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Thread: I love classical music but I'm not very fond of the vocal

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    Newbies fredrik_n's Avatar
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    Default I love classical music but I'm not very fond of the vocal

    I have been listening to classical music every now and then for about 5 years and I absolutely love it, though I have one issue that bothers me - I haven't unlocked the mysteries of vocal music. Usually I either skip the vocals - or even worse, don't buy a piece just because there is vocal parts in it. Just recently I decided not to buy Mahler's 4th Symphony based upon that fact, which I honestly find quite sad since I love his 6th.

    Maybe I have this notion that I won't be able to appreciate the singing since it's often sung in a language I don't understand...

    What do you find appealing in the vocals of classical music? And what should I listen for to be able to appreciate it more?

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    Senior Member opus67's Avatar
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    I don't understand what is sung in any of works of the western canon. Getting the gist of what they're singing about is not a big deal, but not being able to listen to it as a native speaker of the language would, I find, is indeed a drawback. But that does not prevent me from listening to purely choral works, or a choir in orchestral ones, or even opera arias. The music and the human voice(s) singing them makes up for it... sort of.

    I don't know exactly what to recommend to you. But here are a few things that you could check out

    Lieder (piano + voice, usually). I'm not familiar with them, but Schubert is supposed to have been the grand daddy of this genre. Even Mahler wrote some lieder.

    Operatic arias: Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Puccini, Bizet (Carmen) you could check out the popular tunes from them.

    And there are the large scale works: Masses, Requiems, and sacred works based of liturgy. There are also those that are termed secular.
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    Quote Originally Posted by opus67 View Post

    Lieder (piano + voice, usually). I'm not familiar with them, but Schubert is supposed to have been the grand daddy of this genre. E
    Operatic arias: Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Puccini, Bizet (Carmen) you could check out the popular tunes from them.
    .
    Schuberts, psalm 23 is great mix! mozart's requiem is one of the best classical works with chorus.

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    Senior Member Weston's Avatar
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    I loved classical music long before I liked the more popular styles, but like you I could not get into any vocal music unless it was for large choir. There's something unnatural and annoying about the so called classical singing style - especially soloists. Even today I have a little trouble with it if there's too much warbling, quavering, and bizarre lip quivering going on. (Never mind that I can watch a rock musician make fearsome grimaces all day without it bothering me.)

    Then I finally turned a corner and started really enjoying it -- I pretended it wasn't a person doing all that bellyaching, but some strange electronic instrument like a theremin. Somehow this mental image was more acceptable to me (not surprising given my avatar) and now I can even appreciate a Wagnerian opera, something that might once have sent me fleeing the room in agony. Hey, whatever works!

    I'm so glad I made the effort. I can't imagine living without the ending of Beethoven's 9th now.

    [Edit: Having the English translation helped immensely in this too]
    Last edited by Weston; Sep-18-2008 at 01:26.

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    Senior Member Rachovsky's Avatar
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    Thats one of the reason's I can't appreciate opera. Even with a libretto in hand, I can't truly appreciate what they are saying or acting out. I can listen to large-scale choral works like Mozart's, Berlioz's, and Verdi's Requiem, Mahler's 8th Symphony, Mahler's 2nd Symphony, etc., but cannot appreciate the solo vocal works like the final movement of Mahler's 4th or lieder's, etc.

    To Fredrik: I would definitely buy Mahler's 4th; the solo only appears in the final movement if I am not mistaken. His Resurrection Symphony (2) is my favorite orchestral work out there and it contains a massive choral finale. One of the only reasons I may love it so much is because it is loud, powerful, and optimistic.

    Here's the English translation of the final movement of his 4th:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphon...st_movement.29

    Here's a Swedish description of the piece:
    http://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symfoni_nr_4_(Mahler)


    Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend. -- Beethoven

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    Senior Member purple99's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Weston View Post
    bellyaching
    LOL! It's true, singers can be highly irritating, especially sopranos -- for some reason -- who adopt a sugary 'smilie' face when singing 'happy' words, then a face like a smacked a*se when the words are 'sad'. It's toe-curling and for some reason far more offensive than a rock star thrusting his groin at the audience.

    When I learned the piano as a child I had a teacher who, during sad passages, used to yell: "Lean into the piano!" I obeyed, feeling a bit of a dick, until I plucked up courage to ask her why.

    "To show emotion," she said. "To send the message to the audience that they're listening to a sad passage and you're feeling it with them."

    I told my father what she said and -- when he'd finished laughing -- he said: "Stupid woman! Doesn't she realise it's the music's job to do that? And I'm paying for this rubbish..." I don't mean to be sexist but female singers have the disease worse than men, in terms of pulling stupid faces. I suspect they were badly taught so the problem passes down the generations.

    Quote Originally Posted by fredrik_n View Post
    what should I listen for to be able to appreciate it more?
    "Listen" is the operative word. If you've an embarrassing female trillster in front of you, grimacing like a monkey on crack, it's best not to look at her.


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    Senior Member SalieriIsInnocent's Avatar
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    I love listening to music in a language unknown to me before i found out what people where saying in operas they either one made me feel them more.
    two hate them.

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    Member kiwipolish's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fredrik_n View Post
    I haven't unlocked the mysteries of vocal music. Usually I either skip the vocals - or even worse, don't buy a piece just because there is vocal parts in it.
    First, don't worry about it at all. Just enjoy what you can when you can. This is what music is about.

    My guess would be that vocal music will come to you slowly over the years, starting probably with works where text and acting do not play a large role, i.e. religious works. At least, this is how it worked for me.

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    Senior Member Elaryad's Avatar
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    I'm not very fond of the vocal works either.That's because voice is the instrument that I don't like the most, so it's a bit difficult to get over it when I listen to songs (pop, rock, operatic, etc.). But sometimes I find a voice that I like and specially I prefer a voice that don't go over the other instruments.
    I will try to listen to some lieder, on the expectation to like them more than opera arias. Probably Schubert or... I don't know, don't know many
    The choirs/voices on Beethoven 9th and Mahler's 2nd don't do me any harm.
    But on a general basis I don't pay attention to a specific operatic singer work like I do with other instrumentalists and the only name I know is Galina Vishnevskaya for obvious reasons :P I kinda like her work on Satires: pictures of the past by Shostakovich and with Rostropovich playing the piano, but that's because it makes me laugh.

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    Senior Member jhar26's Avatar
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    I think that the "what should I listen to in order to learn appreciate vocal music?" question is nearly impossible to answer because it's likely to be very different for every person. I didn't listen to any classical music of any kind until I was about 23 or 24 years old. Before that I only listened to pop, rock and related styles.

    So when I decided I wanted to give it a chance I started with works like Bernstein's semi-operatic recording of "West Side Story" with Kiri and Carreras and Rattle's recording of Gershwin's "Porgy & Bess." They are sung sung in English, are related to popular music and there are plenty of catchy tunes that I immediately recognized. Because of all that getting used to classical voices wasn't that difficult for me - I fortunately enough had chosen (for me anyway) the right works to take that first step. Schubert lieder wouldn't have worked for me at the time although I love them now.

    I'm a bit surprised by how many people seem to dislike the soprano voice. It's one of my favorite "instruments" now.

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    Senior Member purple99's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jhar26 View Post
    I'm a bit surprised by how many people seem to dislike the soprano voice.
    I love the soprano voice. I just can't stand the faces they pull. One of the worst offenders is Sofie von Otter. She’s a singer of incredible power, at the top of her game, yet insists on twisting her face into weird grins and grimaces, like she’s got ants in her pants.

    She’s too experienced and professional to be feeling the emotions shown on her face - to sing as well as her you need ice in your heart - so she’s play-acting. It seems such an odd thing to do.


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    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdhRYMY6IEc

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    Senior Member jhar26's Avatar
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    Yeah, I see what you mean. Doesn't look very attractive at all. Cecilia Bartoli's facial expressions often look pretty ridiculous too - not to mention Jessye Norman's. Makes me wanna throw a pie to their faces at times, even though I respect them as singers. On the other hand, for example Renée Fleming or Kiri Te Kanawa always look natural to me.

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    Senior Member Weston's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by purple99 View Post
    I love the soprano voice. I just can't stand the faces they pull. One of the worst offenders is Sofie von Otter. She’s a singer of incredible power, at the top of her game, yet insists on twisting her face into weird grins and grimaces, like she’s got ants in her pants.

    She’s too experienced and professional to be feeling the emotions shown on her face - to sing as well as her you need ice in your heart - so she’s play-acting. It seems such an odd thing to do.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdhRYMY6IEc
    Now see -- in this instance (in the link) I don't mind the facial contortions so much as the vocal vibrato, tremelo, or warbling. I don't know the term singers use. I know it may be historically appropriate, but is it necessary? I don't know anything about what it takes to sing like this, but I know all that vibrato is distracting to me. How much more beautiful this melody would be with more subtle vibrato.

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    Senior Member Rachovsky's Avatar
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    I'll have to disagree. Anne Sofie von Otter is one of my favorite people to listen to and watch. I haven't read most of this discussion, but don't you think it's necessary to make those facial expressions sometimes? This Erlkönig seems to be a very dynamic piece and I really can't blame her for making those faces to bring out the best sound. Does she do a better job here, in your opinion? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HpWDQsNJ3k
    I think she does perfect.

    To be honest, If theres anyone whose facial expressions bother me in this video, it's Simon Rattle. Check the image ..
    Last edited by Rachovsky; Sep-20-2008 at 15:44.


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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jhar26 View Post
    Schubert lieder wouldn't have worked for me at the time although I love them now.
    Just to drive home the point about differences between listeners ... I still struggle to enjoy lieder by anyone - not just Schubert.

    I found my way into vocal music through Wagner, where (or so it seemed at the time) I felt the voice was being treated as 'just' another component of the orchestral ensemble, rather than something separate. That breakthrough led me to Puccini, where the sheer richness of melody overcame my prejudice about the vocals; and once I'd made that transition, gradually I started to enjoy the infinite richness of some of the great opera singers in other areas. Even then, it's only comparatively recently that I've found my way into choral music, and even then again, there's still an awful lot that I can't cope with.

    So I would hesitate about making anything other than the most tentative recommendations - but how about trying this: there are plenty of 'orchestral' versions of 'Ride of the Valkyries' available, and very exciting they can be. But to listen to one of those, and then listen to a full vocal version on a 'highlights from The Ring ' CD, would be very revealing, I think. It may do a lot towards demonstrating to any listener how much is lost, in terms of sheer wild exhilaration, when the vocals are removed.

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