version with the Vienna PO is stunningly beautiful. But when it comes to Tchaikovsky, Russian powerhouse Mravinsky rules with an iron fist.

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21. Brahms: Violin Concerto

[…] the wine and Brahms mix well
as you watch the lights move across the ceiling,
courtesy of passing automobiles.
soon you’ll sleep
and tomorrow there certainly
will be more masterpieces.

Excerpt from A Place In Philly by Charles Bukowski

Brahms’ Violin Concerto is considered one of the four great German violin concerti, along with Beethoven’s, Bruch’s and Mendelssohn’s. Brahms dedicated his version to his friend, the 19th century violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim.

Brahms and Joachim were close friends with Robert Schumann‘s wife Clara. While Robert was wrestling with the devil, the two often visited Clara with their pants on their ankles to check if she needed anything. Some gang.

Recommended recording:
David Oistrakh, Otto Klemperer & Orchestra National de la Radiodiffusion Francaise

Oistrakh’s recording is considered one of the four great recordings, along with Heifetz and the Chicago SO, Szeryng and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra and — more recently — Isabelle Faust and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

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22. Bach: Goldberg Variations

[…] Bach and I are in this room together. 
his music now lifts me beyond pain
and my pathetic self-interest.
Bach, thanks to you,
I have no living friends.

Excerpt from Bach by Charles Bukowski

The Goldberg Variations are the musical equivalent of automutilation. No other work has made so many aspiring pianists hide behind the couch in a foetal position. Too damn difficult.

First there is the world famous Aria, followed by 30 variations. And once you’ve made it passed that, it all ends with the infamous Aria Da Capo. Come on man!

Recommended recording:
Glenn Gould

By single-handedly changing the way we listen to Bach, Gould became R. Kelly’s trailblazer. What was originally composed as a series of lullabies in 1741, ended up as the soundtrack of 1950’s foreplay. An entire generation was conceived with Gould’s debut album playing in the background.

Anyone who can complete the Goldberg Variations in less than 55 minutes probably didn’t spend much time playing outside as a child. The neurotic yet sympathetic Gould drinks from the keg of glory. He not only pulls it off, but he also does it effortlessly. Cheerfully he hums along, like Elle Driver from Kill Bill’s Deadly Viper Assassination Squad.

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23. Sibelius: 7th Symphony

[…] when Sibelius reached 40 he shaved
 all the hair from his head, walked
 into his house and never
 came out again until they
 came for him.

Excerpt from Sibelius And Etc. by Charles Bukowski

Symphonies consist of 3 or 4 movements. Ever since Haydn came up with them, nobody bothered to ask why. They just do. Sibelius’ 7th consists of 1 single movement. Because fuck you Haydn, that’s why!

Sibelius 7th is sometimes referred to as the most depressing symphony of all time. A soundtrack to the end of the world. But we shouldn’t rule out that the 7th is merely a tribute to whiskey, since Sibelius drank crates of it in order to steady the tremors in his hand while writing it. And from that trivial piece of musical history it’s only a small step to Sir Alexander Gibson & His Scottish Drinking Buddies.

Recommended recording:
Sir Alexander Gibson & Royal National Scottish Orchestra

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24. Liszt: Hungaria, Symphonia Poem #9

[…] I am listening to a fellow now
who is taking me completely out of my skull
and I don’t really give a crap if I live or die
or ever pay the gas bill,
I just want to listen to him

Excerpt from Hungaria, Symphonia Poem #9 by Franz Liszt by Charles Bukowski

Liszt will always be remembered for three things: his pretty face, his extraordinary piano skills and his illegitimate antisemitic white trash daughter Cosima, who married Wagner and became close friends with Adolf Hitler. But perhaps we shouldn’t hold the latter against him.

Liszt was the first composer with a rockstar status, including female groupies. Throughout his life piano builders had a hard time keeping up with Liszt, as he constantly took existing piano techniques to whole new levels. On top of that he invented the symphonic poem, the orchestral equivalent of a painting or poem.

Hungaria portraits the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. It was one of many political upheavals throughout Europa, aiming to become independent from the Austrian Empire. The revolt was democratic and bloodless in nature, yet it was turned down with great force by Austrian and Russian military troops.

In 1854 there still was a nationwide passive resistance, when natural born Hungarian Franz Liszt premiered this tribute to his country. He touched the hearts of it’s proud and suppressed people. And the heart of one Charles Bukowski: […] all I can do is sit in this room and type small sounds as he makes his grand immortal ones. (Hungaria, Symphonia Poem #9 by Franz Liszt).

Recommended recording:
Bernard Haitink & London Philharmonic Orchestra

In a crowded field, Haitink’s version with the London Symphony Orchestra stands out for its sense of drama.

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25. Mozart: 23rd Piano Concerto

[…] Mozart had a pauper’s grave
but he had some strange and glowing creatures at the handles.
Well, that’s what counts.

Excerpt from Screams From The Balcony by Charles Bukowski

Mozart wrote his 23rd Piano Concerto while completing his infamous opera The Marriage Of Figaro. Since it is the least virtuosic of his piano concertos, it is sometimes considered a short instrumental opera. Despite the fact that it lacks a nasty fight between the soloist and the orchestra, the 23rd is one of Mozart’s best-loved concertos.

Recommended recording:
Solomon, Herbert Menges & Philharmonia Orchestra

Critics who know their Claret from a Beaujolais say Solomon’s recording from the fifties with the Philharmonia Orchestra still sets the standard. I find it hard to disagree with that.

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26. Wagner (Without The Words): Ring Cycle — Highlights

[…] listening to Wagner
as outside in the dark
the wind blows a cold rain
the trees wave and shake
lights go off and on
the walls creak
and the cats run under the bed…
[…]
everything here shakes 
shivers
bends
blasts
in fierce gamble
yes, Wagner and the storm intermix with the wine
as nights like this run up my wrists and up into my head
and back down into the gut 
some men never die 
and some men never live 
but we’re all alive tonight.

Excerpt from 1813–1883 by Charles Bukowski

Composers like Beethoven, Bruckner and Mahler will rattle your walls. Wagner will drive a truck through those same walls, light the place on fire and mark his territory like a wolf, pissing on the burning remains. His 15 hour long opera cycle isn’t for everyone. Even Bukowski prefers “Wagner without the words” as he calls it.

Saying Wagner wasn’t a nice man is like saying the Ku Klux Clan is a circle of friends with an interesting taste in wardrobe and lots of outdoor activities. He was envious of successful Jewish composers like Mendelssohn who had the financial support of the rich Jewish families and bankers, while Wagner was struggling to make a living throughout his career. On several occasions he publicly stated the Jewish elite had no business interfering in German culture.

In Wagner’s defense: he was a 19th century antisemite, which is still a step away from 20th century Nazism. He had Jewish friends and worked with Jewish musicians, it was the Jewish elite he despised. He wanted them out of his hair, but he never stated they should be deported or exterminated. Yet the general conception is that his strong opinions helped shape Hitler’s ideas of dealing with the same population, 40 years after Wagner’s death.

These instrumental highlights show why Wagner is first and foremost to be considered a groundbreaking composer, capable of shaping alluring landscapes. The sympathetic British actor, writer and presenter Stephen Fry is an avid Wagnerista, who lost Jewish family members during the Holocaust. In his excellent documentary Wagner And Me, Fry explains his criteria for dealing with Wagner:

“Imagine a great beautiful silk tapestry of infinite colour and complexity that has been stained indelibly. It’s still a beautiful tapestry of miraculous workmanship, but that stain is real, and I’m afraid Hitler and Nazism have stained Wagner. For some people that stain ruins the whole work; for others, it’s just something you have to face up to.”

Recommended recording:
Sir Georg Solti & Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

The also sympathetic Hans Knapperstbusch and Sir Georg Solti both have what it takes to shift all your attention from the stain towards Wagner’s remarkable talent.

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27. Beethoven: 7th Symphony

[…]
Burroughs killing his wife with a gun
Mailer stabbing his
the impossibility of being human
Dostoyevsky lined up against a wall to be shot
Lorca murdered in the road by the Spanish troops
the impossibility
Shakespeare a plagiarist
Beethoven with a horn stuck into his head against deafness
the impossibility the impossibility
[…]
these punks
these cowards
these champions
these mad dogs of glory
moving this little bit of light toward us.

Excerpt from Beasts Bounding Through Time by Charles Bukowski

Beethoven was the greatest composer of all time according to many. Beethoven premiered his 7th at a charity concert, to move a little bit of light toward wounded soldiers. That evening he called it his best work so far, and the powerful 2nd movement had to be encored.

Recommended recording:
Carlos Kleiber & Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

Carlos Kleiber was the greatest conductor of all time according to the BBC. Others say his repertoire was too limited and lacks stuff that legacies are judged by. Carlos was the son of legendary conductor Erich Kleiber. In ’89 he was the predetermined successor of Karajan at the Berlin Philharmonic. It’s a position for life that has no recruitment procedure, other than saying “hell yeah” when they offer it to you.

When they offered Kleiber the job he turned it down. Kleiber only conducted when he felt like it. Or as Karajan stated: “Kleiber only conducts when his fridge is empty.” That rarely happened though. Kleiber was a wanted man with a price on his head. Cars big as bars and rivers of gold were his preferred methods of payment. And even that was no guarantee he would show up. One out of tune triangle was all it took for Carlos to bail without thinking twice.

“I am lost to the world” he said. He wouldn’t have it any other way. The world definitively lost this mad dog of glory on July 13th, 2004. Cancer shortened his life, but his outstanding recordings — including this Beethoven 7th — live on. Great album cover too. Kleiber’s black and white silhouette slowly fading into the dark background. Like he doesn’t belong.

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28. Shostakovich: 1st Symphony

[…] got it down so tight the hinges squeaked.
threw out all three cats
drove over the two bridges
picked up $414.00 at the harness races
came in
listened to Shostakovitch’s First
[…]
bathed while drinking a bottle of chilled white wine
then towelled off
got into bed
legs pointed east
I inhaled
then let it out:
the pain and defeat of the world.
then I slept like a baby

Excerpt from Take It by Charles Bukowski

Classical music can help you sleep like a baby. Chopin’s Nocturnes will do the trick. Bach composed his Goldberg Variations for Count Kaiserling, so Johann Golberg could play them for him to fight his insomnia. Shostakovich 1st Symphony is not the most obvious choice, unless you’re capable of sleeping with one eye open, gripping your pillow tight.

Shostakovich wrote his 1st Symphony while in school at age 19. With the exception of Brahms, first symphonies are rarely a composers best symphonic work. Beethoven’s blundering First should be avoided like the plague. Shostakovich is somewhere in the middle. His first attempt is not his best work, but his lively yet tragic composition has always remained popular for good reason.

Recommended recording:
Kirill Kondrashin & Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra

Trust me, Kondrashin & the Moscow PO remain unsurpassed when it comes to Shostakovich’ recordings.

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29. Beethoven: 5th Piano Concerto

[…] I can remember starving in a small room in a strange city
shades pulled down, listening to classical music
[…]
the old composers — Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Brahms
were the only ones who spoke to me and they were dead.
finally, starved and beaten, I had to go into the streets
to be interviewed for low-paying and monotonous jobs 
by strange men behind desks 
men without eyes men without faces
who would take away my hours
break them
piss on them
now I work for the editors the readers the critics
but still hang around and drink with
Mozart, Bach, Brahms and the Bee
some buddies
some men
sometimes all we need to be able to continue alone
are the dead 
rattling the walls that close us in.

Excerpt from Friends Within The Darkness by Charles Bukowski

“Bach gave us God’s word, Mozart gave us God’s laughter and Beethoven gave us God’s fury.” Classical musical has loads of cliches that go down well on cocktail parties. And like most cliches, they’re never far from the truth.

Beethoven’s furious piano concerto — a.k.a. “Emperor” — is one of the best-loved concertos on the list, which explains why there are so many recordings widely available.

Recommended recording:
Mitsuko Uchida, Kurt Sanderling & Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra

Wilhelm Kempff, Leon Fleisher and Alfred Brendel will all rattle the walls that close you in. But Mitsuko Uchida completely writes off a perfectly good piano in little under 40 minutes. Holy shit!

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30. Rachmaninov: 2nd Piano Concerto

[…] I like Wagner and Beethoven, Klee and Stravinsky, 
Rachmaninoff and rabbits.
This is all pretty common, I realize.
So is breathing.

Excerpt from Screams From The Balcony by Charles Bukowski

Eric Carmen was a slick 70’s pop idol, who sold over a million copies of his power ballad All By Myself. Rachmaninov was a 20th century composer who sold an equally impressive amount of copies of his much loved 2nd Piano Concerto.

Eric thought Rachmaninov was born somewhere in the dark ages, and that his compositions were part of the public domain. Hence why All By Myself is more or less the 2nd movement of Rach’s 2nd Piano Concerto. With words.

It was Rachmaninov’s lawyer who called Eric to explain that the disseased Rachmaninov was young enough to be his grandfather. Plus something along the lines of: “SHOW ME THE MONEY COCKSUCKER!!”

They agreed Eric would cough up 12% of the revenues for Rach’s heirs. All By Himself. When Mariah Carey and Celine Dion re-recorded the song those same heirs were laughing all the way to the bank.

The Beastie Boys would save Rachmanov’s questionable rockstar status in the end, by using a rendition of his Prelude in C# Minor for the verses of Intergallactic

Recommended recording:
Sviatoslav Richter, Stanislaw Wislocki & Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra

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31. Sibelius: Violin Concerto

[…] driving on in with the sun roof open
I slip in a cassette of Sibelius 
turn onto the San Diego freeway
south
angle right into a monstrous traffic jam 
turn up the volume of the front and back speakers 
and feel good for the first time in hours.

Excerpt from Suckerfish by Charles Bukowski

In Bukowski’s poems, Sibelius is constantly linked to freedom. The Finnish composer was known for doing things his way, not giving a shit what society or his audience had to say about that.

In 1904 his popularity took a hit even Sibelius couldn’t ignore. He somehow had scheduled the premiere of his only concerto before completing it, and before contracting a soloist who was actually capable of mastering his difficult composition. When the violinists on his shortlist all turned down his last-minute invitation, Sibelius had to settle for a lesser God.

Long story short: what should have been his great breakhrough as a composer of concertos, became a clusterfuck of epic proportions. Sibelius rewrote some parts and premiered it again in 1905 with Richard Strauss conducting the Berlin Court Orchestra, but the damage was already done. Critics told Sibelius to stick to his guns and write more stunning tone poems and symphonies about Finnish landscapes and white swans on black lakes.

Recommended recording:
Leonidas Kavakos, Osmo Vänskä & Lahti Symphony Orchestra

87 years after that dreadful premiere, Sibelius’ heirs gave Kavakos and Vänskä permission to record it. Eversince then it has been hailed as the masterpiece it had been all the time.

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32. Tchaikovsky: 1st Piano Concerto

[…] I’m listening to
Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto number one
[…]
and the beer bottles are on the floor
and ash from my cigarettes covers my cotton underwear 
and my gut,
I’ve told all my girlfriends to go to hell.

Excerpt from Up Your Yellow River by Charles Bukowski

During the cold winter of 1874, Tchaikovsky worked around the clock to complete his first piano concerto. He was pleased with the result and granted piano virtuoso Nikolai Rubintein the opportunity to perform it at its premiere. Their meeting would become one of the most intriguing chapters in Tchaikovsky’s biography.

When he delivered the sheet music to Rubinstein, the latter played it in complete silence. After a short pause at the end, he looked Tchaikovsky in the eye and told him that it sucked harder than a bar slut with an eviction notice.

Tchaikovsky left the room with murder on his mind. On his bed he suddenly remembered he was a succesful composer who hadn’t come there for advice, but to do the guy a favor. Rubinstein meanwhile had written down a long list of alterations that — according to him — would make the piece ‘acceptable’. He visited Tchaikovsky, stating he was willing to perform the piece if Tchaikovsky was willing to alter it. Tchaikovsky read the list in complete silence. After a short pause he looked Rubinstein in the eye and told him to go to hell.

Tchaikovsky never changed a single note and throughout time all relevant soloists have added his first Piano Concerto to their repertoire.

Recommended recording:
Sviatoslav Richter, Herbert von Karajan & Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

Martha Argerich’s recordings with Kondrashin and Abbado both stand out. But a golden rule in classical music and beer pong says it takes a Russian to fully understand a Russian, so Richter is my man.

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33. Mahler: 5th Symphony

[…] you consult psychiatrists and philosophers when things aren’t going well
and whores when they are.
[…]
society should realize the value of the whore
- I mean, those girls who really enjoy their work -
those who make it almost an art form. 
I’m thinking of the time in a Mexican whorehouse
this gal with her little bowl and her rag washing my dick,
[…]
I got on and we worked easily, no effort, no tension,
and some guy beat on the door and yelled,
“Hey! what the hell’s going on in there? Hurry it up!”
but it was like a Mahler symphony — you just don’t rush it.
when I finished and she came back, there was the bowl and the rag again
and we both laughed; 
[…]
I got up and put my clothes back on and walked out
“Jesus, buddy, what the hell were ya doin’ in there?”
“Fuckin’,” I told the gentleman
and walked down the hall
and down the steps and stood outside in the road
and lit one of those sweet Mexican cigarettes in the moonlight.
liberated and human again for a mere $3,
I loved the night, Mexico and myself.

Excerpt from Society Should Realize by Charles Bukowski

In his poem Up Your Yellow River Bukowksi wrote: […] “I’m listening to Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto number one and the announcer said Mahler’s 5th and 10th symphonies are coming up via Amsterdam.” Like many people, Bukowski liked Mahler’s Fifth with its famous 4th movement.

Recommended recording:
Bernard Haitink & Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra

Haitink and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra rule when it comes to Mahler. Bukowski refers to them for good reason. Still, I feel bad for not picking Bernstein’s legendary recording with the Vienna PO.

Lenny was obsessed with Mahler’s 5th. There’s awesome footage on YouTube of his rehearsals with the Vienna PO. A charismatic Bernstein walks in like he owns the Goddamn place and no one leaves until Mahler’s last drop of sweat has been captured in sound. When Bernstein died, they placed the sheet music of the 5th in his coffin. In case he could put them to use where he is right now.

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34. Haydn: 102nd Symphony

[…] I was listening to Haydn’s Symphony #102.
I had enough beer to last the rest of the night.

Excerpt from Nut Ward Just East Of Hollywood by Charles Bukowski

Mahler wrote 9 symphonies. Brahms wrote 4. Haydn wrote one-hundred-and-fucking-six! But then again, he more or less invented them by remodelling existing sinfonia’s and ouvertures from operas. It led to his nickname being Papa Haydn.

His 102nd Symphony also has a nickname. It was almost unoficcialy subtitled “That Fucking Electrician!”, due to an unfortunate event at its premiere in 1795.

Since Haydn conducted the piece himself, the London symphony crowd snuggled up to the orchestra so they could have a close look at the man. During the first notes a massive chandelier dropped down in the back of the concert hall. Any other day the entire last row would have been send to an early grave, but this evening it merely bruised some people.

Instead of shouting: “That Fucking Electrician!” the crowd shouted: “A Miracle!” Hence Haydn’s 102nd is now unofficaly subtitled “Miracle.”

Recommended recording:
Sir Thomas Beecham & Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Haydn’s 102nd is the best 102nd Symphony I know. There’s a vicious rumour that Haydn reincarnated as the British conductor Sir Thomas Beecham. His Haydn recordings are brutal and therefore my pick.

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35. Mozart: 21st Piano Concerto

[…] all I’ve ever known are whores, ex-prostitutes, mad women.
I see men with quiet, gentle women
I see them in the supermarkets,
I see them walking down the streets together,
I see them in their apartments: people at peace, living together.
I know that their peace is only partial, but there is peace,
often hours and days of peace.
all I’ve ever known are pill freaks, alcoholics,
whores, ex-prostitutes, madwomen.
when one leaves
another arrives
worse than her predecessor.
I see so many men with quiet clean girls in gingham dresses
girls with faces that are not wolverine or predatory.
“don’t ever bring a whore around,”
I tell my few friends,
“I’ll fall in love with her.”
“you couldn’t stand a good woman, Bukowski.” 
I need a good woman.
I need a good woman more than I need this typewriter,
more than I need my automobile,
more than I need Mozart; 
 […] 
I know that she exists
but where is she upon this earth
as the whores keep finding me?

Excerpt from Quiet Clean Girls In Gingham Dresses by Charles Bukowski

Another classical music cliche: a composers last work is often his best work. Beethoven wrote two mediocre Piano Concertos before completing three groundbreaking ones. To truly honour Mozart’s qualities as a composer of Piano Concertos, we should consider throwing his first 20 attempts into the fire. His 23rd, 24th, 25th and 27th however would become legendary. And it all started with this 21st.

Recommended recording:
Mitsuko Uchida, Jeffrey Tate & English Chamber Orchestra

James Bond-composer John Barry heard the 2nd movement, realised he could never top it, and made it the anthem of Atlantis in The Spy Who Loved Me. Mitsuko Uchida grew up in the same place where Mozart walked in the rain, and is the designated soloist to bring it home.

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36. Strauss, R: Ein Heldenleben

[…] I leave my door open 
and the cats of the neighbourhood all come in.
they walk over to me 
and across the top of my couch
and into the bathroom,
and one of them goes to sleep on my bed.
one other sits by me
and we listen to Richard Strauss.
we’re in trouble
but we don’t know what to do.

Excerpt from Blue Head Of Death by Charles Bukowski

If Richard Strauss calls a composition A Hero’s Life, you know it’s not autobiographical. Or as the great wartime conductor Toscanini once put it: “To Strauss the composer I take off my hat; to Strauss the man I put it back on again.”

When Hitler rose to power in 1933, Strauss was already in his late ‘60’s. Like the famous conductor Furtwängler he conciously decided to stay in Germany. The main difference between the two is that there is no evidence that Strauss used his talent and status to protect the people and the German music legacy, except his own. Furtwängler openly critized the Nazi regime in newspapers and performed works from banned composers, whereas Strauss called the Nazi’s a “disgrace to German honour” in his personal diary while composing the hymn for the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin.

To put things in perspective, Strauss wasn’t a brave man but he wasn’t an avid Nazi either. He never joined the party and refused to give the Nazi salute. He was mostly naive and opportunistic. Strauss thought he could remain apolitical, separating his music from any policital regime: “I made music under the Kaiser, and under Ebert. I’ll survive under this one as well.”

Most of all Strauss didn’t want to piss off people like Goebbels, to protect his Jewish daughter-in-law Alice and his Jewish grandchildren. When they were arrested he succesfully pleaded for their lives. Alice and her children were allowed to live with Strauss, while her entire family was killed in Theresienstadt. Richard Strauss died in 1949, absolved of any Nazi affiliations.

Recommended recording:
Fritz Reiner & Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Reiner’s recording with the Chicago SO is a favorite among critics worldwide and myself.

▶︎ PLAY IN SPOTIFY


37. Beethoven: Violin Concerto

[…] think: if Ludwig were alive today
[…]
he’d pick up all these mad hard cases on the boulevards
we’d get music like we never heard before
and he’d still never ever find his Beloved.

Excerpt from Note Upon The Love Letters Of Beethoven by Charles Bukowski

Remember Joseph Joachim? Brahms violist friend who expressed his adoration for Robert Schumann by screwing his wife behind his back? Turns out he had his moments. Thanks to him the world has become familiar with what is widely considered the greatest violin concerto of all time.

The premiere of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto shows a strong resemblence to Sibelius’ premiere of his. Beethoven had shedulded the premiere, but completed the composition too late in order for the soloist to prepare properly. It left the crowd about as enthusiastic as Karen Carpenter in an All-You-Can-Eat-restaurant, and immediately after the premiere the sheet music disappeared in someone’s bottom drawer.

Twenty-one years after Beethoven’s death some mediocre conductor called Felix Mendelssohn dusted off the sheet notes and performed it with Joachim. This time, the crowd went wild and the rest is history.

Recommended recording:
Itzhak Perlman, Carlo Maria Giulini & Philharmonia Orchestra

Perlman has got the poison. Carlo Maria Giulini & the Philharmonia Orchestra have got the pulsating rhythmical remedy.

▶︎ PLAY IN SPOTIFY


38. Shostakovich: 7th Symphony, “Leningrad”

[…] the lady has me temporarily off the bottle
and now the pecker stands up better. 
however, things change overnight — 
instead of listening to Shostakovich and Mozart
through a smeared haze of smoke
the nights change, new complexities:
we drive to Baskin-Robbins,
[…]
we park outside and look at icecream people
a very healthy and satisfied people,
nary a potential suicide in sight
[..]
none of them are cursing or threatening the clerks.
there seem to be no hangovers or grievances.
I am alarmed at the placid and calm wave that flows about.
I feel like a leper in a beauty contest.
[…]
a curious new world.
and later that night
there is use for the pecker, use for love,
and it is glorious, long and true,
and afterwards we speak of easy things;
our heads by the open window with the moonlight looking through,
we sleep in each other’s arms.
the icecream people make me feel good,
inside and out.

Excerpt from The Icecream People by Charles Bukowski

If you want to experience what war sounds like, go to a concert hall where they are performing Shostakovich’ popular 7th.

Shostakovich wrote the piece in 1941, and it depicts the siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg). When Hitler commanded the siege he had already planned a victory celebration in the Astoria hotel, not knowing that it would become one of the longest and bloodiest battles in human history.

Shostakovich’ 7th became a symbol of resistance. Especially the first movement (“War”) is monumental. The gloves come of as soon as the snare drums kick in at 7 minutes and 40 seconds, the very moment the invasion starts. An hour later it all ends with the collosal fourth movement called “Victory.” As often the case with Shostakovich, it should not be considered a happy ending. He makes it very clear that it was a victory paid for by the blood of many innocent countrymen.

Hitler lost the siege, three long winters years after he had booked the Astoria. Shortly after he left Leningrad he would lose a whole lot more, including his dreams, his faith and his life.

Recommended recording:
Leonard Bernstein & Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Kondrashin is my preferred Shostakovich-interpreter, and his 7th is solid. But in this case the baton goes to Bernstein and his Chicago allied forces, who recorded a truly legendary 7th.

▶︎ PLAY IN SPOTIFY


39. Haydn: 61st String Quartet, “Fifths”

[…] It is quite something to turn your radio on low
at 4:30 in the morning 
in an apartment house
and hear Haydn
while through the blinds
you can see only the black night
as beautiful and quiet
as a flower.
and with that
something to drink,
of course,
a cigarette,
and the heater going,
and Haydn going.
maybe just 35 people
in a city of millions listening
as you are listening now,
looking at the walls,
smoking quietly,
not hating anything,
not wanting anything.
[…]
you listen to a dead man’s music
at 4:30 in the morning,
only he is not really dead
as the smoke from your cigarette curls up,
is not really dead,
[…]
but now a siren takes the air,
some trouble, murder, robbery, death …
but Haydn goes on
and you listen,
one of the finest mornings of your life
[…]
knowing Haydn at 4:30 a.m.,
the only way to know him,
the blinds down
and the black night
the cigarette
[…]

Excerpt from Some Notes On Bach And Haydn by Charles Bukowski

Haydn is often referred to as the godfather of modern classical music. Not only did he come up with symphonies by remodelling sinfonias and opera ouvertures, he also reinvented the string quartet as we know it.

He made the string quartet sound more harmonic, by making each soloist equally important. One team, one task. Haydn wrote 68 string quartets, his 61st being one of his most energetic and ambitious.

Recommended recoding:
Amadeus Quartet

▶︎ PLAY IN SPOTIFY


40. Beethoven: 3rd Piano Concerto

[…] he came out for the team;
Ludwig V. Beethoven, blocking half-back.
he really knocked them down.
but he drank beer
and played the piano all night.
[…]
Beethoven blocked out 3 men,
and as I went past he said,
I got a couple of babes lined up for tonight;
don’t injure anything
you might need
later.

Excerpt from L. Beethoven, Half-Back by Charles Bukowski

Much like Bukowski, Beethoven was a slow starter. His first attempts in any genre (Piano Sonatas, Chamber Music, Concertos and Symphonie) aren’t brilliant. But when he premiered this 3rd Piano Concerto on April 5 1803, it was spot on.

Recommended recording:
Mitsuko Uchida, Kurt Sanderling & Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra

Uchida and Amsterdam’s finest are packing heat and will make you forget all about Beethoven’s first two mediocre attempts.

▶︎ PLAY IN SPOTIFY


41. Bach: 1st Cello Suite

[…] sitting in this old chair, listening to Bach,
the music splashes across me, refreshing, delightful.
I need it, tonight I feel like a man
who has come back from the same old war,
death in life,
[…]
Bach saves me, momentarily.
so often I hear my father laughing,
the dead laughter of the father who seldom laughed in life
is laughing now.
then I hear him speak: “You haven’t escaped me.
I appear in new forms and work at you through them.
I’m going to make sure that hell never stops for you.”
then Bach is back.
Bach couldn’t you have been my father?
nonetheless, you make my hell bearable.
I have come back from suicide, the park bench,
it was a good fight.

Excerpt from Bach, Come Back by Charles Bukowski

Recommended recording:
Pablo Casals

The story of Bach’s Cello Suites reads like a Carlos Ruiz Zafón novel. As a 13-year old kid, Casals discovered the lost sheet music in a thrift shop in Barcelona. He bought them and spend 47 years mastering them all.

Through his popular recordings at age 60, Casals is forever linked to one of the best composers of all time. Well played Pablo, well played…

▶︎ PLAY IN SPOTIFY


42. Brahms: 1st Piano Concerto

[…] sick on a Friday night 
while the discos rock of ass and hip and leg, 
I’m too sick too drink,
listening to Brahms and squeezing orange juice.
when I’m too sick to drink you know I’m sick.

Excerpt from Sibelius And Etc. by Charles Bukowski

Brahms was a talented yet conservative bastard who considered the death of Beethoven the day the music died. Throughout his life he composed beautiful but rather predictable tributes to his Master Ludwig. At the same time colleagues like Wagner and Liszt stated Beethoven’s death was mereley the beginning. They continued Beethoven’s innovative approaches, thus paving the way for people like Mahler, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich and Stravinsky.

Brahms publicly stated Liszt and Wagner were pissing on Beethoven’s grave. Liszt and Wagner publicly told Brahms that he should do the world a huge favour by giving up composing altogether, while waiting for a new Messiah. Their public disagreement would become known as The War Of The Romantics and it was quite something. F.e. during the premiere of Brahms’ First Piano Concerto, many Liszt and Wagner-adepts bought tickets and hissed throughout the performance.

In the end Wagner died, Liszt found God and Brahms’ 1st would never become the world’s most revolutionary Piano Concerto. But it rightfully earned it’s place in the vault for being a shining example of the style and skills of the Romantics. Part of hem anyway.

Recommended recording:
Sir Clifford Curzon, George Szell & London Symphony Orchestra

If it hadn’t been for Leonard Bernstein’s peacekeeping abilities there would have been another war on April 6, 1962, this time between him an soloist Glenn Gould. Much to Bernstein’s disscontempt, Gould wanted to perform a rather unorthodox version. Before the concert Bernstein addressed the audience in the most polite, funny and respectful manner, stating that he didn’t agree with Gould’s approach. He explains he had considered cancelling the performance altogether, yet decided otherwise out of respect for Gould’s remarkable talent. “I have only once before in my life had to submit to a soloist totally new and incompatible, and that was the last time I accompanied Mr. Gould.”

Bernstein decided to grant Gould the stage and the spotlight, and let history and the audience decide. Well, both history and the audience hated it, as did the critics. The recording has become legendary famous for being a down-right clunker in Gould’s rather spotless career.

Fortunately, there are plenty other decent recordings available. No one in his right mind will argue that Sir Clifford Curzon’s recording with George Szell is among the best.

▶︎ PLAY IN SPOTIFY


43. Beethoven: 16th String Quartet

[…] folding away my tools with the dead parts of my soul
I go to night school, study Art;
my teacher is a homosexual who teaches us
to make shadows with a 2b pencil 
[…]
there are color wheels,
there are scales
and there are many deep and futile rules
that must never be broken;
all about me sit half-talents, 
and suddenly I know
that there is nothing more incomplete than a half-talent;
a man should either be a genius or nothing at all;
I would like to tell that homosexual 
(though I never will)
that people who dabble in the Arts
are misfits in a misshapen society;
the superior man of today is the man of limited feeling
whose education consists of ready-made actions
and reactions to ready-made situations;
but he is more interested in men than ideas,
[…]
so we sit and piddle with charcoal
and talk about Picasso
and make collages; we are getting ready to do nothing unusual
and I alone am angry
as I think about the sun clanging against the earth
and all the bodies moving
but ours;
I would bring down the world’s stockpile of drowned and mutilated days!
I would bring down the beams of sick warehouses I have counted with each year’s life!
I want trumpets and crowing,
I want a red-palmed Beethoven rising from the grave,
I want the whir and tang of a simple living orange in a simple living tree;
I want you to draw like Mondrian, he says;
but I don’t want to draw like Mondrian,
I want to draw like a sparrow eaten by a cat.

Excerpt from Bring Down The Beams by Charles Bukowski

Late 1820’s Beethoven suffered some misfortune, his death being an absolute low point. The man died aged 56 during a heavy thunderstorm. That’s all we know.

This 16th String Quartet was his last major work, which premiered one year after his death in 1827. It has Beethoven’s signature all over it. All conventional rules and standards are thrown out the windown to make room for new refinement. One moment it is calm and relaxing, the next it is cruel and ferocious. Like a sparrow eaten by a cat.

Recommended recording:
Takacs Quartet

The Gods loved the birds and invented trees. Man loved the birds and invented cages. The Takacs Ornithologists are birds of paradise bustin’ out, dead or alive.

▶︎ PLAY IN SPOTIFY


44. Mozart: 14th Piano Sonata

[…] you are on the freeway threading through the slow ones,
you are moving toward something and nothing,
you punch the radio on and get Mozart, which is something,
and you will get through the slow ones
and the fast ones
and the dull ones
and he hateful ones
and the rare ones,
delightful and sickening things will occur.
we are all so alike and so different, to die one by one 
or sometimes en masse,
you find the freeway turn-off, drive through the toughest part
of town, feel momentarily wonderful
as Mozart slides through your brain
and down along your bones
and out through your shoes.
it’s been a tough fight worth fighting
you drive along
betting on another day.

Excerpt from 8 Count And Up by Charles Bukowski

Mozart’s piano sonatas were written for intimate performances in some rich man’s living room. They never became quite as popular as his publicly performed piano concertos. At the same time Mozart’s sonatas served their purpose by inspiring Beethoven to come up with piano sonatas suited for public performances in concert halls.

Mozart would write 18 piano sonatas. I picked the 14th because I can. And because it is the wildest and darkest of the bunch. And because there have always been vicious rumours that Beethoven stole his famous 8th from this one. Ludwig got away with it, since no one was stupid enough to sue Beethoven for plagiarism.

Recommended recording:
Mitsuko Uchida

Mozart tamer Uchida performs it like her piano was set on fire, which is the only way it should be allowed to be played.

▶︎ PLAY IN SPOTIFY


45. Brahms: 2nd Symphony

[…] I haven’t killed all the spiders in this place but I’ve gotten most of them.
there are two I can’t get.
they sit inside the plastic shield on my radio, solid-state FM-AM.
they sit inside where the red dot selects the station.
I only listen to FM on two Los Angeles stations, KUSC and KFAC, in that order.
they are both classical music stations.
those are newly cultured spiders.
they heard Beethoven’s 9th last night 
and now they are listening to Brahms’ 2nd.
what they are feeding on I am not sure, but they seem satisfied.
only their legs move now and then.
that radio is educating them.
they are now starting to look like some critics I know.
by this, please understand that I mean no offence to the spiders.

Excerpt from Panasonic by Charles Bukowski

Bukowski is off killing spiders again, so wether he enjoyed nature remains to be seen. But Brahms most certainly did. After the long awaited tough and stormy First, Brahms wrote his peaceful 2nd Symphony during a summer holiday in 1877. There’s again a strong resemblance with Beethoven, in this case his 6th Symphony. Both pieces are subtitled “Pastoral”, a tribute to nature.

Recommended recording:
Bruno Walter & Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Walter’s recording stands out for the way he slowly builds the calm opening movement towards a picture perfect finale.

▶︎ PLAY IN SPOTIFY


46. Borodin: 2nd Symphony

[…] the next time you listen to Borodin
remember he was just a chemist
who wrote music to relax;
[…]
the next time you listen to Borodin
remember his wife used his compositions
to line the cat boxes with
or to cover jars of sour milk;
she had asthma and insomnia
and fed him soft-boiled eggs
and when he wanted to cover his head
to shut out the sounds of the house
she only allowed him to use the sheet;
[…]
Symphony #2, in B Minor
Prince Igor
On the Steppes of Central Asia
[…]
in 1887 he attended a dance
at the Medical Academy
dressed in a merrymaking national costume;
at last he seemed exceptionally gay
and when he fell to the floor,
they thought he was clowning.
the next time you listen to Borodin,
remember.

Excerpt from The Life Of Borodin by Charles Bukowski

Borodin was a crossdressing satanist, who injected heroin in he eyeballs of little children.

Okay, he wasn’t. And he didn’t. But for a brief moment there, the guy was more intriguing than he had been his entire life. Except that one moment when he dropped dead in the middle of a dance. That was quite something, even by today’s standards.

His biography is required reading for insomniacs. Still, his 2nd Symphony is decent Russian fabric with a beautiful 3rd movement. That’s all Russia needed to consider him one of their top 5 composers.

Recommended recording:
Gennady Rozhdestvensky & Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra

Buy a vowel and go with Gennady Rozhdestvensky.

▶︎ PLAY IN SPOTIFY


47. Mozart: 41st Symphony, “Jupiter”

[…] I have just listened to this symphony
which Mozart dashed off in one day
and it had enough
wild and crazy joy
to last forever, 
whatever forever is
Mozart came
as close as possible
to that.

Excerpt from Miracle by Charles Bukowski

Truth be told, Bukowski is probably refering to Mozart’s 25th or 36th symphony, that — as far as I know — are both ‘dashed off’ in a couple of days. But rumour has it there’s a special place in hell for people who ignore Mozart’s last — and greatest — symphony.

Recommended recording:
Karl Böhm & Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

Speaking of hell, chances are you’ll meet conductor Karl Böhm there. At age 29 he stopped a rehearsal in Munich to watch Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch. Like Karajan he used the political situation in the ‘30’s to advance his own career. After a denazification trial and a two year ban from conducting he redeemed himself musically with a legendary Mozart cycle. Indeed, the symphony crowd has to go to greath lenghts to deal with the wartime talents. Forgive but never forget and all.

Judged on its merits, Böhm’s performance with the Berlin PO is the probably the best recording of the 41st available. But there’s always Lenny to ease your conscience.

▶︎ PLAY IN SPOTIFY


48. Bruckner: 6th Symphony

Genius Unfettered is a poem in which Bukowski mocks the modern composer of contemporary music John Cage (“Mr. Colskey.”). Cage’s best-known work is his composition 4’33, which consists of four minutes thirty-three seconds of total silence.

[…]
Mr. Colskey is now appearing on stage
carrying his baton
to the applause of the audience
here in Sibling Hall.
now he is facing forward,
smiling,
and he has taken out his penis
and is urinating!
the audience is silent and frankly stunned!
he finishes, zips up,
then walks off stage.
we are afraid
Mr. Colskey has dealt his career
a final, fateful blow
as the orchestra now strikes up
and begins to play
Anton Bruckner’s
Symphony #6
in A Major.
without Mr. Colskey.

Excerpt from Genius Unfettered by Charles Bukowski

This poem is Bukowski’s way of stating that timeless tradition (Bruckner) will always prevail over modern phoniness. The ever so modest and friendly Bruckner stated the Sixth is his most brutal symphony. In a dynamic yet subtle way, Bruckner tells his critics and bullies (I mean you Brahms!) to leave him the fuck alone.

Bruckner remained neutral during the previously mentioned War Of The Romantics, while people like Brahms kept blaming him for sucking up to Wagner. The latter was so fed up with it, he publicly stated he wanted to kick Brahms’ arse in a bare knuckle fight. You and me motherfucker! Mano a mano! Bring it on!

Lots of people looked forward to the Rumble in the Bavarian Jungle, but the fight was called off when Wagner died. Fair enough.

Recommended recording:
Otto Klemperer & New Philharmonia Orchestra

When the going gets tough, it’s alway nice to have Otto Klemperer and his Philharmonia Royal Marines on your side. Brahms wouldn’t have stood a chance…

▶︎ PLAY IN SPOTIFY


49. Schumann: Piano Concerto

[…] Schumann’s good too,
you oughta listen to Schumann,
just once.
once.
trust me.
you’ll know.

Excerpt from Screams From The Balcony by Charles Bukowski

Schumann published only one Piano Concerto, but it was actually the fourth one he wrote. Dissatisfied with earlier results, he threw his first three into the fire.

For someone who was out of his mind, saving this one from the flames was a great idea. It’s a vile beast chained to a piano and Rachmaninov was highly influenced by it. So was the Norwegian composer Grieg, but he was also influenced by trolls which makes it impossible to take the guy seriously.

Recommended recording:
Sviatoslav Richter, Lovro von Matacic & Orchestra National De L’Opera Monte Carlo

Richter recorded one of the most dramatic and fierce versions available.

▶︎ PLAY IN SPOTIFY


50. Bruckner: 8th Symphony

[…] listening to Bruckner now.
I relate very much to him.
he just misses by so little.
I ache for his dead guts.
if we all could only
move it up one notch
when necessary.
but we can’t.
I remember my fight in the rain
that Saturday night in the alley with Harry Tabor.
his eyes were rolling in that great dumb head,
one more punch and he was mine
I missed.
[…]
so many near misses.
so many other near misses.
oh, Bruckner, I know!
I am listening to Bruckner now and
I ache for his dead guts
and for my living soul.
we all need something
we can do well,
you know.

Excerpt from Bruckner by Charles Bukowski

Bruckner stood out by being a humble and simple man. In a world full of ego’s that has to count for something. The Eight was the last symphony he completed. We probably could have had more if our late grandparents had acknowledged Bruckner’s talents a little more while the man still had a pulse.

Bruckner had to complete his Eight in his spare time, while working two jobs as a teacher at the Vienna University and Conservatory. It’s a work of sublime darkness, and Bruckner stated that its Finale is the most significant movement of his life.

With his Ninth Symphony ranked #2 on this list, the latter is open for debate. But it feels right to end this shortlist with such great beauty.

Recommended recording:
Günter Wand & NDR Sinfonieorchester

▶︎ PLAY IN SPOTIFY


“Keep your money in your pocket or bet it on a good horse.”

Charles Bukowski

Barkeepers and bookies make the money. Writers go mad or broke. Shit, so what? Please consider leaving a small tip for the author if you enjoyed his effort and story. It’s highly appreciated.


Who Is Behind All This?

Jeroen Meulman is a Dutch trafficker in characterisation, awkwardness and confrontation, who likes his music without boundaries.

We Call Upon The Author To Explain!

You can contact Jeroen at jrnmlmn@gmail.com

Publications By Jeroen:

The Death Of McCartney — A deconstruction of the most infamous myth in music history. (April 2014)

Bukowski, Beer & Beethoven — Explore classical music through the works of Charles Bukowski. (January 2017)

Credits

Thanks to professor Robert Sandarg for being the first to study Bukowski’s relationship with classical music. Others will drive on the road he built.

Thanks to Erik Klackner for hosting Everything But The Music, the funniest and single most relevant classical music blog on the planet. You, Sir, are an inspiration.

Thanks to bukowski.net, the world’s premiere Charles Bukowski website and discussion forum.

Sources

Lo and behold a list of Bukowski’s poems related to classical music. Pick up copies at your local bookstore or library to read each poem in full, or buy the e-books on http://tinyurl.com/readbukowski

A 340 Dollar Horse And A Hundred Dollar Whore
Published in Heat Wave

A Cat Is A Cat Is A Cat
Published in You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense

A Mechanical Lazarus
Published in Sifting Through The Madness For The Word, The Line, The Way

A Place In Philly
Published in Bone Palace Ballet

A Sickness?
Published in Sifting Through The Madness For The Word, The Line, The Way

Bach
Published in Bone Palace Ballet

Bach & A Bumblebee And An Old Newspaper
Published in Kauri Magazine, №14

Bach, Come Back
Published in Bone Palace Ballet

Blue Head Of Death
Published in What Matters Most Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire

Bee’s 5th
Published in Love Is A Dog From Hell

Beethoven Conducted His Last Symphony While Totally Deaf
Published in What Matters Most Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire

Beerspit Night And Cursing
Published in Beerspit Night And Cursing, The Correspondense of Charles Bukowski and Sheri Martinelli

Brave Bull
Published in The Roominghouse Madrigals

Bruckner
Published in What Matters Most Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire

Bruckner 2
Published in Open All Night, The Pleasures of the Damned & Back to the Machinegun, Manuscripts Volume 3, 1978–1980

Burning, Burning
Published in Sifting Through The Madness For The Word, The Line, The Way

Chopin Bukowski
Published in Love Is A Dog From Hell

Climax
Published in Mockingbird Wish Me Luck

Christmas Poem To A Man In Jail
Published in What Matters Most Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire

Culture
Published in Dangling in the Tournefortia

Defeat
Published in Love Is A Dog From Hell

Dinner For Free
Published in Sifting Through The Madness For The Word, The Line, The Way

Factotum
Published in Factotum

Fragile!
Published in The Roominghouse Madrigals

Friends Within The Darkness
Published in You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense

Genius Unfettered
Published in Sifting Through The Madness For The Word, The Line, The Way

How To Get Rid Of The Purists
Published in Bone Palace Ballet

Hungaria, Symphonia Poem #9 by Franz List
Published in The Flash of Lightning Behind the Mountain

L. Beethoven, Half-Back
Published in The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over The Hills

Living On Luck
Published in Living on Luck: Selected Letters, vol. 2

Life Of The King
Published in What Matters Most Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire & The Pleasures Of The Damned

Life, Death, Love, Art
Published in The Night Torn Mad With Footsteps

Lousy Mail
Published in Betting On The Muse

Mahler
Published in What Matters Most Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire

Making It
Published in Mockingbird Wish Me Luck

Mama
Published in Crucifix in a Deathhand, A Bukowski Sampler & Burning In Water Drowning In Flame

Miracle
Published in You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense

My German Buddy
Published in The Last Night of the Earth Poems

No Grounding In The Classics
Published in The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over The Hills

No Wonder
Published in The Night Torn Mad With Footsteps, The Pleasures of the Damned

Note Upon The Love Letters Of Beethoven
Published in War All The Time

Now
Published in Burning in Water Drowning in Flame & The Pleasures Of The Damned

Observations On Music
Published in Sifting Through The Madness For The Word, The Line, The Way

One For Wolfgang
Published in The Flash Of Lightning Behind The Mountain

One Learns
Published in The Night Torn Mad With Footsteps

Panasonic
Published in Legs, Hips And Behind

Quiet Clean Girls In Gingham Dresses
Published in Love Is A Dog From Hell & On Love

Rain
Published in Mockingbird Wish Me Luck

Reach For The Sun
Published in Reach for the Sun: Selected Letters, vol. 3

Sardines In Striped Dresses
Published in War All The Time

Sibelius And Etc.
Published in Dangling In The Tournefortia

Society Should Realize…
Published in Bone Palace Ballet, The Pleasures Of The Damned & Back To The Machinegun, Manuscripts Volume 1, 1959–1974

Sometimes When I Feel Blue I Listen To Mahler
Published in Kauri Magazine — №18

Spain Sits Like A Hidden Flower In My Coffeepot
Published in The Roominghouse Madrigals

Sweet Music
Published in Love Is A Dog From Hell

Take It
Published in War All The Time

The Albums
Published in The Night Torn Mad With Footsteps

The Captain Is Out To Lunch….
Published in The Captain Is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship

The Eagle Of The Heart
Published in The Last Night Of The Earth Poems

The Icecream People
Published in What Matters Most Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire

The Life Of Borodin
Published in Longshot Pomes For Broke Players, It Catches My Heart In Its Hands, A Bukowski Sampler, Burning In Water Drowning In Flame & Essential Bukowski: Poetry

The Soldier, His Wife & The Bum
Published in Run With The Hunted

To Hell With Robert Schumann
Published in The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over The Hills

Troubles In The Night
Published in Open All Night

Up Your Yellow River
Published in Love Is A Dog From Hell

What They Want
Published in Love Is A Dog From Hell & Essential Bukowski: Poetry

When Hugo Wolf Went Mad
Published in Longshot Pomes For Broke Players, A Bukowski Sampler, The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over The Hills, The Pleasures Of The Damned & Essential Bukowski: Poetry

1813–1883
Published in You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense & The Pleasures Of The Damned

1966 Volkswagen Minivan
Published in The Night Torn Mad With Footsteps

1970 Blues
Published in The Flash of Lightning Behind the Mountain

8 Count And Up
Published in The Night Torn Mad With Footsteps