Classical Music: Recognizing a composer by sound.

Specifically Aaron Copland to begin with. I just was watching the New York Philharmonic play a suite of music I’d never heard before, but it was unmistakably Copland. I fortunately tuned in to hear the whole piece, but not in time to hear what it was; it turned out to be Appalachian Spring*.

What is it exactly that makes Copland so distinct?

My thoughts:

  1. Liberal use of horns and timpani, much like other American composers.
  2. Numerous staccato arpeggios or ostinatos (riffs).
  3. Said arpeggios being echoed by successive sections.
  4. Playing around with the upbeat and downbeat. That may not be the best way to put it, but I think this is a big one and can be expanded upon by more knowledgeable Dopers.

I’m also usually able to ID a Beethoven piece, and when I’m wrong it’s some other German or Austrian.

Who can you always recognize, even if you’ve never heard the specific piece?

*: I have to apologize for never having actually listened to Appalachian Spring before. I’m sure I’ve heard parts of it, it’s on a CD I have. “Celebration” from Billy the Kid and “Hoe-Down” from Rodeo come up on my favorite playlist all the time.

There are several composers whose work is so idiosyncratic I have no trouble IDing them:

Gilbert & Sullivan

Mozart/Haydn: If it sounds like the composer had fun composing it, it’s Mozart (though I’ve heard other people say exactly the opposite).

Rossini. Anything by Rossini. His compositions all sound like variations on a single theme. In spite of or because of or regardless of the foregoing, I love Rossini.

Oh, and a 20th century Russian composer whose name slips my mind. His music always sounds like the Czar’s cavalry is about to go pogrom on my ass.


Wendy Carlos (known as Walter at the time) had a piece on her album “By Request” called Pompous Circumstances, where she reworked Elger’s chestnut in the style of a dozen other composers, from Bach to Scot Joplin.

J/K! :slight_smile:

I know he doesn’t like me, but I agree with p45 on Chopin. I love his “light” attacks on the keys, and could I throw in one of my own?

Ferde Grofe’s (sorry, don’t know how to make the “ay” sound on his name), Grand Canyon Suite?

I’m a big fan of “tone poems”.

Especially Mussorgsky’s.

Nice thread,



Philip Glass. I don’t know if you consider him to be ‘classical’, but he is most definitely a composer.

Of course, the ability to recognize his works by their ‘sound’ comes only after years of intense scrutiny of his work :smiley:

I’m usually on target with lots of composers, if I can’t ID the piece off-the-bat. Baroque has structural consistencies, composers like Haydn or Mozart have idiosyncratic traits that are fairly familiar given the breadth of their work, and instrumentation and style help distinguish, say, the French and the Russians for 20th Century pieces.

This is mostly symphonic, mind you. I’m not nearly as adept at chamber music (though a lot of the same rules apply).

I can ID a lot of composers by sound. And my rule of thumb for distinguishing Mozart from his contemporaries is this: I contemplate for a moment if the piece has an ineffable, almost supernatural quality of “perfection.” It’s foolproof.

:confused: :confused: :confused: :confused: :confused: