Classical music study recommendations

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Re: Classical music study recommendations

Postby lavengro » Sun Dec 29, 2019 5:43 am

rpg wrote:I'd suggest not being too fixated on going chronologically. I think it could get a little demotivating; a lot of the most popular music is 1800s and later, and I don't think you need to artificially restrict yourself from listening to it in order to listen to more Palestrina or motets or whatever. I think you'll have a better time, and be more likely to make more progress on your project, if you allow yourself to jump around a bit. Plus, some days you may just not be in the mood for whatever you have scheduled.

Thanks rpg,

There is a lot of sense in what you say, and I expect you are right about likely having a better time and increased motivation by allowing myself some jumping around. However, I find once again I am a sad victim of my own stubbornness, so I am gonna play ahead giving a chronological approach a try!
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Re: Classical music study recommendations

Postby lavengro » Sun Dec 29, 2019 5:49 am

Iversen wrote:Much of the best classical music is written by totally unknown composers, but can be found on Youtube - if you know what to go for.
....

Brilliant, thanks very much Iversen for all the work and wisdom you put into this (and your second informative and very amusing post), much appreciated!

I expect that even with a year's steady effort, I will remain pretty much a tourist at best insofar as classical music is concerned, and the composers you mention may well be too deep a dive for me to get to, but I will make an effort. Frankly, I only recognized one name in your first post (Monteverdi), although I had made notes for the Medieval period to take a peak at the troubador and trouvère traditions and I am grateful for some specific names in this regard.

Thanks again!
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Re: Classical music study recommendations

Postby Iversen » Sun Dec 29, 2019 7:07 pm

I have started my own heavily biased (and seriously multilingual) musical history in my own log thread - so far covering the time from somewhere around 43.000 BC to around anno domini MXXX where Guido of Arezzo invented the note names ut (do), re, mi etc. etc., which some nationalities still use. And then I intend to proceed in chronological order until mid January 2020 (covering the period up to mid January 2020).
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Re: Classical music study recommendations

Postby gsbod » Mon Dec 30, 2019 12:51 am

Back when I did 'A' level music at high school at the turn of the century, the exam board used by my college went for breadth over depth in the music history section of the course. They issued an anthology of excerpts from 120 pieces from the rennaissance to the present day, of which we were required to study 30. I think this would have been perfect for your needs (although I'd have recommended focusing on the full pieces rather than just excerpts and exploring each composer that took your fancy more widely) but unfortunately I can't find a trace of it online and goodness knows where my own copy went. It seems that kids these days are required to study a much shorter number of pieces over a much wider range of genres, which is also no good in terms of what you are looking for.

In trying to reconstruct the list of pieces I studied, I came up with the following:

1. Gabrielli – some trumpet piece – can’t remember the name but could hum it
2. Thomas Morley – Phyllis I fain would die now (a madrigal)
3. John Dowland – Flow my tears
4. Couperin – some harpsichord piece
5. Purcell – Dido and Aeneas
6. Corelli – Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No. 8
7. Handel – The Messiah
8. J.S. Bach – Goldberg variations
9. Mozart – Piano Concerto in D minor k.466
10. Beethoven – Fidelio
11. Mendelssohn – Octet
12. Wagner – Tristan und Isolde
13. Stravinsky – Rite of Spring
14. William Walton – Belshazzar’s Feast
15. Ravel – String Quartet
16. Berg – Violin Concerto
17. Benjamin Britten – Peter Grimes
18. The Beatles – Eleanor Rigby
19. John Taverner – some turgid choral piece

Oddly enough, I think the biggest gaps in my memory cover the same period avoided by Iversen , i.e. 1750-1900. Maybe you could fill that out with some of the following:

Mozart and Haydn for the so-called "classical" era - sadly I don't get on with either very well, but they are important. I'd recommend sampling some symphonies and piano sonatas from both, Mozart operas and Haydn string quartets. And Mozart's Requiem.
Schubert and Beethoven for the transition to the "romantic" era - personal favourites include Schubert's Winterreise (even though in general I'm not a fan of classical song) and Beethoven's 7th Symphony
Chopin's piano music
Brahms' symphonies
Bruckner's symphonies
Mahler's symphonies
Tchaikovsky symphonies and ballet suites
Schumann's Piano Concerto
Liszt's piano music
Dvořák - I recently discovered his Dumky Trio thanks to BBC Radio 3 which is a delightful piece of chamber music, I have also recently fallen in love with the Cello Concerto
Some of the music from the Russian composers who made up "the five" (a group of composers who tried to develop a distinctive Russian style in the 19th century), e.g. Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, Borodin's On the Steppes of Central Asia

And if you want to add some opera to the mix, Wagner, Verdi and Puccini are the big names to start with. Personally I find it quite hard to just listen to opera though, I need to see it staged to appreciate it.

I really don't have anything to add to Iversen's very subjective but informative post on the 20th century, he's pretty much named all of my favourite composers. I'm also not a fan of atonality, but before writing off the second Viennese school completely, I'd recommend listening to Berg's Violin Concerto. I think it works because it's not completely atonal!
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Re: Classical music study recommendations

Postby Iversen » Mon Dec 30, 2019 2:57 am

I wouldn't say that I have avoided music from the period 1650 til 1900 - I just skipped it for the time being, but music from that period will be described in my own log thread. I have chosen to switch to that thread because there I can allow myself to write in other languages - like French when discussing Rameau or German when discussing the Bach family or Mozart and Italian when referring to the Gabrielis and the other Canzona composers. And Slovak when writing about Dvorak and Smetana.

And as gsbod rightly mentions I do give a subjective account, but apart from my preference for instrumental music and dislike of serial music I will mostly discuss music that I also like myself.

Speaking of operas, there are comprehensive instrumental versions of several Puccini operas (search for "Kostelanetz") plus at least four very long instrumental excerpts from Wagner's Ring cyklus on Youtube, and there are ouvertures and balletmusic galore from the whole long history of opera - but when you consider how much time many composers have wasted on opera and what they could have written instead then it is a tragedy. Take for instance Schubert: his Rosamunde music has been recorded, but he wrote at least 16 other operas, which even opera buffs don't never ever hear because their libretti were so totally ridiculous. OK, most opera libretti are ridiculous, but from what I have read on the internet it seems that those used by Schubert were in a class of their own. Or take Mussorgsky and Borodin who both died before they could finish their operas. If they had spent their time on something less voluminous than fullsize operas then we could have had a mountain of valuable original works by these two persons - now Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov had to spend their time on finishing those operas from scraps and/or memory, and the number of instrumental works by both Mussorgsky and Borodin can be counted on a couple of hands for each of them ...

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Re: Classical music study recommendations

Postby lavengro » Thu Jan 02, 2020 6:04 am

I was intending to start a new log for this, but that would lose the really interesting posts already accumulated here. So unless anything thinks there should be a separate log, perhaps I will just note my own adventures over the next year in learning about Western classical music in this current thread.

Other than suggesting the framework of proceeding roughly by traditional musical era over the next year, I am not looking to hold the pen in this thread or steer the direction, but instead just to throw in my adventures (which start pretty much from scratch) and invite anyone else (novice like me or experienced aficionado) to pipe in.

I am suggesting following what I understand to be traditional descriptions of western classical musical eras, though I understand there may be some debate as to rough start/stop dates for each musical era, and also understand that some composers are considered to straddle and hence be part of two eras.

I believe these are roughly time periods involved up to at least the Romantic music era, and following the Romantic music era then there seems to be a bit more variation in naming convention:

Medieval era - fall of western Roman empire to about 1400

Renaissance (music era, not the Renaissance per se) - 1400 to 1600

Baroque - 1600 to 1750

Classical - 1750s to approx 1820

Romantic era - roughly 1820 to early 20th century

Does that sound about right?
Last edited by lavengro on Thu Jan 02, 2020 6:30 am, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Classical music study recommendations

Postby lavengro » Thu Jan 02, 2020 6:18 am

I am proposing to start with the Medieval music era first. In poking around on the Youtube, the works that struck me as initially the most compelling and most accessible were some of those by Hildegard von Bingen, who has the added benefit of providing a tenuous link to a language learning forum in that apparently she was one of the early conlangers (Lingua Ignota - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lingua_Ignota)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hildegard_of_Bingen

https://www.classicfm.com/composers/bingen/guides/discovering-great-composers-hildegard-von-bingen/

I've been listening to a bunch of her compositions by a number of different performers during the day. Made for an interesting soundtrack for my walk today. My favourite so far is the following version of O pastor animarum:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKM6FRh9L38

This may or may not be somewhat atypical - most of the other versions of this particular song are shorter, and do not feature the droning sound (I have read that drone was used in some medieval music, but I have not come across much yet in my early poking around). And the device the performer is playing is identified in the comments as a Shruti box, which appears to be more related to Indian music. I really liked this piece despite the dizzying camera work because of the singer's powerful voice, excellent acoustics in the venue in which it is played, and in a few places some innovative incidental accompaniment by a crying baby or child.
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Re: Classical music study recommendations

Postby lavengro » Thu Jan 02, 2020 6:24 am

gsbod wrote:Back when I did 'A' level music at high school at the turn of the century, the exam board used by my college went for breadth over depth in the music history section of the course. They issued an anthology of excerpts from 120 pieces from the rennaissance to the present day, of which we were required to study 30. I think this would have been perfect for your needs (although I'd have recommended focusing on the full pieces rather than just excerpts and exploring each composer that took your fancy more widely) but unfortunately I can't find a trace of it online and goodness knows where my own copy went. It seems that kids these days are required to study a much shorter number of pieces over a much wider range of genres, which is also no good in terms of what you are looking for.

In trying to reconstruct the list of pieces I studied, I came up with the following:

1. Gabrielli – some trumpet piece – can’t remember the name but could hum it
2. Thomas Morley – Phyllis I fain would die now (a madrigal)
3. John Dowland – Flow my tears
4. Couperin – some harpsichord piece
5. Purcell – Dido and Aeneas
6. Corelli – Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No. 8
7. Handel – The Messiah
8. J.S. Bach – Goldberg variations
9. Mozart – Piano Concerto in D minor k.466
10. Beethoven – Fidelio
11. Mendelssohn – Octet
12. Wagner – Tristan und Isolde
13. Stravinsky – Rite of Spring
14. William Walton – Belshazzar’s Feast
15. Ravel – String Quartet
16. Berg – Violin Concerto
17. Benjamin Britten – Peter Grimes
18. The Beatles – Eleanor Rigby
19. John Taverner – some turgid choral piece

Oddly enough, I think the biggest gaps in my memory cover the same period avoided by Iversen , i.e. 1750-1900. Maybe you could fill that out with some of the following:

Mozart and Haydn for the so-called "classical" era - sadly I don't get on with either very well, but they are important. I'd recommend sampling some symphonies and piano sonatas from both, Mozart operas and Haydn string quartets. And Mozart's Requiem.
Schubert and Beethoven for the transition to the "romantic" era - personal favourites include Schubert's Winterreise (even though in general I'm not a fan of classical song) and Beethoven's 7th Symphony
Chopin's piano music
Brahms' symphonies
Bruckner's symphonies
Mahler's symphonies
Tchaikovsky symphonies and ballet suites
Schumann's Piano Concerto
Liszt's piano music
Dvořák - I recently discovered his Dumky Trio thanks to BBC Radio 3 which is a delightful piece of chamber music, I have also recently fallen in love with the Cello Concerto
Some of the music from the Russian composers who made up "the five" (a group of composers who tried to develop a distinctive Russian style in the 19th century), e.g. Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, Borodin's On the Steppes of Central Asia

And if you want to add some opera to the mix, Wagner, Verdi and Puccini are the big names to start with. Personally I find it quite hard to just listen to opera though, I need to see it staged to appreciate it.

I really don't have anything to add to Iversen's very subjective but informative post on the 20th century, he's pretty much named all of my favourite composers. I'm also not a fan of atonality, but before writing off the second Viennese school completely, I'd recommend listening to Berg's Violin Concerto. I think it works because it's not completely atonal!


Awesome, thanks very much gsbod, this is extremely helpful!
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Re: Classical music study recommendations

Postby Lianne » Thu Jan 02, 2020 6:39 am

lavengro wrote:I am proposing to start with the Medieval music era first. In poking around on the Youtube, the works that struck me as initially the most compelling and most accessible were some of those by Hildegard von Bingen, who has the added benefit of providing a tenuous link to a language learning forum in that apparently she was one of the early conlangers (Lingua Ignota - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lingua_Ignota)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hildegard_of_Bingen

https://www.classicfm.com/composers/bingen/guides/discovering-great-composers-hildegard-von-bingen/

In a delightful instance of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, I just read about Saint Hildegard last night in a short story in the book A Cathedral of Myth and Bone by Kat Howard. The story said that she's the patron saint of linguists, among other things, but googling suggests that Kat Howard made that part up (though it would make sense). (Side note: looks like Saint Gotteschalk is the actual patron saint of linguists, in case you ever wondered.)
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Re: Classical music study recommendations

Postby aokoye » Thu Jan 02, 2020 5:55 pm

Iversen wrote:And as gsbod rightly mentions I do give a subjective account, but apart from my preference for instrumental music and dislike of serial music I will mostly discuss music that I also like myself.

Speaking of operas, there are comprehensive instrumental versions of several Puccini operas (search for "Kostelanetz") plus at least four very long instrumental excerpts from Wagner's Ring cyklus on Youtube, and there are ouvertures and balletmusic galore from the whole long history of opera - but when you consider how much time many composers have wasted on opera and what they could have written instead then it is a tragedy. Take for instance Schubert: his Rosamunde music has been recorded, but he wrote at least 16 other operas, which even opera buffs don't never ever hear because their libretti were so totally ridiculous. OK, most opera libretti are ridiculous, but from what I have read on the internet it seems that those used by Schubert were in a class of their own. Or take Mussorgsky and Borodin who both died before they could finish their operas. If they had spent their time on something less voluminous than fullsize operas then we could have had a mountain of valuable original works by these two persons - now Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov had to spend their time on finishing those operas from scraps and/or memory, and the number of instrumental works by both Mussorgsky and Borodin can be counted on a couple of hands for each of them ...

As someone who prefers instrumental music, who didn't like choral music for most of their life (annnd then I joined a choir and realized how amazing choral music can be), and who rarely watches or listens to opera I think that saying that someone has wasted time writing an opera is subjective at best (which I realize you foregrounded) but also just not useful or helpful. I mean Bruckner also wrote very long symphonies, just think of how many more he could have written had he kept the bulk of them under an hour. Amusingly I just found a new compilation of Decca recording of Bruckner's symphonies 1-9 by the Vienna Philharmonic on Naxos' website. Never mind the sheer number of lieder that Schubert wrote. I haven't listened to any of his operas, but it's not as if he was unable to spend his time churning out pieces that are still popular.

Borodin also just didn't compose a large number of pieces in general all things considered and Mussorgsky wrote 48 instrumental pieces (if I counted correctly - I'm including his works for piano of course) and a number of vocal pieces that weren't operas. I think that there is something to someone who is explicitly trying to learn about classical music listening to to the original versions of pieces if at all possible, perhaps paired with a different commonly performed arrangement. So the original version of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition and then the symphonic version, which is despite the fact that I prefer the symphonic version.

I get wishing that composers who have long died had composed different pieces than they did, really I do. Given how amazing the flute parts are in multiple symphonies that Shostakovich wrote, I wish that he had written a flute concerto or sonata. While Prokofiev did write a flute sonata, it was only the one. That's despite his amazing (and absurdly difficult in some cases) flute parts in his symphonic works. That said all of this wishing is not worth spending a lot of time and energy one. I can't change the past and I certainly can't influence composers who died before I was born. My options are to arrange an existing piece for flute or to accept that what I wish had happened hadn't happened and realize that that is ok. While the first option is a good exercise (I did it with Bruch's Kol Nidre when I was 15), the second is more important in the long run.

Like I said, I don't really listen to or watch operas. There are some I like, including newer ones (more specifically Dr. Atomic and Nixon in China, both by John Adams), and if I have the money to see a good opera company perform an opera by a composer than I like, I will do it. It isn't, however, my prefered genre. That said, I don't think that they hold any less intrinsic value than other pieces of music.
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