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Classical music

 

Consider, if you will, the following story.

Two aliens named Zirg and Zok are visiting Earth for the first time and want to experience Earthís culture. Zirg is interested in hearing our music, and Zok wants to see our paintings. Having cleverly disguised themselves with alienesque technology to make them look like Humans, Zirg and Zok go to a city and head to the cultural district. Unfortunately, they cannot stay very long, so Zirg has time to go to one concert and Zok to one art gallery. On their way back to their ship, they meet up and discuss their experiences.

"Earthlings have a large variety of music," Zirg says. "I saw jazz clubs, concert halls, theaters, and advertisements everywhere for upcoming shows and live bands. I decided to go to a concert of classical music."

"How did you like it?" asks Zok.

"I didnít," Zirg sighs. "I heard this musical form called a symphony, which had been written by an Earthling named Mozart. It was boring, repetitive, and far too long. I donít like Earthling classical music Ė itís too stuffy and uninteresting. I wish Iíd tried one of those jazz clubs instead."

"Thatís disappointing," Zok replies. "I visited an art gallery which featured the works of an Earthling painter called Monet. It was just all these blurry blobs of color, and the closer I looked, the less sense I could make of the pictures."

"It sounds like you had a disappointing experience as well," Zirg comments.

"Yes," Zok says disgustedly. "I donít like Earthling paintings Ė theyíre just smears of color. I wish Iíd spent my time looking at Earthling sculpture or architecture instead."

Shaking their heads at uncultured Earthlings, Zirg and Zok climb aboard their spaceship and fly off to explore the arts and music of the next planet they come across.

 

And the moral of the story is...

Okay, show of hands. Who didnít notice anything unusual about Zirgís line of reasoning? He listened to classical, didnít like it, and wanted to try a different genre instead. On the surface, it sounds sensible.

Now, take Zokís position. We recognize right away that his reasoning is specious. Heís dismissing all of Earthling paintings based on the works of one painter in one art style. But the truth is, Zirg has judged classical music in exactly the same way. Zok saw the works of one painter and decided he doesnít like paintings. Likewise, Zirg heard a symphony by one composer and decided he doesnít like classical music. Therefore, although it may not appear as obvious at first sight, Zirgís reasoning is just as flawed as Zokís.

I donít think any of us are Zoks. Iíve never met someone whoís said, "I donít like art." They may not like all art, but thereís some style somewhere that they like. But with art, itís a little different. People automatically know that if you donít like one style, try another. Unfortunately, when it comes to classical music, which is more sequestered and less mainstream these days, a lot of us are Zirgs. I canít begin to count the number of people Iíve heard say, "I donít like classical." Whenever I ask them what classical theyíve listened to, I usually get a fumbled reply along the lines of, "Oh...... you know, some Mozart. Uh, Bach. And Beethovenís 5th. You know, ĎDa da da daaaaa!í"

So, in other words, theyíve listened to the German classical tradition spanning a period of about 150 years. And based on that sampling from one small region of Europe in one relatively short time period, theyíve judged all of Western and Eastern classical music from every time period. This is why whenever I hear someone say, "I donít like classical," I know that they donít know what classical music really is.

 

Classical music: a global tradition

The thing about classical is that itís so much more than Bach and Mozart. Too often, people think "classical music" means "European music by dead guys like Bach and Mozart." The truth is that the term is a catchall definition for a wide variety of musical styles from all ages and all parts of the world.

So if you donít like Bach, thatís fine. Thatís one tiny part of it. The Western European style of classical Ė like Bach, Mozart, Beethoven Ė has been enormously influential and dominated the world in the way that a lot of Western European traditions have. But there is over one thousand years of classical music to listen to, not just from Europe but from all around the world. Most of it doesnít sound remotely like Bach. Somewhere, somewhen, thereís a style youíll like.

A lot of the classical music we never hear about actually predates the European tradition. For example, the music of India and Persia is one of the oldest expressions of classical music in the world, extending back thousands of years. In China, Confucius believed that music was a form of education, and in Chinese music, each note was related to a specific element: earth, metal, wood, fire, and water, thus making music representative of the universe as they knew it. Greek classical music existed thousands of years ago before becoming extinct by the Middle Ages. Indonesian music, which influenced Debussy so strongly at the 1889 World's Fair in Paris, has a complex, multi-layered kind of instrumental music performed in gamelan ensembles. Japan, Korea, much of Africa, Australia, and countless other cultures also have strong classical traditions as well.

 

Okay, what is classical?

Hopefully by this point, any Zirg diehards are realizing that Mozart is but one twig on the huge tree of classical music. So the next logical question is, if classical music is so varied, what is the definition of classical music? What makes it different from folk music or popular music? What does the music of a Shakuhachi flute being blown by a monk in Japan have in common with a Javanese gamelan performance or Mahlerís 3rd?

Classical music is best defined as an art form that spans the entire spectrum of human emotions, searches for the sublime, and prompts an emotional response from its listeners through its aesthetic exploration. Any culture can have classical music, as long as they have enough time and money to afford a form of art that isn't related to the necessities for daily survival.

Although so many types of classical music exist, there are several common elements that define what classical music is as opposed to traditional or popular music. One element is the presence of a well-organized framework of music theory and a systematical concept of music. (Not necessarily a form of music notation, however, as music has so often been an oral tradition.) Another element of classical music is that it is performed by professional musicians who have spent their lives in learning their art through formal music training. Also, the music itself has reached a level where it is presented in concerts or performances solely for the enjoyment of others.

 

Classical music and the other arts

The same things that have influenced classical music have influenced other arts as well, especially the visual arts. Using Western arts as an example, especially in this last century, what happened in an art like painting had its parallel in music. When we had Impressionism in painting, we had Impressionism in music with Ravel and Debussy. When there were Expressionist painters, music had Schoenberg, who was also an Expressionist painter himself. With Cubism, music had Schoenberg again, and Igor Stravinsky, who was influenced by Picasso. Surrealism influenced composers like Edgar Varese and Bohuslav Martinu.

Architecture is another important influence, too. When the Gothic cathedrals of Europe were being built in the thirteenth century, the music of the time was influenced by the Notre Dame school of composers like Leonin and Perotin, who were based at the great cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Their slow, pure music was perfect for being sung in cathedrals in which a short sound can reverberate for several seconds, and where faster, more complicated music becomes a jumbled mess. These composers also had religious reasons for writing the style of music they did, but theirs isn't the only case of the relation between music and architecture. In the Baroque period, when architects wanted to shake up the more austere Renaissance style, and introduced movement, drama, and an absolute explosion of decoration into their buildings, the Baroque music of the time featured the same kind of florid embellishments in sound. (Baroque music today looks plain and simple, but only because it was expected that the performer would add ornaments and other decorative improvisations.) Generally, the arts are all related to one another, and if one likes a certain style in one art, its parallel can be found in the other arts.

 

Traditional and popular music

While this page focuses on classical music, definitions for traditional and popular music may prove useful. Traditional music is another very old form of musical expression, but generally involved the whole village or community, and was often connected to dancing, which was a way of using music to release emotions. The purposes of traditional music are entertainment, story-telling, cultural identity about the people to which it belongs, morals, and healing, such as a sad song which is about a once true event.

Popular music, like the kind so prevalent today, is more one-faceted in terms of its range of emotions, something which makes it light and enjoyable. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with that, but in limiting itself to awaking one or two kinds of feelings in its listeners, it doesn't cover the whole spectrum of emotions in the way that classical music does.

 

The power of classical music

The Mozart effect is not a myth. Countless studies and brain scans have shown the benefits our brains receive when we listen to classical music, whether weíre hearing a CD or even just having a piece go through our heads. Music may be the food of love, but classical music is the food of the brain. And just as we take care to eat healthily by balancing nutricious food with snack food, we need to take care of our musical diet as well. Like it or not, classical music, with its full spectrum of emotions and aesthetic exploration, is the healthy food that contains all the vitamins and nutrients our brains need and respond to. Popular music, however tastier it may seem on the surface, generally lacks as much nutricious value. (Remember those ubiquitous science fair projects and the mice who listened to classical finding their way through the maze more quickly than their compatriots who listened to rock?) Just as one wouldnít exist solely on snack foods, I believe one shouldnít limit oneís musical diet either, but include some kind of classical music along with oneís normal fare.

 

The point of all this

Not that I launch into all this every time I hear someone say he or she doesn't like classical music. :) But I often wish I could, so that's why I made this page. Writing off classical music after hearing one or two dead European composers is like writing off the entire visual arts after seeing paintings by only one or two dead European painters. In just Western music alone, there's so many different styles to explore, as well as the classical music from India, Iran, Japan, China, Indonesia, and too many other cultures to list. All this diversity of musical styles and cultural influences means that there's something somewhere in some kind of classical music for everybody, no matter what their tastes may be.

Below, I'm going to list some of my favorite pieces from as many different styles as I can. Most are from Western music since that's what I know best, but I'm exploring the music of other cultures, too, so I'll include non-Western examples as I come across them. If you don't know much about classical music and want to experience something beyond Bach and Beethoven, then I hope this helps you out.

Note: I had sound clips but had to take them down due to mp3 search engines linking them and maxing out my bandwidth.

 

Medieval / Renaissance:

Romantic: The Early Twentieth Century: The Mid-Twentieth Century (Or, In Other Words, Examples of Music To Avoid): The Late Twentieth Century: Non-Western Music:

 

Medieval / Renaissance music

Style:

People often overlook the music from this era, but these pure, uncomplicated sounds can be refreshing and relaxing to listen to as a little escape from today's complex lifestyles and music. The kind of music that has survived to this day in medieval is generally choral church music, such as masses and motets. Later on in the Renaissance, instrumental music would be common for dance forms, but in the beginning, the voice was the main vehicle for music.

Composers and recommended works:

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - Hildegard is one of the earliest composers for which we have a name. Besides being a female composer, Hildegard was unusual in that she was also a writer on subjects such as theology, natural history, and medicine. She was the founder and abbess of a convent in Germany and wrote many Gregorian chants or plainsongs.

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Leonin (1135-1201) - 12th century composer based at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Leonin was a member of the Notre Dame school, which was the wellspring where Gregorian chant evolved into polyphony (more than one musical line at a time).

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Perotin (c. 1160-1240) - Perotin was probably a student of Leonin's, and was also a member of the Notre Dame school. His music contains the earliest extant examples of four-voice polyphony (four different parts together).

  • Sederunt principes: One of Perotin's most famous works. Don't listen to this organum quaduplum for the words - as is often typical with music of this era, it takes three minutes to complete the first word! (The sound clip here doesn't come close to completing the first syllable.) This music is quite rhythmic, and though it was inserted in Gregorian chant passages and not used on its own yet, it shows how far musical composition had come.

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John Dunstable (1390-1453) - Dunstable was one of the greatest English composers of the Renaissance. He helped music branch out from stepwise motion into the use of thirds and other wider intervals... in other words, making it sound more like music of today.

  • Quam pulchra es: A short motet with clear, simple chords. Dunstable explores a wide range of harmonies and even some dissonances, but, like ripples that only momentarily ruffle the surface of a pond, he frequently brings the music to rest with pure, open chords, creating a skillful play of motion and quiescence in his music.

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Josquin des Prez (1440-1521) - Josquin was the greatest and most celebrated composer of his time. Born in France, Josquin helped make sung music better fit the text, which meant that he and other composers of his time began detailing exactly which notes accompanied which words by placing the text exactly in line with the notes. This may seem obvious to us today, but before this, the melodies were so florid that there was plenty of notes to go with each syllable, so it was the singers who decided which words went with which notes. As the text became more important, the number of notes per syllable shrank, so that listeners could follow the text more easily.

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Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594) - In the 16th century, the Council of Trent was formed to attend to fix problems within the church. One complaint was that church music had gotten out of control and had such bad, complicated polyphony that the words couldn't be understood. It is said that Palestrina saved polyphonic music from the Council's condemnation by composing a 6-voice mass to show them that this kind of music could be pure and reverent. Of all Renaissance composers, Palestrina is perhaps the most famous and influential. The "stile da Palestrina", or style of Palestrina became the standard for church music such as the mass, which was Palestrina's chief vehicle, and his music is pure, transparent, and serene, yet not monotonous. Called the "Prince of Music", he was the first composer in Western music whose music was actively preserved and imitated.

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Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548-1611) - Born in Spain, Victoria (also called Vittoria) was the greatest composer of the time after Palestrina.

  • O magnum mysterium: A beautiful, expressive motet with gorgeous harmonies and a skillful use of dissonances resolving to consonance. (It was hard to find a stopping point for this sound clip as the harmonies are continually building and each phrase seems more beautiful than the last.)

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Roland de Lassus (1532-1594) - Also known as Orlando di Lasso, Lassus was to the motet what Palestrina was to the mass, and by the age of twenty-four was already a celebrated composer.

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John Dowland (1562-1626) - John Dowland was an English composer and lutenist. Famous for his beautiful airs and simple lute accompaniments.

  • Flow, My Tears: This melancholy piece for voice and lute was incredibly popular in the Elizabethan era, so much that John often signed himself, "John, ever grieving."

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Musica Antiqua: Medieval and Renaissance Songs and Dances: The best way to hear the dance music is to buy CD collections, especially since often the dance music was anonymous. This CD by the Musica Antiqua features a great selection of dances on all kinds of period instruments that aren't used anymore, like the serpent and the sackbut. Other instruments sound like squashed ducks or like they're made out of vacuum cleaner tubes... very fun!

Recordings:

A great way to become more familiar with medieval or Renaissance music is to listen to CDs of groups that specialize in delivering accurate performances early music. These groups are well-known for their polished, excellent work with early music, and have recorded many of the pieces I mentioned above:

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The Romantic Era

Style:

While Beethoven kicked off the start of the Romantic era, it is composers like Berlioz and Tchaikovsky who epitomize the unrestrained, passionate music of the Romantic years, which are generally dated from 1825-1900. This era saw boundaries explored, rules broken, and tonalities challenged. Music was used to express emotions and feelings, especially those like love and longing. Whereas the voice was used the most in medieval and Renaissance music, in Romantic music, instrumental music was the most important.

Oh, and yes, those who are music history-minded will notice that I'm skipping the Baroque and Classical periods. :) It's not that I don't like music from these times, but generally, people already think of Bach and Mozart when they think of classical music. My goal with this page is to highlight music outside of these time periods.

Composers and recommended works:

Giuseppe Verdi: Italian composer known especially for his operas, such as Aida and Rigoletto.

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Peter I. Tchaikovsky: Russian composer who wrote a variety of works, including ballets, concerti, chamber music, and symphonies.

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Antonin Dvorak: A Czech composer who combined elements of folk music from his own country into the prevalent Romantic German tradition.

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Hector Berlioz: This French composer is probably the quintessential Romantic composer. Passionate, dramatic, intense, and rebellious, Berlioz's Memoirs make for very entertaining reading (although one often has to take what he says with a large chunk of salt).

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Modest Mussorgsky: (1839-1881) A member of the group of important composers known as the "Russian Five", Mussorgsky left much of his works unfinished when he died, but his music is unique and, like other Russian composers, influenced by national folk tunes.

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Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov: (1844-1908) Another member of the "Russian Five" and partially self-taught. Rimsky-Korsakov was a brilliant orchestrator and was important in the way he mixed international music influences with Russian folk idioms.

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Gabriel Faure: (1845-1924) Faure lived in the time of the Late Romantics, but his style is far different from the heavy German Romanticism which influenced so many other composers. His music is generally lighter, more ethereal, sparser in texture, and above all, full of lovely, singing melodies.

  • Pavane: (1881) A short yet truly beautiful gem of orchestral music.

  • Requiem: (1888) Another exquisite Faure gem, the Requiem is shorter and more cheerful than requiems usually are, as it was not written for a specific person. Luminous, gentle, with beautiful melodies, my favorite movement is the sunny and peaceful Agnus Dei. Overall, this is a far cry from Verdi Requiem's stormy dramaticism.

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Jean Sibelius: (1865-1957) A Finnish composer whose years straddle the Romantic and 20th century eras, Sibelius was important in bringing Finnish nationalism to the fore through his music.

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The Early 20th Century

Style:

The early part of the century saw the stirrings of new styles that fought to get away from the heavy Wagner-esque death throes of the previous century's Romanticism. Impressionism (which sounds like the paintings look), anti-Impressionism, and Neoclassicism were some of the new sounds that arose, along with the increasing importance of ethnic and national influences. As always, composers were continually pushing the edge of the tonal envelope and experimenting with new sounds and harmonies.

Composers and selected works:

Igor Stravinsky: (1882-1971) Russian composer who composed in many different styles throughout his life, and was most famous for his ballets, which were arranged as orchestral suites.

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Ralph Vaughan Williams: (1872-1958) One of my all-time favorite composers, Ralph (pronounced Rafe) Vaughan-Williams was an English composer who was very influenced by the music of his own country, so his music usually sounds very English. He edited the English Hymnal in 1906, and later wrote, "Two years of close association with some of the best (as well as some of the worst) tunes in the world was a better musical education than any amount of sonatas and fugues."

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Gustav Holst: (1874-1934) Another English composer, who, like his friend Vaughan-Williams was also influenced by English traditional music.

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Claude Debussy (1862-1918) Debussy's name is often linked to Impressionism, something he rather hated. But his music, with its gentle evocations of mood, timbre, and harmony go well with the Impressionism tag, as it sounds like Monet paintings look. Debussy was very influenced by the Javanese gamelan music he heard at the Paris World's Fair in 1889, and his music contains "exotic" Eastern effects such as whole tone scales, allowing his music to escape from the rigid major/minor tonality frameworks.

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Maurice Ravel: (1875-1937) French composer Ravel (rah-VELL) was similar to Debussy, but moved away from the Impressionist style in which Debussy was such a master. His works are brilliant, colorful, and full of magic and beautiful melodies.

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George Gershwin: (1898-1937) An American composer who combined the use of popular and classical styles of music in his works, and who died far too young. Gershwin started off in Tin Pan Alley before moving to Broadway, collaborating with his brother Ira for many popular songs and comedies as well as the opera Porgy and Bess. He admired European composers like Ravel and Stravinsky, and even wanted to take lessons from them, although his own style was already very accomplished. An anecdote goes that when he asked Stravinsky for lessons, Stravinsky asked in return how much he earned. When Gershwin told him, Stravinsky responded, "How about you give me lessons?"

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Erik Satie: Satie was a jokester French composer (ďBefore composing a work, I go round it several times accompanied by myselfĒ), who scoffed at the serious music of his time. An eccentric, who had a phase where he wore identical velvet suits and only ate food which was white in color, his pieces are generally very short, and often have humorous titles, like Genuine Flabby Preludes for a Dog. His wit also carried over into the instructions in his music, which include sayings such as "light like an egg," "like a nightingale who would have toothaches," and "moderately, I insist."

  • Gymnopedie No. 1. (1902-1920) Thereís three of these short little pieces, originally scored for piano although dozens of other arrangements have been made over the years. Although all three are very similar in sound and melody, Number 1 is probably the most famous. Unlike many of Satie's other compositions, this is just pure, simple, peaceful, beautiful music.

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Aaron Copland: (1900-1990) An American composer (pronounced "cope-land") who used American idioms in his music. His music for the most part is very accessible, and often features traditional music, such as his famous Appalachian Spring. Copland is generally considered the quintessential American composer, and his use of traditional idioms and the wide, open spacing of the note intervals he uses sound very American, perhaps because it evokes the American prairie.

  • Billy the Kid: (1938) A great, thoroughly American West piece which started as a ballet and then was arranged into an orchestral suite. Complete with a gunfight courtesy of the percussion section.

  • A Lincoln Portrait: (1942) Written by Copland after the attack on Pearl Harbor, in order to help the war effort by raising people's spirits and stirring up patriotism. It wildly exceeded the composer's hopes and has become one of the best loved American pieces of all time. Written for orchestra with narrated quotes of and about Lincoln. That means there is only one recording of this to get: James Earl Jones with the Seattle Symphony. No one can beat JEJ's voice! :) This piece is a supreme example of how perfectly text and music can go together.

  • Fanfare for the Common Man: (1942) Like A Lincoln Portrait, this piece was also commissioned during the war for patriotic purposes. The "common man" comes from a phrase Vice-President Henry Wallace used when he called the 20th century "the century of the common man." It happened to premiere in mid March, and Copland dryly recalled, "I was all for honoring the common man at income tax time." This piece is simply but powerfully scored for brass and percussion, and radiates American patriotism and spirit.

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Sergei Prokofiev: (1891-1953) Prokofiev was a Russian composer with a varied, internationally-influenced style. One of the greatest composers of this century, he began composing at a young age, and was known as an enfant terrible due to his innovative compositions, but his music is generally bright, colorful, simple, and always melodic.

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Dmitri Shostakovich: (1906-1975) Shostakovich's music was never approved by Stalin and the Communist authorities because it didn't conform to the strict ideals the Communists had for music. The composer was in such danger of his life that for years, he kept a packed suitcase beside his bed in the event of a nighttime arrest.

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Bela Bartok: (1881-1945) A Hungarian composer, who, along with fellow composer Zoltan Kodaly, went around their native countryside collecting and recording folk songs.

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Paul Hindemith: (1895-1963) Teacher, theorist, and composer, Paul Hindemith was one of the few composers who tried to bridge the gap between new music and the public, which was increasingly drawing away from the avant-garde and dissonant sounds that were being created, beginning in the 1920s. His music isn't always tonal or accessible, but it has a unique sound.

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Morton Gould (1913-1996) NYC-born composer, Gould wrote theater and light music and was influenced by American folk music. An accomplished pianist, he was also a conductor of considerable renown.

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Leonard Bernstein: Conductor, composer, and teacher, Bernstein was a musical jack of all trades, who wrote Broadway hits, symphonic literature, and even pop songs (under the name Lenny Amber). Devoted to bringing music to the people, Bernstein promoted American composers like Copland and televised the New York Philharmonic's Young People concerts.

  • Candide Overture: (1956) Candide was a Broadway musical by Bernstein, and the overture is a great piece, with a beautiful middle section. Best recording of this is the one of Bernstein himself with the New York Philharmonic. This is similar in style to the popular West Side Story, which was written in 1957.

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The Mid-20th Century

Style:

The twentieth century saw more musical fashions than just Impressionism and Neoclassicism. There was also twelve-tone music, serialism, Expressionism, musique concrete, electronic music, and more... anything went.

Unfortunately, tonality often went, too... straight out the window. The 20th century was a time in which composers explored to the utmost, redefining what music was and eventually, and sadly, alienating themselves from the general public. Yet the loss of an appreciative audience didn't dismay the leaders of this new music. They had jobs at universities where they taught like-minded students so they didn't have the financial necessity of having to write music to cater to the masses. As Henry Pleasants put it in 1955 (in his Agony of Modern Music), "Serious music is a dead art. The vein which for three hundred years offered a seemingly inexhaustible yield of beautiful music has run out. What we know as modern music is the noise made by deluded speculators picking through the slag pile." (Pleasants may have been a music critic, but he wasn't stupid or hidebound - later, it was revealed that he'd been the United States' top CIA agent in Germany after the war.) As the century progressed, very few composers were able to escape this avant-garde, academic style of composition. Samuel Barber, the composer of the famous Adagio for Strings, was one. Another was Stephen Sondheim, who was originally a student of the atonal champ, Milton Babbitt. But the majority conformed. Krzysztof Penderecki once said, "We, the composers for the last thirty years, have had to avoid any chords which sound pleasant and any melody because then we were called traitors."

So, it's probably pretty clear by now that I don't care for the atonal music that was especially prevalent beginning around the 1920s, but which was especially strong in the mid-century. That doesn't mean I think that music should have stayed with Beethoven or Brahms. The ideas behind a lot of these composers' intentions are solid - they wanted to explore new kinds of music and sounds, and they wanted to get away from the trammels of traditional harmony. But they had a kneejerk reaction to tonality in general, and the way that they cracked down on anybody who still wanted to write tonally accessible music did much to ruin classical music's reputation as their own compositions. This is why, for most people, the term "modern music" is automatically equated with "bad music", and why most orchestra concerts stick to old favorites like Beethoven and Brahms.

However, to give you an idea of the kind of stuff that was written during this dark era, I've thrown together a few titles... the better to know and avoid this in the future. :)

John Cage (1912-1992) John Cage was fascinated with noise and the lack thereof. Influenced by Zen philosophy and the I Ching, he was more of a theorist and inventor than a composer. He created the "prepared piano" (which consists of sticking bits of wood, rubber, and other odds and ends among the strings to create different sounds), and was an early influence in the use of chance music (where random procedures such as the performer rolling dice determine what notes are played). Schoenberg has said one thing that I agree with - that John Cage had no ear for music.

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Harold Davidson I don't know anything about Davidson other than that he was the first composer to write for percussion ensemble...

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Milton Babbitt (b. 1916) Babbitt has been important in writing electronic music with very complex rhythms, and often combines synthesized sounds with live musicians.

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Steve Reich (b. 1936) Steve Reich is known for his minimalist style and process music, which uses tape loops and phasing to control the rhythm.

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The Late-20th Century

Style:

Thankfully, the pendulum has begun to swing the other way. Many composers today still write in a "modern" idiom, but it's now much more accessible music, often with world music influences. These composers know they can express themselves in new ways that yet aren't as alien to the general public as earlier composers' works have been. For me, this kind of modern music is the music of the future, and the best way musicians can reach out to the audience.

John Williams (b. 1932) There isn't enough that I can say about John Williams. He's my favorite composer in the world (Beethoven resigned that spot to him long ago), who can create worlds with his music like no one else. While he's legendary for his film scores (the six Star Wars scores, three Harry Potter scores to date, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, E.T., Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List, Angela's Ashes, Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal, and many more), Mr. Williams has also written for the concert hall, too, such as the works below for solo violin and orchestra.

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Daniel Fernandez: I first heard Canadian composer Mr. Fernandez's works via the Nelvana TV series, Redwall. Being a longtime fan of the books the series was based on (by British author Brian Jacques), I was excited for the show, and I was very excited for the music. I wasn't disappointed - Mr Fernandez and co-composer Jack Procher exceeded fans' wildest expectations, and their music was easily the best and most memorable part of the show. Besides his work for film and television, Mr Fernandez has released two solo piano CDs of original works, and writes in a variety of genres, including blues, ambient, vocal, rock, and world music. Visit his website at http://danielfernandez.com where you can listen to clips of his music, buy his CDs, and read the Long Patrol book club's interview with him. (Check out the studio pictures, too... I'm not a composer, but that place looks so amazing, I wish I could use it!)

  • Forever Romance and September - These are his two solo piano CDs, with the composer at the piano. They're rather different in style from the other works in this category, being more of a throwback to the Romantic period, like Chopin-meets-Schubert-lieder-for-piano. Both CDs are similar in style, so while it's not a very diverse collection in terms of musical characters, they hit the spot when you're in the mood for something like this. It's the kind of music that's great for setting a mood, like the colors in an Impressionist painting. Overall, it's just beautiful music that's beautifully played.

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Lowell Liebermann (b. 1961) NYC-born composer Lowell Liebermann is one of today's most popular composers. His Carnegie Hall debut came when he was sixteen, playing his own Piano Sonata No. 1, and he later earned three degrees from the Juilliard School of Music.

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Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996) Toru Takemitsu was mostly self-taught as a composer, and was an unofficial cultural ambassador to Japan, bringing Western avant-garde music, art, and literature to his country as well as bringing his own country's culture to the Western world through music. While he moved in the highest intellectual and cultural circles of his time, he was also a very down to earth individual. Known for his great sense of humor, Takemitsu loved popular culture, and even wrote a detective novel. He was the ultimate film buff who admitted that he saw around 300 movies a year, and enjoyed catching local flicks in foreign countries to get an idea of the culture of the place. For Takemitsu, music and film were related in how they unfolded themselves before the audience. Musically, Takemitsu was very influenced by the work of Debussy and Messiaen, and he also experimented with electronic music and indeterminacy in the 1950s and early 1960s. Surprisingly, he avoided using any Japanese influences in his work until the 1960s, when he was collaborating with John Cage. The American composer encouraged Takemitsu to experiment with ethnic Japanese music, and Takemitsu began to use Japanese instruments such as the biwa and the shakuhachi, exploring traditional instruments from other cultures as well.

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Arvo Pärt (b. 1935 ) Born in Estonia, Arvo Pärt dabbled in serial music for the early part of his career, but followed a more unique voice later on, being influenced by medieval music and creating pure, almost mystical sonorities in his music. Like so many composers under the thumb of the Russian authorities, his music was not always acceptable by the powers that be, and eventually, he and his family left the country in 1980, ultimately settling in Berlin.

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John Corigliano (b. 1938) Better known to the general public as the composer of the Academy Award-winning film score The Red Violin, Corigliano has also written some great symphonic works that retain the passion, melodicism, and accessibility of his film work while infusing them with his own modern syntax.

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Non-Western Music

Some samples of classical music around the world... more to be added later.

Japan:

Kohachiro Miyata

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India:

Ravi Shankar

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