Understanding Classical Music
July 11, 2004 5:25 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to get music under-the-hood. I was listening to this CD, on which Leonard Bernstein explains some of the inner workings of Beethoven's 3nd Symphony, and I really enjoyed the explanations. Now, I love music, but only as a lay-person. I can't play an instrument, and I can't read musical notation. But I'd like to be able to listen to a symphony and understand what the composer is doing with harmonics, tempo, overtones and the like. How do I learn this? Are there any good books? Or is the only way to learn it to go to an music school for ten years? I guess the perfect resource would be a book with a CD. In the book, a musical term would be described, and you'd be instructed to play a specific track on the CD to help you understand the concept.
posted by grumblebee to Media & Arts (6 answers total)
Just before the turn of the millenium, I recall seeing Classical Music for Dummies in bookstores. It included a CD.
posted by mischief at 7:53 AM on July 11, 2004

Yes. I have it around here somewhere. It was quite fun and did exactly what you describe.

The trouble is, I'm barely able to do the things it teaches now. It was great for being able to pick out the themes and such in the pieces on the included CD, but I didn't come away from it with an ability to hear those same things in any other piece.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:03 AM on July 11, 2004

You might get a lot out of the BBC's Discovering Music: How does a composer create a piece of music? series. It's somewhat more general than the ideal that you describe, dealing with some historical and cultural background as well as musical, and a certain familiarity with music theory is assumed, but even though you don't follow every word of it, it might pique your curiosity. Certainly a wonderful online resource.
posted by suleikacasilda at 1:05 PM on July 11, 2004

Doublepost alert. It occured to me and my partner that you would get a lot out of learning to read music. I can imagine a way that this might go along with listening, which is what you obviously love. The famous and long-established Open University here in Britain has some excellent audio-accompanied courses, the source material for which you might be able to find second hand on uk ebay and get sent or brought to you if you know anyone here (athough it would be very heavy!) A214 covers the basics, and it looks like there's one on ebay.co.uk right now, as it happens.
posted by suleikacasilda at 2:06 PM on July 11, 2004

At some of the classical concerts I attended there is often a pre-concert talk, many times by the conductor, about the pieces to be performed that night.
posted by gyc at 11:31 AM on July 12, 2004

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