These days, the summer-reading list seems to have gone the way of the perfect tan ... Schools and colleges still make available reading lists for students who are devoted, or anxious, enough to pack Lytton Strachey’s “Eminent Victorians”... in with their kayak paddles, but few people seem any longer to identify summer with catching up on the great books of the past or even on the must-reads of the present.Well, that's probably true. I can recall one summer I spent trying to complete reading Proust, "In Search of Lost Time", but I didn't quite manage it. The essay gives a bit of history of the summer reading list practice:
Perhaps the most representative instance of the dissemination of high culture to the average intelligent reader occurred in 1960, when the editor and critic Clifton Fadiman published his “Lifetime Reading Plan.” The monumental list began with the “Epic of Gilgamesh” and proceeded up through the novels of William Faulkner (it was updated in 1978 and 1986 and once more in 1998), each of its dozens of sections devoted to a single author and his or her work or works. It was the Platonic ideal (Frederick Copleston’s nine-volume “History of Philosophy,” summers of 1975-99, status: unfinished) of the summer reading list.I read much of the Copleston history as an undergraduate and got all the way up to Kant before I hit the Wall of Utter Incomprehension.
But I think that setting yourself some goals to fruitfully use your leisure time is basically a Good Idea. Otherwise you could end up randomly surfing the Internet, watching cat videos or Russian dashboard cams or, shudder, watching television! So, to forestall those possibilities, let's come up with a summer listening list. Yeah, I know, summer is just about gone, but I just thought of this and whaddayagonna do?
The modest list for beginners:
- The symphonies by Beethoven, available on 5 cds with Harnoncourt and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe
- The violin concertos of Bach, Hilary Hahn and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
- Seven string quartets by Joseph Haydn, Emerson String Quartet: The Haydn Project (2 cds of Haydn plus a bonus cd of other composers from Mozart to Shostakovich)
That's pretty easy--you could probably get through those nine cds by the end of the month.
The medium list for intermediate listeners:
- The string quartets of Beethoven, available on 7 cds by the Alban Berg Quartet
- Bach, Mass in B minor on 2 cds with John Eliot Gardiner, Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists
- The string quartets of Bartók with the Emerson Quartet
- The six "Haydn" quartets and the string quintets by Mozart with the Guarneri Quartet (terrific bargain, six cds for only twenty bucks)
The more challenging list for hard-core classical fanatics:
- The piano sonatas and piano concertos by Beethoven on 12 cds performed by Friedrich Gulda
- The complete symphonies by Haydn on 37 cds with Dennis Russell Davies conducting the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra
- The complete concertos of Prokofiev on 3 cds with various artists on Decca
- The complete symphonies and tone poems of Sibelius on 7 cds with Neeme Jarvi and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
- The complete string quartets of Shostakovich on 5 cds with the Emerson Quartet
That will keep you busy to Christmas, at least. Here is a little sample: Friedrich Gulda, piano with Horst Stein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in the Piano Concerto No. 4 by Beethoven: