"Classical" music?
May 24, 2016 9:11 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for types of music that I don't know the name of. I guess they are on the continuum of Western classical music, they might be orchestral or choral or composed for small ensembles or single instruments, but they are outside of what I think of as like the top 10 of famous European composers. Examples and details below. What terms should I use to search for these musics? What do you recommend I listen to? How do I find the actual recorded music to listen to?

I think I'm mostly looking for lesser-known 19th Century and earlier compositions on the Western/European music continuum. I prefer sounds that are melodic to my (Western) ear.

I'm going to list a bunch of examples that I recognize represent very different types of music from each other and don't all fit the above description, but hopefully will give you a flavor of the kinds of music I like, since I don't know the examples of the stuff that I think fits the above description.

• Erik Satie
• Western choral or classical music styles transformed by a different cultural context (like the Missa Luba for example).
• 20th Century minimalists - Terry Riley, Steve Reich - but not the harsh, atonal, strain of this sound.
• Eastern European folk music that Kitka performs.
• Early Music - up to a point where I stop liking it

I was intrigued by this comment about Soviet piano music, curious what it sounds like.
posted by latkes to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I wonder if you would like Arvo Pärt:
- Spiegel im Spiegel (viola/piano - has both minimalist and Satie-like qualities, to me)
- Magnificat - not sure if that's "transformed" enough for you
posted by mskyle at 9:22 AM on May 24, 2016 [5 favorites]

I rather like utilizing websites like RateYourMusic and Allmusic for this. I might not always know the correct genre classifiers, but oftentimes I can look at various best-of charts for the stylistic categories that users have voted on, and selected, my favorite pieces to exemplify, and can often find superlative works of similar approach that I would have had difficulty finding otherwise.

Take Erik Satie on RateYourMusic, for example: his genre categories are listed as Impressionism, Modern Classical, Western Classical Music, and Minimalism, of which I've linked the top releases page for each. The main genre pages (example) provide descriptions of what they are meant to signify, which can be helpful as well in discerning the nuances of difference. You can create some custom charts, also - here's a combination of those four - may take a while to load while it queries the database.
posted by a good beginning at 9:39 AM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

You might also like John Tavener.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:40 AM on May 24, 2016

I was playing some exercises by Giuseppe Gariboldi and my wife commented that they didn't sound like what I had been playing before (which was Bach, Beethoven and Hayden).

"American Classical" means Aaron Copland.

There is a huge compendium of music at FluteTunes. A lot of it is flute solos, duets, etc, many of which are adapted from originals for different instruments.

I also thought of Kurt Weill, and I see the Wikipedia article compares him to Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:55 AM on May 24, 2016

This might be up your alley.
posted by TinWhistle at 9:59 AM on May 24, 2016

There's a genre of music I like which I think of as "Filmic", that is it sort of a soundtrack to a film that doesn't exist. I like Kurt Weill as well and put him into this category.

But since you mentioned Satie, try this: Federico Mompou
posted by vacapinta at 10:00 AM on May 24, 2016

This is not a lot to work with, especially since you are giving mostly modern examples of something pre-modern you want, but I think you might like Glenn Gould's recording of late 16th/early 17th century piano music.
posted by praemunire at 10:07 AM on May 24, 2016

Check out some of the film scores by Michael Nyman, particularly Gattaca.
posted by kindall at 10:10 AM on May 24, 2016

"American Classical" means Aaron Copland.

Somewhere, Charles Ives is silently weeping. Most of his stuff is probably a bit more atonal than you would like, but it's probably worth checking out The Unanswered Question and his Symphony No. 2.

You might also try listening to some of Alan Hovhaness; he has a very spare minimalist style. See, for example, his Prayer of St. Gregory.
posted by Johnny Assay at 10:39 AM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

• Erik Satie
• Western choral or classical music styles transformed by a different cultural context (like the Missa Luba for example).

Some of Ryuichi Sakamoto's classical works might be right up your alley. He does a lot in an impressionist style but with some oriental influences. He's done a variety of styles, so preview before buying, as some of it is very different.

I really enjoy his Discord album, of which this is the first part. The second part gets aggressive and bracing, but resolves nicely in the third and forth parts.
posted by Candleman at 10:55 AM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

FFFM beat me to recommending John Tavener. British composer, late 20th century. He converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, which heavily influenced his music.

Funeral Canticle (prominently featured in Terence Malik's film The Tree of Life
The Protecting Veil - cello and string orchestra piece. (will never forget walking into a music store that was playing this, and I immediately had to have it.)
Song of Athene - was included in the funeral mass for Princess Diana.


Henryk Górecki Symphony #3 (Sometimes referred to as "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs." This recording of it by Dawn Upshaw and the London Sinfonietta was hugely popular when it came out. In fact, this was my other "walked into a store that was playing it and bought it immediately" moment.)

Max Richter. I'm just starting to get into this guy myself. I first heard of him with this Vivaldi "Re-composed" project, where he took Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" and re-arranged phrases and arrangements into sort of a more modern ambient/minimalist piece. It's very striking for how it's so familiar, yet totally not.
"On the Nature of Daylight" is a popular piece of his that I've seen turn up in various contexts like film scores and dance shows on TV. It's from his album called The Blue Notebooks.
Also last year (I think) he put out an 8-hour long piece called "Sleep" that is indeed intended to be listened to while sleeping. (He consulted with scientists about sleep cycles and patterns to help shape it). There is also a one-hour long adaptation of it called "From Sleep." (Sample: Dream 3 - In The Midst of My Life)
Richter also composed music for the HBO series "The Leftovers."
posted by dnash at 11:14 AM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

"American Classical" means Aaron Copland.

...and George Gershwin.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:16 AM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

I was coming to recommend some of Arvo Pärt's vocal music, too (although some of it gets kind of jimmelly). Especially the Te Deum And maybe Missa Syllabica?

In terms of early music (where do you stop liking it?) it's hard to go wrong with Palestrina. (I've gotten nice Pandora stations using Palestrina, for example.)

Medieval Babes have some very nice albums, both of medieval music and also of arrangements of more modern stuff.

Is any of this in the right ballpark?

You might like Georgian folk singers and Dalmatian folk singers (I remember really liking Kitka as well, but I haven't listened to it in years and can't remember where they're from) and there's a Bulgarian group as well...(I can't remember which recording we have, maybe something like this?)
posted by leahwrenn at 12:50 PM on May 24, 2016

Arvo Pärt is a good suggestion, and if you like his work you might also want to check out Einojuhani Rautavaara. Part of the same 20th century sacred minimalist movement as Pärt and Tavener; melodic but sometimes challengingly so. (I think of Pärt as a gateway to this area of music and Rautavaara as a crunchier, more interesting next step.) A few examples:

Lorca Suite (choral)
Cantus Arcticus (for orchestra and birdsong)
Vigilia (the Orthodox Vespers, choral)

As far as specific recordings, the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir has a number of great albums of this sort of music out. The Lorca Suite recording linked above is from the first CD in their "Baltic Voices" series, which is how I got into this cluster of composers.
posted by egregious theorem at 12:53 PM on May 24, 2016

Oh, I remembered, you might really like Stile Antico
posted by leahwrenn at 12:55 PM on May 24, 2016

Stile Antico came to my mind, also: Tune thy Musicke to thy Hart.

The Kronos Quartet's Early Music might also appeal.
posted by praemunire at 1:14 PM on May 24, 2016

Jóhann Jóhansson is someone who does music that uses classical instruments edging into electronic music, often elegiac.

The music that Thomas de Hartmann wrote for Gurdjieff's Movements could often, though not necessarily all the time, be up your, as it were, alley - 1, 2, 3, 4.

Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares is such an obvious suggestion that I'm sure you know it already, but if not, there it is.


I like the North Sea Radio Orchestra - 1, 2.

Gavin Bryars - Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet, The Sinking of the Titanic

Perhaps best known for Lento I've always loved Howard Skempton's accordion pieces - 1, 2, 3
posted by Grangousier at 1:25 PM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Some more Slavic choral music, such as Rachmaninov’s Vespers; Alfred Schnittke’s Choir Concerto; Valentin Silvestrov’s setting of The Lord’s Prayer.

A fascinating piece of early music from a different cultural context, in this case 17th century Peru: Hanacpachap Cussicuinin.
posted by misteraitch at 1:51 PM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

You might enjoy Brian Eno's Music for Airports. It reminds me a bit of Satie, and some of the minimalists.

This is probably a longer shot, but John Cage's In a Landscape?
posted by kevinbelt at 2:06 PM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares is such an obvious suggestion that I'm sure you know it already, but if not, there it is.

Yes!! That's the one I was trying to remember.

posted by leahwrenn at 2:10 PM on May 24, 2016

At the risk of straying too far from your question in the direction of Things Like This That I Like: Dead Can Dance
posted by Grangousier at 3:55 PM on May 24, 2016

You might like The Prayer Cycle. Here's Movement VIII: Benediction. And thanks for bringing Kitka to my attention.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 4:18 PM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Composers are, and have always been part of some kind of social framework, formed networks, been part of a specific conservatory or national culture, or something similar. So whenever you come across a piece of music you like listening to, you could research into its compser's background and unearth other music that comes from a similar mind space. The advantage of this method is that you're not locking yourself into genres. You might, for example, hear a piano piece you like, but end up finding out about a musical that a colleague of that piece's composer wrote at the same time, or whatnot.
This kind of research is ridiculously easy and not very time-consuming these days with Wikipedia and other online resources.

Otherwise, search phrases for music that is similar to what you're just hearing could contain any item from the following list:
A composer's name
The instrumentation
The genre (opera, string quartet, what-have-you)
A specific soloist's name
A specific venue's name (especially in musical or opera)
A national or other style indication (but that makes it vague already. What is "Early music?" A lump-together-term for European music of all styles, spanning several centuries...)
posted by Namlit at 12:15 AM on May 25, 2016

You might enjoy Lou Harrison.
posted by Weftage at 5:52 AM on May 25, 2016

I think you might like Béla Bartók's 44 Duos for Two Violins. Then his string quartets. Yes, definitely all six of those.

Also try some Benjamin Britten, a mixed bag to be sure but his Sonata in C for Cello and Piano, just give it a listen.

I also think you might like György Ligeti.

Antonín Dvořák's Cello Concerto in b minor is certainly more familiar (and approachable) but it makes me weep so I'll include it.

Going back a few centuries, listen to Gesualdo. His madrigals are super. He did things with harmony that nobody tried again for hundreds of years.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 6:40 AM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, I'll just drop a mention of Britten's Second String Quartet (especially the stunning first movement) - performed in full after this Gresham College lecture.

And I don't know if you follow it at all - or, indeed, whether it's available where you are - but Radio 3's Late Junction programme is an invaluable source of This Sort of Stuff.
posted by Grangousier at 3:30 PM on May 25, 2016

Searching: Try "new music" (in quotes) plus another term like "choral" or "chamber" or "classical" to filter out all the general stuff that's about music that happens to be new. (It's my understanding that "new music", in certain contexts, means "what classical-like composers are doing these days".)

Podcasts: You might find some interesting ideas on various podcasts.

I went to iTunes and did a search for some modern composers I like (Julia Wolfe, David Lang, Nico Muhly, Mason Bates) and then looked at the podcast episodes that came up:

WQXR's "Meet the Composer"
Barbican Classical Music podcast
Barbican Contemporary podcast
BBC's Modern Muses
The Gramophone podcast
Aventures sonores on Radio France (in French)

APM Composer's Datebook and APM Music Podcast series may have some good episodes for you. (APM is American Public Media. The tagline for the Composer's Datebook podcast is "reminding you that all music was once new music.")

If you check out these podcasts, you'll undoubtedly also get a lot of Beethoven and Brahms, but you can just skip anything you recognize and check out the stuff that's new to you.

Alex Ross: Alex Ross's blog, The Rest is Noise, covers all kinds of music, but he has a strong interest in, and appreciation for, the kind of contemporary music you're describing. If you follow his blog, you'll get lots of leads on all kinds of interesting new music.

BBC Proms: Watch for the BBC Proms this year. Last year, they did a whole bunch of new music, and - while those clips aren't available anymore - just looking up some of those names will give you some leads to follow.

Your library: Just a reminder to try your local library. I am fortunate to have an amazing library (the San Francisco Public Library), which has lots of great CDs of new music, but also has streaming services that include a fair amount of new music (contemporary classical). See if yours has anything like that.

Youtube: Finally, don't forget to check Youtube for any composers that pique your interest. Sometimes small chamber groups post their performances of newer works.
posted by kristi at 10:56 AM on May 27, 2016

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