Oh, and the ability to air conduct along is always a plus
July 28, 2005 7:21 PM   Subscribe

I'd like some recommendations for classical music.

As is, my collection isn't that bad. I've got a good swathe of the romantic era (a bunch of Beethoven, Rachmaninov, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Dvorak, Liszt) as well as a bit o' the Bach, Satie, Schostakovich, etc. That is to say, I've got a bit of a broad collection, but I'd like to fill it out a bit more - both with all the composers listed above (what do you think are their best pieces?) and with others that I maybe haven't found or even heard of.

I tend to prefer the really exciting, rambunctious and bombastic stuff, but in all honesty, I'm pretty much game for anything.
posted by vernondalhart to Media & Arts (45 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Mahler. Especially Symphony #2.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:23 PM on July 28, 2005

Not especially rammbunctious, but definitely ballsy - Beethoven's late string quartets are maybe my favourite things from LVB's ouvre. Bartok's string quartets might give you another perspective on rambunctious - obviously the sound isn't as big as a full orchestra but it's very powerful stuff.
posted by bunglin jones at 7:39 PM on July 28, 2005

Heitor Villa-Lobos: Bachianas Brasileiras.
posted by ldenneau at 7:46 PM on July 28, 2005

Arvo Pärt (Estonian), Gavin Bryars (British), Steve Reich, Stravinsky's neo-classical stuff might expand your repertoire a bit...
posted by margaretlam at 7:47 PM on July 28, 2005

I love the reoccurring melody in Schostakovich's13th and 14th
symphonies, 31(count them) bell strikes in the Baba Yar very bombastic, and the male choir very stirring,very good stuff.
posted by hortense at 7:56 PM on July 28, 2005

Not classy, but the Gettysburg soundtrack is incredible.
posted by null terminated at 7:58 PM on July 28, 2005

Shostakovich's 7th, 8th, 11th and 13th symphonies and the first piano concerto fit the descrition pretty well. Also, some of his suites like Hamlet and The Bolt are good fun. The 15th symphony is my favourite piece.

I second the Mahler recommendation. Mussorgsky (Pictures From an Exhibition, Songs and Dances of Death), Stravinsky (The Rite of Spring), Sibelius, and Saint-Saens are worth checking out if you don't know their stuff.

A couple of more modern pieces which may or may not work for you are George Antheil's Ballet Mechanique and John Adam's Naive and Sentimental Music.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 8:01 PM on July 28, 2005

I'm going to guess at some things you might not have that you might like.

Sibelius - the Violin Concerto in D, or Symphonies #2 and #5. The first movement of the Violin Concerto has some great, memorable themes and absolutely gallops. All of Sibelius's symphonies are worthwhile; find a complete set if you can. The opening of #2 is like sunshine pouring into a room. If you enjoy the symphony form and want some contrast to Sibelius, consider Nielsen too.

Hindemith - the Mathis der Mahler Symphony and the Symphonic Metamorphoses (on a theme of Carl Maria von Weber). Hindemith has kind of a reputation for being dry and academic. Both these piece prove that wrong. Mathis has some of the best instrumentation I've ever heard, with vivid color and suprising clarity (for the size of the orchestra), and it carries a lot of emotional weight. The Metamorphoses should give you plenty of bombast.

Piston - underappreciated American composer, also saddled with a reputation as an academic. Try his Second Symphony - I think the first movement has one of the most beautiful themes of the 20th century, and the last movement starts and ends with big bangs and a lot of fireworks in between. He doesn't spare the percussion, but he keeps it controlled better here than some of his other works. For something a little more meditative and impressionist the Three New England Pieces are fantastic, and if you want a chamber piece with a lot of humor in it, the Flute Quintet is brilliant.

Bartok - it's hard to know where to start, but if you don't yet have the Concerto for Orchestra, it's a must-have. The Third Piano Concerto is another good entry point, as is the Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste. I love the string quartets, but they're not immediately rewarding.

Berg - the Violin Concerto. Both beautiful and brutal. It sits on the borderline between tonal and atonal, but unlike a majority of atonal works it's passionate and definitely memorable, and the quotes from the Bach chorale are a masterstroke.

Janacek - the Sinfonietta. A big slice of symphonic bombast right there in the opening movement - you like brass?

Tchaikovsky - going back a bit, do you have his string sextet, Souvenier of Florence? I like his writing for the smaller ensemble, and you can find this on a CD paired with Schoenberg's string sextet arrangement of Verklarte Nacht. They make a particularly satisfying pair.

Going back still further, how about J.C. Bach? He's particularly worth a listen if you really enjoy, but have kind of exhausted, the works of Haydn.

I could go on forever.
posted by Wolfdog at 8:06 PM on July 28, 2005 [3 favorites]

Holst: The Planets (link goes to best recording I know of)
posted by pmbuko at 8:07 PM on July 28, 2005

Mahler, Symphony No. 6 - pretty much the descent into Hell. I am not sure that I really recommend it, but we already have a Mahler recommendation and No. 6 is quite unique. Hear it live if you can.
posted by caddis at 8:07 PM on July 28, 2005

Incidentally, Piston's best-known work is The Incredible Flutist and I hate it. Completely trite. Avoid.
posted by Wolfdog at 8:08 PM on July 28, 2005

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest Conlon Nancarrow — the nearest the human species has seen to Bach's playful, mathematically compositional genius in 300-odd years. Likely Richard James and Autechre will be seen as his successors, and the heir to classical compositional technique in 200-300 years, as done with archaic analog electronics.
posted by Rothko at 8:12 PM on July 28, 2005

My absolute favorite classical piece is Saint Saens' Danse Macabre.

I also like Holst The Planets, Handel's Water Music and Bach's Brandenburg Concertos. Oh, and the theme from Schindler's List.
posted by geeky at 8:13 PM on July 28, 2005

Vivaldi - Four Seasons ... because you just need it

Also Vivaldi - Gloria Magnificat, it's AWESOME.
posted by geoff. at 8:16 PM on July 28, 2005

Oh, one more, and that's it. If you enjoy the Bach counterpoint, I recommend Shostakovich's Opus 87, the 24 Preludes and Fugues. I'm sure they're the most played discs in my classical collection. It is hard to believe there could be so much variety and imagination in such a set - but the man just never ever runs out of great ideas. The Keith Jarrett recording is good.
posted by Wolfdog at 8:19 PM on July 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

I forgot Prokofiev before, but lots of his stuff is worth checking out too.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 8:19 PM on July 28, 2005

Isaac Albéniz's Suite Espanola. Liszt's Memphisto Waltz. I first heard both pieces live, and was thrilled to pieces in both cases.
posted by of strange foe at 8:26 PM on July 28, 2005

Did you know that your namesake, Vernon Dalhart, was a light opera singer before he remade himself as a rustic?

Post-derail: massive concurrence on Nancarrow, whose music is hypnotically beautiful and ferocious.
posted by realcountrymusic at 8:28 PM on July 28, 2005

Anton Bruckner. Play it at 11.
posted by pjern at 8:33 PM on July 28, 2005

Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique is great, and has a great "Behind the Music"-type backstory which peaks with Berlioz plotting to travel to France to kill his girlfriend and her family, disguised as a maid.

Also, mad props to Beethoven's 7th, especially the 2nd movement.
posted by Gortuk at 8:43 PM on July 28, 2005

I have some of the recordings already mentioned above (Saint-Saens and Prokofiev's concertos, Mahler's sixth, and the Rite of Spring), but good lord you've all given me quite a bit to look into.

Considering the number of reccomendations for Schostakovich, I'll go out and get a bit more of his (I have his 5th, 9th and 10th). I'm thinking also some Bartok, Sibelius, Mahler and possibly some Berg. And who knows what else.

wolfdog - I can't say that I've exhausted the works of Haydn, since I don't even own any. Again, the majority of my collection is basically from Beethoven onwards.

Oh, and I forgot to ask in the main question, too - what are some good operas to get? I've got a (very) modest collection, and wouldn't mind adding to that...
posted by vernondalhart at 8:49 PM on July 28, 2005

Bach - Piano Concerto #1 in D Minor - Glenn Gould soloist, Leonard Bernstein conducting the Columbia Symphonia Orchestra.

If there's a higher point in the history of music, I haven't heard it. And you can air conduct AND air play the piano!
posted by jasper411 at 8:56 PM on July 28, 2005

Good suggestions so far. I recommend Bruckner's 4th Symphony.

Also, check out Brahms's Intermezzo Op. 118. Short and beautiful piano piece. You can hear a clip here.

Also, I'm surprised no one's mentioned Debussy. Check out the three Nocturnes and La Mer.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:59 PM on July 28, 2005

Exciting, rambunctious and bombastic stuff? I'm surprised nobody's mentioned Wagner. Ride of the Valkyries is an old favorite, and I'm rather fond of Lohengrin, Prelude to Act III
posted by CrunchyFrog at 9:02 PM on July 28, 2005

Messiaen. Also, Alain.

Or go old school. Absolutely gorgeous.
posted by cribcage at 9:10 PM on July 28, 2005

Prokofiev is great; I especially like his orchestral suites. Depending on how dissonant you like your stuff, you might check out Lieutenant Kijé, his Romeo & Juliet suites, the Love for Three Oranges suite, or (if you're really into frenetic, dissonant stuff) the Ala & Lolly Scythian Suite. (Those are arranged from easiest to hardest to get in to.)

Also, Berlioz' Romeo and Juliet is an often-overlooked piece. Check it out if you like his Symphonie Fantastique.

Shostakovich's 8th is probably my favourite symphony of his, and I cannot recommend it enough; but it is a dark, depressing piece about the horrors of war. You have been warned. (I'm also pleasantly suprised to hear that someone else actually likes his 15th.)

I quite like Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherezade, but then I'm a trombone player.

Finally, check out Liszt's Totentanz for a good dose of pianistic bombast.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:12 PM on July 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

Edward Elgar:
Violin Concerto in B Minor Op. 61
Overture: Cockaigne (In London Town) Op. 40

You won't be disappointed.

posted by Independent Scholarship at 9:30 PM on July 28, 2005

*rolls up sleeves*
Shosta, huh? Cello concerto #1 (#2 is less a fave). Concerto for Piano and Orchestra is rollicking fun, Symphonies #10 & #11 scream too. Also #5.

I think Johnny Assay may be referring to the 8th string quartet (which was rearranged as a Chamber Symphony). If he is or is not, a fantastic piece of music. So is the 7th quartet, but not so much rollicking as dark and evil.

Elgar and Dvorak cello concerti, Rachmaninov symphonies are fun as well. Similarly, if you don't have the Rach Piano concertos 2 & 3 make sure you get them.

Haydn - cello conerto (1 & 2) & trumpet concerto always give me a lift. Similarly the Beethoven piano concerti (3 & 4 in particular, although the others are also worth a visit).

Mozart requiem is glorious fun in many spots, and you can combine conducting with singing at the top of your lungs - always a personal favorite.

Finally, if you don't have the Bach cello suites (Yoyo Ma, or Steven Isslerlis for preference) they may be what jasper is looking for ;)

Finally, as I am running out of superlatives, give some Schubert a go, particularly some of the chamber music. The string quartet version of Death and the Maiden is amazing, ditto the Trout quintet.

*wrenches hands from keyboard*

Sorry for the cello bias - I'm a cellist. Comes with the territory ;)
posted by coriolisdave at 9:44 PM on July 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

A second vote here for Sibelius— for example check out his 5th symphony, and Tapiola. Also another vote for Shostakovitch’s Piano Concertos. A late romantic composer worth a listen is Josef Suk: his A Summer’s Tale is a great favourite of mine, and his Asrael Symphony is suitably bombastic. A couple of contemporary names to look for: Einojuhani Rautavaara’s music has some lovely romantic elements, without being stuck in the past: try his 1st Piano Concerto, for example. Also, while Valentin Silvestrov’s music probably wouldn’t fit your bill for the most part, his fifth symphony is an amazing, grandiose thing.
posted by misteraitch at 11:00 PM on July 28, 2005

You may like minimalist,John Adams "On The Great Divide" from Grand Pianola it is maximalist.
posted by hortense at 11:14 PM on July 28, 2005

It looks like you have a lot of the romantic composers. Another composer to consider would be Korngold, especially his violin concerto.
posted by gyc at 11:46 PM on July 28, 2005

Can't believe there haven't been more mentions of Bruckner! He deserves more than two, so here we are. I third Bruckner!
posted by agropyron at 12:07 AM on July 29, 2005

Francis Poulenc Concerto for 2 pianos. My favorite version here. Very different from "typical" classical music.
posted by edjusted at 12:24 AM on July 29, 2005

Naqoyqatsi by Philip Glass with Yo Yo Ma on solo cello. It's not the electronic doo-dah of his, but a proper cello concerto, and one of the most vigorous and exciting classical pieces I've heard. The absolute best example of modern classical music IMHO, and very easy to get a hold of.
posted by wackybrit at 12:48 AM on July 29, 2005

Another Mahler reccomendation, but #4! It's my favourite piece of music ever.. it's like a huge collection of beautiful and also slightly chilling moments that got smooshed up into one symphony.
posted by Lotto at 2:18 AM on July 29, 2005

Haydn's output is huge, and I'd hate to try to pick individual pieces to recommend. Check the Wikipedia entry on Haydn for a lot of background and some descriptions of individual pieces to see what sounds interesting. We're talking symphonies and string quartets, here. Of the "big three" classicists, Haydn's the one I can best relate to, and you definitely need to get acquainted with him if you want to understand what the classical period was all about.
posted by Wolfdog at 5:31 AM on July 29, 2005

coriolisdave: Actually, I was referring to Shosty's Eighth Symphony, which was composed in response to the horrors of WWII — the musical equivalent of Guernica, really. One of these days I need to start listening to his string quartets — but then, my tastes are like yours, running to pieces that I would actually have a part in. Funny, that.
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:41 AM on July 29, 2005

Hah, I was going to ask a similar question... I just heard Dvorak's Cello Concerto for the first time recently and it blew my mind.
posted by strikhedonia at 10:45 AM on July 29, 2005

The two works most often recommended for relative beginners are Handel's Water Music and Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

If you're beyond that level, Haydn (even more reliably than Mozart) is endlessly pleasing. Try random symphonies, violin/cello/piano trios and string quartets.

For more noise, move to the Beethoven symphonies, and, for the next increment, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky (#4, #5 and #6), Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique, Shostakovich #5, Prokofiev #1 and #5, and Bartok Concerto for Orchestra.
posted by KRS at 11:24 AM on July 29, 2005

Nth to the nth degree jasper411 - I love playing that piece. Also try Khachaturian's piano concerto. And Verdi's Requiem is great for air-conducting and lots of noise.
posted by casarkos at 12:42 PM on July 29, 2005

I have similar tastes to you for romantic classical, so I'm going to tell you some operas I have enjoyed.

Mascagni - L'Amico Fritz
Mascagni - I Rantzau
Mascagni - Iris
Giordano - Andrea Chenier

I love Mascagni.

(Also, get some Debussy, can't believe only one other mention of him. It's all good, try prelude a l'apres midi d'un faun for starters..)
posted by jockc at 4:09 PM on July 29, 2005

If you like cheap bombast, I'd try Boito's opera Mefistofele (or just the overture for a taste) and Orff's Carmina Burana. For more substance with your excitement -- not to mention variety -- Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.
posted by rob511 at 6:46 PM on July 29, 2005

Sorry about the bad links above -- I checked them too late. Just go to Amazon music (classical) to find.
posted by rob511 at 6:48 PM on July 29, 2005

Johnny Assay: My mistake.. From memory, the 8th Symphony was written about the fall of (St. Petersburg? memory fails here). The confusion arose cos the 8th quartet is also a 'response to the war' - specifically, written to commerate the victims of war and facism, following Shosty's visit to Dresden (after it was bombed into the ground).
The opening is said to represent the sound of the planes overhead and the bombs falling. Very eerie. It's the second movement that rocks my socks, though. And the third, and fourth, and... well.. yeah ;).

I forgot to reinforce the recommendations for Mahler, although the fifth is my personal fave (and I have a soft sport for the first). The ninth isn't bad either, and uses the same themes as his Songs for a Wayfarer. Also, Bruckner -- I've only played the one symphony, but any piece that requires extra brass, more brass, and then another bit of brass offstage has to fit "exciting", "rambunctious", and "bombastic".
not to mention "overkill" ;)
posted by coriolisdave at 8:11 PM on July 30, 2005

Coriolisdave: the 7th Symphony was supposedly about the siege of Leningrad, although apparently a fair portion of it was written before the war started.

The 8th Symphony is often associated with the battle of Stalingrad although I'm not sure that Shostakovich himself intended it to be.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 3:49 PM on July 31, 2005

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