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Thread: How To Best Learn About Classical Music

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    Newbies DoctorZhivago's Avatar
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    Default How To Best Learn About Classical Music

    Until several months ago, I hadn't really heard much classical music at all, (Vivaldi, Purcell and Grieg being the exceptions). Around this time, one of my roommates showed me a rap song which I now know had a fragment of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto 1st Movement in the introduction. Naturally, I ended up listening to the entire concerto and fell in love with it. Since then, I have listened to some Beethoven, Wagner, Paganini, Bizet, and Dvorak. I have really come to love many of these pieces more than any other music I have heard before.

    I think Tchaikovsky is still my favorite, but really love some of Wagner's works as well. What do you all think is the best way to explore and learn about Classical music? Should I merely youtube different composers, or is there a better more systematic/meaningful way to go about learning?

    Additionally, does anyone have any suggestions for specific composers? Like my taste in paintings, I am finding that the Romantic Composers most appeal to me (Wagner and Tchaikovsky are from that movement, right?)

    Thanks for everyone's help and I am excited to be a part of this forum!

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    Welcome to Talk Classical (TC). There are several resources here that might help. The sticky notes have useful information on a number of topics. Under Classical Music Discussion there is a thread, Music Books - A Quick Reference (Music Books - A Quick Reference). This thread lists many classical music books. The first section lists general books that could be useful.

    There are sticky threads which include the TC lists of various classical works. Under the Music and Repertoire / Orchestral Music section there are 2 sticky thread lists: The TC Top 100 Most Recommended Keyboard Concerti and the The TC 150 Most Recommended Symphonies. Those lists might help you explore some great (as determined by several TC people who participated in creating those lists) works.

    I don't know what would work best for you, but I can tell you what I did when I was roughly in your situation. I bought the Goulding book which is listed in the music books sticky thread. That book lists the author's selection of the top 50 composers and their top 1000 works. I simply went through that book and tried to sample those works as much as possible.

    If you have lots of money, you can buy recordings, but perhaps a better way is to listen to youtube selections (it's amazing how much is on youtube). There are some music libraries online (Naxos.com has a very large sample), and you can join and have access to a large number of works.

    I have found that the works the "experts" like tend to be the works I (and others here) like as well. In a relatively short time I was able to listen to a significant number of works from the great composers. I was just overwhelmed with how much beautiful music there was. It's a wonderful journey. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
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    Welcome to Talkclassical ! The best way is just to listen-period ! There are so many ways
    you can.If you live in a town where there's a symphony orchestra,opera company etc, get tickets .Contact the group's websites for inforamtion on this. If you don't, listen to CDs,
    listen to performances on the internet, or catch PBS telecasts of classical performances.
    Get classical DVDs. In classical , it's often necessary to give any given work repeated hearings before you get it .This has happened to me so many times. Don't automatically decide you don't like something based on just one hearing.
    There are quite a few good books for classical newbies,such as Classical music 101 by Fred Plotkin, or The Essential Canon of Classical Music by David Dubal, or waht to listen for in music by the late Aaron Copland. Wikipedia is a good place for reliable quick information on any classical composer or work.
    It's like being the proverbial kid in a candy store- there's so much classical music and information about it easily available to you.
    The books by Plotkin,Dubal and Copland are easily available fro amazon.com etc.
    A great place to order classical CDs and DVDs is arkivmusic.com, which has a humongous selection of classical CDs and DVDs available of countless works by countless composers. You can look up any CD or DVD alphabetically by composer or performer and choose from the categories composer,conductor, instrumentalists and orchestras etc. There's whole separate section for opera, too. There's a link to the classical CD review website classicstoday.com where you can get recommendations for recordings .
    You can also hear many of the CDs at arkiv.com. If you're looking for budget CDs, the best record label is Naxos, and you can check their website.
    Other top classical record labels are Decca , EMI, R.C.A., Sony Classical, Deutsche Grammophon, Chandos,Hyperion , CPO , and Supraphon. You can check all their websites.

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    A year ago, I didn't really listen to classical at all. Now, I own hundreds of CD's. A deadly drug, classical is!

    My method of expansion was to look up which pieces were being played at local concerts (by the way, attending a live concert is a world difference versus listening to a CD - highly highly recommended), listen to samples on youtube (there is tons of content). I would then gauge which composers I liked (for example, in loving Sibelius' violin concerto, I went and explored his symphonies as well), or which types of words I liked (I love concertos, so I'd go and listen to the well-known ones first, and then branch out from there), or look up other words by a certain performer (for example, I love Szeryng's violin playing, so I've picked up some CD's he's made involving some pretty obscure compositions). There's just so many ways, and you can't really go wrong as long as you keep listening.

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    Senior Member Weston's Avatar
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    You Tube is a great way to explore. Wikipedia's section on classical music is really all you need to know about the different time periods and composers to help you make informed decisions about what to listen to next. I think there's even a list of composers from the romantic period.

    If you like Wagner, you can't go wrong with Bruckner. His symphonies are epic!

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    I second mmsbls, one of the lists is linked in my signature.

    Other than that, try reading up about classical music history. Get a book that doesnt go into the technical stuff, and find all the works mentioned on youtube.
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    "Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody." - Rousseau

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    My way of getting more and more at home inside Classical Music was to visit the public library. When I happened to like one work of a certain composer I just borrowed another work of him (mostly it is a 'him') and so on. In the past (I don't know much about the present situation anymore) Dutch librarians made a kind of pre-selection of good recordings (they have limited funds), so this helped a lot. When you start wrongly with a no-good-interpretation, this catastrophical burdening will take a lot of time to get out of your ears. So be careful to listen always to the best interpretation possible!

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    Newbies DoctorZhivago's Avatar
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    Thank you everyone for the advice so far! I just stumbled upon Alkan and have been enjoying him very much, although I think I will need to listen to more of Bruckner now.

    I will be working this summer in Jersey City right across from NYC, so will hopefully be able to go to some concerts right across the river. Do they tend to be costly?

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    Quote Originally Posted by DoctorZhivago View Post
    Thank you everyone for the advice so far! I just stumbled upon Alkan and have been enjoying him very much, although I think I will need to listen to more of Bruckner now.

    I will be working this summer in Jersey City right across from NYC, so will hopefully be able to go to some concerts right across the river. Do they tend to be costly?
    Unfortunately, as everything else in the city these days, the answer is most definitely YES. However, sometimes there are free concerts in some of the parks in the outer boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, so you might do well in checking the Village Voice for these upcoming events. Good luck and let me know if that works--maybe I'll join you at some of them.
    Whatever floats your boat

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    I'll have to recommend Spotify again - best program for listening to classical music IMHO. Also, read Wikipedia, read books, Google stuff up, read old talkclassical threads... I think these are self-evident. I am also someone who loves Romantic music best, including Wagner and Tchaikovsky, so I'll list some of the usual warhorses for you:

    Beethoven (try symphonies 3, 5, 7), Schubert (symphonies 8 and 9), Brahms (piano concertos 1 and 2, double concerto, symphonies 1 and 3), Schumann (violin concerto, symphony 1), Berlioz (symphonie fantastique, harold en italie), Saint-SaŽns (symphony 3), Bruckner (symphonies 4, 5, 7, 8), Sibelius (symphonies 1, 2, 4, 5, violin concerto, lemminkšinen suite, nightride and sunrise), Rachmaninov (piano concertos 1 and 2, symphonies 1 and 2), Richard Strauss (also sprach zarathustra, ein heldenleben), Mahler (symphony 2), Rimsky-Korsakov (scheherazade, symphony 2), Mussorgsky (pictures at an exhibition orchestrated by Ravel), Borodin (symphony 2), Dvorak (symphony 9), Smetana (ma vlast) etc.

    There's a lot of stuff to be heard... take your time! Broaden your knowledge on these guys too, I just listed some of their more obvious works as examples. Also, check out some classical era music like Mozart and Haydn, without whom Romantic music could not exist, as well as some later impressionist/expressionist/modern stuffs that could not exist had it not been for Romantic music (Debussy, Ravel, Nielsen, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Stravinsky...)
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    Try to find out about university orchestras. I'd guess that Princeton and Columbia both have good enough orchestras and wouldn't cost too much.
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    Senior Member Vaneyes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DoctorZhivago View Post
    Thank you everyone for the advice so far! I just stumbled upon Alkan and have been enjoying him very much, although I think I will need to listen to more of Bruckner now.

    I will be working this summer in Jersey City right across from NYC, so will hopefully be able to go to some concerts right across the river. Do they tend to be costly?
    You're on a fast learning curve with the likes of Alkan and Bruckner. I think my beginning preferences were Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Faure. What superhorn says--listen, listen, listen. Make notes, too. Remember, a short sharp pencil is better than a long long memory. Good luck, have fun, enjoy.

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    As an obsessive guy I can tell you how I started out. I started by copying all of my mother's orchestral works to my computer, and than I found Brahms.. explored all of his chamber and orchestral works, bought Bernstein 60 CD box set, got to this forum and started to read threads for recommendations.
    If you like Ronaticism, explore deeper. If you like orchestral, explore symphonies, maybe concerti and so on.
    You have great list the TC members made for exactly people who wants to know more.
    And most inportant: listen to music, that's the best tip I can give you. I listen 6 hours a day and I'm sad I cant more.
    Oh, and I choose a work, listen to it once a day until I either enjoy it or dont get it, and move on (of course there are several works a day) and I'll get back to it when the mood strikes me (obsessive). Dont get me wrong, I do listen to works I already know, but I cant sleep if I'm not learning new works.
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    I'd also say, let some of your purchases be total shots in the dark. If you're at a store with used CDs or a bargain pile or barrel or corner or whatever, just dig through it and get whatever intrigues you. Composers and works you've never heard of, don't know how to pronounce, etc.

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    I know a great website where you can learn all about classical music ie theory of music (5 grades), history, the orchestra, composers etc. You can study a short mini-course and then take a quiz to see how much you remember. Also there are loads of videos and audio just to enjoy. One-2-Five music online
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