What is the perfect 25-track mix-cd of mostly-modern classical music?
January 5, 2008 8:06 AM   Subscribe

If you were to give someone a 25-track crash course on classical music (a "mix-cd/playlist"), what compositions would you include?

Such an anthology should of course have some historical context from, say Baroque and Romantic periods, but it'd be more helpful for me if it leaned towards modern composition and gave some idea of where classical music is progressing. Assume the listener (me?) has already taken an entry level college musical education class and therefore has heard the "classics" from classical music.
posted by beelerspace to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I think this has been done well here.
posted by cda at 8:14 AM on January 5, 2008

Check any Norton anthologies you can find, as they're meant to serve as backbone to crash-course music survey classes. They probably won't necessarily skew as modern as you like, though.

Alex Ross just released a fascinating book on 20th century music, and posted music samples online to accompany it. If you look at those, they make a pretty good survey of 20th century music.
posted by aswego at 8:20 AM on January 5, 2008

Here's the link for Columbia University's Music Humanities syllabus. Hmm, less detail than I thought, but I remember there being more than 25 tracks when I took the version from 20 years ago. Some of the track choices may also be up to the instructor.

IIRC, Mozart tracks included the overtures for Don Giovanni and something else. Beethoven has the 6th. Wagner did the Ring, or at least the lietmotif for Siegfried, etc. DeBussey was La Mer and others. Schoenburg was Pierrot Lunaire and something else. I don't remember the other bits.
posted by chengjih at 8:22 AM on January 5, 2008

How modern do you want? (Is 20th Century good enough, or do you really want current stuff?) Do you want stuff that includes not-so-accessible stuff, or do you want something that people might actually like?

Disclaimer: I am coming at this from a) a choral/vocal and b) a music history background that has been latent since approximately 2002. I generally prefer more accessible and melodic stuff.

You might start by thinking about/looking at some trends. Globalism, the influence of technology, jazz, etc. Here's a list of some resources from an Amazon user, though he states up front that he likes the avant garde stuff more. The Norton Anthology of 20th Century Music is the textbook that I used for my later survey class, and it comes with cds, so that might be an option if you can find it online.

I like Philip Glass, though he's very repetitive (an understatement). His Violin Concerto is a good one to get into; you might also try Einstein on the Beach. He's more of the old guard of current composers, specifically kind of a minimalist. Others: Steve Reich (Clapping Music, which is just that, but it's neat), Arvo Part and John Tavener, who often write for voices and have been described as "sacred minimalists," Henryk Gorecki (Symphony #3, aka Symphony of Sorrowful Songs -- Dawn Upshaw, as mentioned below, singing in Polish). Krzystof Penderecki can range from "interesting and has his moments" to "OH MY GOD, 20 CLAWS ON A BLACKBOARD." (Seriously. "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima," ouch.)

Osvaldo Golijov is a composer working now who is pretty good; I heard some of his stuff (Songs from the Auvergne, I think) done by Dawn Upshaw in concert recently and liked it. He did the soundtrack to that new Coppola movie (Youth Without Youth). Speaking of Dawn Upshaw, you might consider looking for artists, like her, who really champion new music and often work directly with composers to get it into performance.

I'll ask one of my composer friends for his thoughts.
posted by Madamina at 8:36 AM on January 5, 2008

Presuming you are looking for short pieces or excerpts equivalent to a pop tune in length, for a mix CD. For the more recent stuff:

Prokofiev "Dance of the Knights. Here it is, set to Charlie Chaplin, oddly enough.

Philip Glass is often repetitive, but not exclusively so. Something like Akhnaten and Nefertiti or Kuru Field of Justice would be good. Clips of both here. Kuru video here.
posted by Rumple at 11:23 AM on January 5, 2008

Best answer: Verdi - Requiem Mass - Dies Irae
J.S. Bach - Air On The G String
Grieg - Peer Gynt, Op. 23 Morning
Pachelbel - Canon
Johann Sebastian Bach - Jesu, Joy Of Man's Desiring
Satie - Gymnopedie For Piano No.1
Mozart - Piano Concerto No. 21 In C major (Elvira Madigan)
Faure - Requiem, Op. 48 In Paradisum
Claude Debussy - Clair De Lune
Felix Mendelssohn - Violin Concerto In E Minor - Andante
Saint-Saens - The Swan
Mozart - Concerto For Flute and Harp In C Major
Vivaldi - The Four Seasons Largo ' Winter'
Elgar - Nimrod
Rachmaninov - Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini
Faure'- Pavane, Opt. 50
J.S. Bach - Cantata No. Sleepers Awake
Albinoni - Adagio, For Violin, Strings & Organ In G Minor
Boccherini - String Quintet In E Major, Op.13 5, G282 Minuet
J.S. Bach - Harpsichord Concerto No. 5 in F Minor
Jules Massenet - Meditation (Thais)
Beethoven - Piano Sonata No. 14 In C Sharp Minor Moonlight
Vivaldi - Concerto For Two Mandolins
Vivaldi - Double Mandolin Concerto, For 2 Mandolins &Strings
Mozart - Clarinet Concerto In A major, K. Adagio
Pietro Mascagni - Intermezzo (Cavalleria Rusticana)
Dvorak - Serenade For String Orchestra In E Major
Ralph Vaughan Williams - Fantasia On 'Greensleeves'
Rachmaninov - Piano Concerto No. 2 In C Minor, Op. 18
Borodin - String Quartet No. 2 In D Major Nocturne
Rodrigo - Concierto De Aranjuez For Guitar 2nd Movement, Adagio
Barber - Adagio
Bizet - Entr'acte to Act III (Carmen)

posted by geekyguy at 11:38 AM on January 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

Milhaud, Bull on the Roof, is my current favorite classical piece.
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:39 AM on January 5, 2008

Some things I've heard recently that I enjoyed:

Alban Berg's String Quartet
Emmanuel Chabrier's Espana
Gyorgi Ligeti's Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano
Eric Satie's Dreaming Fish, Gymnopedies
Claude Debussy's Submerged Cathedral
Camille Saint-Saens Organ Symphony

And American music:

Leonard Bernstein's Mass
Samuel Barber's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
Howard Hanson's Symphony No. 3
Alan Hohvaness' Mountain Dances
Margaret Bonds' piano pieces (as recorded by Althea Waites)
Tomas Svoboda's Passacaglia and Fugue

A good resource is american classical music.
posted by frosty_hut at 12:37 PM on January 5, 2008

KPAC has a good list of essential pieces.

I recommended working chronologically, familiarizing oneself with the major composers starting with Vivaldi, Handel, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms, in that order.

Print out the KPAC list and take it with you to your local public library. What you don't find there, buy. The lower-cost Naxos label CDs are generally good.

Classical Music for Dummies (by David Pogue!) is quite good. I also highly recommended the classic Lives of the Great Composers.
posted by neuron at 6:12 PM on January 5, 2008

Best answer: Below is my list of 25, all composers and pieces from the early 20th century on. It was really hard for me to pick one piece by some of these composers, and hard not to include some that didn't make the list. When in doubt I tried to pick the composers and pieces I thought were more influential, though obviously there's some personal bias involved and sometimes I picked a slightly lesser known piece that I think deserves more attention. Anyway, here it is, vaguely grouped into categories of dubious authenticity:

debussy - la mer
ravel - miroirs

early modernism:
stravinsky - rite of spring
bartok - music for strings, percussion and celeste

early serialism:
schoenberg - pierrot lunaire
berg - lyric suite
webern - symphony

early minimalism:
reich - drumming
riley - in C

adams - short ride in a fast machine

cage - radio music
feldman - structures for orchestra

american iconoclasts:
ives - the unanswered question
partch - barstow

late seralism/modernism:
stockhausen - kontakte
berio - sinfonia

european iconoclasts:
varese - ionisation
messiaen - quartet for the end of time

sound mass:
ligeti - atmospheres
penderecki - threnody to the victims of hiroshima

britten - serenade for tenor, horn and strings
copland - clarinet concerto
bernstein - candide

takemitsu - soundtrack to ran (film)
bolcom - songs of innocence and experience
posted by speicus at 8:33 PM on January 5, 2008 [7 favorites]

I'm surprised to see only two mentions of Schönberg in response to this question. Isn't he pretty much essential to any understanding of "mostly-modern" classical music? Some of the lists being linked don't even mention him. I'm not that knowledgeable in this area, so forgive me if I go astray, but just a few days ago I was reading the section on Schönberg in Ethan Mordden's A Guide To Orchestral Music: The Handbook for Non-Musicians; it starts by calling him "perhaps the titanic figure in twentieth-century music." Here's how Mordden summarizes the best way to get a handle on Schönberg's twelve-tone revolution:

Whether or not one likes the sound, it's there and in these interesting modern times, inescapable. Few major composers don't work in at least some modified form of twelve-tone music nowadays...so even the most conservative concertgoers are going to have to face up to twelve-tone sooner or later. Where to start? You might work up to it with Schönberg's Pelleas und Melisande, a lush and lovely example of the post-Wagnerian wallowing that twelve-tone music both grew out of and discarded. Then move into twelve-tone itself with Schönberg's piano concerto. Or, better, postpone your introduction to the forbidding Schönberg and first listen to his far more accessible disciple, Alban Berg...

Mordden then goes on to recommend Berg's Lyric Suite (which makes speicus' list above and I think is the Berg string quartet frosty_hut mentions , too). Anyway, I'm no expert, but it seems to me at least two of your 25 have simply *got* to be from these guys, if "mostly modern classical music" is on the table.
posted by mediareport at 10:22 PM on January 5, 2008

Mediareport, I don't know when Mordden's book was written, but his information is pretty out of date. Many composers don't work with twelve-tone systems anymore, and very few work with twelve-tone systems exclusively. In fact there was a widespread reaction against twelve-tone music that began in the late 60s with minimalism and process-oriented music. For a while this was the huge battle over the soul of concert music, with the audience-friendly minimalists and their successors on one side, and the more intellectually driven twelve-tone composers and their successors on the other. Nowadays things have cooled a bit and composers are supposedly more free to do what they like. This eclecticism allows composers to borrow techniques from twelve-tone music without slavishly adhering to them if they like -- this would have been unheard of a few decades ago.

HOWEVER, I agree that Schoenberg is immensely important in the 20th century, which is why I had to include him, along with the other early innovators of twelve-tone music, Webern and Berg (sometimes collectively known as the Second Viennese School). All three of them had radically different approaches to twelve-tone music that influenced later composers in different ways, which is why I wanted to include them all.

I picked Pierrot Lunaire rather than another work for a few reasons. First, while it is a "difficult" work in some ways, I think the fact that there's a singer and a text allows a window, a point of entry into the piece that some atonal pieces don't have. If you read the poems you already know you're not going to listen to a typically "beautiful" piece of music -- it's going to be dark, ugly, and perversely funny. It's influential in a couple of other ways, too. It's the first piece to use sprechstimme singing technique, and the instrumentation of the piece became so popular in the 20th century that it's now commonly known as "Pierrot ensemble." Many new music groups working today have this instrumentation, eighth blackbird, for instance.
posted by speicus at 10:13 AM on January 6, 2008

Response by poster: These are great, I'm really excited to get started tracking these works down. Thank you AMF.
posted by beelerspace at 11:14 AM on January 6, 2008

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