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Old 04-26-2012, 02:48 PM
Stelios Stelios is offline
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So I want to learn about classical music.

And I have absolutely no idea where to start. It's a huge topic, and I want to acquire a thorough grasp of it. I want to learn about all the major composers, their dates, their personalities, and their major works. Everything from the baroque era to the present day. It's a daunting task, and I know I won't master the subject overnight. As it stands, I'm a total neophyte. You can count all the classical compositions with which I'm familiar on the fingers of one hand. If anyone could recommend me any of the following I'd appreciate it:

1). Major composers and their most famous works.
2). Learning resources (books, websites etc...)
3). Anything else which may help.


Last edited by Stelios; 04-26-2012 at 02:49 PM.
Old 04-26-2012, 02:54 PM
Stelios Stelios is offline
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P.S. For completeness, and to save you time, here's a brief list of the composers and works I already know:

1). Bach - Goldberg variations, Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor, The Well-Tempered Clavier.
2). Beethoven - Fifth Symphony, Moonlight Sonata.
3). Holst - The Planets Suite.
4). Mozart - The Magic Flute.
5). Puccini - Madame Butterfly.

I think that's about it. There may be a few more but that's all I can recall at the moment. Thanks again!
Old 04-26-2012, 03:12 PM
Pitchmeister Pitchmeister is offline
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There are a lot of CD collections that feature well-known works, and I guarantee you, even though you might not be able to name them, you will know almost all of them. That's a good starting point for finding out which composers or periods appeal to you the most - remember, "Classical Music" encompasses everything from Claudio Monteverdi to John Cage, a span of almost 500 years of music.

BTW, good for you!
Old 04-26-2012, 06:23 PM
Thudlow Boink Thudlow Boink is online now
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Originally Posted by Stelios View Post
I want to learn about all the major composers, their dates, their personalities, and their major works.
This book might be along the lines of what you're looking for—though there are other, similar books out there, and I can't guarantee this one is the absolute best.

If you want to explore the world of classical music, this is a wonderful time to do so, since you can browse performances and recordings of all sorts of pieces, famous to obscure, on YouTube, and you can get massive collections of classical music on Amazon (for example, the "Rise of the Masters" or "99 Most Essential" collections available there) for very cheap.

We've had people start similar threads before. Here's one, which includes links to additional threads and other resources: The Greatest Hits of Classical Music
Old 04-26-2012, 06:32 PM
Peter Morris Peter Morris is offline
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Start with a compilation. This is a good one, but you might find similar.
Old 04-26-2012, 07:12 PM
Boyo Jim Boyo Jim is offline
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I've just acquired some Aaron Copland, whose work has been described as quintessentially American. Pretty much any western movie you see has music influenced by him. Elmer Bernstein, who wrote the score of The Magnificent Seven, was his student. Jerry Goldsmith, who also scored tons of films, was clearly influenced by him.

You will absolutely recognize some of his music, and it's still pretty commonly used in film and TV. Emerson, Lake, and Palmer liked it so much they did cover versions of Hoedown and Fanfare for the Common Man
Old 04-26-2012, 08:45 PM
panache45 panache45 is offline
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Originally Posted by Stelios View Post
. . . I want to acquire a thorough grasp of it.
Good luck with that. The subject of Classical Music is huge, and a "thorough grasp of it" will take years of intense study. Break it down into manageable subjects, like a "Music Appreciation" class. Start by exploring the historical periods (Baroque, Classical, Romantic, etc.) and just a few representative works from each. Learn some music theory along the way, and of course familiarize yourself with the instruments. Then you'll be ready to study individual composers and their major works.

But try not to get too academic. Music is to be enjoyed; that's the whole point of it.

And I'm curious: If you've never listened to much classical music before, what sparked the sudden interest in it?
Old 04-26-2012, 10:11 PM
rowrrbazzle rowrrbazzle is online now
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View Leonard Bernstein's "Young People's Concerts" and "Omnibus" programs. A few for starters (all links to part 1 of multi-part videos):

What is classical music?

What is melody?

What is orchestration?

What makes music symphonic?

What is a concerto?

What is sonata form? "A symphony is a sonata for orchestra." (and IIRC he works in a Beatles song somehow.)

Last edited by rowrrbazzle; 04-26-2012 at 10:13 PM.
Old 04-26-2012, 10:14 PM
Dave Hartwick Dave Hartwick is offline
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An audio course might be better than a book in this case, so you can hear the examples. Here's one. The one I listened to didn't cover the major composers-- although many famous ones were mentioned-- it was more about theory. I believe it was also by Robert Greenberg.
Old 04-26-2012, 10:22 PM
heathen earthling heathen earthling is offline
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Read the book Rock Me Amadeus by Seb Hunter. It's a guide to discovering classical music written by a guy who starts exactly in your position. Very funny too.
Old 04-26-2012, 10:42 PM
TonySinclair TonySinclair is offline
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Good suggestions all, and I'd like to add that "classical music" is no more monolithic than "rock music," so don't give up on it if you run into composers, or even subcategories, that you don't like.

I have hundreds of classical CD's, and I don't buy a CD unless I know for a fact I will enjoy listening to it over and over, but I absolutely cannot see why anyone would listen to a Mahler symphony, let alone go to the immense trouble of actually performing one, and I would get along fine if I never heard another string quartet.
Old 04-26-2012, 11:43 PM
Rodgers01 Rodgers01 is offline
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Take one of the pieces of classical music you already know and like, and explore other big works by the same composer. So if you really like Beethoven's Fifth, check out his Sixth and his Ninth - odds are you'll respond to those, too. While a little work and patience can sometimes be involved, the important thing when you're starting out is that you enjoy what you're listening to. There's no point in buying a CD of Bach fugues if you just don't (yet) like Bach fugues.

Also, a lot of people like what I think you'd call "program music" - music that's supposed to depict something real. It makes the experience a little less abstract, and gives you something to focus on. For example Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony (listen for the nature sounds!) or Holst's Planet Suites (how does this sound like Mars?) or Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream overture (the donkey laugh!). That can be a good way into classical music.
Old 04-27-2012, 02:10 AM
madmonk28 madmonk28 is offline
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You know, a great way to learn about any genre of music is to listen to it on Pandora. It's free, you can select the genre (classical) and listen away. When you notice a piece you really like, make note of that composer. The next time you listen to Pandora, select that composer and you will not only hear his music, but music by other composers that is similar.
Old 04-27-2012, 02:16 AM
tellyworth tellyworth is offline
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Is there a radio station in your area that plays classical music? If not there are several streamed online.
Old 04-27-2012, 06:58 AM
LaurenIpsum LaurenIpsum is offline
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Although this sounds like a cop-out answer, I actually recommend Classical Music for Dummies (written by David Pogue of the New York Times technology columns). It gives a good overview of the different periods and the major composers, as well as a CD with a few sample tracks to illustrate various concepts.
Old 04-27-2012, 07:19 AM
Gyrate Gyrate is offline
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This is a pretty good introductory book on classical music, aimed at new listeners. It covers the major and significant minor composers from each era as well as key works and general stylistic information.

N.B. The spouse and I wrote the chapter on Baroque music, although we get no additional monies if you buy it so I have no financial incentive here. And as a caveat I'll note that they took an editorial chainsaw to what we wrote - hell, a third of the Vivaldi entry was cut to put in a picture of pigeons. But it's still a decent starters guide for all that.
Old 04-27-2012, 06:06 PM
Reloy3 Reloy3 is offline
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Originally Posted by Dave Hartwick View Post
An audio course might be better than a book in this case, so you can hear the examples. Here's one. The one I listened to didn't cover the major composers-- although many famous ones were mentioned-- it was more about theory. I believe it was also by Robert Greenberg.
Seconded - Robert Greenberg is personable, witty and knowledgeable, plus his audio recordings with the Gret Courses are liberally seasoned with great musical examples. The weakest was the series on music theory (which is toast dry), but his stories about the composers' lives are great.
Old 04-28-2012, 09:39 AM
mack mack is offline
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Here's some more Bach you might be familiar with: Concerto for Harpsichord in F minor, BWV 1056

Prelude from Bach's Cello Suite No. 1(BWV 1007)

Cantata 147. Jesus bleibet meine Freude (Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring).

A composer you might not know you're actually familiar with yet is Erik Satie: Gymnopédie No.1.

Satie and Bach are about 200 years apart, BTW.

Where do you live? There might be an educational establishment that has a course for you.

The turn of the 20th century is an unusually rich period of composition where things got interesting without getting too weird, although it might have been weird at the time - Stravinsky, Debussy, Satie, Ravel, Vaughn Williams - you might find music from this period more accessible.

I took some courses in college but these days 25 years later my learning is more passive - something strikes me while listening to the radio or a movie soundtrack ("whoa, what was that?") and I chase it down using credits, radio show playlists, googling "music from hannah and her sisters" "what is that string piece from platoon" and so on. It's then easy to learn as much or as little about the composer as you like. Musical traditions they came from, influences, contemporaries, etc.

Last edited by mack; 04-28-2012 at 09:40 AM.
Old 04-28-2012, 11:15 AM
Le Ministre de l'au-delà Le Ministre de l'au-delà is offline
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Two things that haven't been suggested so far...

1) Go to as many live performances as you can. I don't know your location, so I can't tell who is at all nearby, but there may well be a good professional symphony orchestra . There may also be a university with a good music faculty or a conservatory - student recitals tend to be free. You may have some local professional choirs, or local churches with good choirs. There are many performing arts organizations out there, producing concerts in large, medium and small venues. Living room concerts are becoming more and more popular.

The thing is, classical music wasn't meant to be recorded - it was meant to be performed live! It is a different experience to hear the sound differentiation across a large space, and to see what the musicians do to produce those lovely sounds. Not to mention how impressive it is that the horns, bassoons and cellos can play that difficult passage together when they're separated by 100 feet of other instruments playing their accompaniment figure.

2) Have you ever considered taking up an instrument, or learning to sing? You will never learn so much about music as you learn from performing it yourself. Whether piano, an orchestral instrument, a band instrument or joining a choir, it's an extremely satisfying way to learn about music. 'Your true lover of music does not just admire the muse, he sweats a little in her service' - Catherine Bower Drinker (paraphrased.)

Last edited by Le Ministre de l'au-delà; 04-28-2012 at 11:16 AM.
Old 04-28-2012, 11:58 AM
Smeghead Smeghead is online now
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Another option that I really liked was a radio series Stephen Fry did for the BBC about, oh, eight or ten years ago or so, called "The Complete and Total History of Classical Music". Or something like that. There were something like twenty one-hour episodes, each covering a specific time period. I'd listen to Fry read the phone book, but he did a great job making it very accessible, explaining why each piece or composer was important and different. My only complaint was that they only played clips from the pieces they talked about, but it made me want to go seek out the full pieces. The other bad thing is that I have no idea if it's commercially available anywhere.
Old 04-28-2012, 03:52 PM
Stelios Stelios is offline
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Thanks for all the great suggestions guys. I'll be checking out all your links and recommendations over the next few days.
Old 04-29-2012, 08:33 AM
Moe Moe is offline
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Plenty of good suggestions here, but just to add one more, if you use iTunes you may wanna do a search for a music history course on iTunesU. I'm going through a few courses on there (mostly science) and it's a great resource. I don't have access to iTunes at the moment or else I'd do a quick search myself to find a recommendation.

I will say this though. You didn't mention whether you play an instrument or not, but I'll second Le Min's recommendation and take it a bit further. If you take the time to understand some basic music theory concepts, it will make it orders of magnitude easier for you to put the different time periods and composers in context.


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