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intense / complex classical music
March 24, 2005 8:48 AM   Subscribe

What classical music is complex, more intense, or moving?

I really enjoy a lot of instrumental music (post-rock type stuff) and would like to be more familiar with the classics. However, whenever I randomly pick up mozart or beethoven, I get something which is "nice" but just sort of pretty or pleasant, and I don't really feel moved by it (eg, I just find "Fur Elise" sort of annoying). Can you direct me to the more complex, interesting stuff? I tend to like multi-layered sounds, minor chords, unexpected turns, tension or conflict, and basically anything else that sort of "makes you think" (though not necessarily conscious thoughts... just makes you stop & reflect)

(Contemporary music I like includes mogwai, GYBE, matmos, red sparowes, etc)
posted by mdn to Media & Arts (80 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'd just like to say that GYBE live was one of the coolest things I've ever heard/seen. That is all.
posted by nitsuj at 8:50 AM on March 24, 2005


You should get any of Paganini's violin concertos. Think yngwie malmsteen/eddie van halen on violin with a symphony backing him up.

Also, Tchaikovsky's violin concertos rock the hizzy too.

For paino, Rachmaninov will rattle your teeth.

Come to think of it, stick with the Russians. They like bombast.
posted by spicynuts at 8:52 AM on March 24, 2005


I'd highly recommend Caucasian Sketches by Ippolitov-Ivanov and the Schezerade by Rimsky-Korsakov.
posted by Vaska at 8:58 AM on March 24, 2005


See!! Russians!! They'll never let you down.
posted by spicynuts at 8:59 AM on March 24, 2005


I'm a real fan of Modest Mussorgsky's [yes, almost like Modest Mouse, but not quite, yes Russian] Pictures at an Exhibition which was orchestralized by Ravel. It's sort of poppy classical but it definitely has those heartswell parts to it. Also, as Beethoven goes his Ninth Symphony is pretty complex and interesting while the Fifth is pretty bombastic [and I'm sure you recognize at least the intro]. Be sure to check Classic Cat to see if you can download/listen and try out some of the things recommended here for free before committing to buying anything.
posted by jessamyn at 9:02 AM on March 24, 2005


It sounds like you prefer Romantic music to Classical.

The giants of classical music were Mozart and Haydn. Beethoven started out in the classical period, but is consdiered the bridge between classical and Romantic. His later work is highly complex, emotional, and Romantic in style. I recommend Beethoven's late symphonies, piano sonatas, and string quartets.

For other Romantic composers, listen to Brahms (check out the 4th symphony), Wagner, Bruckner (also has a cool 4th symphony), Mahler, and Berlioz (listen to the Symphonie Fantastique).

You also can't go wrong with Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Paganini, and Liszt.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:07 AM on March 24, 2005


yes, just to be clear, I wasn't sayiing no mozart or beethoven, just that I'm so clueless that when I just pick up "something" I am generally disappointed. The 5th symphony is okay, and I like the Jethro Tull cover of the 9th :). Haven't got a copy of the 9th at the moment, though I've heard it (or at least, the first movement).

Russians is fitting... doestoyevski & tolstoy were my guys when I first started getting into classical lit, and I'm 1/4 russian, but it's the strongest quarter (ie, I take after my mother's mother's side most).

on preview: I was going to ask about "romantic" vs. classical, as I've heard the term & wondered if it would apply, but don't really know the distinctions. Is it chronological?

Also, I'm not only interested in the exciting/bombastic stuff, but also the sort of achey/sparse type stuff... what I generally don't get into is what feels like overly thematic prettiness.
posted by mdn at 9:20 AM on March 24, 2005


Want complex? Go high modernist.
posted by kenko at 9:21 AM on March 24, 2005


Carmina Burana by Carl Orff - ancient profane texts but very contemorary modalities (composed in the thirties, I believe) - a fave to hear AND to perform!
posted by DandyRandy at 9:25 AM on March 24, 2005


I second the orchestrated version of Pictures at an Exhibition. Aaron Copland is interesting, but probably not in the complex way you're looking for.
posted by borkingchikapa at 9:25 AM on March 24, 2005


Delius: A Mass of Life isn't instrumental, but worth a listen, otherwise there are lots of collections of instrumental works.

Debussy: La Mer is the classic, but many of his orchestral works are nicely complex.

Milhaud: Did very interesting work with complex rhythms and layering of keys, while exploring popular forms. Le creation du Monde, L'Homme et son Desir (incredible percussion work in that one), and Le Boeuf sur le Toit jump to mind, maybe the Six Little Symphonies too.

Michael Gordon: Sort of minimalist, but with a very interesting palette of complex sounds. Try Weather or Big Noise From Nicaragua.

Maybe Mahler, but I don't know much about him, so someone else would have to back that recommendation up.

And I know I'll get a beat down from someone for this, but Elgar's first Symphony is amazing.

On Preview:

what I generally don't get into is what feels like overly thematic prettiness.

Oh. Just Michael Gordon and some of the Milhaud stuff then, probably.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:26 AM on March 24, 2005


whenever I randomly pick up mozart or beethoven, I get something which is "nice" but just sort of pretty or pleasant, and I don't really feel moved by it (eg, I just find "Fur Elise" sort of annoying).

My tastes may be too pedestrian, and I can't really speak to complexity, but I would never describe Beethoven's ninth as "pretty or pleasant," and I find it very moving. Same goes for the second movement ("Allegretto") of the seventh symphony.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:26 AM on March 24, 2005


I didn't "get" classical music for years. (By "classical", I mean "old.") Then I listened to Beethoven's 9th about 50 times, until finally, at every point, I vaguely knew what was going to come next. (I was a german student at the time, so I appreciated the choral movement.) Now it's my favorite piece of music, bar none. The problem was that it was simply too complex to appreciate on the first several (dozen) listenings.
posted by goethean at 9:31 AM on March 24, 2005


maybe off the mark, but post-rock folks often 'get' minimalism too: steve reich, john adams, philip glass et. al. Gorecki's 3rd symphony is very beautiful. Also not mentioned, I think, Erik Satie, Messiaen, Stravinsky. Not necessarily as "old", but probably maybe more aligned/influential w/the bands/things you're listening to.
posted by Swampjazz! at 9:38 AM on March 24, 2005


oh gosh, all these people mean well, but I can't help but think that there's a lot of pointing in the wrong direction. i think it's unlikely that berlioz or paganini are what you're looking for. (but check them out anyway! and if they are, ignore my stupid post.) Romantic or modern is definitely what you want, though, not 'classical'.

All of swampjazz's recommendations seconded!

Also, you should look at:

Arvo Pärt. Almost anything. It's slow, so you'll need to give it some attention, but it's almost astonishingly powerful, elegiac, with acheing sounds that seem drawn out of the fabric of the air. "Stabat Mater," "Fratres," "Summa" are highly recommended. He's a modern composer.

Bach. He's Baroque, but I find his cello sonatas to be as immediately moving as anything out there. (The Yo Yo Ma versions are easy to find, but not necessarily the best.) And one of my favourite pieces of music in the universe is Glenn Gould's early "Aria de capo" from the Goldberg Variations. Piano, with the slightest sound of Gould murmuring as he plays.

Shostakovich. String Quartet #8. It's about the bombing of Dresden. It's awful (ie, painfully feeling).

That'll do for a start.

Oh - listen to classical music loud.

That's how it's played live, and playing it as quiet background music is the easiest mistake to make.
posted by Marquis at 9:40 AM on March 24, 2005


Want complex? Get something musicians technically can't even play, like Conlon Nancarrow.
posted by AlexReynolds at 9:43 AM on March 24, 2005


I back up the suggestion for Mahler; his 6th is phenomenal, and his 3rd is great too. And Gorecki's 3rd is the piece that's generally brought up in this sort of conversation.


oh, you might also like Saint-Saëns; I tremendously enjoy his Symphony No. 3.
posted by cmyr at 9:47 AM on March 24, 2005


Based on what you say about your tastes, I'd highly recommend you try Beethoven's late quartets. Specifically, put your headphones on, lie down and listen to his Quartet in A Minor, Opus 132 (I like this recording best). If that doesn't do it for you then I have no idea what would.
posted by cali at 9:48 AM on March 24, 2005


I was going to mention Bach if you're looking for complexity and multi-layered-ness, but he may fall into your "pretty or pleasant" and "overly thematic" categories.

On preview: big second on the Goldberg Variations.

Another idea is Renaissance polyphony. It can be very complex but is a lot less thematic than later music. To my ears much of it sounds very modern.

BTW here's a simplistic guide to the major classical music eras.
posted by turbodog at 9:51 AM on March 24, 2005


Twentieth-century Russians. I cannot recommend Shostakovich enough, especially his Symphonies Nos. 5 and 8. (Start with 5.) Prokofiev is good too, although if you're looking for "not-quite-so-pleasant", I'd stay away from his Symphony No. 1. Try Symphony No. 5, the Suite from "Love for Three Oranges", or (if you're feeling brave) the "Ala and Lolly" Scythian Suite.

Finally, the first time I listened to GYBE, I was reminded of Henryk Gorecki's Symphony No. 3. YMMV, of course.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:51 AM on March 24, 2005


I've yet to meet anybody who hasn't been reduced to emotional rubble by Henryk Gorecki's 3rd.

On preview, I got beaten to the punch about three or four times.
posted by muckster at 9:52 AM on March 24, 2005


Maybe you're just listening to the wrong (folk-popular) pieces by Mozart/Beethoven. Try Beethoven's Piano Sonatas No. 8,13,14,15,21,23,24,29,30,31,32, especially the latter ones (but do listen to all). For Mozart, try his piano concertos 17,20,21,23,24. Above all, there's Bach. Your adjectives aren't compatible. Complex does not necessarily equal moving or intense..etc. Gorecki's 3rd symphony is moving. Is it complex? Not to my ears.
posted by Gyan at 9:56 AM on March 24, 2005


mdn: Haven't got a copy of the 9th at the moment, though I've heard it (or at least, the first movement).

You probably meant the last movement, since that contains the ever pervasive tune, borrowed in the European Union's anthem.
posted by Gyan at 10:00 AM on March 24, 2005


I would think that since many post-rock bands are somewhat based in minimalism, you might like some of the same stuff. I'd start with Music for 18 Musicians by Steve Reich. A lot of minimalist stuff can get pretty spare and dry though (more like sonic conceptual art than music), so tread carefully. 18 Musicians is dense enough and has enough variation to it that it's fun to listen to. As far as the obligatory Russian recommendation, I'd go with the Rite of Spring by Stravinsky. Not conventionally pretty by any means, and caused a riot at its premier. The composition has elements of Balinese gamelan music in it, as well as Stravinsky's standard homages to Russian folk music. The piece is a ballet score--the story of it is about a village that selects one of its population every spring to sacrifice by dancing until dead from exhaustion (IIRC).
posted by LionIndex at 10:05 AM on March 24, 2005


If you want to hear what a modern quartet can do, check the Kronos Quartet. "Sculthorpe, Sallinen, Glass, Nancarrow and Hendrix" will plunge you directly into their mindset.

If you want something a bit older, get Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring".

If you can stomach opera, try Wagner.
posted by mischief at 10:08 AM on March 24, 2005


There's also Glenn Branca, who writes "symphonies", but since they're basically for a rock band on steroids (i.e. 18 guitarists and a drummer), I'm not sure they'd fall under your definition of "classical" music. Nonetheless, I'd start with his first symphony, the first movement of which is basically just a giant E chord.
posted by LionIndex at 10:10 AM on March 24, 2005


Verdi. Requiem.

Also Khachaturian's Piano Concerto #2, possibly the awesomest piece I've ever played.

Marquis is right - classical music is not for relaxation.
posted by casarkos at 10:22 AM on March 24, 2005


A big "Yes" on Mahler, especially the 6th or the 9th. A big "no" on Gorecki's 3rd. That simplistic piece simply does not meet the criteria of "complex, interesting stuff." Prokofiev's 5th Symphony is a much more complex, interesting take on similar themes.
posted by profwhat at 10:29 AM on March 24, 2005


Bartok String Quartets.

Britten's Quartets too, especially the 2nd, especially the beginning and the end.

Richard Strauss: you'll recognise Also Sprach Zarathustra, also try The Four Last Songs. The beginning of one of these is used at the start of Wild At Heart, over the flames.

And yes, Bach, IMHO the purest conduit of music into the world we've ever had, at least who bothered to write it down. Start pretty much anywhere.
posted by Grangousier at 10:34 AM on March 24, 2005


Your adjectives aren't compatible.

well, I like a lot of different sorts of things :). I didn't mean every piece had to match every description. It's actually kind of difficult to work out what it is about a piece of music that speaks to you, and I have noticed that some of my favorite pieces are very complex and others are very minimal, so neither of those on its own is what makes it for me.

Having listened to the first two movements of the 9th symphony now, I can say I prefer it to what I've got of the fifth, and it certainly has some gorgeous moments. I cannot say that it overall blows me away, however. But as some have suggested, perhaps it will grow on me.

I also listened to Rachmaninov's piano concerto #1, and also enjoyed that, though now that it's over I don't remember it all that much (as opposed to the first time I listened to GYBE, when I just kept replaying the tracks over and over and felt almost unseemly listening to it in public because of how much pleasure it was giving me...). But again, it's possible that that's because there was a lot going on. I will definitely keep the track.

I'm downloading gorecki & shostakovich now, and will keep checking out these suggestions - please keep making them.

on preview:
You probably meant the last movement, since that contains the ever pervasive tune, borrowed in the European Union's anthem.

I probably did. I guess what I really meant was "I'm sure I've heard part of it but have not seriously sat down to listen to it before."

Marquis is right - classical music is not for relaxation.

Yes: I like listening to music, not having music on in the background.
posted by mdn at 10:36 AM on March 24, 2005


Yet another vote for Rite of Spring by Stravinsky and definitely turn the volume up! It's amazing.
I can't remember which recording/performance/orchestra/conductor of it I have (it is good, but it may not be the best--I'm just another GSYBE!/Mogwai fan), but if any mefites can recommend what is regarded as the recording of Rite of Spring all the better.
posted by safetyfork at 10:39 AM on March 24, 2005


Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov.
posted by norm at 10:47 AM on March 24, 2005


Sorry if this isn't a helpful answer to the question, but from your description it's hard to imagine that you wouldn't love jazz. If you're not already familiar with the genre I think it would be worth your while checking out some of the greats. The same kind of rule applies to jazz and classical music in that the more complex and emotional it is, the less likely you are to run into it by accident; you may be surprised by what you hear.
posted by teleskiving at 10:54 AM on March 24, 2005


Since you mention achey/sparse, I'd recommend Iva Bittova's music. She's not classical per-se, but she's a wailing Czech violinist whose music, especially her self-titled release on Nonsuch, gives me the shivers.
posted by jessamyn at 10:59 AM on March 24, 2005


Maurice Ravel - Le tombeau de Couperin
Debussy - Children's Corner
Rite of Spring
Mahler's First and Second
posted by gallois at 10:59 AM on March 24, 2005


try charles ives if you want something really complex
posted by pyramid termite at 11:00 AM on March 24, 2005


How about Olivier Messiaen? He's practically John Cage. Bjork apparantly was inspired by him quite a bit while creating "Post".
posted by spicynuts at 11:25 AM on March 24, 2005


I also listened to Rachmaninov's piano concerto #1, and also enjoyed that, though now that it's over I don't remember it all that much

Perhaps it's melodies or riffs, regardless of how complex, that you like, and this is why some of this stuff doesn't stick with you. I find that I'd be hard pressed to hum bars from a lot of classical music, with the exception of the severely famous ones, but that doesn't mean I don't like what I've heard. To me, classical music is more like a book than pop music...you take away an impression or a mood, not necessarily a piece of melody you can hum or think about. It's too complex and long. It takes a long time to develop an idea in classical music, unlike rock/pop/indie/whatever. I don't go around carrying bits of Tchaikovskii in my head like I do the Beastie Boys or Johnny Cash, but I still enjoy it when I take a moment to listen to it. Maybe you need to adjust your perspective or your expectations a little.
posted by spicynuts at 11:32 AM on March 24, 2005


Another vote for JS Bach. I'm very keen on his solo works (like the cello suites) and just love the violin and oboe/violin double concertos. I read through some of his work everyday while I practice my oboe and it's amazing how full and complex the music is, even if it's just one instrument playing one note at a time.
posted by Sangre Azul at 11:38 AM on March 24, 2005


I was going to ask about "romantic" vs. classical, as I've heard the term & wondered if it would apply, but don't really know the distinctions. Is it chronological?

Since only one person addressed this in passing, I'll second turbodog's link on Eras of music.

Generally: Romantic music came after Classical music, and is considered more dynamic, more harmonically complex, and more centered around human emotion. Classical music attempted to create a kind of idea, platonic beauty, whereas Romantic music was more about expressing the emotions of the composer.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:58 AM on March 24, 2005


Er, ideal, platonic beauty. My typing is bad today.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:59 AM on March 24, 2005


I see lots of recommendations for Bach, but I didn't see anyone mentioning his choral works, which are some of my favorite, and some of the more complex. Try the ever-popular Mass in B Minor, or the Magnificat.

I agree with the recommendations for Beethoven's string quartets, Shostakovich's quartets, and Bartok's quartets.
posted by agropyron at 12:09 PM on March 24, 2005


If Rachmaninoff #1 didn't "stick", try the more well-known #2, or #3 (featured in Shine), or the Paganini Variations.

César Franck is good too. Try Prélude, Chorale, et Fugue or the Symphonic Variations.
posted by casarkos at 12:11 PM on March 24, 2005


Any of Jacqueline Dupré's music. She was a cellist who was known for being very emotionally involved in her music, thrashing around, and performing Elgar's cello concerto as no one has ever heard before or since. Definitely considered "romantic."
posted by scazza at 12:26 PM on March 24, 2005


GYBE makes me think of George Crumb: deep, spooky modern classical music, some of it heavily amplified. He likes to imitate natural sounds (birds, insects, waves) and he's as interested in texture as he is in melody. Check out the Kronos recording of Black Angels if you want something fierce and ominous, or try Vox Balaenae for something a little more tuneful.

I'll put in another vote for Messaien, Stravinsky and Pärt. Glenn Branca as well, although I don't quite think of him as "classical." Maybe Gavin Bryars too. If you don't mind repetition, try his "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet" — it makes me weak in the knees, but other people just doze off halfway through.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:41 PM on March 24, 2005


One person suggested, another suggested against - i say check it out! Berlioz - Symphonie Fantastique is awesome
posted by joshgray at 12:45 PM on March 24, 2005


I can't believe I forgot Harry Partch.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 12:50 PM on March 24, 2005


As an old organist, I have to recommend J S Bach's fugues, and also his Brandenburg Concerti. I just love counterpoint! The most important thing to remember, though, is that you may not get much out of any "classical" music on first hearing: it really rewards many, many listenings, and you'll still be hearing new things on the 100th listening.

Short story: my grandfather was born in Russia only 17 years after Stravinsky, but couldn't stand his music (he loved Tchaikovsky and Wagner though). I once bought him a copy of Rite of Spring, and told him I'd take it off his hands if he didn't like if after five listenings. He listened to it 20 times, and evertually came to appreciate it (although he didn't exactly turn into a Stravinsky fan). So: keep listening!
posted by Daddio at 12:52 PM on March 24, 2005


I find that I'd be hard pressed to hum bars from a lot of classical music, with the exception of the severely famous ones, but that doesn't mean I don't like what I've heard.

I didn't mean that I didn't remember the specific sounds; I just meant somehow the mood didn't really stick. The contemporary music I like is not stuff I remember the particular tunes to, but I do retain a sense of it somehow, and often when I listen to it, I literally cannot stop smiling (esp live).

I have to say, I'm starting to wonder if maybe percussion is more important to me than I realized, as I've listened to a lot of good stuff, but nothing has yet really grabbed me by the throat, so to speak. But there is a lot more to explore yet... and also, there are definitely non-percussive contemporary pieces that I love, so... yeah.

It's interesting trying to figure out what makes sounds appealing. There are things that you learn to appreciate, but then there are those things that just somehow immediately 'touch' you, and something about that is magical. I learned to see the beauty of cezanne and rembrandt, but I loved van gogh and schiele from the first moment (I guess that confirms the romantic/gothic strain, huh...)
posted by mdn at 12:55 PM on March 24, 2005


This is one of the better threads in a while. Excellent question mdn.
posted by spicynuts at 12:59 PM on March 24, 2005


If by "complex" you mean something along the lines of "two or more melodies/countermelodies going at the same time and playing off of each other," I'll nominate Mendelssohn's string octet, although that doesn't have so much of the "tension or conflict" you cite, IMO.

More generally (most of these tend towards what I would call "more intense"; some have already been mentioned in this thread):
Beethoven's 9th, 2nd movement
Vivaldi's L'Estate (a.k.a. "Summer", part of The Four Seasons), 3rd movement
Mahler's 2nd, 1st movement (that is, there's plenty of tension in the 1st movement. If you want the tension resolved, listen to the whole thing.)
Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherezade

On preview: "I'm starting to wonder if maybe percussion is more important to me than I realized"

In that case, I recommend the 2nd movement of Beethoven's 9th even more strongly.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:01 PM on March 24, 2005


It's interesting trying to figure out what makes sounds appealing.

I think that as one's knowledge of composition/performance/harmony increases, it becomes easier to be precise and articulate about such things, and one's enjoyment and understanding of music in general increases. That's how it was for me anyway. And I know I like a complex piece of music much, much more after I've scrutinized/analyzed the score and listened to it many times.
posted by ludwig_van at 1:13 PM on March 24, 2005


Gustav Holst

The Planets


Great for someone who is new to classical because it sounds like movie music (John Williams borrows liberally from him), but it also fits your bill of being complex (written in the 1920's - modern sound) and intense (the first movement is Mars - the god of war). The Jupiter movement has one of the most beautiful melodies ever written.
posted by internal at 1:45 PM on March 24, 2005


Brahms Piano Quartet in C minor
Prokofiev's Third Piano Sonata
Rachmaninoff's Second and Third Piano Concertos
Chopin's Four Ballades
Barber's Adagio for Strings
posted by mothershock at 1:51 PM on March 24, 2005


Belshazzar's Feast by William Walton

I never tire of this work. With a intense emotional range covering everything from orgiastic joy through to bitter sadness, with intermittent shades of menace, it features masterful orchestral and choral writing, with complex and daring harmonies and rhythms.

(Try and have the words in front of you for at least one listen-through, because it's much more effective when you understand what's going on, and sometimes it's hard to pick out words from huge choirs.)
posted by chrismear at 3:36 PM on March 24, 2005


I found the opening to the film Amadeus moving. It is on the soundtrack:
Symphony No.25 In G Minor, K.183: 1st Movement
posted by zenorbital at 3:53 PM on March 24, 2005


I strongly recommend Kalinnikov's first symphony. It was written with all the passion that a young man could put into a piece.
Complex? The Bach mass in g minor.
Quirky energetic? Dvorak Slavonic Dances.
posted by plinth at 4:04 PM on March 24, 2005


Not classical, but you may also like Rob Dougan, his CD is titled Furious Angels.
posted by zenorbital at 4:14 PM on March 24, 2005


You might also find this thread of some use. After hearing "Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada" by GYBE. I started tracking down more and more post-rock stuff and then started listening to an old Kronos CD I had and found George Crumb and Steve Reich, fast forward a few albums and I still wanted more. The ask mefi thread referenced above really helped.
posted by rodz at 5:49 PM on March 24, 2005


Alban Berg, at his best, is very "complex and moving." Particularly his Violin Concerto. Also, his opera Wozzeck - and I am not a big opera fan.

Schoenberg's Transfigured Night also fits the bill.

I like Bartok a lot, but seldom find him "moving." Very engaging, but not especially emotional. The Music for Strings, Percussion & Celeste, and the Sonata for Two Pianos & Percussion do more for me than the quartets.

Late Beethoven quartets should do nicely.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:04 PM on March 24, 2005


Monday night, I had the pleasure of hearing the Chicago Sinfonietta play Dvorak's "New World' Symphony with Poi Dog Pondering and it was so freaking mind blowing! I hope they recorded it and plan to release it.

Many of the pieces I would suggest have already been mentioned (Carmina Burana! The Planets!)

For emotionally moving, I confess being fond of Joshua Bell's work on the soundtrack of The Red Violin.
posted by jeanmari at 6:32 PM on March 24, 2005


Russian composers all the way. They all rock. Rachmaninov is especially moving. Stravinsky is crazy.

Samuel Barber, especially his Adagio for Strings (Op. 11). Makes me want to cry every time. Bela Bartok is excellent. I like his Quartet for Strings, his Hungarian Peasant Songs, his folk music stuff is excellent. Osvaldo Golijov's La Pasión Según San Marcos is a modern classical-ish piece. It's interesting, a blend of classical with South American and African beats.

Classic Cat is a good place to find free mp3s of classical music so you can preview it, while OnlineClassical.com and ClassicalNet will give you good background on the composer and specific recording recommendations when you decide what you want to try out.
posted by schroedinger at 6:43 PM on March 24, 2005


Oh, and like someone said earlier you might be looking at the wrong Mozart. Try his Requiem in D Minor or Mass in C Minor. They're just . . . whoa.
posted by schroedinger at 6:46 PM on March 24, 2005


Alex Ross (of the New Yorker) has a pretty good weblog, therestisnoise.com that covers classical, and has some pretty cool links, if you'd like to go exploring.

That, and a vote for Satie's Gnossiennes, and I'm out!
posted by lilboo at 7:09 PM on March 24, 2005


ooh, I think I'm gonna like stravinsky. This is good. What else besides rites of spring?

Otherwise, Mahler has come closest so far, I think. I dunno, I'm sure I'm not processing everything very well; will have to give multiple listens and let it all sink in and everything. Thanks for all the great recommendations, though. Definitely bookmarking this thread and will be exploring for some time.

zenorbital, I actually did really enjoy the movie Amadeus & the music it included, though that was a long time ago - but thanks for the name of that opening one. Do you know the name of the one with the oboe that the salieri (?) character describes in the middle...?

rodz, many thanks for the link to that thread... looks like a lot of other stuff I'll have to check out (most of the stuff I know off that thread I do like - nurse with wound, bardo pond, etc)
posted by mdn at 7:58 PM on March 24, 2005


maybe I am just a modernist at heart. The arvo part/kronos quartet stuff is awesome, too.
posted by mdn at 8:38 PM on March 24, 2005


Get the Dallas Symphony version of ROS it rocks.
got subs? bass drum whacks to end all... cept the drum gong combo in Shostikovich's 13th .
posted by hortense at 8:44 PM on March 24, 2005


I have to agree with everyone who says classical is best served loud. Classical music can in fact be louder than the rock and roll I keep hearing about, but is usually only for very brief periods.

One summer when I was playing at the Brevard Music Center and Carl Nielsen's 4th Symphony was on the program. Its subtitled "Inextinguishable" and is about how the world was trying to destroy itself during the Great War. The moral of the story is, in the end, life will always find a way to bounce back.

Anyway, this particular symphony calls for two timpani players. To get better separation, the second timpani player was situated right behind me (I was in the double bass section). I'd noticed the player behind me in the first rehearsal, a really awesome percussionist from Eastern Europe. The piece was amazingly hard and I quickly forgot about her.

So all hell is breaking loose, musically speaking, as it is about war. All the sudden it sounds like there is an actual Howitzer behind me. The timpani player had come in after a long bout of rest and I just about jumped out of my skin!

So the moral of the story is, if you are into Romantic or Modern classical that is very loud and emotional, you should check out Nielsen's Fourth. I have a Bernstein/New York Philharmonic recording that is quite excellent.

(Sorry if this answer was too long, its my first time on MeFi.)
posted by therealadam at 9:42 PM on March 24, 2005


Bach has a certain mathematical precision to most of his works that you either love or hate. The cello suites were mentioned as being atypical Bach, and they are good and can be moving. I would not describe most of his clavier works as moving, but they are definitely complex and something to wrap your mind around. Check out the Well-Tempered Clavier (Book 1, not Book 2), preferrably recorded on a harpsichord, to see what I'm getting at. I personally enjoy it very much.
posted by knave at 9:47 PM on March 24, 2005


Yes to Shostakovich and Mahler and Stravinsky! Stravinsky wrote some very cool music besides Rite of Spring: Firebird, Petrushka, and Jeu de Cartes are also still frequently programmed on concerts.

You might like Hindemith (German, 20th century). It sounds . . . oh, geesh . . like a cross between Shostakovich and Brahms, somehow? -- it's intellectual and rigorously-constructed music, but still inherently tuneful. That was maybe the worst description of Hindemith ever! I could dance about architecture better than that! Go listen to some, maybe Mathis der Maler or Symphonic Metamorphosis. (San Francisco Symphony/Blomstedt has a great CD of these pieces.) Besides his larger-scale works, he wrote a lot of sonatas, good ones, for practically every instrument in the orchestra (even the much-slighted viola).

My copy of David Barber's book Bach, Beethoven, and the Boys goes into a bit of detail about the "Mighty Five" Russians, three of whom are lesser-known names today: Mily Balakirev, Cesar Cui, Alexander Borodin, and then Rimsky-Korsakov and Mussorgsky. After you're familiar with the better/more popular stuff already mentioned, you can explore their works too.

When in doubt, look for tunes with lots of brass parts. Brass instruments will deliver the power and the glory.

And like others have mentioned, any piece of classical music is fifty times better when you hear it played live (and loud) at a concert. Seriously. Read the program notes to get a sense of what's about to happen, then sit back & enjoy.
posted by oldtimey at 10:12 PM on March 24, 2005


Try Anton Bruckner on for size as well. Complex, vital music, imho. His Sixth Symphony is a particular favorite of mine- A quiet opening, complex rhythms (he is fond of using things like 5 beat measures against 4 beat, and 3 against 2), and a heart-shocking keychange (midphrase!) at a climax in the first movement that will leave you gasping for air. That's just for starters... Oh yes, (echoing several ppl above) PLAY IT AT 11!
posted by pjern at 10:56 PM on March 24, 2005


Oh! We skipped over Ottorino Respighi, too! The Pines of Rome, Fountains of Rome, and Roman Festivals are often all on one CD (and are often-performed works). All three suites have some very powerful, lively, somber, festive, majestic music. I like Pines best. He sounds more traditionally Romantic than modern -- the wikipedia link goes into more detail about his arrangements of earlier Italian music, also some worthwhile listening.

OK, I promise to keep quiet after this.
posted by oldtimey at 11:55 PM on March 24, 2005


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posted by four panels at 2:28 AM on March 25, 2005


One general tip: keep in mind that two different recordings of the same classical piece can ber very different--from subjective things like the mood and intensity to objective things like dynamics, orchestration, and pacing.

That said, I echo the nomination for Bach if you really want complexity. However, Bach wrote an amazing amount of music, of many different kinds. Here is my own personal (and VERY subjective) guide to the several faces of Bach. Try a sample of each one and see which you like.

KEYBOARD BACH: To me, this tends to be the purest and most mathematical of Bach's music. For that reason, it might blow you away--but it might also be inaccessible. Try Glenn Gould's 1955 recording of The Goldberg Variations and Andras Schiff's recording of the English Suites. Those are both piano recordings; you might want to try a good harpsichord recording of his music if you want Bach in his most abstract and mathematical form.

ORCHESTRAL BACH: Often tends to be more accessible than the keyboard stuff, since the different instruments make it easier to pick out the different musical threads, and to follow how they play off against each other. Definitely give The Brandenburg Concertoes a listen--that was the music that unlocked Bach for me (especially the 2nd and 5th concertoes.) I really like the recording by Il Giardino Harmonico, which brings out the humor of the work, but it's not to everybody's taste.

One warning: at one point, it was really popular to take Bach's organ work and transcribe it for orchestra. I think this tends to sound watered down and dull. I'd avoid anything with the word "Transcription" or "transcribed" on it.

SOLO STRING INSTRUMENTS: Bachs' work for solo string instruments obviously doesn't have the same interplay of multiple voices that his other work does, and sometimes seems very austere as a result--especially when it's for solo viola or violin, which are themselves austere instruments. However, the cello suites are very beautiful, and the solo cello has a very rich sound. I like Yo Yo Ma's recording of them.

ORGAN MUSIC: Personally, I wouldn't bother listening to Bach's organ music on CD or radio. It's amazing when you hear it performed by a live organist, but home stereo systems just can't blast you out of your shoes the way a real organ can. If your area church has free lunchtime organ concerts (many do at least once a week) you might want to check them out, though. They'll probably have at least some Bach.

VOCAL BACH: Bach wrote some huge choral pieces that are really powerful, and very different from his work for instruments. Lots of people will recommend the B-Minor Mass, or one of the Passions, but I am partial to the Christmas Oratorio, which is gentler and smaller scale than the others. Not sure which recordings to recommend

Bach also wrote cantatas for smaller collections of voices, but I'm not really familiar with them, so I can't offer much advice.

As you can probably tell from this post, it's easy to get obsessive about Bach. I will sometimes tell people that I divide music into two categories--Bach, and everything else. Your mileage may vary, needless to say, but I'd encourage you to at least sample one recording of each of the different kinds of Bach mentioned above.
posted by yankeefog at 6:38 AM on March 25, 2005


I also have to say that some great stuff can be found in film soundtracks. Two that come to mind are Thin Red Line by Hans Zimmer, and Very Long Engagement by Angelo Badalamenti.
posted by tfmm at 6:39 AM on March 25, 2005


Found a CD called "Live at Linz: the mind of the universe", and liked it just for the name, but then it included holst, stravinsky, (some of) beethoven's 9th & prokofiev, so picked it up & am really enjoying it. The stravinsky as performed here is radically different from the other version I found, but also really works for me; I'm looking forward to exploring the various ways this music can be done.

I'm not marking best answers because it will probably take me ages to ultimately find out which answers were most on target for me, but thanks again to everyone.

four panels, is that a comment on my taste :) ?
posted by mdn at 9:52 AM on March 25, 2005


...Amadeus, the film... Do you know the name of the one with the oboe that the salieri (?) character describes in the middle...?
I believe it is this: Serenade For Winds, K.361: 3rd Movement, also on the soundtrack
posted by zenorbital at 12:30 PM on March 25, 2005


I second the soundtrack suggestion by tfmm, very exciting stuff, e.g. the original Star Wars soundtrack by John Williams, which is all orchestral, and Conan the Barbarian by Basil Poledouris, which had lots of chanting a la Carmina Burana, was great.
posted by zenorbital at 12:44 PM on March 25, 2005


Shostakovich! The 5th and 8th symphonies are a good place to start. The 8th is supposedly about the battle of Stalingrad; even if that's not true it's plausible. The 4th symphony is big and abstract. The 13th and 15th are good- the closing of the 15th is a sublimely spooky evocation of a man facing death (sort of).

Also, Shostakovich's orchestration of Mussorgsky's 'Songs and Dances of Death' is the the most Russian sounding thing I've ever heard.

If you like Arvo Part you might enjoy Rautavaara- try the Cantus Arcticus and Angel of Dusk.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 7:50 PM on March 26, 2005


It sounds to me like some of the minimalist/post-minimalist stuff that people mentioned will really be up your alley. Thought I'd give some specific recommendations of pieces in that direction:

Steve Reich's Different Trains incorpates recorded bits of train sounds and human voices and then builds melodies by imitating the shape of those sounds. Huge influence on GSYBE.

John Adams' The Chairman Dances was a trial run for his opera Nixon In China. It reminds me of some of the great Bernard Hermann scores for Hitchcock and has the rock-like impact of some of the minimalism while incorporating a lot more complexity and personal emotion.

Oswaldo Golijov's St. Mark's Passion, a mass written by an Argentine Jew that incorporates Salsa, son, and other Latin American folk traditions into a really ambitious and exciting large scale piece of classical music. There are plenty of parts of this where you will totally forget that you are listening to classical music at all. I think this is the best piece of classical music of our new century.

Terry Riley's In C is, arguably, the founding piece of Minimalism. It has an "open score" wherein the musicians play a series of musical ideas as many times as they like, but once they move on from one to the next, they can never go back. In C feels very much of a piece with the avant-garde Jazz of its time while keeping a consonance that makes it accessible for people who find themselves alienated from that music's angularity.

Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach was the high watermark of his ambition, creativity, and influence. It's an opera played by an electrified classical ensemble and with lyrics by an autistic boy. This is where Glass started to break loose from his super stringent early minimalism to incorporate crazy innovations like chord changes. The electric sonorities (even just the pure volume and speed) make it more accessible for someone coming from a rock/punk angle. This era of Glass always reminds me of the "switched-on" Bach and Beethoven soundtrack of A Clockwork Orange.

Obviously there's tons more, but those are some of the new "classics".
posted by AtDuskGreg at 2:26 PM on January 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


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