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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
A Beginner's Guide to Classical Music

Often people unfamiliar with Classical music will ask advice on how to approach it. Where do you start?

🎼

Frankly, many already are familiar with a lot of classical music.

Cartoons from the 1940s and 1950s are loaded with it.

And anyone who's a fan of theatrical films will have heard a great deal of it, even though they may not have realized it: For instance, 2001: A Space Odyssey used a great many classical pieces for its score. From the impressive opening of Richard Strauss' Also Spracht Zarasthustra, to Johann Strauss' The Blue Danube, the use of already composed works helped give the film the impact that made it so very successful.

Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange used Beethoven's 9th Symphony.

Apocalypse Now used Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries from his massive operatic suite Die Walk?re.

Even Ferris Bueller's Day Off used music from Boccerini's String Quintet in E.

So . . . I compiled a collection of some of the most compelling and accessible classical works for novice listeners.

Originally it was to be a Top Ten, which quickly grew into a Top 20, then a Top 25, and so on.

One of the problems with getting folks to come over to "the classical side" will be familiar to Prog Rock lovers . . . the length and complexity tends to just chase folks away.

CAUTION: This list is NOT really a "ranking", although works I feel are better are more likely to appear in a higher position. The list is more of an "ordering" to introduce the uninitiated to Classical Music, in a sequence that in my opinion is more likely to entice one "into the fold".

But the 1st piece is

The Planets
Gustav Holst, an 8 movement symphonic work that clocks in at well over a half hour.
1916


This piece is #2 on the Parker Symphony Orchestra's List of 10 BADASS PIECES OF CLASSICAL MUSIC. Here's THAT full list.

Orff - Carmina Burana / "O Fortuna" (#18)
Holst - The Planets, Mars (#1)
Verdi - Requiem "Dies Irae" (#79)
Wagner - Ride of the Valkyries (#31)
Vivaldi - The Four Seasons: Summer Mvt. 3 Presto (#6)
Bizet - Carmen Overture / Les Toreadors (#62)
Mussorgsky - Night on Bald Mountain (#19)
Verdi - Il Trovatore / "Anvil Chorus"
Khachaturian - Sabre Dance
Strauss - Also Sprach Zarathustra, Prelude (#24)


. . . and their "Honorable Mentions":

Tchaikovsky - 1812 Overture (#5)
Shostakovich - Symphony No 5, Mvt 4 (#153)
Bruckner - Symphony No 1, Mvt 3
Grieg - In The Hall Of The Mountain King (#11)
Dvorak - Symphony No 9, Mvt 4 (#2)
Mozart - Requiem in D minor, Dies Irae (#35)
Bizet - L'Arlésienne Suite No 2, Mvt 4 (Farandole)
Saint-Saëns - Symphony No 3, Mvt 3 and 4 (#408)
Beethoven - Symphony No 9, Mvt 4 (#39)
Glinka - Overture from Ruslan and Ludmilla (#231)
Holst - The Planets, Jupiter (#1)
Mozart - Symphony No 25, Mvt 1
Bach - Toccata and Fugue in D minor (#90)
Smyth - The Wreckers (Overture)


:)

Ah, but The Planets is a great look at orchestration and variety. And several film composers have used Holst's techniques to great success. John Williams has paid great tribute with his scores to Star Wars and others (he's pretty damned prolific).

Of course, the best way to experience Classical music is in a live setting. Unlike rock music, which sometimes suffers in concert, Classical music is exacting . . . it's important to the players and conductor that it be perfect. You won't find fall-down drunk singers or guitarists on acid here.

Here's a great and spirited live version by the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain.

This version also has a new movement, to include Pluto, discovered after the suite was written.

Mars, the Bringer of War 0:00
Venus, the Bringer of Peace 7:15
Mercury, the Winged Messenger 15:09
Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity 18:58
Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age 26:42
Uranus, the Magician 35:32
Neptune, the Mystic 41:20
Pluto, the Renewer 49:17

Proms 2016 - Gustav Holst - The Planets


.

This extensive work has popped up in popular music as well, especially the 1st movement.

Sinfonia, a large group of electric guitarists covered it, as did King Crimson (retitled "The Devil's Triangle"), and eventually, Emerson, Lake and Powell.

Jimmy Page adapted part of 'Mars' in the song 'Friends' on Led Zeppelin III.

Yes quoted a few sections of Jupiter in the song "The Prophet" from their 1970 album "Time and a Word".

Isao Tomita did an electronic version many years ago, and Jeff Wayne and Rick Wakeman teamed up as well in 2005 with an album Beyond the Planets.

Many artists, such as Frank Zappa, have "quoted" licks from the suite in instrumental sections of songs.

John Williams used the melodies and instrumentation of Mars as the inspiration for his soundtrack for the Star Wars films (specifically "The Imperial March")

Hans Zimmer closely used the melodies, instrumentation and orchestration of Mars as the inspiration for his soundtrack for the movie Gladiator to the extent that a lawsuit for copyright infringement was filed by the Holst foundation.

:(

In presenting this in serial form on a blog, there will be a continual problem with videos becoming "inactive". Due to the settings of Talk Classical, I cannot easily go back later and find an active link an simply insert it, as the editing feature becomes inert after a very short period of time. I'm not complaining, mind you, that's just the way it is.

Generally, the specific video I choose will be live, with decent sound and video. I'll usually give a title and artists (the players, conductor, name of the orchestra, etc), so if the link goes dead, one can generally search for it, or a replacement, fairly easily.

I think that being able to watch the performance adds to the enjoyment somehow. So most of these videos are live, even though there are often "better" (subjectively) recordings. "Better" sometimes just means that the studio recording has better production value, and no audience coughing during the quiet sections.

I welcome comments and suggestions. In general, given that this is a blog format, that is likely to happen anyway. Suggestions for entry-level Classical works will be met with bemusement, as it's very likely I'll already have that work on my list. But possibly not. As I mentioned, the list was started quite some time ago, and grew from humble beginnings to a completed list of 200 finished blurbs of specific works, to a projected list of over 600.

I've actually been compiling this on a different vblog, a band fanpage, but as the band and its fans age and leave (in some cases they "transition"), the membership has dropped drastically, and has been in danger of simply "closing shop" several times. The Admin there has moved to a smaller server after "dumping" a good portion of its archives, and is in the process of doing that again.

So, it's already put together for people to follow along and listen as I drop a post.
 

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You should include a smattering of piano, modernist, and chamber music, too-- some people may like that more than the orchestral music that draws most people in.

Piano:
Dvorak: Complete Humoresques
Chopin: Ballade No. 4
Brahms: Hungarian Dances
Beethoven: Moonlight, Hammerklavier movement 1

Modern:
Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra
Stravinsky: Rite of Spring, Ebony Concerto
Ravel: Piano Concerto for the Left Hand

Chamber:
Mozart: Clarinet Quintet
Brahms: String Sextet no. 1 movement 2
Ravel: String Quartet
Schubert: String Quartet no. 14, Trout Quintet
Dvorak: Dumky Trio
 

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For a general introduction I don't think very long works like the Messiah or an opera would work. What might be best is works that
[1] have some melodies that the newcomer already knows, but serve to show how much more there is to a work than that melody;
[2] are not too long (ideally not much beyond half an hour to keep their attention)

Some candidates (incidentally, these were among the ones that helped me get into classical music):

- Beethoven's 5th symphony
- Vivaldi's Four seasons (just one of them for starters)
- Mozart's piano concerto 20
- Grieg's first Peer Gynt suite
- Bach's first cello suite
- Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto
 

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A beginners guide to Classical should open with a 400-page thesis on the merits of subjectivity vs objectivity. With breaks of course, like frequent trending videos such as this:


Remember, great music is often about the beard. Whatever you define music to be, the beard seems to have the final say.
 
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Or just read or review Martin Bookspan's 1968 book "101 Masterpieces of Music and Their Composers"

View attachment 151920

You can buy it for as little as a half dollar here

https://www.amazon.com/101-masterpi...martin+bookspan&qid=1615027619&s=books&sr=1-1
That is a terrific book. How good is it? Well, many of the recordings the author recommended way back when it came out are still among the most highly recommended. That says something. Bookspan knew his music and was no snob.
 

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I'd take stuff that is catchy but not so well known, thereby less burdened by any prejudices regarding 'classical music', and spanning from medieval times until contemporary. Say like Respighi's War Dance from the Belkis Suite, medieval Carmina Burana and Ventadorn original stuff, a Bruckner Scherzo (9th?), Schubert's Moments Musicaux, a V-Williams pastoral work, and so on.

But another key question would be the existing taste of the new, interested person. If the person likes smurf songs, Xenakis probably isn't the way to go. If the person likes jazz, there's a lot of say 20th century music to bring up. If it's heavy metal, some Shosty might be relevant, for example.

And then I'd bring in some lasting, basic repertoire stuff. Bach's Brandenburgs, Mozart piano concertos, Beethoven symphonies and piano sonatas, etc.
 

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Discussion Starter #12 (Edited)
You should include a smattering of piano, modernist, and chamber music, too-- some people may like that more than the orchestral music that draws most people in.

Piano:
Dvorak: Complete Humoresques
Chopin: Ballade No. 4
Brahms: Hungarian Dances
Beethoven: Moonlight, Hammerklavier movement 1

Modern:
Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra
Stravinsky: Rite of Spring, Ebony Concerto
Ravel: Piano Concerto for the Left Hand

Chamber:
Mozart: Clarinet Quintet
Brahms: String Sextet no. 1 movement 2
Ravel: String Quartet
Schubert: String Quartet no. 14, Trout Quintet
Dvorak: Dumky Trio
Mostly excellent suggestions.

For the most part I've attempted to stay away from collections, at least near the top of the list. Enticing someone into loving classical means fighting a century of pop music conditioning, where people tend to lose focus after 3 minutes.

Of course, first off, I've broken my first rule by including The Planets Suite, and it won't be long before I'll have to mention Beethoven's 3rd Symphony (or 9th), or The Nutcracker, or WTC.

But I'll be spreading the love around; and most of your suggestions ARE on the list, though not necessarily near the beginning.

I love me some Brahms and Schubert as much as the next guy, but their complexity may chase folks away. You mentioned Brahms twice, and he's got many spots on the list, just not near the top. I suppose it's daunting that there is so much great music, and to create a diverse list is a challenge. But in the Top 100 Brahms' Piano Trio No. 1 (Eroica) is the only work from him I've included, although there's some other great chamber works that are easily more accessible. Expand that to my Top 200, and Brahms does much better: Symphony No. 4, Academic Festival Overture, Symphony No. 3, and Piano Concerto No. 1. Like I said, the competition is fierce. Top 300? Four Songs for 2 horns, harp, and Women's Choir, Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Piano Concerto No. 2, and Symphony No. 1.

And after that Brahms is still well represented:

Double Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra
German Requiem
"Brahm's Lullaby"
Symphony No. 2
Tragic Overture
String Quartet No. 1
Piano Quartet in C minor
Waldesnacht
Waltz in A flat Major


But I'll tack the Sextet on the back of the list (it just keeps growing). Occasionally I'll discover that I've made duplicate entries, and that was actually the case with Brahm's 2nd symphony, so I slid the Ebony Concerto in the duplicate's place. Woo-hoo!

And Dvorak gets plenty of love, with the Dumky listed at #149

I'm unfamiliar with Stravinsky's Ebony Concerto, but I've got it playing right now and loving it. It seems like a great suggestion. Somewhat modern, incorporating some big band sensibilities, phenomenal orchestration technique. I'll find room for it, as my list is quite modern-phobic at first. The noise-makers of the 20th Century tend to drive people away until their ear is ready for it. I daresay that Beethoven would have enjoyed some Stravinsky far more than Mozart would have. I don't know, if Mozart were brought back from the dead, would have be a Kanye fan? Would he love Gentle Giant? As for his Clarinet Quintet; as great as it is, almost EVERYTHING Mozart composed is great. I'm betting that Mozart is the MOST represented composer on the list so far.

Here's the Mozart I've included in my Top 100 (and the only composer with TWO works in my Top 10):

Jupiter Symphony
Overture, Marriage of Figaro

Symphony No. 40
Requiem in D minor
Piano Concerto No. 20
"Elvira Madigan" Piano Concerto (No. 21)
Symphony No. 35
Symphony No. 36
Overture, Magic Flute


And, after that, in the Top 200

"Michael Haydn" Symphony
Symphony No. 38
Symphony No. 39
Horn Concerto No. 3
Don Giovani
The Marriage of Figaro
The Magic Flute
Concerto for Flute and Harp
Clarinet Concerto in A Major
"Alla Turca" Piano Sonata (No. 12)


. . . And as I'm digging this information out, I've just discovered that Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 was listed twice, at #60, and at #170. I've rolled out this list elsewhere, and it was a year between the two listings, yet I chose the same video clip with Yeol Eum Son for both entries!

Which means I have room for the Clarinet Quintet.

What can I say? Mozart's a monster. Imagine if he'd lived as long as Haydn; Would we be talking about his Symphony No. 150? Piano Concerto No. 99?
 

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Discussion Starter #13
For a general introduction I don't think very long works like the Messiah or an opera would work. What might be best is works that
[1] have some melodies that the newcomer already knows, but serve to show how much more there is to a work than that melody;
[2] are not too long (ideally not much beyond half an hour to keep their attention)

Some candidates (incidentally, these were among the ones that helped me get into classical music):

- Beethoven's 5th symphony
- Vivaldi's Four seasons (just one of them for starters)
- Mozart's piano concerto 20
- Grieg's first Peer Gynt suite
- Bach's first cello suite
- Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto
Excellent suggestions. On the list in prominent positions. I like the way you're thinking.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
I'd take stuff that is catchy but not so well known, thereby less burdened by any prejudices regarding 'classical music', and spanning from medieval times until contemporary. Say like Respighi's War Dance from the Belkis Suite, medieval Carmina Burana and Ventadorn original stuff, a Bruckner Scherzo (9th?), Schubert's Moments Musicaux, a V-Williams pastoral work, and so on.

But another key question would be the existing taste of the new, interested person. If the person likes smurf songs, Xenakis probably isn't the way to go. If the person likes jazz, there's a lot of say 20th century music to bring up. If it's heavy metal, some Shosty might be relevant, for example.

And then I'd bring in some lasting, basic repertoire stuff. Bach's Brandenburgs, Mozart piano concertos, Beethoven symphonies and piano sonatas, etc.
Yeah, I'm going with the "One Size Fits All" approach, which allows for a wide breadth of diversity for the list, although it naturally will be biased towards my own tastes and experiences.

I've got a few by Respighi on the list, but failed to include War Dance fr. Belkis Suite. I'll find a place for it.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
After only one entry I'm surprised that no one yet mentioned Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition".

Mr. M would've been a rock & roller had he lived in this era, and Pictures is, perhaps, the closest thing in the classical world to rock, and since most people are fully acquainted with rock, it makes sense to recommend it as a starting point.

But as it is, it's relegated to spot #13 (so . . .still in the Top 20), as there are some other heavyweights that pushed him out of the Top 10. Given the volume of really accessible "Great" classical works, that's actually pretty damned good.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
#2
Symphony No.9 in E minor "From the New World", Op 95.
Dvořák
1893

Specifically the 4th movement, which may be the most recognizable of the four. Keith Emerson used sections of it for the introduction for his cover of Bernstein's "America" in his pre-ELP days with The Nice. He also interpolated more of it during the piece.

Chris Squire of Yes also covered the 2nd movement on Ultimate Yes: 35th Anniversary Collection

Antonín Dvořák's popular "New World" Symphony is, indeed, "inspired" by the negro spirituals and indigenous music of North America, although, in his own words, is composed of "original themes embodying the peculiarities of the Indian music, and, using these themes as subjects, have developed them with all the resources of modern rhythms, counterpoint, and orchestral colour." Also of inspiration were the "wide open spaces" of Iowa, which he visited in 1893.

The work, as is typical of Symphonies, is in four movements, which are labeled by their tempo markings or dance style, often with some sort of expressive phrase:

I. Adagio - Allegro molto
II. Largo
III. Scherzo (molto vivace)
IV. Allegro con fuoco

If you're familiar with Italian (or perhaps some Spanish or Latin), these may make perfect sense. So, a basic glossary of terminology is appropriate:

Andante - walking speed
Allegro - "cheerful"
Presto - quickly
Vivace - lively
Largo - broadly
Lento - slowly

Dance style names, like Allemande or Sarabande, would be 'intuitive', as they were very popular common dances that were almost always at commonly expected tempi.

If one sees a "con fuoco", you'll know the composer wants played with fury, or in a fiery or impetuous manner.

I highly recommend the video from New York Philharmonic, in the gala performance for the start of their 175th season, but as happens in Youtube Land, the video has 'vanished', and it's now only available as short single movement videos, which is somewhat inconvenient.

Dvořák's "New World" Symphony

Gimnazija Kranj Symphony Orchestra under the baton of maestro Nejc Bečan

 

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Discussion Starter #18
If you enjoyed Antonín Dvořák's 9th Symphony, you may be interested in "skipping ahead". He wasn't just a "one hit wonder".

My list includes, of course, Dvorak's Slavonic Dance No. 7, Op. 46, the Cello Concerto in B minor, and the String Quartet No.12 in F (American Quartet).

There's also his 7th and 8th Symphonies (all of his symphonies are worth a list, his Carnival Overture (Op 92), and his "Dumky" Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor Op. 90 ("Dumky" is a Slavic slang for a collection of brooding, introspective "little" epic ballads, specifically a song or lament of captive people, with cheerful sections interspersed within).

Oh, and "My Homeland", Op. 62. And his Wind Serenade.

Oh, and The Noon Witch (Polednice), Op. 108. Nice and compact symphonic poem. With tubular bells!

;)

But it is remarkable that the first actual Symphony on my list is from Dvořák.

Of course, we've had the Best Symphonies discussion before, with the focus on the Best Beethoven Symphony.

Of course, Beethoven towers large over symphonic works. Only 9 symphonies, and most of them GREAT. People love the 5th, the 9th (Choral), the 6th (Pastoral), and the 3rd (Eroica). And the 7th gets a great deal of respect as well, probably because it's sort of an 'underdog' when pitted against Beethoven's others.

Many lists often name Beethoven's 3rd Symphony as the Greatest of All Time.

Classic fM Digital Radio (a "Pop" Classical Radio station) has their own list of the 10 Greatest Symphonies of all time, and lists Dvorak's 9th first, somewhat validating its position so high on this list, although the indulge in a bit of "spreading the love around", including only ONE Beethoven Symphony.

Dvořak - Symphony No. 9 ('From The New World')
Mozart - Symphony No. 41 ("Jupiter")
Berlioz - Symphonie Fantastique
Mahler - Symphony No. 2 ('Resurrection')
Brahms - Symphony No. 4
Gorecki - Symphony No. 3 ('Symphony of Sorrowful Songs')
Shostakovich - Symphony No. 5
Beethoven - Symphony No. 9 ('Choral')
Tchaikovsky - Symphony No. 6 ('Pathetique')
Rachmaninov - Symphony No. 2

Other lists include
Beethoven's 5th, 3rd, 7th,
Mozart's 40th,
Tchaikovsky's 5th and 4th,
Mahler's 5th, 8th, and 1st,
Brahms' 1st and 4th,
Schubert's 8th and 9th, and
Sibelius' 2nd,
Bruckner's 8th,
Shostakovich's 11th and 9th,
Copland's 3rd, and
Prokofiev's 10th

If you enjoyed the "Symphony" format, you could check out any of these, and be certain that these are the best of the genre.
 

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Discussion Starter #19 (Edited)
1. Holst - The Planets, Op. 32. 1918
2. Dvorak - Symphony No.9 in E minor "From the New World", Op 95. 1893


3
Symphony No. 3 "Eroica"
Ludwig van Beethoven
1803


That's right . . . the Best symphony of ALL TIME. Well, according to some. Why is that? Opinion. But if you're making a Top Ten List of Best Symphonies of All Time, you are likely to include it (unless you're Classic fM).

And I've placed Dvorak's 9th above it.

But I've said it before, and I'll say it again . . .

.

There is no "best" classical work.

There are plenty of great works all. But there is no "greatest".

You cannot compare The Planets to Mozart's Requiem.

You cannot compare Beethoven's 3rd Symphony to Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

You cannot compare the Enigma Variations to Handel's Water Music.

You cannot compare the Revolutionary Etude to Scheherazade.

You cannot compare the 1812 Overture to Rhapsody in Blue.

And you cannot compare Night On Bald Mountain to Ave Maria.


.

. . . And it only points out the extreme difficulty in making a "Best of", "Greatest of all time", or, in this case, a "Beginner's Guide". I've put the "Greatest Symphony of All Time" behind Dvorak's 9th Symphony. I've placed Beethoven's 5th Symphony down at #16, after Peer Gynt, Pictures at an Exhibition, and Rhapsody in Blue.

And Beethoven's 9th Symphony, a brilliant and influential groundbreaking work down in 39th place, after Bolero, Also Sprach Zarathustra, and the Ride of the Valkyries.

There's a reason for this, of course. If you're just getting your feet wet for the first time, you may not want to jump into the Deep End right away.

:p

It has been over 200 years since Beethoven's 3rd Symphony was written and is testament to his absolute genius.

There is just so much to it, there is so much happening.

This symphony is about humans - our struggles, challenges and victories. You come away having experienced the power and joy of being alive.

The Eroica, written in 1803, was originally destined to be called "The Bonaparte", a celebration of Napoleon and all he stood for. Beethoven changed his mind when he heard that Napoleon had declared himself emperor. Beethoven denounced him as a tyrant and scrubbed out his name so hard there is a hole in the original manuscript.

The way Beethoven works out all the motifs, melodies and themes in such detail, while at the same time maintaining a completely organic development of the emotional message, is extraordinary.

This is where it starts to get interesting. And by 'get interesting', I mean 'the rulebook gets incinerated in a political and revolutionary rage by a deaf genius'. The third symphony is the one that, everyone generally agrees, changed everything and kick-started the Romantic period in music.

So . . . here's a live version (the BEST way to experience classical music), conducted by a modern genius, Leonard Bernstein leading the Wiener Philharmoniker.

1ST MOVEMENT: Allegro con brio
2ND MOVEMENT: Marcia funebre: Adagio assai
3RD MOVEMENT: Scherzo: Allegro vivace
4TH MOVEMENT: Allegro molto-Poco andante-Presto

BEETHOVEN - Symphony no. 3 in E flat Major, Op. 55 - Leonard Bernstein

 
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