Learning about Classical Music


Learning about Classical Music

Post by Vil » Wed Feb 07, 2007 5:27 pm

Hello... I will first introduce myself since this is my first post. I am a college student (majoring in Computer Science). I have had a fascination with music all my life and do have a decently sized collection of music (mostly non-classical).

I've been interested in classical music for most of my life, but every time I've tried to learn about it and enjoy it, I've always run into some impasse in my understanding of it. I am currently in college and I am taking a music appreciation class this semester, and it has already cleared up several of the things I didn't understand (including enlightening me as to why people actually like opera, since I have never really enjoyed it). I think most of my problems getting into classical music has been a lack of understanding.

Since I didn't understand it very well, I looked to more current, mainstream genres of music for my "music fix." I have slowly edged away from popular music towards more obscure bands/artists, trying to find music that could hold my attention and entertain me for longer than a month or two. I have found some stuff I really enjoy in that adventure, such as Tom Waits and The Alan Parsons Project, but I still find myself wanting to listen to classical music. So, on to my questions...

I was wondering three things. First, could any of you point me in a direction to help me understand music better? I really don't know how to ask a more pointed question here because I don't know a whole lot about it. The extent of my knowledge is what I have learned the past four weeks or so in this class as well as what I learned in my highschool music appreciation class, which focused mainly on jazz and was far from an incredibly informative experience.

The second question is, can you recommend somewhere to start listening to music? I've considered starting at the beginning and working my way forward chronologically, as we are doing in the class, but I have had some trouble finding out about early composers and finding recordings of their music. My current collection consists of some Mozart, Bach, Hildegard von Bingen, Edvard Grieg, Handel, a few symphonies by Beethoven, and a few assorted other compositions. (Please, correct my spelling of names, etc, if I get them wrong.)

The final question is, can someone explain to me why I see people discussing not only the quality of composers/compositions, but also the quality of performances? Is one performance really that much better than another?

Oh, I almost forgot, at some point I asked for some Gregorian Chants for my birthday, and that was when I got this CD of music by Hildegard von Bingen as well as one by Coro Francescano di Assisi... I have been unable to find anything informative about the latter and was wondering if any of you can enlighten me on him (I assume it's a him).

Thanks :)


Post by Brendan » Wed Feb 07, 2007 5:45 pm

First of all, welcome to the board. Most here know a lot more than I do about the subject, but I'll try to help a budding bit-head (20 years or so in IT) where I can.

The matter of performance was the first to grab my attention. When I first "converted" to classical, it didn't seem to me that it would matter that much. Most recorded artists and orchestras can play all the notes. But one thing that grabbed my attention was a particular TV show that used the Ode to Joy from Beethoven's Ninth for the closing credits.

It sounded so much better than the Roger Norrington Ode I had that I decided to get another LvB 9th (I'll let others explain HIP). Better, but still not as good as the one I wanted. I now have over a dozen 9ths (including the Fricsay recording the TV show used) and listen to them all. Except for the Norrington.

For other works, I thought I was missing something. Then heard a recording or performance that had something special and it opened a new realm of appreciation to me. Casals Cello Suites sprang to mind for some reason.

For yet other works, such as Mahler or Bruckner symphonies, they are so vast and so open to individual interpretations that multiple recordings are almost a must to get particular nuances (aside for regulars - is it OK to use that word again yet?) that interpreters highlight. Or labour the point, as with someone like Celibidache at his worst (his best is wondrous)

For piano music, the touch of the artist is crucial, as indeed is performance tradition in some cases. Chopin's Mazurkas are all but lost as performance pieces as the Polish tradition was wiped out in WWII.

Sorry if all that sounds a bit pompous. Listening yourself to what you like is always the best guide, but it would be a little odd if you didn't find particular artists or orchestras you prefer as your appreciation grows.

Do libraries in your area lend CDs?

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Post by piston » Wed Feb 07, 2007 7:55 pm

Hello! Very happy to hear about your interest in classical music. You have access to at least two new technologies I didn't have at your point in my life: DVDs and short videos on the internet, such as Youtube. I suggest that you not only hear but also view various works. Assuming that your college library holds an audio-visual collection, I would begin by doing a little bit of research on works frequently mentioned for any given composer such as, for example, Anton Dvorak's "New World" Symphony no. 9, Claude Debussy's "La Mer" or even short pieces like Paul Dukas' "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." On Youtube, look for great pianists and sample their performances. You'll find quite a few mentioned in various threads here like Horowitz, Brendel, Richter, Rubenstein (I'm not sure he's on Youtube, though :lol: ). Recently, I was watching Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli play some of Debussy's music on Youtube; it's really incredible the ease with which he can convey all the magic of this music. Anyway, I recommend that you shop around by using all the means at your disposal and some of it will "click" I'm sure. :lol:
In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned....(Paul Valéry)

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Post by Haydnseek » Wed Feb 07, 2007 8:13 pm

Welcome! If you have broadband internet, then a wonderful resource for learning about classical music is the BBC radio program "Discovering Music."

They archive their one hour long shows, which examine and explain great works of music in terms that anyone can understand, so you can listen whenever you want to.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/discovering ... hive.shtml
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Post by RebLem » Thu Feb 08, 2007 12:24 am

One thing that people find some difficulty with when starting out is finding out something about the vocabulary of whatever discipline it is. One resource which I find very valuable is a free on-line music dictionary at Virginia Tech. http://www.music.vt.edu/musicdictionary/

The have definitions for thousands of musical terms. One other thing they have that I think is unique (at least, I haven't come across it anywhere else) is that they have an audio pronunciation guide for every word in the dictionary. You click on a button near the word, and you hear a knowledgeable person actually pronounce the word for you. Unfortunately, they don't have the names of any composers or performers or ensemble names, just generic musical terms, but it is a very valuable resource.

Unless you are hiding out or in the Witness Protection Program, I would suggest that you go back and flesh out your profile a little bit. Most of us feel more comfortable talking with people we know something about. It doesn't have to be as detailed as mine, though you are welcome to look at my profile and use it as a guide, if you wish. My guess is that you don't have any particular reason for keeping things close to the vest, just that you did the minimum to get on the board and start posting.

And, welcome!
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Post by DavidRoss » Thu Feb 08, 2007 9:43 am

Welcome, Vil. Run, don't walk, to the site Haydnseek recommended. If you're in college, you might take a music appreciation course there, (If it's not better than your high school class, you're in the wrong college.) Over at the Good Music Guide forum, there's a sticky in the Beginner's section with recommendations for books. And for those with broadband, a wonderful resource is the Naxos website, where for $20 annually you can listen to anything in their extensive catalog.

And don't forget to take in live performances at every opportunity. Check with your music department for offerings on campus and for information about performances in the surrounding area.
"Most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives." ~Leo Tolstoy

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Post by BWV 1080 » Thu Feb 08, 2007 9:54 am


I would also recommend subscribing to Naxos (https://trio.hnh.com/pg/mncom_v2/newaccount_paid.asp) You can listen to anything in their catalog for a small annual fee.

The only caveat is that there is alot of great music that for most is an acquired taste. Many great pieces do not give up their real depth on a casual first listen. So if something does not appeal to you, keep an open mind and perhaps come back to it later.

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Re: Learning about Classical Music

Post by johnshade » Thu Feb 08, 2007 10:58 am

Vil wrote: I've considered starting at the beginning and working my way forward chronologically, as we are doing in the class, but I have had some trouble finding out about early composers and finding recordings of their music.
When I started my interest in classical music some forty years ago, I found music composed in the 20th century more accessable that that from an earlier period (except for Beethoven and Brahms). In the 1950s there were great recordings of Bartok, Stravinsky, Richard Strauss, Ravel, Debussy, etc. as well as Beethoven and Brahms. I found these works very exciting and would listen to the works over and over until I developed an understanding of the music. It was later that I developed a great love of Mozart and Bach. Now there are many other composers that I enjoy. For a beginner, I recommend the reviews and articles in Gramophone and BBC Music Magazine. There are posters on this board that will recommend more esoteric music, but I would opt for the well-known composers. They have proven their greatness.
The sun's a thief, and with her great attraction robs the vast sea, the moon's an arrant thief, and her pale fire she snatches from the sun... (Shakespeare)

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Post by slofstra » Fri Feb 09, 2007 3:36 pm

I have a few questions for you. What do you have in the way of listening equipment - computer speakers, boombox, or a fairly good stereo. Or perhaps you mainly listen on an 'ipod'.
What do you like in 'pop'? It's a pretty exciting scene these days - my kids are all young adults, and I haven't seen the pop field this good since the Sixties: Decembrists, Camera Obscura, Belle and Sebastian, Jack Johnson, Sarah Harmer, Shins, Flaming Lips, Ys by Joanna Newsom, lots of great stuff.
Just getting a feel for where you're at. I've been listening closely to classical for 20-25 years, but my listening evolved out of the popular music of my era ( the Sixties).
I believe I started in high school with Tchaikovsky, but didn't really focus on classical music as a listening pursuit until I was in my late twenties.
I second the recommendation above of bbc.co.uk/radio3. Programs like 'Composer of the week', 'CD Review', and 'CD Masters' are all available on demand.
You might also try Radio 2 in Canada available from www.cbc.ca/listen

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Post by burnitdown » Sun Feb 11, 2007 8:56 pm

Find one recording you like, get an excellent conductor/orchestra, and listen to it until you understand how to grok music like it.

Then find a reviewer or poster whose taste you like, and download/buy/steal all of their favorites.

Good to have new faces aboard the culture train!


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