Classical Music for Dummies: Eight Composers for the Longing Musicalista in You

mozart-hipster-thumb-572xauto-338291.jpg
Mozart: Not on the list, but doesn't he look like a hipster in this picture?
It seems like every other week I come across people who have a budding tendency within themselves to be more enthusiastic about classical music. Whether a hipster, rocker, or person somewhat regretting that he/she never continued playing the violin or piano from a young age, classical music (according to the masses) brings a sense of peace and sensibility to our fist-pumping and head-banging world.

It has been said that classical music is a dying sport of sorts, for the well-to-do and culture snobs, but I say "hooey" (with the gravity of a middle finger) to that. Classical music is for everyone who looks for drama, introspection, a dizzying array of interesting sounds, and of course, a gold lining of refinement.

The following list will serve well as a guide for those looking to explore the awesome repertoire of sounds that is the music of the heavens. BONUS: A handy-dandy pronunciation guide!

1. Tchaikovsky's Symphonies No. 4 and No. 6 (pronounced CHAI-COUGH-SKI)
There is no doubt in the minds of music historians that Tchaikovsky was both gay and a serial depressive. His music is a bit depressing, but on the same scale, extremely romantic. Idealists flock to his grandiose compositions for a spectrum of emotions. Without a doubt, no one makes more people cry to classical music than good-ole Tchaik (that bastard! ::tears up::). Also, conspiracy theorists will have a good time dining on the variable stories of how this composer came to his demise - bon ape tit!
Recommended recording: NY Philharmonic/Bernstein for Symphony No. 4 and Berlin Philharmonic/Karajan for No. 6.

2. Mahler's Symphonies No. 1, No. 2, and No. 5 (pronounced MALL-LER - otherwise known as a suburban shopping addict)
Fans of this composer are called "Mahlerites" and for a good reason. They are GAGA-Little-Monsters hardcore. All the major conductors of the world and mainstream composers like John Williams are Mahlerites, drawing inspiration directly from Mahler's legendary fame as a former conductor of the N.Y. Philharmonic and composer of massive and super highly regarded symphonies.

Especially remarkable are the final movement of the 1st, Scherzo movement of the 2nd, and the Adagietto movement of the 5th. Sadly, Mahler only had time to write nine and half symphonies, a few song cycles, and one movement of a piano quartet (which is the musical equivalent of a brain fart). The sacrifices you make to be a world-famous conductor. Ahhhh well...

Recommended recording: Israel Philharmonic/Mehta for Symphony No. 1, London Philharmonic/Gergiev for No. 2, and Frankfurt Radio Symphony/Inbal for No. 5.

3. Ysaye Solo Sonatas No. 2 and No. 3 (pronounced EASE-ZEYE - like "easy eyes" really fast)
The solo violin music of Eugene Ysaye (my great-great-grand teacher) is well known within the violin playing world. It is a staple at violin competitions and students squeal at the opportunity to play his music. Aside from being completely ball-busting and extremely difficult to master, the music has a language all its own and the two compositions recommended above get a bit scurry.
Think Halloween meets Hilary Hahn-complexity in voices, fluidity in harmonies, a touch of madness and quotations from songs of the dead. Other than that, he is well-known for fathering the diaspora of violin playing that came to be known as the French/Belgian School. This is probably why the most famous violin competition in the world is named in his honor. (Our top American classical music export Hilary Hahn is a product of that school.)

Recommended recording: Ilya Kaler - The Six Solo Sonatas of Eugene Ysaye.

4. Shostakovich String Quartets No. 7, No. 8, and No. 9 (pronounced SHAH/SHOH-STAH-KOE-VITCH)
The musical language of Dima Shostakovich is eery, not because he gets scurry like Ysaye, but because his world was that of the former Soviet Union. Throughout his collection of compositions, you hear musical noise akin to the shuffling of feet and the stern knocking of doors, and a compendium of sounds reminiscent of gun fire and expressing a slow deterioration of the human spirit - yup, pretty much the former Soviet Union in a nutshell.

In fact, the String Quartet No. 8 was dedicated to the victims of our World Wars - a brooding and clawing account of death and destruction. The seriousnessusus of the music does get a bit overwhelming, but if you are one to appreciate the confined histories of our past humanitarian crises, then you would empathize well with the immaculately realized world of Shostakovich's music.

Recommended recording:
Emerson String Quartet - Shostakovich String Quartet Cycle.


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2 comments
Bill T.
Bill T.

Tell me the OCW doesn't have depth and breadth in it's writing, terrific counter-example. There was a reason Chopin was a 19th century super-star with groupies hanging all over him.

lynneyost
lynneyost

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