Paging Prager: The Classics

I’m a bit of a YouTube music dilettante. I go to YouTube, I type in a composer’s name, and listen to the music that comes up. It’s a lot of school bands, but there are also professionals.

Alas, while I know I like Bach, Mozart, Mahler, and Stravinsky, I know nothing about them.  And for that matter, it isn’t that I like them in the abstract -I like certain parts of their bodies of work. I tend to like their keyboard pieces more than their strings for example. It would be nice to actually unde…

  1. Percival
    EThompson

    Percival:  An aside for any fans of No. 5 out there: is Shostakovich lauding Stalin, or mocking him?

    Neither. His music rages against the death and destruction instigated by Stalin.  · 8 hours ago

    That would be “reproaching” rather than “mocking” then.  I like the answer.  Dmitri was on the knife’s edge.

  2. thelonious

    I’ve been listening to a lot of Glenn Gould playing Bach.  I especially love the Goldberg Variations.  The only way I can describe it is: Ahhhhhhhhhhhh  Bach.

    You tube is awesome.  Often you can find 2 or 3 hours of play in one longplay session of a particular composer.  I think that’s the best way of finding out what you like.

  3. Songwriter
    Sabrdance

    Schrodinger’s Cat: Surely, you’ve seen Amadeus. It isn’t completely acurate historically, but it does give you a feel for the man and the period. The acting is superb and the music multa bene. · 1 hour ago

    Amadeus is a fine movie.  Earlier today, I was talking about a piece of writing, and how I wished I could write that well.  I compared myself to Salieri.  I like to think that would make the character smile. · 9 hours ago

    In a conversation with several very talented studio musicians once, we all agreed we would be happy to be merely as talented as Salieri. What most folks don’t understand watching “Amadeus” is that Salieri was very, very good. He had to endure working next to one the great musical geniuses of all time. Not an easy thing to do.

  4. Tom Meyer, Ed.
    C

    This seems like a good opportunity to plug The Teaching Company.

  5. Jeffrey L.

    The Vintage Guide to Classical Music by Jan Swafford was a great help to me when I first started listening to classical music two decades ago.  It is informative and well-written.  It is still in print and available at Amazon.

    Allow me to make some off-the-beaten-path recommendations:

    • Stravinsky’s setting of the Mass for mixed chorus and double wind quintet (especially the Gloria, with its spare, unearthly beauty)

    • the music of Leos Janacek (begin with the Sinfonietta)
    • the music of Heinrich Schutz (start with this motet; the text is John 3:16)
  6. EThompson

    Everybody lauds Mahler’s Symphony #2, but I would argue that Symphony #1 is his best and most poignant. I’d recommend the version conducted by Riccardo Muti or George Pretres. (I was unbelievably fortunate to witness both concerts in the flesh!)

    My second and third choices of “must hears” would be Sibelius #1 and #4.

    I didn’t mention Bach because I know the Richochetti will have much to contribute here.

    Enjoy!

  7. MichaelC19fan

    If you enjoy keyboard pieces I would highly recommend Rachmaninoff. Can’t go wrong with Piano Concertos 2 and 3 and Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

  8. DrewInWisconsin
    Sabrdance: And, well, the only Stravinsky piece I can reliably recognize isFirebird Suite and that’s entirely because ofFantasia.

    (Okay folks! Who’s going to be the rude person who informs him that the Stravinsky piece in Fantasia is actually The Rite of Spring?)

  9. DrewInWisconsin
    Sabrdance

    DrewInWisconsin

    Sabrdance: And, well, the only Stravinsky piece I can reliably recognize isFirebird Suite and that’s entirely because ofFantasia.

    (Okay folks! Who’s going to be the rude person who informs him that the Stravinsky piece in Fantasia is actually The Rite of Spring?) · 5 minutes ago

    Fantasia 2000.  It’s the final piece.

    Oops. “Never mind.” ; )

  10. Schrodinger

    Surely, you’ve seen Amadeus. It isn’t completely acurate historically, but it does give you a feel for the man and the period. The acting is superb and the music multa bene.

  11. Sabrdance
    DrewInWisconsin

    Sabrdance: And, well, the only Stravinsky piece I can reliably recognize isFirebird Suite and that’s entirely because ofFantasia.

    (Okay folks! Who’s going to be the rude person who informs him that the Stravinsky piece in Fantasia is actually The Rite of Spring?) · 5 minutes ago

    Fantasia 2000.  It’s the final piece.  I should have been more specific.  But I’m not actually old enough for the original Fantasia to have made an impact.  I keep slipping into “Hall of the Mountain King” every time I try to hum “Night on Bald Mountain.”

  12. Schrodinger

    If you are of a geekish nature in a logical and mathematical way, read Godel, Escher and Bach by  Douglas Hofstadter. You will get a whole new perspective on fugues.

  13. Amy Schley

    I love Romantic-era orchestral music, particularly the ones that seem so perfectly grounded in the homeland of the composer.  “Ma Vlast” by Smetana for Czech, “Finlandia” for Finland, “Hall of the Mountain King” for some great Norwegian bombast, pretty much anything by Tchaikovsky or Mussorgsky or Stravinsky or Rimsky-Korsakov for the Russians.  Holst’s Planets for the war of “Mars” and the British peace of “Jupiter”; Liszt for Hungarian Dances and Offenbach’s French Can-Can. Saint-Saen’s French Carnival of Animals and Chopin’s French/Polish fantasies.

    And the fun part is to set up a Pandora station that plays all this, but also great film soundtracks of Bernstein, Horner, Williams, and Shore. It’s a great transition to go from the trackless depths of the Finland forests to those of Middle Earth; from the watery Aquarium to a Hymn to the Sea from Titanic; from Orff’s “O Fortuna” to the “Duel of the Fates” from The Phantom Menace. (Quite possibly the best thing in that mess of a movie)

  14. Amy Schley
    Sabrdance

    DrewInWisconsin

    Sabrdance: And, well, the only Stravinsky piece I can reliably recognize isFirebird Suite and that’s entirely because ofFantasia.

    (Okay folks! Who’s going to be the rude person who informs him that the Stravinsky piece in Fantasia is actually The Rite of Spring?) · 5 minutes ago

    Fantasia 2000.  It’s the final piece.  I should have been more specific.  But I’m not actually old enough for the original Fantasiato have made an impact.  I keep slipping into “Hall of the Mountain King” every time I try to hum “Night on Bald Mountain.” · 7 minutes ago

    Dude, I’m younger than you, and the original Fantasia is how I learned to love classical music …

  15. DrewInWisconsin

    Michael Walsh’s Who’s Afraid of Classical Music is a good overview, written in a light, easily accessible and humorous style. Lots off great suggestions, lots of interesting info.

  16. Percival

    You can pick up a lot on the music by reading about the lives of the composers.   The occasionally maligned Wikipedia is usually pretty good for a thumbnail sketch, and The Lives of the Great Composers is supposed to be pretty good (I haven’t read it all the way through).  Many of the pieces themselves have an entry.  The general format for symphonies is “Symphony No. X (composer),” for instance Symphony No. 5 (Shostakovich).

    An aside for any fans of No. 5 out there: is Shostakovich lauding Stalin, or mocking him?

  17. ChrisnGreta

    I absolutely love both of the Fantasia movies and wish they would do another!  When it comes to finding good recordings, I can’t recommend spotify enough.  Youtube is a great way to explore as well, especially if you can search for specific performers (and bypass the school bands, which are nice, but probably not what you’re looking for).

  18. EThompson
    Amy Schley: I love Romantic-era orchestral music, particularly the ones that seem so perfectly grounded in the homeland of the composer.  “Ma Vlast” by Smetana for Czech, “Finlandia” for Finland, “Hall of the Mountain King” for some great Norwegian bombast, pretty much anything by Tchaikovsky or Mussorgsky or Stravinsky or Rimsky-Korsakov for the Russians.  

    I would only add Prokofiev here; perhaps Classical Symphony?

  19. ChrisnGreta

    Btw, I just watched the Firebird Fantasia 2000 video on youtube and literally jumped out of my seat… you know where.

  20. Dean Murphy

    I love Bach’s Organwerks, Toccata and Fugue in D minor et al.  (his secret? he used his thumbs too!)

    I love Wagner too, especially the Tannhauser Overture.

    I am a big fan of Holst’s Planets, Mars and Jupiter in particular.

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