Classical Music for Everyone
if Mussorgsky was considered the greatest classical composer rather
than Mozart? What if instead every music listener’s first introduction
to classical music was "Night on Bald Mountain"? I
believe the number of listeners liking classical music would
easily increase 10 fold!
I find that most orchestral classical
music written prior to 1800 is too academic and boring and this is the
music that turns the public off of classical music.
composers learned to use the tone colors of the instruments of the
orchestra, to use percussion and ornamentation to season the sound of
the orchestral canvas. To effectively use rhythm and beat, to enhance
excitement by use of extreme dynamic contrasts, and to break free of
the overly strict rules of composition the experience of classical
music became a purely emotional one, one that transports one to another
realm. This is the music that will get new converts to classical music.
firmly believe that radio stations are playing the WRONG classical
music, reviewers are reviewing the WRONG classical music, so people new
to classical music are being exposed to classical music they could
With this in mind I have created a list of classical
compositions for use in presenting classical music in a positive light
to those who believe they don’t like classical music.
The following are specific recommendations for classical music based the type of music the listener now enjoys:
RUSSO: Three Pieces for Blues Band and Orchestra and Street Music
END: Blues for a Killed Kat
SHILKRET: Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra
BERSTEIN: Prelude, Fugue and Riffs
ELLINGTON: Harlem Suite
SHAW: Concerto for Clarinet
MILHAULD: La Creation du Monde
SHOSTAKOVICH: Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings
COPLAND: Concerto for Clarinet
SHCHEDRIAN: Piano Concerto No. 2
BERNSTEIN: West Side Story
MUSSORGSKY: Pictures At An Exhibition
PROKOFIEV: Dance of the Evil God and the Pagan Monsters from "Scythian Suite"
SAINT-SAENS: Danse Macabre
BERLIOZ: March to the Scaffold from "Symphonie Fantastique"
RICHARD STRAUSS: Opening fanfare from "Also Sprach Zarathustra"
COPLAND: Fanfare for the Comman Man
HOLST: Mars from "The Planets"
KARG-ELGERT: Praise the Lord with Drums and Cymbals
MILHAUD: Concerto pour batterie et petit orchestre
MUSSORGSKY: Night on Bald Mountain
WAGNER: The Ride of the Valkyries
MESSIAN: TurangalÓla Symphonie
Anything by Debussy, Hovhanness, Ravel or Debussy.
Anything by Copland or Virgil Thomson. Also mediaeval and early dances and songs which really were folk music of the day.
GROF…: Grand Canyon Suite
MENDELSSOHN: The Hebrides Overture
NIELSEN: Aladdin Suite
MEXICAN OR LATIN
BENJAMIN: Jamacan Rumba
CHAVEZ: Horse Power Suite
FALLA: Three-Cornered Hat
GOULD: Latin American Symphonette
GINASTERA: Estancia and Panambi
Anything by Leroy Anderson, George Gershwin, Percy Grainger or Offenbach.
hope is after exploring the classical music that is closest to the type
of music one likes now; listeners will experiment and try other types
of classical music. The important thing to remember is there are more
types of classical music than all other types of music combined.
most non-classical listeners are exposed to the likes of Mozart, Bach
and Vivaldi; I do not believe this is a good place to start. I
recommend sampling Mussorgsky, Ravel, Varese, Arnold, Holst, Bernstein
and Copland among many others as a good first step for most listeners.
I have actually converted friends to classical music using just 2 LPs
to introduce them: 1) Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite (Mercury SR 90006) and
2) Russo’s Three Pieces for Blues Band and Symphony Orchestra (Deutsche
Grammophon 2530 309. After this they beg to hear more, in their wildest
dreams they had no idea that classical music could be this exciting and
enjoyable! It is this good and for the sake of the future of classical
music we must expose more people to really good classical music. It can
fine if you like Mozart, Bach or Vivaldi, I just do not believe that
new listeners should start there and the figures seem to prove me
right. They are acquired tastes to grab someone you have to offer
something they will love instantly!
Even though I studied music
appreciation and composition in High School I came away with the belief
that Rock was the superior music reinforced by being in a Rock Band,
the Neon Illusions. Part of this I blame on the traditional classical
music my school presented, I was totally unaware there was better more
exciting classical music. That is until Emerson, Lake and Palmer came
along. I had their albums "Pictures At An Exhibition", The self titled
LP with had Knife Edge (after JANŃ«EK’s Sinfonietta) and "Works Part 1"
which included Keith Emerson’s own "Piano Concerto" and Prokofiev’s The
Evil God and the Dance of the Pagan Monsters from the "Scythian Suite".
Then I bought ELO III with "Roll over Beethoven" which had all of
Beethoven’s biggest hits intermixed with Chuck Berry’s song. Well it
turned out I liked the Beethoven bits much better than the Chuck Berry
parts. Later that month at a department store I saw "Beethoven’s
began my obsession with classical music. Next I bought Mussorgsky’s
Pictures At An Exhibition with Herbert von Karajan conducting the
Berlin Philharmonic and it was just so much better than the Emerson
Lake and Palmer version, then came Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite, and on
and on. Since we didn’t have a classical station in my hometown I would
check out LPs from the library or just buy new classical LPs blindly.
It took decades to find out which composers I liked and which I didn’t.
review establishment in the 1970’s and early 1980’s came down hard on
"Art Rock" because they ripped off versions of classical works and the
resulting rock versions were not that good. While I tend to agree with
their assessment, it really was shortsighted as these Art Rock
musicians were proselytizing for classical music. I believe millions of
classical music lovers discovered classical music much the way I did.
However because the musical establishment destroyed Art Rock no one is
introducing new listeners to classical music. It is now up to us to
share the wonders of classical music with everyone we meet.
Teresa,A dissenting viewpoint by Jim H
got a chance today to put together a few thoughts in response to your
essay, “Classical Music for Everyone.” As I posted on A.A.
yesterday, I was originally pretty outraged by what I had read.
As I said later, though, I would consider adopting your view and would
think it over. Well, I’m back to outrage, I’m afraid.
(Well, as outraged as I get – which isn’t that outraged.)
Consider what I have to say, and respond if you like….
begin with, I’m not sure that there’s any justification for your
assumption that “Mozart is considered the greatest classical
composer.” For one thing, I’m not sure how you’re using the term,
“classical.” You could be using it in its strict sense – i.e., to
mean “art music” written in the late-18th and early-19th centuries,
which generally took the form of a symphony, a string quartet, or a
sonata. In that case, you would probably be correct, since Mozart
would have only Haydn and the young Beethoven as competition.
But, you mention Mussorgsky in your first sentence, which leads me to
believe that you’re using the term, “classical,” in its broad sense –
i.e., to mean music written between roughly 1550 and 1900. This
might better be called “common practice period” music; but, that would
be entirely too cumbersome. And, besides, we all know what
“classical music” means – even if, when really pressed, it’s very
difficult for most people to come up with a coherent definition for
that moniker. So, if we’re going to use the term, “classical,” in
its broad – indeed, all-encompassing sense – then I return to my
original point: I think that you would have a very tough time
establishing that there’s a consensus that says Mozart was a superior
composer to, say, Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Wagner, Brahms,
Mahler – to name a few, and in no particular order other than by
birthdates (as near as I can remember). Whatever the case, I can
pretty much assure you – and I think that you even agree – that
Mussorgsky would not be on that list. We would probably differ on
the reasons why, however. Mine would be something like,
Mussorgsky wrote precisely one masterpiece – a suite for solo piano
called “Pictures at an Exhibition,” which many other composers (most
popular of whom was Ravel) orchestrated more-or-less well and
when you say that you “find that most orchestral classical music
written prior to 1800 is too academic and boring,” you pretty much give
away your entire thesis to a reader somewhat versed in Music
History. When I read that in your second paragraph, I suspected
that I knew exactly what was coming – namely, a huge endorsement of
program music and/or “pop” classical music, with short shrift given to
“absolute music” (or music that “doesn’t tell a story”). For the
most part, I was correct. You definitely hit most of the
highlights of the program genre: “Pictures,” “Scythian Suite,”
“Symphonie Fantastique,” “Zarathustra,” “Planets,” “Night on Bald
Mountain,” “Grand Canyon Suite,” “Hebrides,” “Three-Cornered Hat,”
etc. (There are obviously lots more, which you don’t name but
with which we’re both probably quite familiar. What happened to
“Scheherazade,” though? :-) And your pop-inspired selections are
equally prominent: the list starts with “Three Pieces for Blues
Band” and continues….
going any further, please understand that I’m not making a quality
judgment with regard to your selections. (Although I honestly, in
good conscience, couldn’t bring myself to lump “Night on Bald Mountain”
in with any Strauss tone poem.) And I also know that you weren’t
necessarily making a quality judgment when assembling your list.
I think the issue I have is with your underlying assertion (at least as
I pick up on it) that says that “good classical music” either tells a
story or at least sounds like popular music, and that the “wrong kind
of classical music” doesn’t tell a story and doesn’t sound like popular
ahead of myself, though, so let’s jump back a little in your
essay. You’re obviously a champion of composers who “use the tone
colors of the instruments of the orchestra, … who use percussion and
ornamentation to season the sound of the orchestral canvas.”
Sure, every composer on your list does that – anywhere from very
effectively to “gimmicky.” But, the way I see it, it’s not
particularly fair to (at least implicitly) deride Bach for not
orchestrating for instruments that didn’t exist in the early-18th
century. The same holds for “enhanc[ing] excitement by use of
extreme dynamic contrasts.” Bach’s instruments had somewhere
between no and very little “built-in” dynamic contrast. Ever play
a harpsichord? That said, Bach had to “spice things up” somehow –
and he did that precisely by extraordinary use of “rhythm and
beat.” You don’t see the likes of that again until the 20th
century (and then, in completely different guise). Frankly, I
don’t see how that particular sentence or phrase belongs in this
paragraph of your essay at all. And finally, someone reading your
essay would be very inclined (I think) to come away with the impression
that somehow – out of nowhere – toward the end of the 19th century, all
of the “great” composers “broke free of the overly strict rules of
composition, [allowing] the experience of classical music [to become] a
purely emotional one.” The period 1550 (if not before) to 1900 is
a long time – and I may be stating something that you already know
quite well – but nothing particular happened on some given day around
1830 that allowed for the composition of “Symphonie Fantastique” and
that launched the Romantic period (assuming Beethoven hadn’t already
done that by about 1800). Which is the whole point: every
composer we remember – from the “academic and boring” ones right up
through those active in the 20th century pushed “the overly strict
rules of composition.” (“Academic and boring” Bach perhaps more
than anyone else.) Whether they all pushed them in order to
provide “a purely emotional” experience to their listeners is debatable
– even doubtful. But, the true “academic and boring” composers
are the ones that we’ve forgotten. Because they did very little
to contribute to the advancements occurring very gradually in theory
and composition from the “academic and boring” age straight through to
the modern day.
I completely disagree that listening to some of your suggested program
music and pop-inspired classical music might get someone turned on to
classical music, in general? No, not necessarily. But, I do
think that you’re being somewhat misleading if you’re suggesting that
even a relatively new classical music lover is not going to have to
come to grips with music composed before the mid-1800s. And in
pretty short order. So, suggesting otherwise is actually somewhat
irresponsible, in my view. I say that because what your
suggestion will have cultivated is nothing more than an even more
robust fan base for the Boston Pops than it already has. (And,
honestly, the Boston Pops doesn’t need yet another “lightweight” fan
who wants to hear the 1812 Overture again.) To be blunt, if
you’re truly “for the sake of the future of classical music” – and not
just an advocate of fairytale music and classical-sounding music
written around pop tunes – then you’re going to have to sit someone
down and get them through the entirety of Beethoven’s 3rd.
Because the entirety of classical music – if not the entirety of modern
Western civilization – revolves around it. Then, that person will
need to go both forward and backward “in time” – filling in the gaps,
figuring out what led up to 1800 and what happened after that (and why).
you keep harping on Mozart, Bach, and Vivaldi. I can’t figure out
why those three would have become your favorite targets. (In
other words, I don’t see anything that unifies them,
particularly.) Mozart was a genius and is extraordinarily easy to
listen to. Bach was more of a genius (but much less of a savant)
who wrote what is likely the greatest music – in both quantity and
quality – known to mankind. And Vivaldi wrote one piece about a
hundred times. Maybe it’s what’s in the standard rotation at your
local publicly-supported radio station. Which brings me to one of
your earlier points and to my last: that you “firmly believe that
radio stations are playing the WRONG classical music.” Now, out
of all of them, this is the point of your essay that I really don’t
get. Most classical stations are publicly supported, right?
Which means that people who are already passionate about classical
music are paying to hear what these stations are broadcasting.
And I can guarantee you one thing: if, say, WNYC (yes, one of my
local stations – but also the most-listened-to public radio station in
the country) were to feed its listeners a steady diet of what you’re
suggesting, then it would very quickly find its listenership figures
plummet. People who are “purchasing” classical music over the
radio are people who already have some amount of education in classical
music. Their tastes may range very, very widely; but, they
assuredly aren’t – as a group – after a healthy diet of largely emo-
and pop-inspired programming. If “music written prior to 1800…is
the music that turns the public off of classical music,” then maybe the
public should be turned off of classical music. Because an awful
lot of music that is absolutely central to the genre as a whole gets
swept away by your recommendations (and the criteria that’s behind
me close with this analogy: if someone were to tell you that he
really doesn’t like rock music – that no Beatles album is any good and
that no Stones album prior to 1980 turns him on – what would you
do? Bring him up slowly, starting with a healthy dose of 21st
century top-40 in order “to present rock music in a positive light to
those who believe they don’t like rock music”??? That just
doesn’t make any sense to me. If you run screaming from
“Revolver” or “Beggars Banquet,” then what are your chances of becoming
a rock fan? And to deny that there are 10 or 12 key rock bands
that, at various points, had monumental influence on the genre – and to
ignore them – is just absurd, in my view. It’s completely missing
the forest for the trees. And the same goes for classical.
One has to come to grips with Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert,
Schumann, Wagner, Brahms, and Mahler – at a very bare minimum. If
“Night on Bald Mountain” somehow leads someone into a love affair with
the Schubert string quintet (and if that someone wouldn’t have gotten
there any other way), then great! “Night on Bald Mountain” will
have served some historical purpose. That said, though, I guess I
don’t see how you get from one place to the other; and, with that, I’m
afraid that I don’t see your essay demonstrating how to get from one
place to the other. Unless your only real goal is to fill the
ranks with lovers of program music and somewhat light and popular 20th
century classical, then there’s got to be a better formula than “if you
love hard rock, then just have a listen to the fourth movement of
Symphonie Fantastique – and off you go!”
For what it’s worth?
term "Classical Music" I am referring to is all Art Music
commonly know as Classical, not the Classical Period of Mozart and
Haydn. But from say 1200 to date, yes modern Composers are still
writing Classical Music!
wrote a lot more than just his fantastic "Pictures At An Exhibition"
which in Ravel's orchestration is one of the finest (if not the finest)
music masterpieces of all time. Mussorgsky also wrote the
wonderful "Night on Bald Mountain", the absolutely charming little
"Gopak" from Sorotichinsky Fair, and don't forget his opera
Khovanshchina with lovely "Dance of the Persian Slaves". If
Mussorgsky didn't have such a problem with Vodka I'm sure he would have
written many more master works. Same thing with Paul Dukas, if it
wasn't for his Navel career he might be considered a giant too.
not me but the press that proclaimed Amadeus Wolfgang Mozart as the
greatest composer of all time, it's me that disagrees with this lofty
status given to Mozart.
is indeed “absolute music” that turns people off of Classical Music
(myself included). Richard Wagner was right when he said the
future of music is with composers writing dramatic colorful music not
the reactionary's forever stuck in the world of academia writing their
absolute music. I really hope that new convert who
has just discovered the wonderfully exciting “Night on Bald Mountain”
NEVER leads to a love affair with the Schubert string quintet!
Not too much more dry or boring as Schubert chamber music, except for
maybe Brahms chamber music. There are literally ten of thousands
of excellent were written, orchestrated classical compositions full of
real drama and human emotion. I say down with "stuffy shirt -
absolute music" up with exciting, thrilling and beautiful classical
Music can be every bit as enjoyable and "fun" as any other type of
music including Rock. The "Scherzo" from Bruckner's 9th Symphony can
get the bodies juices flowing every bit as "Whole Lotta Love" by Led
Zeppelin, both works induce "goose-bumps" to the max!