good, “simple,” engaging, beautiful “classical” music
October 22, 2010 1:44 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for good, “simple,” engaging, beautiful “classical” music.

I'm not sure how to describe what I'm looking for. I think possibly I'm looking for simple and... perhaps emotional, or perhaps just “poignant,” or perhaps just “good-sounding” classical compositions. I think Für Elise and the Moonlight Sonata would be archetypal examples, but perhaps they sound too kitschy to my ears now.

By “simple” I mean more the absence of density (as in a lot of instruments at once) than say, repetition or an uncomplex sonic palette (caveat: I'm not a music pro; I'm just using these terms intuitively). I really like all of Chopin's 21 Nocturnes and 26 Préludes and Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. One of my favourite pieces of all time is Bach's “Chaconne.”

I also like Steve Reich, A Silver Mt Zion, Clogs and Rachel's, but I find with these more contemporary minimal/new-classical (again don't hold me to my made-up terminology) composers/bands, they don't stand up to the kind of repeat listening I like to do. They're too simple.

I like Barber's Adagio for Strings, Arvo Pärt's Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten, Górecki's Symphony # 3, all “simple” in a way—direct and emotional—but I'm not looking for something that “heavy” or super-sad right now. (This is a great thread for that though, btw.)

I'm aware of Debussy and Satie, and like them, but I'm looking for something "cleaner," and not melancholy.

So maybe what I'm looking for is just good compositions for one or two instruments, that are engaging and beautiful? "Fugues," "Preludes," "Nocturnes"? Again, Bach's Chaconne is probably my #1 exemplar; Chopin's Nocturne in b-flat minor, Op. 9 No. 1 would be a close second; and Bach's Prelude and Fugue No. 1 in C major would be a third. More modern stuff like Clogs' Ananda Lahari also welcome, but slightly less so (not because it's modern, but because it's more “minimal”/repetitive). Piano and violin or cello I guess is what I have in mind, but stuff for other instruments, including voice, is welcome too.

posted by skwt to Media & Arts (45 answers total) 81 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, you know what, Rachel's Egon & Edith is a much better example of the kind of contemporary composition I'm looking for more of, not the Clog's Ananda Lahari. Emotional but not morose.
posted by skwt at 1:49 AM on October 22, 2010

Best answer: I love Schubert's impromptus. Especially the 4th.
posted by uauage at 1:51 AM on October 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: That is exactly what I'm looking for, thanks.
posted by skwt at 1:59 AM on October 22, 2010

Gluck's Dance of the Blessed Spirits seems to me to be an example of that sort of music. But maybe too melancholy?
posted by lollusc at 2:21 AM on October 22, 2010

Ralph Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending (better recordings available through iTunes or Amazon MP3) is phenomenally beautiful, fairly simple, and has a lovely flow to it.

I'd dive into Bach's Goldberg Variations; the Glen Glould recordings are phenomenal. Brandenberg No. 5 is a little more multi-layered, but is worth a listen.

A little farther afield, but perhaps try Shostakovitch Piano Concerto No. 2. The first and third movements in particular have a nice whimsey to them that get into an emotional realm without being heavy.

You found Debussy "unclean" and "melancholy." Have you heard his Clouds? Arguably too melancholy at points but pretty clean.

There are actually 21 Chopin Nocturnes. Perhaps you'd like some of the others?
posted by zachlipton at 2:36 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

And I failed to link the second half of Lark Ascending.
posted by zachlipton at 2:52 AM on October 22, 2010

Best answer: The contemporary Latvian composer Georgs Pelecis has written several simple, clean, major-key works (which can however, veer alarmingly close to kitsch), for example his Concertino Bianco. Some other works of his are on YouTube.

Vladimir Martynov: Come In! (on CD).

If you like Chopin's Nocturnes, you might also like John Field's.

Beethoven's 'Spring' violin sonata.
posted by misteraitch at 2:55 AM on October 22, 2010

Response by poster: (going to sleep now, I'll check back tomorrow; keep em coming!)
posted by skwt at 2:58 AM on October 22, 2010

Best answer: Try Bach's Cello Suites.
posted by jonnyploy at 3:37 AM on October 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Here is Argerich playing Ravel's Jeux d'eau and Ondine. She plays Ravel a shade too fast to my ears, but she plays clean and makes it sound simple and beautiful.

I saw Bronfman play Prokofiev's 2nd Piano Concerto recently. The final minutes of the ever-upwardly-spiraling first movement are beautiful, but terrifying and awesome, in the ancient sense of the word. Always puts chills down my spine. I have this recording with Gutierrez which is excellent.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:38 AM on October 22, 2010

Check out Bach's work for unaccompanied Cello. (And while you're at it, this version of it on electric guitar is interesting, too.)

It's interesting that Bach keeps coming up in this discussion, because so much of his music is intense and complicated, which isn't what you're looking for. It's pretty awe-inspiring that he could be a genius in very different ways.

You might also check out Simon Wynberg's "A Bach Recital." He's transcribed a bunch of Bach works to the guitar, and even in the more complicated works, it really brings out the melancholy simplicity you seem to respond to.

Finally, you might enjoy Yo-Yo Ma's Appalachian Journey album.
posted by yankeefog at 3:54 AM on October 22, 2010

Have you tried Zoë Keating? She might be too minimalist for you, but she's worth a listen.
posted by neushoorn at 4:16 AM on October 22, 2010

Best answer: The Mozart string quintets? They may not have the emotional punch you're looking for, but for me they're the epitome of "clean" classical music.

Also Schubert in general, especially his chamber music, such as the lovely 2nd movement of his Trio in B Flat or Quintet in C Major.
posted by drlith at 4:16 AM on October 22, 2010

Best answer: If you want something less dramatic than the last mvt of Beethoven's Moonlight sonata, go for the sonata op. 90. Then there's Schubert's last sonata in B-flat D 960; a piano version of Bach's Chaconne exists (b y Busoni); there is also a left-hand version by Brahms, and transcriptions for harpsichord by various people (can't find now)
posted by Namlit at 4:53 AM on October 22, 2010

Best answer: Haydn's piano sonatas (example). The best in beautiful, engaging, "simple" classical music.
posted by mediareport at 6:40 AM on October 22, 2010

Another vote for the Bach Cello Suites here.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:45 AM on October 22, 2010

I have had really great luck in the past when I have sent email to ArkivMusic and asked for recommendations. I asked for a recommendation on the best recordings of a few different symphonies, and I was very surprised with the depth of the response I received. The follow up questions I have asked have been answered with the same care. It looks like you are getting a good info here, but I thought I would add that tip. BTW, I am not connected with them in any way, I just have had very positive experiences.
posted by Silvertree at 6:48 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Rachmaninoff's Vespers. Here's part 1.
posted by Leezie at 6:54 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Granados' Valses Poeticos example
posted by alb at 7:00 AM on October 22, 2010

John Adams' "John's Book of Alleged Dances" and Kronos Quartet's collection, "Pieces of Africa."
posted by aught at 8:41 AM on October 22, 2010

Best answer: Maybe too obvious but Schubert's "Piano Trio in E Flat", highlighted in both Barry Lyndon and La Pianiste.

You may also like Rachel's.
posted by ifjuly at 8:46 AM on October 22, 2010

D'oh, you already mentioned Rachel's, sorry!

As penance: it might not work, but maybe The Dirty Three?
posted by ifjuly at 8:47 AM on October 22, 2010

Two of your top three examples are Bach. You know he's one of the most prolific composers, right?

Give the Well-tempered Klavier a shot? (the famous prelude and fugue in Cmaj are the first in WTK, book 1).
I like the 2- and 3-part Inventions for their simplicity. (Here's Glenn Gould playing the first 2-part Invention)
Toccatas? French Suites? English Suites?
Also, there's the Art of the Fugue. Here's Glenn Gould playing it. (For some reason, I seem to be having a lot of Gould hits on You-Tube.)

He has 6 or so Motets (these are choral) which I would also highly recommend. Although they are very... uhh... Lutheran. Might be a bit heavy for you.
posted by chicago2penn at 9:40 AM on October 22, 2010

All of the Beethoven sonatas for piano and violin or cello.

Britten - Cello Suites
Part - Alina, Fratres, Tabula Rasa
Bartok - 44 violin duos
Rochberg - Slow Fires of Autumn, Duo Concertante
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:21 AM on October 22, 2010

You said you're up for some piano music; have you listened to Chopin's Mazurkas? Mazurkas are Polish folk dances, and Chopin wrote a herd of 'em. They're lovely, shortish meandering melodies that make me think of springtime.
posted by workerant at 10:22 AM on October 22, 2010

Best answer: Since you offered Bach's Chaconne as your #1 example, perhaps you'd like another solo violin piece: Biber's Passacaglia.
posted by spasm at 10:56 AM on October 22, 2010

Schubert Arpeggione Sonata in A minor. For more modern stuff, you may like Tin Hat Trio.
posted by stinker at 11:30 AM on October 22, 2010

Response by poster: Oh, score! Thanks guys. I'll be making my way through this stuff, not necessarily in order. Keep em comin though if you got em. I'm especially into the stuff for just one instrument.
posted by skwt at 3:33 PM on October 22, 2010

Shostakovich did a set of preludes and fugues too -- they're clean, and totally funkily awesome. His first piano concerto is also pretty neat -- it's for string orchestra + trumpet, not full orchestra, which gives it an interesting timbre.

Beethoven string quartets might be worth a listen, too -- the earlier ones are "cleaner", the later ones are more tricky but they're all awesome. Schubert's simply spectacular. Mendelssohn's entire chamber music catalogue might also be worth exploring -- the octet is great fun.

Seconding the Mozart string quintets -- they're wonderful. Pity about the double-viola, though ;)

Finally, you might enjoy Jacques Loussier's jazz take on a bunch of your favourite-listed works.
posted by coriolisdave at 5:13 PM on October 22, 2010

Arvo Part. He's a living composer having something of a renaissance right now--try "Tabula Rasa" to start. Very soothing, beautiful, engaging. Churchy sounding, but not explicitly sacred (although his sacred music is also lovely).
posted by thinkingwoman at 9:20 PM on October 22, 2010

Oops, just realized you mentioned Part in your question, sorry!
posted by thinkingwoman at 9:21 PM on October 22, 2010

Have you tried Michael Nyman? His score for The Piano is moody, soulful, and an exploration in modernist "post-minimalism" some say.
posted by lonemantis at 9:22 PM on October 22, 2010

Try the "a quattro" piano concertos of Mozart. Better than the full piano concertos! There's a good recording with the pianist Peter Frankl.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 10:24 PM on October 22, 2010

The soundtrack to Amelie has several pieces that you might like. 1 2
posted by alexei at 11:29 PM on October 22, 2010

utopia triumphans from the huelgas ensemble! got it for the cover, stayed for the music :P
posted by kliuless at 4:47 AM on October 23, 2010

you might like some of Ólafur Arnalds later works

here's good overview of his recent …And They Have Escaped The Weight of Darkness

and here's a nice piece from it: fiú Ert Sólin (free download!)
posted by jammy at 6:02 AM on October 23, 2010

also, Nils Frahm

his Wintermusik is lovely - for instance: Tristana

and The Bells is more complex but still worth checking out
posted by jammy at 6:14 AM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: Chopin's Valses, definitely.
posted by of strange foe at 2:17 PM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: Speaking of Bach, you might also like the Musical Offering which has the simplistic complexity notched to the max. The multi-piece work is a cornerstone of Hofstader's math/science classic Godel, Escher, Bach.
posted by storybored at 9:40 PM on October 23, 2010

Best answer: I've taken all the YouTube links in the thread and made a playlist for anyone interested.
posted by yukonho at 9:58 AM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've taken all the YouTube links in the thread and made a playlist for anyone interested.

It says I can't view it because it's marked private.

posted by Anything at 2:10 PM on October 28, 2010

Doooh, sorry. Fixed it.
posted by yukonho at 9:42 AM on October 29, 2010

Response by poster: I'm interested! Thanks yukonho.
posted by skwt at 9:01 PM on October 29, 2010

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