So, The World Cup is over, Wimbledon is over. It's the the end as we know it. A lot of us feel a sense of loss, wondering how we are going to keep ourselves entertained now that these major sporting events are over. Yet, in music endings are more ambiguous. I’ve never really understood why pop songs tend to fade away rather than have an actual ending. In the “old days” when radio ruled the airwaves, it suited DJs - allowing them to have a smooth transition into the next track or background so that they could talk and segway into the next sequence. Songwriters and producers were actually dictated by the practices. I wonder how Mozart or Beethoven would have reacted had they been told their compositions couldn’t "end" so that people could talk over their music.
Yes, it’s true there are some very satisfying endings in pop songs (eg: Electric Light Orchestra's "Mr Blue Sky" and Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" to name a couple). But a real endingS, like the final scene in a film, like the final whistle blown by a referee, like the curtains falling at the end of the final act, are moments to savour. We often feel sad it is over but we’re soon enjoying and celebrating the whole experience. A true ending ignites in us all sorts of emotions. That’s the beauty of a real ending and that’s why I wanted to share some of my favourite ones from the world of classical, ranging from the playful Rossini overture from "La Cenerentola" to Tchaikovsky’s extraordinary conclusion to Swan Lake. Even if you don’t love classical music, have a listen to these and see if you don't feel a tiny bit curious about what came before.
1. Rossini's "La Cenerentola" - From the opera based on the story of Cinderella, this overture is a classic example of Rossini’s attempt to compose a piece of music full of energy, wit, and joy. The ending features the strings driving the music towards a frantic finale. Of the 10 endings selected here, this is by far the most playful and uncomplicated one but nonetheless memorable.
2. Beethoven’s 5th Symphony
Everyone knows the “da da da daaaaaaa” opening. Possibly the most recognised opening to any piece of music of any genre, ever! So much so that many of us don't even know the rest of the work (The Simpsons make that point aptly!). But what a shame as the ending is even more dramatic. Beethoven almost teases us with one final chord after another making us think 'that’s it' and then another comes along. So, for those of you who haven’t really listened to the symphony beyond the first 5 seconds, here are the last 100 seconds of what is a truly spectacular ending.
3. Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite"
This is one of those endings where your ears are left ringing way after the final chord is played. The build is underpinned by the brass and then what’s best described as a cacophony of sound blares out so loudly and unashamedly that you’re left with a sense of motionless as the music concludes. When anyone asks me what would be a good classical concert to go to for the first time, without hesitation, I say any program which has The Firebird – Just the ending alone is worth the effort.
4. Richard Strauss – Life of A Hero
Best known for the opening to Also Sprach Zarathustra and should be known more for his beautiful Last 4 Songs, the ending to another of his lesser known and inexplicably underplayed compositions, “Life Of A Hero” stands as one of the most uplifting and dramatic in the classical repertoire. And, like every other composer, he knows when he has a memorable motif.
5. Ottorino Respighi “Pines of Rome”
This is another of those compositions whom I’d have near the top of my list for those who want to discover classical music for the first time in a concert hall. One of Respighi’s directions was to have the trumpets and trombones played from all around the concert hall and within the audience too during the finale. This last movement has a build that starts from the first bar and builds continuously for some 6 minutes. This has echoes of Ravel’s Bolero, but personally, I much prefer this.
6. Bedrich Smetana “Vltava” from Ma Vlast
Perhaps his most popular composition, this ending is full of the composer’s love for then, Czechoslovakia. The orchestration is so rich, you almost feel he just didn’t want to the music to end, but like all things, it does and in the most euphoric of ways.
7. Modest Mussorgsky (arranged for orchestra by Maurice Ravel) “Pictures at an Exhibition” (The Great Gate of Kiev)
This is musical depiction of an enormous gate, imagined in a traditional Russian style. What I love so much about this ending is the unrelenting and joyful procession leading to a magnificent climax featuring, amongst other sounds, pealing bells. Whatever may have come beforehand, the ending is what remains etched in our memories.
8. Jean Sibelius - 5th Symphony
This is perhaps the most theatrical, tense, playful, and, capped by 6 isolated and powerful chords, triumphant of all endings in classical music. Watch Leonard Bernstein brilliantly conduct the finale in his own unique manner. Hopefully, in listening to this 60 second audio clip of this ending, you’ll have the urge to hear the whole movement and other works of this great Finish composer.
9. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov “Capriccio Espanol”
Rimsky-Korsakov is best known for just a couple of compositions, “Sheherezade” and this piece. He was a master at making the most of a full symphony orchestra so much so that he genuinely wanted to have fun with both the orchestra and audiences. With the tempo relentlessly growing faster and faster, and the rhythmic percussions, this is a picture postcard ending to savour.
10. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky “Swan Lake”
I was never a big fan of ballet music but in playing this piece at a recent concert, I was so overwhelmed by the sheer dramatic and awe-inspiring sound that Tchaikovsky created. In listening to this, you certainly don’t miss any visual entertainment provided by dancers – the music is so overpowering on is own. (Early performances of the ballet were plagued with problems as the dancers found the music just too rich to dance to!). Instead the music of Swan Lake, full of Russian melancholy and unforgettable themes stands alone as a masterpiece and one of the most interesting aspects of the finale, underlined by by the last chord, is its ambiguous meaning. Is it a triumphantly happy ending or a tragically sad one? Either way, it is another one of those endings that gives me goose pumps.