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Beethoven always makes a great gift, more reliable than anything else. And as the greatest artist of the human spirit, there’s no time like now to give Beethoven. Here’s some suggestions that are superb musically and real values money-wise:

Symphonies

This cycle from George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra is one of the very best, and the price makes it the best value of all the symphony cycles in print.

Piano Sonatas

Much tougher to make one choice here. Kempff is the ideal first choice, and his first, mono recordings are the finest set available. But his stereo versions are also excellent and cheaper.

Those are analog recordings. If you want digital (and well-recorded), Paul Lewis’ set is very good, beautiful played and sane all the way through, though not as deep or dramatic as some others. The price gives it high value.

 

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String Quartets

The final leg of the essential Beethoven tripod (itself fundamental to the Western art music tradition). Like the Piano Sonatas, there’s no clear single choice in terms of musical quality and low cost. This is compounded in that many of the best cycles seem to constantly go in and out of print, leaving the consumer at the mercy of the secondary market.

The early Tokyo String Quartet cycle is a bargain, and is fine, but not in the top rank of recordings. Their later one is superior, one of the best, but the prices are all over the place on the secondary market. The Quartet Italiano cycle is superb, one of the very best, and available at a moderate price.

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As for the rest, there are a lot of good ones that are expensive, and a lot of inexpensive ones that aren’t as good. Caveat emptor.

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I’ve been reading through apocalyptic fiction since summer 2015, inspired in no small part by the stream of reissued material from the great experimental collective Fossil Aerosol Mining Project. If the 2016 political year has got you feeling like you need an inoculation against dread, you can’t do better than to read A Canticle for Leibowitz.

As a companion and a link between this remarkable novel and the remarkable sounds from FAMP, read my article “Sounds of Futures’ Past” at NewMusicBox; a contemplation on what our future sonic archeology might be, and exactly what of civilization we might leave behind to be pieced together by a future Order of St. Leibowitz.

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Are you a musician, or do you know any musicians?

My Moleskine music notebook is one of the two most valuable tools I have. I’ve got a bunch of different music notebooks, but this is the only one I carry around with me—the hard cover protects the interior, and the paper inside is nicely printed with light, thin ledger lines. Indispensable. The one above fits into a bag or backpack, there’s also a pocket size version that you can carry in a jacket, or cargo pants.

Of course, you need a writing instrument. I use and strongly recommend the Tornado Stealth mechanical pencil.

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I’ve been using one for over three years, and I’ve used nothing but this in all that time. Very sturdy and well-made (it’s metal, not like so many plastic ones) with a nice thick, soft lead that does everything. I love this and have given it as a gift, and will keep doing so. If you don’t like the basic black, you can get various colors and designs, including one with Einstein’s formulas for getting to the equation that energy is equal to mass times the speed of light squared.

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For anyone who listens to music through smartphone or tablet, these Bluetooth headphones are an exponential upgrade over earbuds. The sound is excellent, close to that of my Sony studio monitor cans, and you can’t quite imagine how wonderful it is to be free of those danlings wire until you actually try it. Pairs with my iPhone immediately just by turning them on (no fussing with the system application) and they recharge via included USB cable. Once you have them, you will have a hard time imaging how you did without them.