Thursday, October 23, 2008

Discover Classical Music @Your Library OR Beethoven: The Original Master of Funk

Over the years, a number of people have told me: "I don't really like classical music, but I love ___________." (Insert name of composer or composition here.) When people say this, I often wonder if there are other classical compositions they might enjoy—they just haven't discovered them yet.
You don't need a Ph.D. in music theory or years of music lessons to experience the pleasures of Beethoven and Brahms, just a library card and a sense of curiosity!
But where to begin? Let's say you love Beethoven's 5th Symphony, but you're not sure what to try next. You can dive into the rest of his symphonies: we have the complete Beethoven symphonies performed by the magnificent Chicago Symphony Orchestra under conductor Sir Georg Solti, as well as the complete symphonies performed by the Berlin Philharmonic under conductor Claudio Abbado. My personal favorite is Symphony No. 3 (the "Eroica")--the first movement really soars--and we have, in addition to the CDs mentioned above, a recording of Leonard Bernstein with the New York Philharmonic that also contains a lecture by Bernstein, entitled "How a Great Symphony Was Written." (Bernstein was an enthusiastic teacher as well as a composer and conductor.)

Want to sample a variety of Beethoven's work? Check out Essential Beethoven: 24 of His Greatest Masterpieces. This compilation includes movements--or sections--of symphonies, piano sonatas, violin concertos, string quartets and more.

If you want to explore symphonies not only by Beethoven, but by other composers as well, a fun place to start is Discover the Symphony, which contains movements of symphonies by composers including Mozart, Schubert, Brahms and Stravinsky.

Or, let's say you really enjoy violin music and you want to sample several composers and performers. There's an excellent series called "Mad About . . ." which includes the CD Mad About Violins: The Greatest Stars, The Greatest Music. The CD contains movements from works by Beethoven, Paganini and Tchaikovsky among others, performed by some of the best violinists around—Anne-Sophie Mutter, Gidon Kremer and Shlomo Mintz. Some of the other titles in this series are Mad About Italian Opera, Mad About Romantic Piano and Mad About American Music. One quibble with the American Music title: it doesn't include anything by American original Charles Ives. However, we have many CDs featuring Ives, including The American Album, which includes his startling and inventive Variations on "America," arranged for orchestra by another American composer, William Schuman. Once you've heard it, you won't forget it!

These are just a few of the CDs in our classical collection. We have many, many other others, including Maurizio Pollini's performance of my all-time favorite classical composition, Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-flat Major, Opus 110. Although it was the second movement that first caught my attention—parts of it are as funky as anything Prince ever wrote—it's the third and fourth movements that keep drawing me back: there's an alternately thunderous and haunting, other-worldly quality to this music that makes me think that if we could hear the music of the spheres, it would sound like this.

Do you have a favorite piece of classical music? Do you have a favorite classical performer or composer? Is there music that you turn to for solace or inspiration?


Karen said...

I definitely have a rock and pop heart, but there will always be a place for Mozart there, too. I fell in love with his music when a college class required me to watch the movie "Amadeus," which had just been released. I ended up doing a 28 page research paper on his life, I was so fascinated! To me, Mozart's compositions are the sound of a man living richly, fully and a little bit wildly - never wasting a precious minute.

Laura A. said...

I love Amadeus. My favorite part is when a moronic emperor, who fancies himself knowledgeable about music, says of one of Mozart's compositions: "There are simply too many notes, that's all. Just cut a few and it will be perfect." To which Mozart replies:
"Which few did you have in mind, Majesty?"

The library owns the DVD of Amadeus, which is definitely worth checking out. Also, the play, which I was fortunate to see many years ago, is currently in revival at The Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier, and runs through November 9th. Support Chicago theater!

Cheryl said...

Laura, how did you know I'm mad about violins? It's like that CD was created just for me! I'll be checking it out the next time I'm in the library :)

linda said...

I really enjoy the "Mad About" series - popular classical composers in an easy format. "Switched on Bach" performed with an electronic Moog synthesizer, is another favorite. The Brabdenburg concerto No. 3 in G Major is so much fun!

Anonymous said...

I don't have a favorite composer, and I consider myself musically illiterate. Thank you for the idea and the nudge to try something new.

Anonymous said...

Years ago, I had a crush on mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli. What a voice! I even purchased her album "Mozart Portraits" (on cassette!!!), and it is very good.

Jo said...

Laura, I remember the first time I heard Ode to Joy was when I saw Clockwork Orange. This beautiful exalting music was used as a sort of emotional counterpoint to the violent behavior of the characters. In any event, I fell in love with the music and bought the album. It was my first Beethoven.

Veronica said...

For me, the artist who constantly brings the funk is Yo-Yo Ma. From Brahms to Rachmaninoff or the Silk Road to Appalachia, Ma makes his cello sing and brings a cool factor to classical music without really trying. Whether he's wearing jeans or a tux, the highlight is always the music. Plus, you gotta be kind of funky to play classical music for a living and make an appearance on The Colbert Report.

Laura A. said...

Thank you for the post about Yo-Yo Ma! And just a heads up that we have ordered his latest CD, Songs of Joy & Peace, from which he performed on The Colbert Report. The CD is performed by "Yo-Yo Ma & Friends." Among the friends are Diana Krall and Dave Brubek. Definitely worth checking out!

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