Classical Music Introductions needed

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by DarrylWHarrisJr, Feb 7, 2002.

  1. DarrylWHarrisJr

    DarrylWHarrisJr Stunt Coordinator

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    I am ready to expand my musical horizons and enjoy some dynamic and remastered (fidelity is a requirement of mine)classical music CD's. What are some of your recommendations as a starting point.

    Mozart, Bach, etc.

    Thanks.
     
  2. Nicole P

    Nicole P Stunt Coordinator

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  3. Eve T

    Eve T Supporting Actor

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    I enjoy Mendelson, Beethoven, and Handel. Mendelson's Itallian symphony number 4 is very nice indeed. I enjoy classical music very much...I play the violin maybe that's why. [​IMG]
    Enjoy!
     
  4. Philip Hamm

    Philip Hamm Lead Actor

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    In classical music the quality of the perfromance is much more important than the technical quality of the recording.

    Also, in general, all classical music is very well recorded.

    I would recommend Mozart's symphony 40 and 41, performed by the Academy of Ancient Music, Christopher Hogwood conducting, as a good start.
     
  5. Mike Broadman

    Mike Broadman Producer

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    I don't know much about the various recording qualities, etc. But if you're asking about which composers and performers, that's different.

    Basically, to figure out what you would like, start off with something that you already like. Is there a composer you're already a little familiar with? Or maybe there's a specific piece of music that you like.

    The important thing to realise is, unless you're very much into classical, you're not going to like all of it. There are many different styles and eras, some of which directly contrast others.

    Generally, the later in classical musical history you go, the more "emotional" and dynamice the music seems to get.

    Composers like Bach, Vivaldi, and Handel constructed harmonically complex, highly structured music. This is often referred to as Baroque. Counterpoint, playing mutliple melodic lines simultaneously in a way that works harmonically, was a common practice and perfected by Bach (my favorite composer). Bach's Brandenburg Concertos and Goldberg Variations are prime examples.

    Mozart and Haydn are the top names of the Classical period. Emphasis was placed on a single melodic line, supported by chords rather than counterpointed melodies. This is more akin to rock music, in a sense (singer sings melody over band playing chords and bass). Meanwhile, the overall structure of a piece was reigned in. At its best, the result was highly enjoyable, tightly written music. Mozart's later symphonies (and operas, if you're interested in opera) represent the pinnacle of this music. It is said that Mozart created "perfect" music.

    The composers that followed were less concerned with structure and more concerned with shooting straight for your heart. This was part of the Romantic movement, which was also affecting literature and art. Composers were discovering folk music, and incorporating that into their writing. One would hear lots of changing dynamics, huge orchestras, and delicate sentimental melodies. Schubert, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky are the biggest names from this era.

    The 20th century saw the likes of Bartok, Starvinsky, and Prokofiev reinventing music. Much of it is considered too "weird" for most people. "Classical" music has become so varied and so, well, odd, in the last 100 years that there is no way to describe it, especially when you throw in the insane sound experiments of Edgar Varese, John Cage, Weber, and Stockhausen.
     
  6. Darren Lewis

    Darren Lewis Supporting Actor

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    I don't know if you can get them in the US, but over here there is a CD called "The Best Classical Album in the World..." It contains most of the "popular" classics - a good starting place.
     
  7. Eve T

    Eve T Supporting Actor

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    It might also interest you to know that the London Philharmonic did an album with Pink Floyd, all orchestrated. Have a listen, it includes all the favorites such as comfortably numb, hey you, Another brick in the wall etc.
     
  8. RicP

    RicP Screenwriter

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    Mike,
    Super post!! [​IMG]
    I will of course recommend the wonderful 9th Symphony by Ludwig Van Beethoven. Preferably conducted by Karajan or Furtwangler. [​IMG]
     
  9. Stefan A

    Stefan A Second Unit

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    I am sure you will get good recommendations here and find books that will help you with this. I wanted to address your request for high fidelity recordings. Check out this thread:
    http://www.hometheaterforum.com/htfo...threadid=40492
    I typed a pretty lengthy post but I don't think too many people read it. Basically I tried to explain why recording quality should not be the #1 consideration in picking classical cd's.
    Also, if you search at Hometheatertalk, I posted a list of what I felt is basic rep for the beginner. I don't know how this forum feels about posting links into other forums - so just search there to find it.
     
  10. andrew markworthy

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    The best advice is probably to get a couple of classical sampler albums and see what you like. Then go find CDs which just contain work by that composer. Inevitably you'll be led down some blind alleys at first, so I'd recommend you stick wtih budget recordings to begin with. Once you feel confident in your choices, then explore the repertoire in more depth.

    Several pointers which may be of help:

    (a) you will find that there are star performers and conductors; Herbert von Karajan is perhaps the best known conductor along with Furtwangler and Toscanini (all now dead). They tend to be safe bets for a lot of the 'big name' composers such as Beethoven, but in nearly all cases, I can think of better performances by other artists.

    (b) if you are just going for recording quality, you can kiss goodbye to many of the greatest performances by earlier artists who recorded before modern recording technology was available. You wouldn't reject Citizen Kane just because it's in black and white and mono, would you?

    (c) having said that, don't be put off recordings made in the late 50s and early 60s because you think they'll sound less good than more modern recordings. The simple truth is that age does not necessarily guarantee quality of recording. Indeed, a lot of classical hi-fi fans reckon that the single best collection of recordings were done by the Decca label in the late 50s and early 60s. Beware of some of the 70s and 80s recordings when multi-miking seemed to be an obsession, and the balance of instruments at times sounded like e.g. a Mike Oldfield album, with instruments popping in and out of prominence in the mix.

    (d) allowing for the caveats just mentioned, you cannot guarantee recording quality just by name of the artist or label. Recording quality can be surprisingly patchy, even within one album (e.g. in the case of solo artist performances, the different pieces may have been recorded at different times and locations).

    (e) read critics' opinions on performances, but make up your own mind. You'll find that in a lot of cases, as with most critics in other fields, there are hidden agendas and personal opinions masquerading as the burning truth. The simple fact is that often there is relatively little to put between different performances, and the supposed 'glaring differences' between two performances are trivial.

    (f) one final thing - pretty soon you'll come upon talk of 'period instrument' performances. The instruments in a modern orchestra are not quite the same as those in an orchestra of the 19th century, and are considerably different from those of the 18th century and earlier (i.e. the time of Mozart and Bach). Also, modern orchestras tend to play pieces of Mozart, Bach, Handel, etc, with far more musicians than were used in contemporary performances. The result is that the sound of, say, Handel being played by a modern orchestra is utterly different from it being played on contemporary instruments using contemporary-sized numbers. The best illustration of this is Handel's 'Messiah' (where the 'Hallellujah chorus' comes from). Listen to a modern performance and compare it with a period instrument one (there is a superb recording on the Naxos label, which is very cheap) - they are utterly different. Whether you should prefer period or modern instrument recordings is entirely a matter of personal taste, and people tend not to be totally dogmatic about it. For example, I personally will only listen to anything pre-Mozart on period instruments, with the exception of Bach's solo keyboard works. I like Beethoven and Mozart works involving a solo violin or piano on modern instruments, but their purely orchestral works on period instruments. It's up to you to decide, but you should at least try out both types of performance.
     
  11. Philip Hamm

    Philip Hamm Lead Actor

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    Andrew, great post! I prefer period instruments in all cases personally. Kind of like "OAR" I like to hear the music as close to what was intended by the composer as we can get. Of course, there is a lot of interpretation involved in classical music but, for example I would respond to Ric's post of
     
  12. RicP

    RicP Screenwriter

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    Phil, I'd say that Karajan plays the 9th closer to what Beethoven actually intended. Most other composers actually play it too fast.

    I enjoy Karajan's conduction personally.
     
  13. Philip Hamm

    Philip Hamm Lead Actor

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    That's a nice thing about classical music, there is so much in the interpretation, and it's really up to individual preference. It's nice that all presentations are valid of a piece, and what is "definitive" is not really set in stone. Except of course for modern composers.
    However, my views are more than a little skewed as one of my brothers studied classical music in college, majoring in performance and original instruments / arrangements, particularly harpsichord. So I get the benefit (and curse?) of the advice an extremely well studied near-expert in the field. And he absolutely can't stand the Karajan Beethoven symphonies (but of course respects the interpretations and the work of the artists).
     
  14. Lewis Besze

    Lewis Besze Producer

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  15. Mark Lee

    Mark Lee Second Unit

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    Love it when these questions come up every so often, so I can chime in with a shameless plug for my favorite composer, Gustav Mahler. Needless to say, if one is just starting out in classical music listening, he may not be the best choice for an introduction, but once you've made it thru Bach/Mozart/Beethoven/Brahms, eventually you'll find your way to the monumental (OK, many might say bloated and overlarge) symphonies of Mahler, who probably took the symphonic form about as far as it could go. After him, one might even consider the symphonic form to have been exhausted. (Since his death, there doesn't seem to have been too much work of lasting significance done by anyone in the symphonic idiom.)
    His entire published oeuvre consists of only 9 symphonies, a "song-symphony," a couple of song-cycles, and parts of a 10th symphony left unfinished at his death. Virtually all of them are characterized by almost primal emotions and images. When the music becomes joyous (which honestly ain't that often -- he was the definition of the "tortured artist"), it's almost frenzied. When the mood darkens, believe me, you'll know. Morrissey ain't got nothin' on this guy for doom and gloom.
    If you ever find your way to trying him out, I have a few favored recordings of the more "accessible" works: Claudio Abbado and the Chicago Symphony do a creditable 1st Symphony on the Deutsche Grammophon label. A highly-praised recording by Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra on EMI/Angel of the 2nd Symphony is a great performance, though the tempos are often idiosyncratically slow compared with most other recordings out there. And Janet Baker does an incredible job with 3 of his song-cycles for solo voice and orchestra on EMI/Angel.
    And if you think he's inaccessible, just wait until you try some of his Viennese contemporaries -- Arnold Schoenberg, Anton von Webern, and Alban Berg! Atonality isn't just a virtue with them, it's the whole point!
    And someday, you've gotta check out the studies for player piano by Conlon Nancarrow.... or the St. Luke's Passion of Krzysztof Penderecki.... or even the opera Nixon in China by John Adams!
    Boy, am I getting ahead of myself here.... [​IMG]
     
  16. Philip Hamm

    Philip Hamm Lead Actor

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    Nice recommendations!

    Bach's Brandenbergs: among my favorites. Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons": great suff.

    Another sentimental favorite of mine is Czech composer Smetana's "Má Vlast" symphonic song cycle.

    A great modern song cycle is Joe Jackson's "Heaven and Hell". No shit, it's classical trust me.
     
  17. RicP

    RicP Screenwriter

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  18. Lewis Besze

    Lewis Besze Producer

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    Ric,
    I should have made clear that I was refering to scholars[and Karajan] not you! Sorry!
    Karajan certainly is a"maverick" type like LVB was,and he could very well be right,but we'll never know."the "Truth is out there"![​IMG]
     
  19. Bob_L

    Bob_L Supporting Actor

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    Real Name:
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    Well, my experience is that to introduce yourself to classical music, you don't want to start with historical recordings (less than optimum modern sound quality) or extended compositions (length). If you're used to hearing pop/rock songs that run only a few minutes in length, a 20-45 minute symphony is going to be a potential exercise in tedium. And since the sound quality of classical music is a major part of its appeal, you want a recording that will show it off. (Though, as mentioned above, some classical recordings dating back to the early days of stereo STILL qualify as sonic showpieces.)

    I generally point people toward short orchestral compositions initially, unless they have a particular interest in a specific instrument. I'd suggest buying some competent modern orchestral recordings of things like:

    Bach: Brandenburg Concertos

    Handel: Water Music

    Mozart: Opera Overtures (Magic Flute, Marriage of Figaro, Abduction from the Seraglio..)

    Beethoven: Egmont Overture, Leonore Overture No. 3

    Wagner: Tannhauser Overture & Venusberg Music, Overture to Die Meistersinger

    Verdi: Overture to "La Forza del Destino," Prelude to "La Traviata," Ballet Music from "Aida"

    Stravinsky: "Firebird" Suite

    Ravel: "Le Tombeau de Couperin" (an odd choice, perhaps, but a personal favorite)

    Prokofiev: "Lt. Kije" Suite

    and lots of other possibilities. (Pulling these off the top of my head)

    Another great choice would be to pick up the DVD of "Fantasia 2000." There is quite a nice cross-section of classical music there in good performances by James Levine and the Chicago Symphony. They do cut the works in question, but it's all to the good for introductory listeners. (Yeah, I know some folks would call that heresy. Tough...)

    Finally, it isn't worth obsessing over the quality of the performance at this point, IMHO. Most major label recordings are competent at the very least. There is plenty of time later to go on a search for your favorite interpretation of a work.

    Just my two cents....
     
  20. Mal P

    Mal P Stunt Coordinator

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    I myself very much enjoy classical music, however I'm not quite as familiar with some great works as you guys seem to be.

    What individual titles would you reccommend for listening? I.e. what are your favourites? From Reference Recordings? Chesky etc? I'm not quite sure on who's a good conductor, what's a good orchestra you see, so the actual CD name would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks,

    Mal
     

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