Five Classical Music Pieces to Set the Mood by Amy Poeppel


[Note from Frolic: We’re so excited to welcome author Amy Poeppel to the site today. She’s put together a list of classical music to set the mood. Take it away, Amy!]

In my novel Musical Chairs (out today!), the main characters are classically trained, professional musicians who are members of a piano trio: Bridget is a cellist, her best friend Will is a pianist, and the violinist keeps changing—unfortunately and repeatedly—over their three decades of playing music together. Filling that empty chair in The Forsyth Trio is a chronic source of frustration for both Bridget and Will, who are as fiercely dedicated to their enterprise as they are to their friendship. 

I was excited to embark on writing Musical Chairs in part because I enjoy listening to classical music and I am deeply impressed by the dedication, skill, and resilience of professional instrumentalists. But let me be completely honest: I have no background or training whatsoever in music. Zero. I can’t play an instrument, nor can I read music or even carry a tune. I love a challenge, but I was understandably nervous about writing a book that centers on the lives of classical musicians and knew it would require a lot of research. Fortunately for me, I had some in-house assistance: my son Luke is studying composition, musicology, and piano, so he was able to step in when I needed help, which turned out to be all the time. He tutored me for hours, read my drafts, and—best of all—gave me a list of must-hear pieces. 

I started by listening to piano trios on YouTube and familiarizing myself with the music. But I can’t say that I chose to write about a trio because the music was especially compelling to me. Actually, I chose a trio because groups of three make for interesting dynamics and conflict in fiction; they create good drama and even better comedy. 

My appreciation for classical music, and for chamber music in particular, grew the longer I worked on this novel, and I now often find myself seeking the solace and cheer that the right piece of music can provide. Whenever I want something to listen to, I always ask my son, Luke, for a recommendation. So I’m going to pass along some of the suggestions he’s given me over the past several months. Depending on what activity you’re engaged in, here are five pieces of classical music—from orchestral to chamber to opera—that will put you in just the right mood.

Want to relax? 

Try listening to Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune by Debussy, especially while swaying in a hammock. This dreamy orchestral piece will calm your too-quickly beating heart and will banish your worry far, far away. From its slow tempo to the soothing sound of the flute and harp, this piece is the perfect de-stresser. Take a deep breath and enjoy. 

Want to add some pep to your step? 

Grab your ear buds and turn on An American in Paris by George Gerschwin the next time you’re taking a walk. This piece will help you keep moving at a fast clip as you march along whatever path you’re taking, even if it’s on a treadmill. The horns and percussion will keep you peppy and cheerful, and the surprising shifts and turns in the music will keep you guessing, distracting you from the fact that you’re actually exercising. You’ll never give in to the urge to slow down as long as Gershwin is setting the pace. Prepare to break a sweat!

Want to have some background cheer while you’re cooking? 

Leave it to a French composer to set the mood in the kitchen! Crank up the volume on Bizet’s Séguidille from Carmen, a song that celebrates dancing, drinking, seduction, and love. Try singing along loudly (which is even more entertaining if you don’t speak French or know the lyrics) and soon you’ll be fileting, flambéing, and sautéing with the best of them.

Want to work without becoming overly distracted? 

No lyrics, no problem: With the Piano Quintet in A Major (op. 81) by Dvorák playing on your portable desk speaker, you’ll be able to focus on the task at hand with the help of a chamber group in the background. The pace will help you stay on task, while the brisk sound of piano and strings will keep you alert. You’ll find yourself in the no dozing zone as this piece has an insistence to it that will put you in your most productive mode. Now get to work! 

Want to create a romantic mood? 

You’ll need just the right music for your next dinner for two. Light the candles, open the good wine, and give in to the beauty of Schubert’s Impromptu no. 3 in G flat Major (op. 90). This delicate, lovely composition will help you make the most of a romantic moment. But don’t save Schubert for Valentine’s Day! – His music is perfect all year long. 

About the Author:

Amy Poeppel is the author of the novels Musical Chairs, Small Admissions and Limelight. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Rumpus, Literary Hub, Working Mother, and The Belladonna. She and her husband have three sons and split their time between New York City, Germany, and the wilds of Connecticut.

Musical Chairs by Amy Poeppel, out now!

Bridget and Will have the kind of relationship that people envy: they’re loving, compatible, and completely devoted to each other. The fact that they’re strictly friends seems to get lost on nearly everyone; after all, they’re as good as married in (almost) every way. For three decades, they’ve nurtured their baby, the Forsyth Trio—a chamber group they created as students with their Juilliard classmate Gavin Glantz. In the intervening years, Gavin has gone on to become one of the classical music world’s reigning stars, while Bridget and Will have learned to embrace the warm reviews and smaller venues that accompany modest success.

Bridget has been dreaming of spending the summer at her well-worn Connecticut country home with her boyfriend Sterling. But her plans are upended when Sterling, dutifully following his ex-wife’s advice, breaks up with her over email and her twin twenty-somethings arrive unannounced, filling her empty nest with their big dogs, dirty laundry, and respective crises.

Bridget has problems of her own: her elderly father announces he’s getting married, and the Forsyth Trio is once again missing its violinist. She concocts a plan to host her dad’s wedding on her ramshackle property, while putting the Forsyth Trio back into the spotlight. But to catch the attention of the music world, she and Will place their bets on luring back Gavin, whom they’ve both avoided ever since their stormy parting.

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