Exploring the classics

Five tips for those wanting to go further than da da da dum


1. Patience - a great conductor once said you need to listen to a piece of music eight times before you start the journey of engaging with it. He also said the English don't understand music but they love the noise it makes. Classical music is more than noise: give it time. These are not just tunes - they have depth and colour which are worth considering


2. Go to live concerts - a) it's a completely different experience - not least cos it's predominantly visual but b) you will be challenged to enjoy or endure pieces you've not heard before. Things appear to sound differently when accompanied with visuals. Concentration is different when you're in an audience - and in a really good performance the electric atmosphere is contagious and a bit like being in a football crowd (only silent). And even pieces you think you know well are different in concert.


3. Don't be afraid if you don't like something. Sometimes it takes leaving it and coming back later to really appreciate it. And sometimes it needs a special performance to unlock a piece.  It works both ways. I used to love Elgar's Cello Concerto - I don't now. I used to hate Berlioz - I love it now. Thinking too deeply about why doesn't usually help much. Music goes straight to some of the oldest parts of the brain - there's no room for logic there - just go with it. But do give everything a good try.


4. When you find a composer or an conductor or soloist you like, explore their back catalogue. There are often gems to be found in these trusted hands. I got to know Beethoven's symphonies then the concerti then the piano sonatas and the string quartets. That was enough. But I know there are still more chamber works, songs and the like to explore. AND the very greatest composers keep on giving so every time you hear say Beethoven's Fifth it will be different because you will be a different person from the one who heard it before.  Your core listening should include the great masters - always go back to them and always go somewhere new each time you go over old ground. The center of my musical spiral is Bach - you'll find your own. But know some: Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann, Rossini, Chopin, Johann Strauss, Verdi, Saint-Saens, Tchaikovsky, Handel, Bartok, Richard Strauss, Debussy, Ravel, Mahler, Berg, Sibelius, Nielsen, Ives, Gershwin, Vaughan Williams, Britten, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Boulez, Messiaen, Bernstein, Hindemith, Ligeti, Grisey, Berio, Varese, Cage, Dutilleux, Pärt, Maxwell Davies, David & Colin Matthews, John Adams, and anything and everything else ....


5. Read this blog or any pieces but be wary of being told pieces are great until you've decided for yourself.  I enthuse but you might be bemused (and vice versa) never be guarded always be open eared. Avoid anyone who uses technical jargon at the expense of emotional language - the technical language is for musicians not those who listens (and in my experience musicians are not great listeners).


If you think you've got it all covered - try Langaard's Eleventh Symphony and Webern's Symphony and see what you make of them....


Popular Posts