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The 1 GB Challenge


A friend recently asked me to come up with a list of music. He wanted a ‘starter’ kit to introduce friends and family to contemporary classical. The constraints are as follows: he wants to fill a 1 GB MP3 player to give as a gift.

Actually, the 1 gig threshold is a challenging one for classical repertoire, requiring a streamlined list. I thought it might be fun to open this up to the Sequenza 21 community. Suggestions? Lists?


Comment from Tom DePlonty
Time: June 19, 2009, 12:35 pm

– Suggestions? —

A bigger MP3 player.

Comment from jccombs
Time: June 19, 2009, 12:55 pm

slow news day? ;)

An idea would be to visit and look up John Cage. On that page is the option “John Cage Radio.” I believe it plays for a couple hours from Feldman to Ligeti and so on. Its a good place to start taking down notes for what to DL.

Comment from Steve Layton
Time: June 19, 2009, 2:14 pm

Come on Christian, you’ve got to give us a little more… Are we talking “music appreciation” contemporary — i.e., Debussy ’till now — or like maybe closer to our own lifetime? If it’s the first then it’s pretty cut and dried; if the latter, things start getting interesting. And of course 1 GB doesn’t mean much without knowing what encoding rate we’re talking about. You can pack a LOT more music on there with 128 or 160 kbps files rather than 256 or higher.

Comment from Sparky P.
Time: June 19, 2009, 3:22 pm

Or is the kitty listening to the new Yosuf Islam album?

Comment from David Salvage
Time: June 19, 2009, 3:41 pm

Send him to Counterstream Radio…

Comment from Christian
Time: June 19, 2009, 8:33 pm

Okay Steve.

Contemporary classical meaning closer to our lifetime. Let’s try circa Reich forward rather than circa Debussy.

Any bit-rate you like. Go!

Comment from Steve Layton
Time: June 19, 2009, 11:52 pm

OK, just a start (everybody chime in at will!). I’m starting just at /after WWII, and this is a partial list of “safer” works — things that don’t head into Babbit, Xenakis or Lucier territory, and all have some connection to the broader world of music that a non-classical generalist might already know. My point is to suck them in with the sensuous, and if they want to go harder and deeper afterward (though most of this stuff is plenty complex in its own way), great:

Messiaen: “Chant d’amour 2″ from the Turangalîla Symphony; “Louange à l’éternité de Jésus” from the 4tet for the End of Time.
Stravinsky: “In Memoriam Dylan Thomas”; “Requiem Canticles”
George Crumb: Makrokosmos III – Music for a Summer’s Evening
György Ligeti: Lontano; Etudes, Book 1
Gerard Grisey: Les Espaces Acoustiques
Robert Ashley: Music Word Fire (And I Would Do It Again)
John Zorn: Spillane
Morton Subotnick: Touch
Frederic Rzewski: The People United Will Never Be Defeated
Karlheinz Stockhausen: Tierkreis
Krzysztof Penderecki: St. Luke Passion, Part 1
Steve Reich: “Eight Lines”; “City Music”
Mauricio Kagel: Ludwig Van
Luciano Berio: Folksongs
Evan Ziporyn: Pondok
Michael Gordon: Weather
Philip Glass: “Knee Play 5″ from Einstein on the Beach; Akhnaten, 1st act
Peter Garland: Matachin Dances
Terry Riley: The Book of Abbeyozzud
John Adams: Harmonielehre
Daniel Lentz: Missa Umbrarum
Ingram Marshall: Fog Tropes; Gradual Requiem
Meredith Monk: Dolmen Music
Morton Feldman: Rothko Chapel

Comment from Tom DePlonty
Time: June 20, 2009, 12:15 am

Here’s a list of stuff no earlier than 1967 from my collection that fits in 1 GB.


Pierre Henry, Agnus Dei – Messe De Liverpool
Jean Barraqué, “Symbole de nuit” – Le temps restitué
Harrison Birtwistle, from “Proclamation III” to “Nightmare” – Punch and Judy
George Crumb, Book I, no. 1 – Madrigals
Mario Davidovsky, Synchronisms No. 5
Per Nørgård, second movement of Voyage into the Golden Screen


Peter Maxwell Davies, Act 1 Dances – Points and Dances from Taverner
Leonard Bernstein, “Sing God a Simple Song” – Mass
Barbara Kolb, Solitaire
Steve Reich, Part 3 – Drumming
David Del Tredici, “Hymn to the Queen” – Vintage Alice
Lou Harrison, Strofo 7, “Mantro kaj Kunsonoro” – La Koro Sutro
Ben Johnston, String Quartet No. 4
Luciano Berio, Points on the curve to find…
Alvin Curran, “Crystal Aires” – Songs and Views of the Magnetic Garden
Witold Lutoslawski, Les Espaces du Sommeil
Bernard Parmegiani, “Points contre champs” – De Natura Sonorum
Philip Glass, “Building” – Einstein on the Beach
Gérard Grisey, “Modulations” – Les Espaces Acoustiques
Arvo Pärt, Cantus In Memory Of Benjamin Britten
Walter Zimmermann, 10 Fränkische Tänze
Jo Kondo, An Elder’s Hocket
Paul Lansky, “her song” – Six Fantasies on a Poem by Thomas Campion
Ellen Taafe Zwilich, Chamber Symphony


Francisco Guerrero, Antar Atman
Jonathan Harvey, Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco
Tristan Murail, Gondwana
Ezra Sims, All Done From Memory
John Adams, “Wild Nights” – Harmonium
William Duckworth, “Hebrew Children” and “Sardina” – Southern Harmony
Brian Ferneyhough, Superscripto
Laurie Anderson, “O Superman” – Big Science
Scott Johnson, Part I – John Somebody
Daniel Lentz, Wolf Is Dead
György Ligeti, Andantino con tenerezza – Horn Trio
Hans Otte, Part 2 – Das Buch der Klänge
Paul Dresher, Channels Passing
Peter Garland, “accented, towards tranquility” – Sones de flor
György Kurtág, Teil II – Kafka-Fragmente
Larry Polansky, B’rey’sheet
Terry Riley, “The Magic Knot Waltz” – The Harp of New Albion
Carl Stone, “Shing Kee” – Stone Mom’s
Galina Ustvolskaya, Piano Sonata No. 5
Judith Weir, Act III, Scene 1: Prisoners’ Chorus – A Night at the Chinese Opera
John Zorn, For Your Eyes Only
Glenn Branca, 5th Movement – Symphony No. 6 “Devil Choirs At The Gates Of Heaven”
Rhys Chatham, Allegro – An Angel Moves Too Fast to See
Stephen Montague, Tigida Pipa
Pauline Oliveros, Nike – Deep Listening
Bent Sørensen, Fluente e luminoso con molta trasparenza – Shadowland


Alvin Lucier, Nothing Is Real
Lois Vierk, Go Guitars
Louis Andriessen, Instrumental I – Andriessen M is for Man, Music, Mozart
David Behrman, “Witch Grass” – Unforeseen Events
Allison Cameron, Gibbous Moon
Meredith Monk, Travel Dream Song – Monk Atlas
Toru Takemitsu, Fantasma/Cantos
Charles Dodge, Viola Elegy
Paul Dolden, “In a Bed Where the Moon Was Sweating. Resonance #1″ – L’ivresse de la vitesse
James Tenney, Form 4 (In Memoriam Morton Feldman) – Four Forms
Frank Zappa, “G-Spot Tornado” – The Yellow Shark
Arnold Dreyblatt, “Point Rotation” – Animal Magnetism
Kaija Saariaho, “Dry Mountain Stream” – Six Japanese Gardens
George Tsontakis, “Serene, yet disturbing” – Eclipse
Gerald Barry, Piano Quartet No. 2
Diamanda Galás, “Headbox” – Schrei X
Mikel Rouse, “Prelude: We Deliver” – Dennis Cleveland
Kevin Volans, This Is How It Is
Noah Creshevsky, “Ossi di morte” – Hyperrealism
Ingram Marshall, Kingdom Come
Frederic Rzewski, “Der Pianist führt” – Scratch Symphony
Michael Gordon, Movement Three – Weather


Francis Dhomont, “La muraille d’épines” – Forêt profonde
Georg Friedrich Haas, fourth movement – Torso
Thomas Adès, Brahms
John Luther Adams, Red Arc/Blue Veil
David Lang, part III – the so-called laws of nature
Magnus Lindberg, Clarinet Concerto
Gérard Pape, The Ecstasy of St. Theresa
Hans Reichel, You Can Dance With Me – Yuxo
Evan Ziporyn, Frog’s Eye
Robert Ashley, Love Letter Part 1 through Love Letter Part 2 – Celestial Excursions
Wim Mertens, Swirling Backwards – Skopos
Eric Whitacre, A Boy and a Girl – Cloudburst
Nico Muhly, Wonders/New Things & New Tidings – Mothertongue
Missy Mazzoli, i am coming for my things – A Door into the Dark

Comment from Aaron
Time: June 20, 2009, 12:19 am

My modest contribution would be an admonition not to forget about Sofia Gubaidulina.

Comment from ed lawes
Time: June 20, 2009, 7:35 am

No Kurtag anyone?.

Surely one of the more ‘approachable’ post war composers, pieces such as Hommage A R. Sch, Ommagio a Luigi Nono, Officium Breve in Memoriam Andreae Szervánszky, Stele.

Comment from Christian
Time: June 20, 2009, 11:27 am

Great lists thus far.Yeah, Kurtag would be a good candidate for inclusion! I’d want to include the new David Lang and Nancarrow CDs too!

Comment from Tom DePlonty
Time: June 20, 2009, 12:08 pm

I did have some Kurtag, actually (the second book of the Kafka Fragments).

I missed Nancarrow – oops! And Carter, too!

I think any list you make is going to be terribly flawed, in some way. (I once had a friend ask me for a list of essential works of 20th c. music. I just laughed at him.)

All you can really do is give people threads to pull – if you like this piece, check out more by this composer, or similar composers…and I would worry less about going for accessible than for vivid.

Comment from Tom DePlonty
Time: June 20, 2009, 12:09 pm

(That should have been, “I once had a friend ask for a list of *ten* essential works…”)

Comment from ed lawes
Time: June 20, 2009, 10:33 pm

Re Kurtag, quite right Tom, sorry I should have looked more carefully, at least the mistake resulted in some more Kurtag recommendations, or something, cough, ahem, etc.

Comment from jonathan
Time: June 21, 2009, 5:56 am

Is there anywhere online that has similar lists, such as Top 100 contemporary classical pieces or something?

If not it would be great to have something on this site, or if more people could post it here that would be great, I subsequently bought some of the music listed (which some of it is quite good).


Comment from jonathan
Time: June 21, 2009, 5:57 am

That is, from 1969, 79, or something forward to the present. Like Tom’s list.

Comment from Christian
Time: June 21, 2009, 9:19 am

That’s a great idea Jonathan. We’ve had lists as conversation starters on the homepage in the past. It’s something I occasionally incorporate into columns over at File Under ? (

When I was at Splendid (, we had a weekly column of playlists, often humorous or op/ed oriented.

The Wire frequently does listening lists, as does WNYU (avant-pop rather than c. classical).

Comment from jonathan
Time: June 21, 2009, 9:26 am

Yeah, even keeping the name, “The 1Gb playlist section” would be a completely awesome criteria — it’d keep out the riff-raff.

If sequenza21 would also put links to itunes etc. next to the name of the piece so we can listen to clips and buy if we want, they could even make a few cents off of it maybe.

How about it, guys?

Comment from jonathan
Time: June 21, 2009, 9:43 am

and please also add where to find some of this. Not all of it appears to have been recorded.

Comment from jason
Time: June 22, 2009, 8:08 am

jonathan, here’s S21’s last major list: 111+ Influential Works since 1970.

Comment from Steve Layton
Time: June 22, 2009, 8:26 am

Thanks, Jason! I knew that was out there, just couldn’t remember where.

Comment from Dennis Bathory-Kitsz
Time: June 22, 2009, 10:01 am

Adds to guy-centric list:

Mary Jane Leach: O Magna Vasti Creta
Pauline Oliveros: The Well
Linda Catlin Smith: Versailles
Ann Southam: Re-Tuning
Laurie Spiegel: Cavis Muris
Julia Wolfe: Four Marys
Anne La Berge: fixiation
Maria de Alvear: En Amor Duro
Diamanda Galas: Panoptikon
Joan LaBarbara: as lightning comes, in flashes

Comment from jonathan
Time: June 24, 2009, 6:41 am

Thanks Jason, would like some more works for the 2000’s if anyone can come up with some.


Comment from Christian Carey
Time: June 24, 2009, 9:56 pm

As Dennis’ post above points out, we’d be remiss if we didn’t include as an important resource for audio treasure-seekers.

Comment from Dennis Bathory-Kitsz
Time: June 24, 2009, 10:34 pm

I get asked this, so regarding Kalvos & Damian:

Shows #1 to #374 (May 27, 1995 – August 3, 2002) use RealAudio codecs that are no longer updated for Macs. Older Macs and Windows (at least through XP-SP3) play them fine.

Shows #375 to #537 (August 10, 2002 – September 17, 2005) are encoded in both MP3 and RA. From #538 to #554, only MP3 is used.

(Our partner program Noizepunk & Das Krooner has only used MP3 for their 41 shows.)


Comment from jonathan
Time: June 25, 2009, 6:00 am

Thanks for the additional info. Having looked at it more carefully, I find the list on Dillon’s site a bit cumbersome.

The thing that really makes Tom’s list so excellent is it’s specificity. It gives movements or moments, not pieces or albums. For me this is especially good, because I can hear what someone perceived as the best this composer has to offer, and if I like it, too, I can move further with it.


Comment from Tom DePlonty
Time: June 26, 2009, 1:36 pm

Oh, I didn’t mean to leave the impression that this was “the best this composer had to offer”. I put this list together in a half hour, working from my iTunes library, and it is prejudiced more than anything toward the small files, so as to get a greater number and wide variety of composers/music.

Comment from Doug Balliett
Time: July 3, 2009, 11:59 pm

The complete works of Birtwistle

Comment from Christian
Time: July 4, 2009, 12:15 pm

Aw c’mon Doug. Then I’d have to respond with “the complete works of Elliott Carter,” and we’d start a flame war!

Comment from jonathan
Time: July 5, 2009, 4:34 pm

Yeah, no complete works. Everyone has a bad day, most people more.

Comment from Benoît
Time: July 6, 2009, 5:59 pm

a bit of chamber music:
Giacinto Scelsi – Ko-Lho – I
Giacinto Scelsi – 04 – Ko-Lho – II
Harry Partch – Two settings from Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake – I. Isobel
Harry Partch – Two settings from Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake – II. Annah the Allmaziful
Iannis Xenakis – Anaktoria
Julian Carrillo – Preludio a Colon
Lou Harrison – At the tomb of Charles Ives

…Hope this can help

Comment from Jonathan
Time: July 11, 2009, 4:51 am

Thanks Benoit, will check out.

Comment from bob
Time: September 2, 2009, 10:45 am

Ketil Bjornstad & David Darling – The River

Beautiful modern classical album!