Classical music for a blockhead (another long winded OP)

Last week, I had a long go around about classical music with some fine folks here. If you are interested, it shouldn’t be hard to find.

Several people made suggestions of things that I might give a listen. I went through our “three pages” of discussion and picked out some passages with suggestions to take with me to a music store. I was going to just print out the whole thing, until I realized that the first “page” would run to over thirty sheets of paper.

I took those printed out passages, and went to a music store in Wiesbaden that just opened a couple of months ago. I was going to go to a music store that I knew, but they seem to have gone tango uniform while I wasn’t looking. A fellow in a department store music department told me about the new place. Classical music only, brand new store.

The salesman there hunted up the first couple of selections, and then asked me what criteria their selection was based on. He then pulled a third CD from a rack and told me to try it after I’d heard the first two.

The CD he pulled is a compilation CD. Pieces by various composers, all mixed together. The CD bills itself as “the ultimate test of your speakers.” It has pieces by some of the composers that were suggested, and even a couple of the suggested pieces.

I’m sitting here now with that CD in the player, trying to decide whether to be tickled, pissed, happy, or slightly miffed. I love what is on this CD - for the most part, which is the best, really that I expect of any album. I’m happy because I like what I hear, and miffed that it has taken me so long to get to theses things. I’m tickled that my PC does so well playing a copy protected CD, and pissed at the producers for making it that way and myself for buying it despite the copy protection - although in all honesty I didn’t see the little notices on it until (when I tried playing it on the PC at work) windows popped up a little message that the new codecs were installed and that the computer would reboot as soon as I clicked “OK.” Too bloody late to stop it, and no way around a reboot - luckily I had just turned the damned thing back on after the lunch break. I’m also a little bent out of shape because I’m listening to it on my Linux system at home right now, and while it works well enough, it completely ignores on track that I like.

What I’m hearing on this CD is not what I’ve always heard when classical music is being discussed. These are pieces with primeval force. I’ve always associated classical music with more melodious things - and pardon me, I’m being honest, Muzak for rich people. The music I’m hearing now has certain things in common with that - instruments certainly, and probably a zillion things that I don’t have names for. It also has a commonality with other types of music - and things I do have names for. Rhythm, and volume (precisely controlled volume,) and - to my surprise - beat. It also has things that I’ve not heard elsewhere - there’s a deceptive simplicity and clarity to much of this that astonishes me.

What I’m poking around and trying to get to is this:
All my life I’ve had a certain impression of classical music that was built up of my (admittedly limited) exposure to it and its afficianados. This CD has blown that impression all to hell, pretty much the same way last week’s thread destroyed my impression of classical music fans.

For once in my life, english fails me and the best expression for what I feel for this music is a german expression:
Ich bin begeistert.

My wife is amused - I’ve played nothing but this CD all weekend long. Even while puting up sheetrock in the attic, the CD player has been right there with me. I can do some of my best listening when my hands are busy and my mind needs occupation.

So, you’ve read my ramblings, and you’re probably wondering what the point is. Its like this:
I once ate snails when I went out to dinner with a girlfriend. The restaurant we ate in closed a few months after that, and I’ve been afraid to eat snails again anywhere else. They were so good that I’ve been afraid that it was something special that that place did to make them that way - and I don’t want anything less tasty because I’m afraid that they’ll taste more like my preconceived notion of what a snail would taste like that what I know they can taste like.

Can you dopers help me find classical music to re-enforce my first positive experience with classical music so my liking for it doesn’t go the way of my liking for snails?

So that it doesn’t become a guessing game, I’d like to ask if the pieces I like are presentative of the complete works that they came from. In one case, it seems to me that it is not, so I’ll start with it, and then list the others that I like - and what I like about them.

Please remember, these are my opinions. I’m just voicing what I feel.

Strauss - Intro to “Thus Spake Zarthustra”
This piece was recommended particularly in the thread last week, and once I heard it I knew exactly where I’d heard it before. I love this one, and not because of the movie it was used in. It is the simplicity of it that gives it its power. It lives for me on its use of volume to convey a feeling. That single horn that strikes up out of the rumbling comes across to me as a something that has discovered that it can make a noise (representative of any ability, actually.) It rises in volume as its control of the new ability improves, and then it manipulates it, slowly and wonderingly, trying new things with it.

I listened to some of the rest of the work while I was at the music store, and it seems to me that the rest of the work drops that simplicity and becomes more melodious. I didn’t hear much in the rest of it that encouraged me.

Verdi - “Dies Irae” from “The Requiem Mass”
I’m pretty certain that what I’m hearing hasn’t much in common with what it is supposed to be about. The imagery doesn’t match at all with “the day of wrath.” The imagery that I get is of an ice skater. The stretches with the heavy, pounding bass sounds is the skater skating hard to build up momentum. The lighter stretches are of the skater doing spins and figures. For the life of me I don’t know why this comes to mind - I don’t watch figure skating at all.

Prokofiev - “Dance of the knights” from “Romeo and Juliette”
I hear something heavy and ponderous moving in synchrony with a much lighter and faster melody - it is quite easy to imagine armored men performing some kind of intricate march inspired dance. But to visualize that, I’ve first got to get rid of the feeling of BEING a submarine. The best I can figure is that there’s a WWII movie out there somewhere that I’ve seen that uses this piece while showing underwater shots of submarines. Regardless of the imagery, I enjoy it.

Wagner - “The ride of the Valkyries” from “The Valkyries”
At first, I only heard the riding. That is an impressive enough sound, but then I started picking up other things. The riders mounting up and riding off in smaller groups, and then joining together into a large group. The menace. The assurance of victory. The battle and the trampling of the insignificant enemy and the regrouping afterwards. Towards the end the victorious ride home, and finally the triumphant return. And, irritatingly, some instrument that sounds like nothing other than a bicycle bell warning people out of the way during the return. “Brrrrrnnng, brrrrnnng look out here come the Valkyries, don’t let them trample you.” It is still utterly fantastic. Do all arrangements have the bicycle bell in them?

Copland - “Fanfare for the Common Man”
This is again one of those that sound so simple and clear, but still communicate some astonishing imagery. It starts with a hammering evil that pounds everything flat. It relents, and an individual stands up straight - defiantly - and says “See me, hear me. I am, I shall be.” Another joins him, and another until there are bunch of them. The evil takes note, and comes back to hammer them all flat - and this time they they stand back up in defiant groups. Each time they get hammered down, and each time they come back - until the evil hammers at them and none go down - they stand united and hold off the evil. Then they become more and diverse, and the evil tries again but this time they don’t just chase it off. They beat it to the ground and make it change and join them, and all become greater.
So, there are a couple of more on here that I really like, and I see I’ve not said much about the mechanisms I see. The rest going to have to wait until tomorrow, though. It is 2 AM here, and I’ve got to go to work in the morning. I’ll pick this up again either at lunch time, or when I get home tomorrow night.

and Pandora opened her box one last time and released…


If anybody can post a link to the original thread, I’d appreciate it. For some reason I can’t use the search function (it tells me I’m not logged in).

I agree with your impression of “Thus Spoke Zarathustra.” The rest of the piece doesn’t do it for me. It’s not as powerful or moving, imo.

As for Prokofiev, I think you’ll find many of his other pieces offer the same power and complexity. The “Lieutenant Kije” Suite is a popular symphonic piece. I also recommend a lot of his piano music: the 2nd and 3rd Piano Concertos, the 6th, 7th and 8th Piano Sonatas, the “Suggestion Diabolique.”

I’m not a huge fan of Operas, but Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” is wonderful. If you haven’t heard the version with vocals, find it. It adds an unbelievable dimension to the piece. I hadn’t heard the vocals until I saw it live. I had no idea what to expect. It sent chills up my spine.

“Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit…”

Mort Furd seriously I am happy for you. That last thread had me worked up and I had thought out a long diatribe about how, if Stairway to Heaven was good, then how can Bran Y Aur stink because it had no vocals… yada yada yada.

I didn’t post it because I thought the fight was futile, but yet I was confused, you obviously loved music, and were no dummy, yet seemed deaf to a whole new world of tonal expressionism.

But now you’ve won the battle all by yourself (for the most part). Since you’ve stumbled upon some truely terrific works of art. I think the big lesson in this is that is a TON of really long winded boring symphonic music out there. It’s a Vast library spanning centuries. The nuggets of gold are there. I’m so glad you found a handful. You’ve got seperate the wheat from the chaff.

A personal subjective example. I love all of Brahms’ 4 symphonies. Give me one of his piano concertos and I drift off…

You have found power, and you will continue to find it in I think, mostly 20th centrury works. From what you’ve posted before, I’d restate some’s suggestion of Holsts’ Planets. And throw in Stravinski’s Rites of Spring. Debussey’s La Mer.

That’s the stuff that will move you. Nobody likes All symphonic music. You have to seek out the works that suit your tastes. I’m happy for you, and that I didn’t post in the other thread, cause I would’ve come off condescending and judgemental.

rock on bro :slight_smile:

Glad to hear you’ve found some things you like. A lot of people start with Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, but it’s not quite as extreme, so YMMV.

Threads with recommendations:

Classical music that rocks
I need oppressive choral music

Search for “classical” in the thread title to find lots of others.

“La Mer” is a pretty good suggestion. Since you’re reacting to the barnstormers, I think you’ll like the last movement best. If you can get a RealAudio stream at 64.7kbps, you can listen to it here:

I also think you’ll like Debussy’s nocturne for orchestra, “Fêtes” (“celebrations”).

The bicycle bell at the end of “Ride of the Valkyries”? Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” consists of a prologue opera and three main operas. So you heard the bell on Brunhilde’s tri-cycle. :slight_smile: Actually, it’s just the triangle, which really is a triangle of metal. One of its uses is to add brilliance to the overall sound, which is why it’s in that passage.

Having just played it, I would reccomend the slightly more obscure Dona Nobis Pacem by Ralph Vaughn Williams. Nice mixture of voice solo, choral, and full orchestra. If you can hook yourself up with the lyrics (it’s in english), it might take on further meaning if you can follow the storyline.

I am so happy for you, Mort. This is very cool.

I want to tell you one thing—don’t worry if you find that some much-acclaimed music leaves you flat. There are plenty of much-accliamed pieces of music that leave me flat too. It’s like that for all of us.

Don’t be afraid to listen, sample, and listen again. I don’t know about you, but sometimes it takes a few “listens” for a piece of music to grab me. Hell—some of my favorite pieces (now) left me feeling disappointed when I first heard them. But since I’d invested in the damned music, I kept listening, and one day, BOOM! I realized that the music was damned brilliant. It took a while to “sink in”. It might be this way for you too, at least some of the time.

I don’t know if this music will “grab” you in any way, but I always liked it. Read some of the customer reviews, listen to the music samples, and decide if you’re interested: Alan Hovhaness, “Mysterious Mountain”. (Actually, “And God Created Great Whales” is the one I always liked, and it’s included on this CD but there is no music sample.)

Hey Mort, glad you found some stuff you like. We kind of figured out in the other thread that maybe you don’t have a great ear for pitch, but it sounds like you have a keen sense of rhythm and timbre. Based on the examples you posted, you might want to try:

Stravinsky - Rite of Spring (already mentioned, and I agree)
Mahler Symphonies, especially Symph. #2
Respighi - Pines of Rome
maybe Saint Saens - Symphony #3 (Organ Symphony)

Yeah, definitely go for Mahler. Symphony No. 2 IS great, but I’m most partial to the First and Ninth.

Sounds like you’d like most of the late Romantics, for that matter…get more Wagner for starters (Tristan and Parsifal), then try some Bruckner, some Zemlinsky, and early Schoenberg…especially Gurrelieder.

Try the soundtrack to Gladiator. It has a Holst-Mars segment take is really good.

If your computer will support it (broadband), try listening to Classic FM over the internet.

And try virtually anything by Handel - Messiah, Music For Royal Fireworks, Coronation Anthems.

Sorry not to have answered yesterday, folks. No time at work, and I couldn’t get through to the boards last night. I kept getting “connection refused by server” and timeouts.

I’ll get back at lunch time.

Thank you for the suggestions. I’ll print this page and take it to the music store the next time I go.

I think I’m going to stop decribing the things that are on this CD, and my feelings about them. I can’t do that here at work, anyway.

What I will say is what I’ve noticed about the pieces I like, and music in general.

For the most part, the things on this CD that I like the most seem to carry a lot of content in things other than the melody. The rock and country music I like is that way, too. There’s usually a lot of rhythm, and there are volume changes and parts of the music that punch you in the face to underscore the words of the song.

A thing that has come back to me during all of this is my experiences with the Vienna waltz. My wife is of the opinion that a newly wedded couple simply MUST dance a waltz at the reception. I is just a part of her idea of what yo do at a wedding - like wearing a white dress, or saying “I do” before the priest. So, when we got married, I had to learn to waltz. We took a couple of private lessons at a local dance school, and practiced a lot at home. She already knew how, but took the classes with me anyway. Most waltzes are no problem - except for this one arrangement of the “Wienerwalzer.”
There’s that typical “daa da da da du, du du” that you hear in any waltz, and that’s what keeps me in synch with the music. On the CD we were using, the Wienerwalzer kept passing that part of it around amongst the different instruments - and when it got to certain instruments, I would lose it. I could no longer follow the rhythm and would start stepping on feet.
It seems to me as though the rhythm is carried in the melody, and for certain instruments I couldn’t hear the melody and lost the rhythm.

Anyway, that’s my experience with waltzes.

I’ve eyeballed the things listed here, and the other threads, and compared what I (few) pieces I can recognize by name to what I’ve got here, and notice that there are some here and there that I’ve got - and that don’t do anything much for me.

A few of the named pieces are on this CD.

“O, Fortuna” is one. It does right by me, I get nothing from it.

Holst’s “Mars, the bringer of war” is on here, and it calls imagery - odd imagery, but it speaks to me.

Vivaldi’s “Summer” from “The Four Seasons” is another that doesn’t speak to me.

Khachaturyan’s “The Sabre Dance” is good, too - although I’ve first got to smack Bugs out of the picture before I can get to the more interesting imagery. “Kill the wabbit,” indeed.

Bernstein is referred to a couple of times. I don’t have the pieces named, but the two I do have (both from “Westside Story”) actually irritate me. I actively dislike them to the point of jumping to change tracks when they come on.

Not on this CD, but that I’ve heard is the suggested “Toccatta” from Bach. My wife talked the organist at the church into playing this on the organ as we were exiting the church after our wedding. I had a lot on my mind at the time so I didn’t think much about it, but I’ll dig it up. My wfie has a copy on CD somewhere.

I don’t know about keen, but timbre and rhythm seem to speak to me more than pitch.

Thanks for the encouragement, folks.

Toccata in D-minor, I assume- but for Bach’s organ music, his Passacaglia in C-minor does much more for me. Here’s an interesting analysis of it.

I’m hardly an expert, but I think my ear is a lot like yours, more interested in rhythm than pitch. (The five year olds in my daughter’s Suzuki violin class could identify notes better than I could.) I don’t know if this came up in the original thread, but I love Beethoven symphonies, especially the 9th, movements 2 and 4, and the Fifth, movements 1 and 4. I have all of them, and enjoy all of them, if not every movement.

I’m lucky in that my father-in-law is a retired music teacher and a still working composer. Whenever he visits we go to the big used CD store down the street, and he recommends things for me. Some I don’t care for, but some, like Mendelsohn’s (sp?) The Italian I like quite a bit.

Glad to hear how much you liked “Fanfare for the Common Man.”

I detest most modern classical music (often an oxymoron). I looooove “Fanfare.” It embodies everything that can be broken away from more traditional classic music forms yet retain the phrasing and embellishment that classical music does so well.

When the horns finally coalesce into unison and harmony it gives me chills.

If you want some kick@ss solo piano work, check out Glenn Gould’s renditions of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier Book I.

I will also recommend that once you have begun to get a substantial feel for classical music and its most famous pieces, please go out and get some PDQ Bach.

PDQ Bach is riotously funny and gores every pretentious and high-falutin’ sacred cow classical music has ever owned or milked.

I’m going to make a prediction that Mort won’t like Bach, and I’ll tell you why: Bach is “pure” music in the sense that. for the most part, it does not rely on the medium. In other words, you could play Bach’s music on any instrument and the musical statement would still be there. The melodies and harmonies are crucial - there aren’t going to be any spectacular instrumental effects or musical representations of specific images, like there might be in 19th and 20th Century music. Mort has said he likes to have something besides the notes themselves to latch onto. I don’t think he’s going to find that in Bach’s music (or Mozart, or Handel). The only exception I can think of would be the organ music, like the D minor Tocatta & Fugue, because the organ is such a powerful instrument that it can be exciting on its own. Plus, since that piece has been used in horror films, it tends to evoke “haunted house” type imagery from people, even though it’s very unlikely that was Bach’s intention.

It’ll be interesting to see if I’m right or wrong…

Mort, before we understood your, ah, condition, I somewhat facetiously suggested Ravel - Bolero, to be specific. Now I think it might actually be up your alley. As Ravel himself said:

For a really good time, have your wife try out the stripping suggestion as well.