• Michael Albert

Food for the Soul: Music to Inspire and Soothe


Over the course of the last few months, it’s only natural to have noticed changes in our moods and overall mental health. Based on a survey of thousands of Canadians aged 16 to 99 conducted by the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, rates of anxiety and depression have skyrocketed since the earliest days of the pandemic.

Here behind the scenes of Salute to Vienna, we’ve done our best to remain optimistic about what the future has to bring. But after this week’s decision to postpone our concerts until next winter for the safety of our patrons and artists, we’re finding it hard to stay upbeat.

Canada’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has released a series of articles, tips, and FAQs about coping with mental health issues incurred during the outbreak of COVID-19. Simple changes to daily routines can be extremely beneficial. Making sure we get regular exercise, eat healthy balanced meals, and avoid excessive alcohol use can greatly influence our moods throughout this stressful and uncertain time.

In our own experience, we’ve found that music can serve as a welcome balm for anxiety and worries. Food for the soul, music can comfort, uplift, and inspire us. It can also refresh us, recharge us, and bring us moments of pure delight.

The month of September is National Piano Month; in light of that, here are two pieces performed on the piano that can inspire and rejuvenate.

Goldberg Variations by J.S. Bach

Performed by Glenn Gould, 1981

One of our homegrown musical heroes, Toronto’s own Glenn Gould was one of the most renowned pianists of the twentieth century. From child prodigy to global phenomenon, Gould’s virtuosic talent–in addition to his eccentric playing style and personality–made him a source of intrigue around the world.

As Gould himself evolved as an artist, so did his interpretation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. His first recording of them in 1955 clocks in at thirty-eight minutes. A quarter century later, the virtuoso once again released a recording of the same piece, but this time, his performance is a full thirteen minutes longer. One might think that, after decades behind the piano, Gould’s increased level of skill would allow him to perform the piece even faster than he had in his initial recording at age twenty-three. But by 1981, Gould had learned to take more time. He slowed down. He relished in the clarity and meditation of this work.

We have found this recording of the Goldberg Variations very moving and inspiring lately.

Classical music also has the power to exhilarate and perk up our spirits; that’s just what this next performance does!

Radetzky March by Johann Strauss

Performed by Roberto Metro & Elvira Foti, 2010

Strauss’s Radetzky March has been performed as an encore in each and every iteration of Salute to Vienna New Year’s Concert for the past twenty-five years. Originally composed to commemorate Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz’s 1848 victory at the Battle of Custoza, the piece premiered at a performance for Austrian military officers. When the audience of military men heard the chorus for the first time, they spontaneously began clapping along and stomping their feet, thus inspiring the tradition to clap along rhythmically with the music. This festive custom has been repeated for hundreds of years, as audiences in classical music venues around the world participate in the experience by clapping quietly during the first part of the melody, followed by loud, jubilant clapping in the second part. Often the conductor, instead of leading the orchestra, will face the audience and conduct the volume of their clapping.

Over the years, the Radetzky March has become a kind of unofficial Austrian national anthem. It’s played at Austrian soccer (ahem, football) matches, in videos promoting Austrian travel and tourism, and as the final musical piece performed in the Neujahrskonzert in Vienna’s Musikverein. In this delightful and refreshing recording, Roberto Metro & Elvira Foti perform the piece as a piano duet, enlivening the audience and lifting their spirits.

As we grapple with the new realities of life in a new normal, it’s important to take care of our mental well-being. That means, if you are in extreme distress, you should contact a crisis prevention centre by calling 911 immediately. And if, like the vast majority of us, you find your mood has been negatively affected by the pandemic, you can take simple measures to improve your mood.

We hope you’ll find the time to be inspired and rejuvenated by mindfully engage with classical music.

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