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INTRODUCTION TO CLASSICAL MUSIC
By Ron Jones
Charts of Major Composers in Each Era (scroll down to see all)
Note: Each music file opens in a separate window so you can read the commentary while the music plays.
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BARQ 021 ITAL - Monteverdi - L'Orfeo Comment
First, I want to play one selection from the so-called Renaissance Era that preceded the Classical Era. Why? To show you the contrast between the type of music that preceded the Baroque era vs. that after the beginning of the Baroque era. It is a striking contrast. This renaissance piece is by Claudio Monteverdi, who was Italian. The story is taken from The Legend of Orpheus in the Underworld. Listen and see how ancient it sounds.
BARQ 031 GERM - Bach - Oratorio Comment
In contrast to that, let's hear one of the many cantatas that Bach wrote for the church for Sunday use. What is a cantata? A Cantata is simply a musical piece with includes a choir. This is his Cantata No. 147 whose title translates roughly to Heart and Word and Deed and Life.
BARQ 041 BRIT - Purcell
I would not want you to think that the transition from Monteverdi to Bach was overnight. Actually, Bach composed mostly in the last third of the 150-year Baroque period. So let's back up to a composer in about the middle of the Baroque period: the Englishman, Henry Purcell. I will play four short selections that illustrate his evolving Baroque style. They begin relatively simple, but his later compositions have more of the complexity we associate with mature Baroque music.
See Wikipedia for more about Purcell.
BARQ 061 GERM - Bach - Oratorio Comment REDO LINKS AND FILE NAMES
Bach composed many pieces for use in the church. Let's play another one of his choral pieces for the church which is slightly different in form. This one is part of a Christmas Oratorio. An oratorio is more complex than a cantata in that in addition to a choir an oratorio may include the use of character roles, costumes, soloists, and of course instruments. It is a bit like an opera, but without acting or sets. It is strictly a concert piece.
BARQ 063 GERM - Bach - Brandenburg Comment
Though Bach was basically employed by the church, he also composed for other purposes. He composed a series of concertos for a variety of instruments and dedicated the set to the Margrave of Brandenburg, who was a fan of Bach's work. (Brandenburg is an area in Germany.) The term concerto, by the way, usually means a symphonic piece which highlights a particular solo instrument throughout. But in the Baroque era it was a more general term, just meaning a combination of multiple complementary elements, such as voice and instruments, or just various groups of instruments with complementary roles. The significance of this set of six concert pieces is that they constitute a sort of high point of Baroque composition. Here is a portion of Brandenburg Concerto No. 3.
BARQ 070 GERM - Bach - Polyphony Comment
Now having just heard that very nice example of Baroque symphonic music, it is a good time to explain the concept of polyphonic composition, which is characteristic of the Baroque era. When we listen to music today we normally expect to hear a clear melody augmented by a complementary accompaniment. But the idea of a dominant melody, or of accompaniment to that melody, wasn't present in the Baroque era. Instead, Baroque compositions consist of several melodic lines which work together like threads in a tapestry to create a sort of 'musical fabric', with no particular thread being dominant. Even when there are voices singing, the voices are just another thread in the fabric. There is usually no clear accompaniment to those voices in the instruments. Instead all the 'threads' stand apart in a sense, each independent yet cooperating to make an integrated whole.
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BARQ 071 GERM - Bach - Toccata Comment
There is a huge body of Bach's work that is still performed today. I will play one more piece by Bach before I move on to other Baroque composers. This piece is called the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor for organ. A toccata is a show piece for a really skilled player. A fugue is sort of a theme and variations. The idea of a theme and variation of it is common in classical music. D Minor is the key of this piece. Minor keys usually sound a little more serious, or weighty, than major keys, which tend to sound happier and lighter.
See Wikipedia for more about Bach.
BARQ 101 GERM / BRIT - Handel - Water Comment
Let's switch to a different composer during this era: George Frederic Handel. Handel was born in Germany but moved to Britain early in his life. He did not have a sponsor like Bach did, at least not initially, and he had to try to get attention. How do you get the attention of royalty or other wealthy potential supporters? Well, the story behind this next piece is an example. It was well known that the King and his entourage went out on the river in London on a barge on hot summer evenings because it was cooler there. Handel thought it would be innovative to compose some music for the situation, using a small orchestra also on a barge, and try to entertain the king and his guests by playing while coming along the side of the King's barge. It was a big hit. He called it this music the Water Music Suite. Here is an example.
BARQ 103 GERM / BRIT - Handel - Fireworks Comment
Now, people will say, oh, yes, you can kind of tell it's about water. No they can't. There is no concept in the Baroque era of trying to depict the sound or impression of flowing water. These Water Music Suites were strictly music composed for royalty and to be played on the water. So people who feel some kind of connection to water when they hear this music are, I believe, simply recalling the name it has. Here is another piece Handel did for royalty, called Music for the Royal Fireworks.
BARQ 105 GERM / BRIT - Handel - Messiah Comment
Handel composed a lot of great music. But we can only play a few of each composer's works in this presentation. The last piece I am going to play of Handel's is a segment from the Messiah, specifically from the Hallelujah Chorus. You've all heard this I am sure as it is often performed, at least in part, around Easter. I've sung this chorus a few times but I've always found the bass component particularly difficult to sing. It took me a while to realize that was because it's polyphonic music, and unlike more modern music the bass line is not an easy, slow moving, accompaniment to the melodic soprano. It's its own thread of melody.
BARQ 107 GERM / BRIT - Handel - Messiah Comment
The Messiah put Handel on the map in every way. Popularity, name recognition, funding and, so on. In fact, it was so popular that he was able to support himself just by arranging performances of the Messiah for paid admission. He even took on support of an orphanage by doing such performances.
See Wikipedia for more about Handel.
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BARQ 108 AMAZON - Comment
There are many ways today to hear classical music. Services like Pandora will create your own 'station' of music. And YouTube has a huge collection of videos of classical music performance, to name a couple. You definitely will want to pursue some of those options. But for this class I am focusing on music which you can buy, download and play for years on your own PC, iPhone, etc. A great place to buy such music is Amazon.com. If you go to Amazon.com's digital music and look for 'Handel box' or 'Baroque Box' or just 'Big Box', you will find albums of anywhere from dozens to hundreds of selections for $1 to $3. You get, I believe, 300 selections in the Handel box for $2.99. That's a wonderful buy, and if you don't want it all taking up space on your devices you can play it straight from their Cloud after purchase. To do that you have to install Amazon's Cloud Player.
BARQ 201 Comment About Order of Music
I should explain that from this point I am focusing on one of the four Classical Eras at a time.
Within each era I go through various countries.
And within each country, I go through various composers.
So now we will move to a different country which played a significant role in the Baroque era: Italy.
BARQ 211 ITAL - Vivaldi - Seasons Comment
Italian composers were almost as prominent in the Baroque Era as German composers were. Wikipedia list well over 100 Italian composers of the Baroque era. But when one thinks of Italian Baroque, Vivaldi usually comes to mind first. So we will begin with him. Vivaldi wrote a Suite called the 'Four Seasons'. A suite is just a collection of related pieces which form an integrated whole. Each of the four segments is about 15 minutes long.
Now, I've said that Baroque music doesn't depict scenes or actions as modern music often does. But music has always been used to be compatible with the mood of a service, such as somber for Good Friday, or Joyful for Easter. So what Vivaldi does here is more or less to present a mood for each season. But the connection to a season is vague at best to modern listeners, I think. Let's hear the composition for Spring.
BARQ 213 ITAL - Vivaldi - Comment
In a different vein, here is a Mandolin Concerto in C Major by Vivaldi. A concerto is a symphonic piece which prominently features a particular instrument. The accented instrument here is the mandolin.
See Wikipedia for more about Vivaldi.
BARQ 281 ITAL - Corelli - Comment
Lastly in the Italian Baroque, I will play a little bit from Arcangelo Corelli. Compared to Vivaldi, he is not very well known. Nevertheless, his work is considered to be the pinnacle of Italian Baroque and perhaps of Baroque in general. His music seems to flow almost effortlessly.
See Wikipedia for more about Corelli.
BARQ 999 - Comment
This has been a very short introduction to Baroque music. I am keeping the Baroque portion of this class shorter than the other sections because Baroque music is easier to recognize than other, later eras. If it appeals to you, then you are in luck, as Baroque music is very cheap on the web. I should mention that while we have a large amount of more modern music to hear, many classical music listeners actually prefer the sound of Baroque music over that of later eras. I think this is because Baroque music is generally lighter, or happier, in feel than a lot of music of later eras. (And I personally find that after listening to a lot of more modern music I sometimes feel a need to hear some Baroque music, almost like a palette cleanser in the middle of a lavish meal. So don't feel that you are being old-fashioned if Baroque music turns out to be your favorite style. You are far from alone. But people are different. If I had to pick a favorite type of classical music I might say French Romantic. Some people lean strongly to very modern music. And Linus in Peanuts is not the only one who loves Beethoven.
See Wikipedia for more about Baroque music.
CLAS 021 GERM - C.P.E Bach - Comment
We will move on now to the time of transition from the Baroque era to the Classical era. The date of this transition is around the middle of the 1700's. At this time, one of the major changes was to a less formally structured, and more dynamic sound. And, of course away from Polyphony to a more modern form with typically a definable primary melodic line. C.P.E. Bach, one of Johann Sebastian Bach's sons, became a great composer and he was one of the leaders in the transition to the Classical Era. Let's listen to part of his Symphony in G Minor and you'll get the idea.
See Wikipedia for more about C.P.E. Bach.
CLAS 121 AUST - Haydn - Comment
The outstanding composer that you should think of when you think of the Classical Era, is actually not Beethoven. Beethoven was rather late in this era. If you think of Bach when you think of Baroque, you should think of Mozart when you think of Classical. But Mozart wasn't very early in the classical era. The key composer in the early Classical Era was actually Franz Joseph Haydn. His last name is spelled H-a-y-d-n. It looks like it is missing a letter, but that's the way it is spelled. Haydn was Austrian and he was instrumental in popularizing certain aspects of music in the Classical Era. In particular, he is sometimes called the father of the symphony, meaning the typical form of a symphony in three movements, the middle movement typically being quieter or slower. He is also called the father of the string quartet. I'll begin by playing the very first portion of his Creation. It follows right along with the Biblical account in Genesis, plus some elements from John Milton's Paradise Lost. This piece would be classified as an Oratorio. It has about two dozen short parts of quite lovely music.
CLAS 131 AUST - Haydn - Comment
That short piece may have sounded pretty similar to Baroque music, but the following Trumpet Concerto really doesn't sound Baroque at all.
CLAS 141 AUST - Haydn - Quartet Comment
The String Quartet format that Haydn defined usually has two violins, one viola and one cello. Here is a part of his String Quartet No. 77.
CLAS 143 AUST - Haydn - Gloria Comment
If you grew up in church like I did, you probably recognized the melody in that piece as being the origin of a Hymn. In fact, it is the Hymn 'Glorious things of Thee are spoken (Zion, City of our God).' Much traditional church music has borrowed its tunes from classical music. Indeed, much Catholic music is exactly classical compositions. That is where they came from.
CLAS 151 AUST - Haydn - Comment
Since Haydn is considered to be the Father of the Symphony, let's hear a piece from one of his Symphonies, the #44 in E Minor.
See Wikipedia for more about Haydn.
CLAS 225 GERM - Mozart - Comment
Now we need to move on to the definitive composer of the Classical Era: the German composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mozart composed in virtually every form of classical music from solo instruments to small scale chamber orchestras to full-size symphonies to choruses, cantatas, and operas. Chamber music was not intended to be played by a large symphony on a stage of an auditorium, but rather to be played by a small orchestra in a smaller venue such as a hall in a castle. Such music was often intended to be played as accompaniment to another event such as a royal dinner. He composed a number of such pieces under the general title of Eine Kleine Nachtmusic, which just means a little night music. Here is one of those pieces called Serenade No. 13.
CLAS 235 GERM - Mozart - Comment
One thing Mozart is renowned for is the ability to write a great melody. I'll play a little bit of his well-known Concerto No. 21, parts of this were used in a movie back in the 60s or 70s, called Elvira Madigan. The music and the movie were a great match, both being beautiful.
CLAS 241 GERM - Mozart - Comment
Mozart wrote 41 symphonies, which is a large number, especially since he died in his mid-thirties. Beethoven, in comparison, was later famous for writing nine symphonies. I like some of his middle symphonies before he got quite so sophisticated. Let's hear the beginning of his Symphony No. 25.
CLAS 243 GERM - Mozart - Comment
And let's hear equally, the beginning of his Symphony No. 40 which was his next to last. I'm sure he didn't plan it to be his next to last, it just turned out to be. It has a later, richer sound than his earlier symphonies. Quite a lead-in to the sound of Beethoven symphonies.
CLAS 251 GERM - Mozart - Comment
We're not going to talk about opera much until we get another 100 years down timeline. So, I just want to play a couple little things from a Mozart opera. First the Overture to Marriage of Figaro. An Overture is an instrument-only segment at the beginning of an opera or a symphony which introduces, in a coordinated way, several of the different melodies you are going to be hearing in the remainder of the larger piece.
CLAS 261 GERM - Mozart - Chorus Comment
And secondly, I'll play a chorus from the Magic Flute. A Chorus is a small Choir that sometimes comes in to sing during an interlude when the major characters are not present for whatever reason, or sometimes to accompany a soloist. Choruses are often extracted and published as collections. Similarly, dances from operas are also extracted and published as collections, as are highlights, or key memorable segments of operas.
See Wikipedia for more about Mozart.
CLAS 361 GERM - Beethoven - Comment
Let's move on to the great German composer of the latter part of the Classical Era, Ludwig Van Beethoven. I'll start with a lovely little piece which is played frequently on classical radio music stations. It's usually pronounced in the German, Für Elise. It just means For Elise and it uses just a piano.
CLAS 363 GERM - Beethoven - Comment
Secondly, from Beethoven, I'll play a short piece called 'March of the Turks.' It's a bouncy, interesting little piece. It's from a larger piece which is no longer performed called 'The Ruins of Athens.'
CLAS 373 GERM - Beethoven - Egmont Comment
Next I'll play Beethoven's 'Egmont Overture.' This is not an overture to an opera or to a symphony but to some incidental music for a play. All we hear today from that work is this Overture.
CLAS 381 GERM - Beethoven - Comment
Now we will move on to Beethoven's famous symphonies. I will not try to make you an expert on Beethoven's symphonies, but rather to give you a sense of what his symphonies sound like. So, first we'll play a bit of the beginning of his Symphony No. 1.
CLAS 383 GERM - Beethoven - Comment
Next let's hear the beginning of his Symphony No. 5. This symphony is probably one of the best known of all Beethoven's works. Certainly the beginning four notes is one of the most iconic sounds in all of classical music. Beethoven himself is said to have commented that those first four famous notes, are fate knocking at your door. Indeed, he subtitles this symphony as 'Fate'. So it is not surprising that it's such a determined sounding piece. He has something on his mind here about the direction of one's life.
CLAS 391 GERM - Beethoven - Comment
If you remove the 3rd, 6th, and 9th symphonies from Beethoven's nine, and listen sequentially to the remaining six I think you would find that each one is kind of an evolutionary step from the previous one. This is an exercise worth doing. But his 3rd, 6th. and 9th don't follow along in that sequence. For example, the third is brighter in mood. It has the subtitle 'Eroica', a reference to 'heroic.' That gives you a hint as to what Beethoven was thinking when he composed it.
The 6th Symphony is much different from any of the other eight. In fact, is in the romantic vein, not the classical. So we have right here, between Beethoven's 5th and 6th symphonies, a clear example of these two different eras.
We are going to move into the Romantic Era shortly and one of the things that you'll see in the Romantic Era is composers beginning to depict more obviously and clearly natural things in the world and also a wider range of emotions and feelings. On this CD we will hear composers depict storms, the sea, rivers, animals, paintings, the outdoors, conversation, dreams, parties, demons, insects, the Grand Canyon, and others. In the case of Beethoven's 6th, which is subtitled 'Pastorale', he is attempting to exhibit in the fourth movement a storm going past while one is outdoors in the fields. Image yourself out in the field watching the flocks in an otherwise beautiful day when a brief storm comes through. You will hear thunder and a bit of turmoil, then it all blows away and everything is calm again.
CLAS 395 GERM - Beethoven - Symphony No. 9 Comment
Beethoven's ninth symphony it is kind of a summing up of his life philosophy, I think. He was mostly deaf by the time he wrote this, and never clearly heard this symphony. Let's hear a bit of the last movement, which includes the famous 'Ode to Joy'.
See Wikipedia for more about Beethoven.
And this brings us to an end of the discussion of the Classical Era in classical music. See Wikipedia for more about the Classical Period.
ROMA 101 GERM - Comment
It's time to move forward to the so-called Romantic Era. In classical music, the Romantic Era is considered to from the early 1800s, maybe 1825, to about 1900. The Romantic Era was not just a movement in musical, rather a movement in literature and art as well. It was a movement away from the controlled emotions of the Baroque and Classical eras to an era of appreciation of feelings and emotions and impressions. For example, Mozart's music may be happy or sad, depending on the actions in an opera. But Mozart does not show us what he as an artist was feeling. His music is slave to the story.
But in the Romantic era we have, for example, Debussy depicting what it feels like to be out on the ocean, while Monet is painting in a new, impressionist manner, to convey what it feels like to be looking at a beautiful church across a foggy river late in the afternoon, and Percy Shelly is writing Romantic poetry. Impression, emotions, and nature are key elements in this era.
The Romantic Movement was widespread. We'll be listening here in this period, not only to Germany, Italian, and British composers, but also Norwegian, Austrian, French, Spanish, American, and Czechoslovakian composers, at minimum. It is an era rich in variety.
To simplify the presentation a bit I am going to try to separate Romantic symphonic music from Romantic opera. So I will delay most Romantic opera music to a separate section following this section.
To begin this era, we'll start with just a short section from Brahms Symphony No. 4. Contrast this more emotional feel with the determined sound of Beethoven's 5th, with its hard driving message of Fate knocking at your door. Brahms conveys a different message, more about, perhaps, his yearning for something not clearly stated.
See Wikipedia for more about Brahms.
ROMA 161 GERM - R Schumann - Comment
Robert Schumann is a fairly well known composer from Germany during this era. I usually think of his music as being lush as well as lyrical. But in this short piece he shows he can write a lyrical, lovely, thoughtful piece of music using just a piano. It is from a group of songs called 'Scenes from Childhood', and this particular one is called 'Dreaming', or the German 'Traumerei'. Who would have thought before this era, that a short piano solo could leave you feeling, well, something very emotional. And why so?
ROMA 165 GERM - R Schumann - Comment
I hate to break the mood of that wonderful little piece. But next we'll hear a typical symphonic segment by Schumann, from his Symphony No. 4. Here you can hear the lush romanticism characteristic his work.
See Wikipedia for more about Schumann.
ROMA 181 GERM -Weber - Invitation Comment
Now for a change of composer, and of pace. I want to play most of an interesting little piece called 'Invitation to the Dance', by German composer Carl Maria von Weber. I'll play the first three minutes of it and the last three minutes of it. This piece would never have been written in Classic era, because the idea of conveying a scene, an image, or an event, was mostly a new idea in the Romantic Era. This 10-minute piece depicts a small scene at a large dance where a young man sees a young lady he'd like to meet. So he goes over and says hello, has a short chat, and asks if she'll dance with him, and she agrees. Then they get out to the dance floor to be ready, and the music suddenly changes to very energetic dance music. The dance goes on dramatically for quite a long while and then it ends, after which the couple walk back to where the young lady was sitting, there is a little conversation to say thank you for the dance, or perhaps I'll see you again, or some such, and she says something similar, after which they part. It's a lovely little story being told with surprising clarity in the music itself. (You may have to play this piece a couple of times to pick out all this happening.) I have clipped out a portion of the dance itself.
See Wikipedia for more about Weber.
ROMA 195 AUST - J. Strauss Jr. - Comment
Let's go across the border to Vienna, Austria, a short distance away Germany. Vienna was a huge cultural center in the Romantic Era and waltzing in particular was very popular in all the ballrooms. The music to which they all danced seems to have been largely that of Johann Strauss, Jr., the so-called waltz king. We'll hear a couple of his pieces. While the 'Blue Danube' may be his most famous waltz so we'll try something different. Here is the Perpetuum Mobile waltz. It tries to convey a feeling of perpetual motion, a concept of some interest about this time to scientists, and the populace.
ROMA 197 AUST - J. Strauss Jr. - Comment
And next we'll hear Pizzicato Polka. A polka is not exactly a waltz, I suppose, but was apparently also a popular dance. Pizzicato refers to a type of sound you get from a string instrument, not by using the bow but by plucking the strings with a finger or pick.
See Wikipedia for more about J. Strauss Jr.
ROMA 321 FRAN - Hector Berlioz - Comment
French composers were not so well known as German and Austrian composers in the Classical Era. But they certainly became well known in the Romantic Era. Indeed, the Romantic Era and the French culture were a perfect match. We'll play bits from several French Romantic composers here. First I'll play a couple of pieces by Hector Berlioz. We don't listen as much to Hector Berlioz as perhaps he deserves. He was probably more influential on other composers of his era than he was to the general public. This was particularly due to a book he wrote on doing instrumentation of orchestral music. But here is a little segment, from 'l'Enfance du Christ' in French, or loosely translated, 'The Childhood of Christ'.
ROMA 323 FRAN - Hector Berlioz - Comment
Secondly, and completely differently, we'll play a segment from Berlioz's 'Symphonie Fantastique', which is sort of a Halloween piece in my mind. The official story line is that it represents scenes imagined by a person in a delirious state. I used to play the LP of this on loud volume on Halloween evening so that the Trick or Treaters as they came up would be greeted with appropriate music.
See Wikipedia for more about Berlioz.
ROMA 331 FRAN - Gounod - Comment
Let's move on to a wonderful French composer who is not nearly as well-known as his peers. And that is Charles Gounod, Gounod wanted to compose strictly music for the church. But it turned out he couldn't support himself doing that so he began to write some secular pieces as well. We'll hear samples of his Operas later. Gounod really shines in his religious works. He wrote a mass dedicated to St. Cecelia, the patron saint of music. I'll play the Sanctus, or 'Holy, Holy' from that Mass. Some people have said that you can almost see the heavenly beams of light shining through.
See Wikipedia for more about Gounod.
ROMA 343 FRAN - Debussy - Comment
Next we will hear from Claude Debussy. Debussy did a wonderful job of writing music which conveyed a musical picture. La Mer, or the Sea, is perhaps the most well-known of that genre. La Mer is fairly long, so we will just sample two short excerpts from the portion of La Mer called 'The dialogue of the Wind and the Sea.'
See Wikipedia for more about Debussy.
ROMA 351 FRAN - Offenbach - Comment
Another great French Romantic Era composer is Jacque Offenbach. If you know anything about him at all, you probably know he wrote the 'Can Can.' Actually, both the 'Can Can' and a very different but well-known violin piece come from a single ten-minute segment from 'Orpheus and the Underworld.' This is the same Orpheus theme that we heard at the very beginning of this class as interpreted by the Renaissance composer, Monteverdi. The story line of this legend is that a young man who is distraught over the death of his young bride-to-be somehow goes to the underworld to try to retrieve her. I'm going to play just two segments to display those two famous extracts for you.
See Wikipedia for more about Offenbach.
ROMA 363 FRAN - Saint Saens - Comment
Another well-known French Romantic composer is Camille Saint-Saens. ('San' is spelled like 'Saint'. But in French 'saint' becomes 'san'.) Saint-Saens wrote a suite called 'The Carnival of the Animals'. In this suite he depicts, in a brand-new, Romantic vein, various kinds of animals. The first I'm going to play for you is the Tortoises. See if this gives you the feeling of large tortoises lumbering around.
ROMA 365 FRAN - Saint Saens - Tortues After Comment
I don't know if you caught that but the theme which was played to depict the Tortoises was actually the 'Can Can' which we previously heard, slowed way down and dropped way down in tone. So the original 'ta ta ta de ta de ta ta' became the lumbering 'Da Da Da De Da De Da Da Da.' It's funny, and it really works.
ROMA 367 FRAN - Saint Saens - Comment
Next we have an interesting depiction of an aquarium. Other Romantic composers, like Schubert, used a similar, sort of slivery sound to depict fish.
ROMA 372 FRAN - Saint Saens - Symphony No. 3 Comment
Saint Saens wrote a lot more than just 'Carnival of the Animals,' though Carnival is a great introduction to his work. He is perhaps even better known for his Symphony No. 3 called the Organ Symphony. Now when you start playing a recording of his 3rd Symphony, you may wonder where the organ is, because it doesn't actually come in until the last movement. But it comes in dramatically when it does arrive. I'll play a few minutes from that last movement.
See Wikipedia for more about Saint-Saens.
ROMA 381 FRAN - Chabrier - Comment
It is said that most 'Spanish' Classical music was composed by French composers. That certainly seems to be true, except for Spanish guitar music which has a rich repertoire by actual Spanish composers. A fine example of so-called Spanish music by French composers is 'Espana' by Chabier. (Chabier is spelled with a final R which is not audible.) I've always like this piece. See if you do also.
See Wikipedia for more about Chabrier.
ROMA 395 FRAN - Ravel - Comment
This next selection has a bit of a Spanish flavor, too. The French seemed to have been inspired by sunny Spain. It was written by French composer Maurice Ravel. He was not only a skilled composer, but he orchestrated compositions for composers. (By 'orchestrated' I mean that he took a piece written, for example, for piano, and turned them into pieces for an entire orchestra.) His most famous piece is probably Bolero. It's said to be the most whistled tune ever. It's rather long, about 15 minutes, so I'm going to play you a little of the first part and a little bit of the last. It goes on at a very steady pace, almost a march-like pace. It slowly crescendos over the whole 15 minutes. So the first part will be quieter and slower than the last part.
See Wikipedia for more about Ravel.
ROMA 421 ITAL - Respighi - Comment
Let's move now to Italian composers of the Romantic era. Verdi and Puccini come to mind, and we will hear some of their work in the next section on Romantic Opera. But Ottorino Respighi also wrote some great symphonic-only pieces. Two of the most well-known are perhaps his 'Pines of Rome' and 'Fountains of Rome'. I'll play Pines of Rome.
It is interesting that the range of volume in this piece is one of the most extreme of any classical piece I can think of. It is very quiet at the beginning. But don't turn the volume up to hear it better, or you may be rushing back to turn it down at the near end because it is so loud.
See Wikipedia for more about Respighi.
ROMA 431 SPAN - Tarrega - Comment
Spain has a rather long history of composers of guitar music which is more or less in the classical vein. I want to play a solo piece by the Spanish composer, Tarrega. (Emphasis is on the first syllable.) It is called 'Recuerdos de la Alhambra.' That title mean Memories of Alhambra. Alhambra is a large Moorish fort-like complex built almost 800 years ago in southern Spain. When you listen to this piece you'll probably think 'How is this possibly one person playing one guitar?' Oddly, it doesn't appear that unusual when performed.
See Wikipedia for more about Tarrega.
ROMA 441 CZCH - Dvorak - Comment
Well, in this panoply of countries we want to move briefly to Czechoslovakia, and Anton Dvorak. That's the way his name is pronounced. It is spelled Dvorak, with a couple of special accents. He collected folk music themes, specifically folk dance themes, and worked them into his Slavonic Dance Series. They are very interesting, very Czechoslovakian. Here is one of them. It is called No. 8.
ROMA 443 CZCH - Dvorak - Symphony Comment
Dvorak actually came to America and spent quite a bit of time here. One thing that came out of this experience was his Symphony No. 9, subtitled 'From the New World.' He took on quite a challenge: trying to convey the spirit on the new world in music.
See Wikipedia for more about Dvorak.
ROMA 471 AMER - Gottschalk - Comment
You may be wondering, when do American composers show up? Well, American composers were really big in the 20th Century which we will talk about later. But in the Romantic era, American classical composers were few. What there were during this era was American popular song writers, such as Stephen Foster. But one outstanding American symphonic composer in the Romantic era, around the time of the Civil War, was Louis Moreau Gottschalk. He wrote fun, interesting pieces, including bits of Americana, and themes that he collected from several visits to Cuba. First, I'll play a short section from his 'Cakewalk Ballet'. Here is the Grand Walk Around from Cakewalk.
ROMA 475 AMER - Gottschalk - Symphony Comment
And next we'll hear a bit of his Cuban-inspired Symphony No. 1, aka A Night in the Tropics.
ROMA 477 AMER - Gottschalk - Union Comment
Like everyone else, composers lives sometimes are impacted by political events that are going on in the world around them. Around the time of the Civil War Gottschalk spent quite a long time in the tropics to the point that his mostly-northern audience began to get the impression that perhaps he preferred the south. That is perhaps he was a rebel sympathizer. He got alarmed when he heard this and he made it quickly back to the northern US and composed an extremely patriotic piece, throwing in lots of tunes from well-known patriotic songs. He called it 'The Union Concert.' I'll play a bit of that. This piece was so well received that it put him back in the good graces of his primary audience in the North.
See Wikipedia for more about Gottschalk.
ROMA 481 BRIT - Elgar - Comment
We haven't played anything from Britain since Handel back in the Baroque era. But England is known for doing a great job on royal pomp and ceremony. Sir Edward Elgar wrote a number of pieces to be performed in such Royal events. You may have marched down the aisle for your high school or college graduation to this music by Elgar. I'll play one of his several 'Pomp and Circumstance' marches.
ROMA 483 BRIT - Elgar - Comment
Elgar composed a great deal more than the Marches for which he is so well known. One of my favorites is his Enigma Variations, which in fact greatly enhanced his reputation in Britain. These so-called 'variations' are unusual in this the basic theme which is varied, which is usually played first, is completely left out, creating one of the two meanings of 'enigma'. Each of the dozen or so variations is named for one of Elgars' friends, wherein he attempted to write something with the mood he thought that friend would have written, were he or she a composer. But, he gives no names! That is the second enigma that fascinated the original audience: just who were these people? I particularly like this variation.
See Wikipedia for more about Elgar.
ROMA 531 RUSS - Mussorgsky - Comment
Switching countries, let's sample some Romantic era Russian composers.
First, Modest Mussorgsky. He wrote an interesting piece called 'Pictures at an Exhibition.' He wrote it as a piano piece, and it makes a great piano solo. However, it was also orchestrated later by Ravel, the same Ravel that we heard earlier. The orchestrated version is the version that is usually heard.
The format of the music is that of a 'promenade', which is played between each two pictures, which is supposed to convey the viewer walking from one picture to the next. Here is a bit of the promenade.
ROMA 533 RUSS - Mussorgsky - Comment
Each picture is then represented by a segment which attempts to somehow convey the sense of the picture. How does a piece of music describe a painting? Surprisingly well actually. Here is an example picture, which is of 'The Great Gate at Kiev'. Picture an enormous city gate probably of wood. Very tall, massively heavy, probably with iron parts. Here is how Mussorgsky describes it.
ROMA 535 RUSS - Mussorgsky - Comment
A completely different picture is a ballet of unhatched chicks. The (human) dancers are hidden inside large eggs with only their legs visible sticking out from holes in the bottoms of the shells. Mussorgsky suggest birds with a 'twittering' sound. Very different from the Great Gate.
ROMA 537 RUSS - Mussorgsky - Comment
Another well-known piece by Mussorgsky is called 'A Night on Bare Mountain'. It was included in the original 1940 Disney animated movie, 'Fantasia'. I am not sure exactly what Mussorgsky had in mind here, but it is easy to image something dramatic happening. The Disney version is terrific, but see what images come into your mind of midnight on a craggy mountain peak.
See Wikipedia for more about Mussorgsky.
ROPE 100 - Comment Intro to Opera
I said we would talk about Opera a little later, and now is the time. The Romantic Era is a great time to introduce Opera, as Opera flourished so well in this period. Now, you may be like I was when I was younger, when opera was essentially unknown to me. I really didn't know enough about it to appreciate it. And few of us take the time to see full length operas today because of the length of the performances and the fact that the singing and dialogue are often in another language. Also, performance stages for operas are somewhat less common than venues for purely orchestral performance.
But there is a solution to all this. You see, Operas are a type of musical performance that has few limits. That is, there is not only symphonic music in operas, but several types of singing, plus costumes, story lines, elaborate sets, a certain amount of action, and even dance. And all this gives rise to several types of short excerpts which are commonly heard. Excepts include, for example, (1) overtures, which as in symphonies, are introductory pieces which present musical themes you would hear during a full performance; (2) solos, or arias sung by any voice type from bass to soprano, always with symphonic accompaniment; (3) duets and other combinations of a few voices; (4) the instrumental portion associated with a solo, duet, or whatever, but without the voices; (5) instrumental interludes; (6) choruses sung by anywhere from a few to many singers; and (7) marches or dance pieces that appear in the opera; and so on. So you can enjoy these extracts without the time commitment of listing to a whole opera. That's what we will do here. In addition, I have included most Romantic ballet music in this section, as ballet can have all the elements of opera, except for significant singing.
ROPE 131 RUSS - Tchaikovsky - Comment
So, let's began the Opera section where we ended the music-only section: with Russia. I'll start with a little bit of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's 'Nutcracker' ballet, which is a Christmas-themed performance which I think all young people should have a change to see at least once. This segment is called a divertissement, which just means it is a short segment not germane to the main story - a sort of interlude.
ROPE 135 RUSS - Tchaikovsky - Comment
Here is another piece from Tchaikovsky: a lovely quiet scene from 'Swan Lake'. I had the opportunity to see Swan Lake in its entirety recently. It was fun to see something I've heard bits from my whole life. I never really paid much attention to the story. The story is complete fantasy, of course, as it involves transforming people into swans or vice versa. But that's okay. A lot of Opera is mostly for the music and the story is secondary. About twenty seconds or so in to this piece this you will hear where Leonard Bernstein got one of the major themes for his 'West Side Story.'
See Wikipedia for more about Tchaikovsky.
ROPE 141 RUSS - Rimsky-Korsakov - Comment
I am sorry to move on so quickly from the great Tchaikovsky, but we have many composers to sample. Next I'll play a very famous short section from a no longer performed opera by Rimsky-Korsakov. The segment is called 'The Flight of the Bumblebee.' What has a bumblebee got to do with an opera? Well, the story involves a Prince who has been imprisoned far away from home and he is aided by an Enchantress who turns him into a Bumblebee so he can fly out of the prison and go tell his father he is OK. That is, OK provided you don't mind your son being transformed into a Bumblebee! But, after all, this is opera.
See Wikipedia for more about Rimsky-Korsakov.
ROPE 201 FRAN - Bizet - Comment
Now let's switch to France. We'll hear several composers, including a couple you have heard before in a non-operatic context. We'll begin with Bizet, and his 'Carmen.' 'Carmen' is one of the most popular operas performed in this era and even up to this present day. Rather than being fanciful like 'Swan Lake,' 'Carmen' is realistic. In fact, realistic to the point that the early audiences were often unhappy with it because they had never seen something as 'common' as a cigarette girl being depicted as a heroine. Well, maybe I should say anti-heroine. Here is the overture.
ROPE 203 FRAN - Bizet - Torrero Comment
A segment from 'Carmen' which is very well known is the Toreador Song. We'll play it here. 'Toreador' means bullfighter.
See Wikipedia for more about Bizet.
ROPE 271 FRAN - Gounod - Comment
Bizet may have been the outstanding French Romantic Opera composer but there were others. We heard sacred music by Gounod earlier. But he also composed commercial pieces, including a version of the Story of Faust. Faust is the character who sold his soul to get what he wanted in this life. Here is a little piece from Gounod's version of Faust.
See Wikipedia for more about Gounod.
ROPE 281 FRAN - Massenet - Comment
Just one more Romantic opera composer from France. Massenet wrote a beautiful opera called 'Thais.' 'Thais' is the name of the heroine. At one point she is condemned, and imprisoned. This is a very famous piece from that situation, called 'The Meditation'.
See Wikipedia for more about Massenet.
ROPE 321 ITAL - Verdi - Comment
Now we come to perhaps the premier Romantic Era composer of operas, Italy's Giuseppe Verdi. Verdi lived a long life, and was in inventive composer the whole time. And his operas were extremely popular during his life, and until today.
'Aida' is perhaps Verdi's best known opera. It was composed to be performed at the opening of the Suez Canal. However, due to various difficulties it wasn't actually performed till a little after that, but was performed in Egypt as planned.
The story line in Aida is Egyptian. As it begins, Radames, a military hero, is returning victoriously from an important battle. I'll play the triumphal march during which Radames leads a parade through the capital of the victorious army and the spoils of war, including many captured slaves.
ROPE 323 ITAL - Verdi - Slaves Comment
Due to Radames' important victory, everyone now expects him to take the king's daughter as his wife and become heir to the throne. However, while away, he has fallen for a slave girl named Aida. Thus, we have the eternal triangle that is at the center of the story. Here is the Chorus sung by the captured Slaves.
ROPE 341 ITAL - Verdi - Trovatore Comment
As I mentioned, Verdi was a very inventive fellow. Who would ever think of using a blacksmithing tool as an instrument in the orchestra? But he did. In the opera, Il Trovatore or The Troubadour, Verdi actually had anvils tuned, somehow, to a particular tone, and they were 'played' with a hammer of some sort by actors made up as blacksmiths. These days most recordings of the Anvil Chorus don't use real anvils, which is too bad. I believe this recording does, though it's a little hard to tell.
ROPE 343 ITAL - Verdi - Political Comment
Famous composers sometimes got involved in politics, whether they wanted to or not. At one point in Verdi's career the common people of Italy fervently wanted a somewhat anti-government rebel named Vittorio Emanuele to be president.
Now, if you translate the slogan, Vittorio Emanuele, King of Italy, to Italian, you get Vittorio Emanuele Rey de Italia, for which the initials are V E R D I - Verdi! Now, the government didn't tolerate anyone chanting that slogan. But after performances of Verdi operas the people took to screaming Viva Verdi! Viva Verdi! ad nauseum. The authorities were puzzled by this. Was the audience praising the music, or being subversive? Clever indeed. If you are ever in Rome, it is easy to find the vast monument to Vittorio Emanuele.
See Wikipedia for more about Verdi.
ROPE 401 ITAL - Rossini - Comment
Well, we've heard mostly from Austria and Germany so far in the Classical Era. But just as in the Baroque, Italian composers were major contributors in this era. I'm going to focus mostly on one Italian composer because I think there is some similarity with other Italian composes of that era. I'll start with Rossini and his 'William Tell Overture.' You'll probably all recognize where this theme has been used.
ROPE 403 ITAL - Rossini - Comment
Well, I hope you recognized the Lone Ranger in that. Italian music in this late Classical Era in Italy has been called Bel Canto Music, or the Bel Canto Era. That phrase means basically just 'beautiful singing'. But there's a little more than that to it. It resulted from a preference by Italian people at the time for lighter entertainment. Let me play a short piece of music and you try to imagine what the subject might be and then we'll talk about it.
ROPE 405 ITAL - Rossini - Bel Canto Comment
Well, when I first heard that, it sounded to me like it might be about 'Little Red Riding Hood' tripping through the forest on a gorgeous day, going to grandmother's house, but occasionally stopping and looking behind to be sure that no big bad wolf is around. But actually it is the very beginning of a dramatic opera on the Exodus experience in Egypt. It's called Moses in Egypt. So this terribly dramatic event is presented largely in the vein the public was demanding: that is, happier, more melodic and lighter compositions and performances, beautifully sung, and with happy endings. So even dramatic events had to be portrayed to end more or less happily. But we do this sort of thing even now. If you watch any of the high tech crime drama on TV, such as the CSIs or NCIS there is of course a lot of crime. A lot of victims die, and yet there is no serious treatment of the fact of someone's father or brother or son or husband has just died. The programs pass over that very quickly to get on to what the viewers are interested in, which is all the high-tech detecting. So, it is just the way cultures do things some times. Artists are not always free to compose as they prefer.
ROPE 407 ITAL - Rossini - Comment
Rossini was very popular for his operas. He wrote one or two a year and was well paid for them. But after two or three decades of that, he was weary of it, I guess, and retired in comfortable circumstances to home for twenty or thirty more years. But he did continue to compose a little bit, mostly for his own amusement. In fact, he titled one set of pieces 'Sins of my Old Age.' I recently ran across this mass from his retired era, called 'Petite Messe Solennelle' or a small solemn mass. It's recorded that Napoleon said of it something like, 'It's not small, it's not solemn and I don't think much of the liturgy either.' I don't know if Napoleon was a serious music critic, but this mass is very different. It uses only two instruments, a piano and a type of small-scale organ called a Harmonium, and a small choir. But it turns convention on its head. The melody line is in the deep bass of the piano. Here is just the Kyrie. 'Kyrie Eleison' which you'll hear repeated toward the end, means 'Lord have Mercy.'
See Wikipedia for more about Rossini.
ROPE 441 ITAL - Puccini - Comment
One more major Romantic Italian operatic composer in this era was Puccini. Actually, he lived into the 1920's. But just because someone lived into the 20th century doesn't mean that their style switched to the kind of modern more experimental kinds of music so many people composed in the 20th Century. His work remained mostly Romantic. Here is a waltz from the famous La Boheme.
ROPE 443 ITAL - Puccini - Comment
Puccini composed the opera 'Madame Butterfly', whose story line sounds like it was composed after World War II. But it actually is about an earlier time in the late 1800's. It's the story of an American officer casually marrying a Japanese girl for convenience with no plan to actually stay with her. It's a sad story. But one innovation in this opera is a piece called The Humming Chorus, in which the vocal portion of the music is entirely that of the choir humming, not singing. Remember that operas range from light and silly to dramatic and serious. This one is definitely on the latter end of that range. But it is still intended as entertainment, in the end.
ROPE 451 ITAL - Puccini - Comment
For a very different sample of Puccini I'll play a little bit of the 'Girl of the Golden West.' The original name of this opera in Italian doesn't translate directly to English, so this title is used in America. The Golden West refers to the American west of the 19th Century. Puccini never actually visited the American West, but a cousin of his, also named Puccini, visited Albuquerque as a young man and stayed here the rest of his life. So, let's play a little bit of the 'Girl of the Golden West.'
See Wikipedia for more about Puccini.
ROPE 521 GERM - Wagner - Comment
Now we need to talk about the German Romantic composer Richard Wagner. Wagner's four 'Ring' operas are a sort of peak of dramatic opera, though the story line of Norse gods coming and going is fanciful at best. I will give only a brief introduction to the work of Wagner, as it is not exactly introductory material.
Some of Wagner's operas are probably the source of the humorous depictions of large sopranos wearing metal headgear with horns on it, singing long arias while supposedly dying. And that would also be where the expression comes from, 'In ain't over till the fat lady sing.' For the record, the four works which constitute the ring are
By the way, like the more familiar Lord of the Rings, the Ring really is a gold ring worn on a man's hand.
While few people attend full productions of Wagner's Grand Operas, short excerpts of several of them are often heard. I will play several selections, all but one without actual singers, as is commonly heard with such Wagnerian excerpts.
First, an excerpt from early in Das Rheingold, called Entry Of The Gods Into Walhalla
ROPE 523 GERM - Wagner - Comment
Next, an often played excerpt from Die Walkure.
ROPE 525 GERM - Wagner - Comment
A segment toward the end of Twilight of the Gods.
ROPE 527 GERM - Wagner - Comment
Now some selections from Wagner operas not in the Ring. Here is short segment from Tannhauser. The complete title of this Opera is Tannhauser and the Singing Contest at Wartberg Castle.
ROPE 529 GERM - Wagner - Comment
And a short segment from Die Meistersinger, or The Master Singer. This is a comedy opera. The master singer is a fake, who is trying to enter a singing contest to impress a young lady.
ROPE 531 GERM - Wagner - Comment
And finally a piece from the Overture to The Flying Dutchman. The name Flying Dutchman refers to a legendary sailing ship.
See Wikipedia for more about Wagner.
(Note: These German names should be spelled with umlauts, such as Walküre. But special characters do not play well with HTML links in Microsoft word, so I am using plain letters. The same goes for names like España, Orphée, Tárrega, Mosè, etc.
ROPE 601 BRIT - Gilbert and Sullivan Comment
We will end the discussion of Romantic Opera in Britain.
Just as happened in Italy during the bel canto era in Italy, in Britain the public demanded a similar change. That's when Gilbert and Sullivan started composing much, much lighter operas. These are in fact called operettas, although they are about as long as some operas. It's not that they are so much shorter, it's that they do not contain heavy or tragic story lines. The only 'seriousness' ever in Gilbert and Sullivan operas is purely tongue in cheek. I like HMS Pinafore, HMS meaning Her Majesty's Ship. It takes place on a ship named Pinafore. A silly name for a ship. The story line is mockly sad in that the hero is a 'lowly' sailor who has fallen hopelessly in love with the captain's daughter. It turns out that the ship is visited by the Captain of the Navy and remarkable things are unveiled and it turns out that this poor sailor actually was of royal birth, but was adopted away secretly. So he gets to marry the girl he loves. I'm going to play four short segments from this opera. Since it is in English, perhaps you can get a sense of what is going on.
See Wikipedia for more Gilbert and Sullivan.
ROPE 999 - Comment
We've come to the end of our presentation here on the Romantic Era which was basically the last three-quarters of the 1800s. We heard a lot of things, including Grieg's Norwegian pieces, waltzes from Austria, rich symphonic pieces from Schuman in Germany. We've heard very interesting and beautiful and evocative music of the sea by Debussy. We've heard fun things like Orpheus by Offenbach, Saint Saens' Carnival of the Animals, pieces by Ravel, Respighi, and Dvorak, plus America's Gottchalk, Britain's Elgar, and music by several Russians. Thank you for listening to all of this. We will transition now to the 20th Century.
TWEN 010 - Comment
Let's do a quick overview about countries and eras of classical music:
Where should one begin discussing 20th Century classical music? When and how does a movement begin? It's impossible to say. For purposes of this class it is easier for me to present cogently if we break down 20th Century music into three separate thread of thought like this:
1. First, composers whose music is largely a continuation from the Romantic era.
2. Composers who were more creative than the continuation group, especially as regards harmonic or rhythmic innovations, or adaptation of elements outside the usual classical scope. Also in this category is the creation of an 'American' sound by several American composers.
3. Truly advant garde composers who brought really new approaches to modern music in the 'classical' style.
These three categories are NOT chronological. They are three parallel threads. For example, some of the most avant garde music was composed by World War I. And some of the Romantic continuation work has been done recently. But I think you will see these different threads clearly. Note: musicologists might well disagree with this categorization of 20th Century music, but it works pretty well for me.
CONTINUATION OF ROMANTIC STYLE INTO TWENTIETH CENTURY-------------------
TWEN 101 HUNG - Kalman - Comment
I'll start the 20th Century discussion with a transitional piece. This is by the Hungarian composer, Kalman, and is from his opera, 'The Gypsy Princess.' I understand this opera - which is virtually unknown in the U.S. - is still very popular in central Europe and the one-time Soviet Union. The name is misleading, as the opera has no actual princesses in it. I present it here because it was first performed in 1915, early in World War I, well into the twentieth century, yet surely qualifies as Romantic style. This is a good illustration that named eras like Baroque or Romantic are not precise but rather fade in and out over intervals of time. The other interesting thing to me about this is that it sounds as if it could easily be written by an American. It has the sort of upbeat, confident sound of much 20th Century American classical music. This opera, or more correctly, operetta, ends as two young couples, united by typical operetta foolishness, and the mother of one of them all head to America to perform as a musical troupe, while unwittingly barely escaping the start of World War I.
See Wikipedia for more about Kalman.
TWEN 103 RUSS - Dmitry Kabalevsky - Comment
Russia produced a number of good composers of what I am calling the Romantic continuation approach. I'll play a short piece here by Dmitry Kabalevsky called 'The Gallop', from 'The Comedians.' As you can hear, it sounds pretty much Romantic, even though he was not even born until 1904.
See Wikipedia for more about Kabalevsky.
TWEN 105 FRAN - Jarre - Comment
Let's mention the French composer, Maurice Jarre ('jar'). He's one of those people who composed primarily for movies and yet some of his music has come to be treated as classical. This adoption of music composed for movies or Broadway as classical was quite common in the 20th Century, especially in America. So, what we have here is the overture to the movie 'Lawrence of Arabia.'
See Wikipedia for more about Jarre.
TWEN 111 AMER - Rozsa - Comment
A great American hero named Lew Wallace was commissioned to come to New Mexico as governor for a few years in the late 1880s. At that time New Mexico included what is now called Arizona, and the capital of it all was in Santa Fe. While living in Santa Fe as Governor he published his famous novel 'Ben Hur.' About half a century later, American composer Miklos Rozsa (R O S Z A) wrote the music for the movie version of this classic book. Some of that music is now treated as classical. I'll play 'The Parade of the Charioteers.'
See Wikipedia for more about Rozsa.
TWEN 115 AMER - Grofe - Canyon Comment
Let's move on to another American composer in the Romantic continuation vein, Ferde Grofe. His music, while obviously done in the 20th Century, nevertheless in spirit is very much Romantic, as he often tries to convey the feeling of being in the American West. 'The Grand Canyon Suite' is an excellent example of this. Here is 'On the Trail' from the that Suite. About half way through this piece he depicts the brays and clip-clop walking sound of the mules that tourists ride from the rim of the Canyon to the bottom.
See Wikipedia for more about Grofe.
TWEN 121 AMER - Thomson - Comment
Another composer who is best known for music he did for a movie is Virgil Thomson. I discovered his music called 'The Plow that Broke the Plains' many years ago but only recently discovered the movie that it was composed for. 'The Plow that Broke the Plains' was a half hour documentary commissioned by the government in 1930s to document the apparent ecological effects of plowing up the grasslands of Oklahoma and Kansas. This particular section is called 'Cattle'. You will see why.
TWEN 123 AMER - Thompson - The River Comment
Another documentary which Thompson was hired to do the music for is called 'The River'. In this case the topic is the effects of deforestation near the headwaters of Mississippi. The program blames this deforestation for flooding in the lower Mississippi. I'll play the brief 'Prelude', and then 'Big River.'
See Wikipedia for more about Thomson.
TWEN 131 BRIT - Webber - Cats Memory Comment
Let's go to Britain for a several examples of this category of 20th Century classical music: namely the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. He has written far more musicals than most people are aware.
What we call now a 'musical' is very close to what traditionally would have been called an opera, as these musicals involve costume, scenery, action, singing, symphonic music, etc. But the question still is, 'Is this music classical?' Remember we have characterized classical music as being: (1) Symphonic or using instruments from a symphony orchestra; (2) being of high quality; and (3) having an element of timelessness. Try to decide whether each piece has enough of these elements for it to eventually be treated as classical. First I'll play a bit of 'Memory' from 'Cats' which was on Broadway for 30 years.
TWEN 133 BRIT - Webber - Phantom Comment
And of course, nearly everyone is aware of the music from 'Phantom of the Opera'
TWEN 135 BRIT - Webber - Whistle Comment
Finally, here is a segment from the less well known work, 'Whistle Down the Wind.' If you are not familiar with this work, I'll just mention that the two singers here are a naive young woman and an escaped convict who she had been led to believe is Jesus Christ returned to earth.
See Wikipedia for more about Webber.
TWEN 138 BRIT - Schonberg - Les Mis Comment
Webber is not the only Broadway musical writer deserving of the adjective of 'classical'. For example, consider this final couple of minutes of Les Miserable.
See Wikipedia for more about Schonberg.
TWEN 141 AMER - H Shore - Comment
Back in America, I want to play a segment from The Lord of the Rings that is composed by Howard Shore. I will play a segment The Fellowship of the Ring called 'Concerning Hobbits.' Note that this music is essentially very well done, modern music in the Romantic vein. The only musically innovative thing I hear in this piece is what seems to be frequent switching between major and minor keys, to track the mood as it becomes more thoughtful, then more positive, then more thoughtful, etc.
See Wikipedia for more about Shore.
TWEN 151 AMER - Enya - Comment.mp3
And here is another slightly different style piece from the Lord of the Rings (specifically from The Return of the King). This piece is by the modern composer, Enya, who you are probably familiar with. It's beautiful and haunting in both sound and word. I have put the text of the lyrics in a file on the CD. The music is definitely in the Romantic tradition, just modernized with electronic enhancement. It just exudes emotion.
See Wikipedia for more about Enya.
TWEN 162 AMER - Williams - Comment
And, speaking of classical-style music in Twentieth Century moves, we must mention John Williams who wrote so much music for the Star Wars movies. Here is his Love Theme from Episode 2.
See Wikipedia for more about Williams.
MORE CREATIVE COMPOSERS IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY ------------------------------------
TWEN 201 FRAN - D Milhaud - Comment
Now we need to talk about the second category of 20th Century composers, who are more creative musically than those we have heard so far. Here's a fun piece to start with. It's a piece by French composer Darius Milhaud. (BTW Milhaud is spelled just like the name of the character Milhaud from the Simpsons.) The title in English is 'The Bull on the Roof.' Note how he uses innovative 'harmony' if we can call it that, which sounds wrong at first until you realize it is exactly the effect he wants.
See Wikipedia for more about Milhaud.
TWEN 205 DNMK - Nielson - Comment
Next let's hear from the Danish composer, Carl Nielson. Nielson's music sounds very modern, and it also seems to have a certain angst or striving about it. I will play a bit of his Symphony No. 4, which is subtitled 'The Inextinguishable.' He is referring to the human spirit, or in his own words, 'the elemental will to live'.
See Wikipedia for more about Nielson.
TWEN 207 CZCH - Martinu - Comment
Another creative European composer in this era that I like a lot is the Czechoslovakian composer Bohuslav Martinu. He was one of millions of people who got caught up in all the troubles of the 20th Century wars in Europe and had to move from country to country to escape the effects of war. He ended up coming to New York and finally became a hit there, thanks to important people in the New York music scene realizing the value of his work. His music just sounds different. It is hard to explain but easy to hear. Here is a little bit from his Symphony No. 4.
See Wikipedia for more about Martinu.
TWEN 211 RUSS - Shostakovich - Comment
A better known composer from the 20th Century is Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. (I include Shostakovich in the Creative group because in his later work he attempted to create a different sound for Russian classical music.) I will tell you about his career in two phases, which I will simply call his Early and Late phases. First, I'll play for you a couple of bits from his Early phase, when traditional symphonies and ballets were his major contribution. Here is part of his Symphony No. 5. If you like your classical music to be, umm, INTENSE, you will probably like early Shostakovich pieces.
TWEN 213 RUSS - Shostakovich - Gold Comment
During his early era, Shostakovich was subject to a lot of pressure from Russian censors who wanted him to support the governmental regime with his compositions. For example, to this purpose he composed a ballet, called in English 'The Age of Gold.' The name of this ballet is sometimes translated as 'The Golden Age', which very incorrect, as it was in fact intended as a satire of Western Capitalism. Thus the title could have been 'The Age of Capitalism', but it was softened a bit. Now, Shostakovich himself was not that political. He was pressured into such works. Here is a dance from an old recording of the Age of Gold conducted by the legendary Leopold Stokowski.
TWEN 215 RUSS - Shostakovich - Jazz Comment
Later in his life (the Late Period as I refer to it) more Russian censors came to Shostakovich and asked if he couldn't compose happier music. His response was, 'I could, but I would have to adopt an American style to do so.' But imitating America was a really bad idea to them. So, after some thought, Shostakovich suggested that he adopt a jazz style, since jazz was the music of a disadvantaged minority in the United States. The censors liked that idea. Now, the question is, exactly what would a Russian composer, thousands of miles from America, perceive jazz to be? Well, not quite what Americans would describe jazz to be. Shostakovich's jazz-influenced music is indeed lighter than his earlier music. It's happier than his earlier music. And he uses some jazz instruments, such as the saxophone and muted cornet. But mostly it sounds to me simply like American-influenced Russian music. I'll play you just a couple of pieces. Here is one called Waltz 2 from Jazz Suite No. 2. This was used beautifully in a movie version of Anna Karenina, which you can find on YouTube.
TWEN 217 RUSS - Shostakovich - Suite Comment
And here is another short sample of his Jazz-influenced period from his 'Suite No. 1 for Variety Orchestra.' Some of the music in these Suites was actually done for movies and is very upbeat. Gone is the angst of his Early period.
See Wikipedia for more about Shostakovich.
TWEN 221 GERM - Orff - Comment
Carl Orff was a creative German composer in the 20th Century. You have perhaps heard some of his Carmina Burana, which is old monastery drinking songs set to his modern music style. It has a haunting sound, but it's not what I like particularly like by Orff. Instead I'm enamored of a little opera he wrote called Der Mond, or The Moon. It's an exact telling of the Grimm's Fairy Tale about how the moon came to be in the sky. Of course, the story is highly fanciful, but it makes good material for an opera. Orff has adapted this classic tale beautifully.
I need to say a bit more about this piece, because here we have the classic difficulty with opera in that the words are not in English, but rather German. Since I know a little German that is not especially a problem to me. I don't mind the sound of it. I like recognizing a word occasionally. But most American listeners are not used to hearing operas in German. Italian maybe, but not German. So try to just focus on the general feel and sound if the German is a little too foreign to you.
Here is a synopsis of the Grimm tale.
Four young men visit a town with a mechanical lighted moon hung high in an oak tree. These four villagers have never seen such a moon before and decide they could use this moon to light their own village at night, and be well paid for it. So they steal the moon and hang it in their own village, supplying it with fuel, and receiving a tidy little income from it. As the four men grow old and die, they each request that their quarter of the moon be buried with them. When the last one dies, the village is dark again at night. But the four quarters of the moon are reunited in the underworld, and the dead begin to awake. The dead enjoy the light, begin to play games, drink, and have an ongoing big party. St. Peter then goes comes down to earth from heaven, and demands that the dead lie back in their coffins. Then he takes the moon and throws it into the heavens, forming a permanent moon for all earthlings to have light at night.
I will now play six short segments from Der Mond. By the way, in my opinion the only good recording of this opera is the one by the Leipzig Radio Orchestra. At one time my two-LP boxed set of Der Mond, by Deutsche Gramophone, was one of my most treasured possessions.
See Wikipedia for more about Orff.
TWEN 231 AMER - Copland - Comment
It's time to talk more about American composers on the 20th Century. We will begin with Aaron Copeland. Copeland was one of a small group of composers who made a conscious, concerted effort to try to develop a sort of musical vocabulary for American music. How would you define American music? Well, that's tough. One thing you do is you throw in snippets of well-known music such as American hymns or folk songs. For example, Copeland used the Shaker song, 'Simple Gifts' in one of his pieces very effectively. He wrote the music for a ballet at the request of Martha Graham, but didn't name it, though he knew roughly what the ballet was he was writing for. He just sent it to her titled, 'Ballet for Martha.' She titled it 'Appalachian Spring.'
TWEN 233 AMER - Copland - Comment
Copland used a very different approach to evoke the wide-open feeling of the American West for his Ballet, Billy the Kid, among others. To do this he chose to de-emphasize strings and emphasize woodwinds and brass, as well as incorporating other clues that you can try to identify. Here is a segment from the Billy the Kid.
See Wikipedia for more about Copland.
TWEN 241 AMER - Gershwin - Rhapsody Comment
And now for a little bit of music from one of the more famous American composers. These next several pieces are all strongly affected by Jazz. I consider this amalgamation of traditional orchestration with Jazz to be significantly creative. Consider George Gershwin. Gershwin is more known for popular pieces he composed for musicals and movies, such as An American in Paris. But he also composed symphonic pieces such as the very original 'Rhapsody in Blue.' He wrote it originally for piano only, but it was orchestrated by Ferde Grofe, whose own compositions we heard earlier. At the very first, you'll hear a signature clarinet glissando, which was added at the last minute at the suggestion of the clarinetist. I played the clarinet in high school and I still don't know how this kind of sound comes from a clarinet. Here is the first few minutes of Rhapsody in Blue.
See Wikipedia for more about Gershwin.
TWEN 243 AMER - Bolling - Comment
I am reminded a bit of Darius Milhaud when I think of American composer Claude Bolling. Some of their pieces have a similar feel to me. Bolling added elements of jazz into a lot of his compositions. I'll play a bit of his Suite for Chamber Orchestra and Jazz Piano. (I am told that a jazz piano is tuned slightly differently than a regular piano.)
See Wikipedia for more about Bolling.
TWEN 245 AMER - Baker - Comment
An American composer you probably have not heard of is David Baker. David Baker is a Ph. D. musicologist. He is also African-American and his work closely integrates classical and jazz traditions. I would make this personal observation about the difference, as I perceive it, between Baker on the one hand and Bolling and maybe Gershwin on the other. Baker grew up in the culture for which we are indebted for jazz. So jazz was likely a part of his life from birth, and his classical style music might be said to be built around a center of Jazz. In contrast, I would say Bolling, for example, started out as a classical composer and added the jazz influence. I'll now play a portion of Baker's 'Jazz Suite for Clarinet.'
See Wikipedia for more about Baker.
AVANT GARDE TWENTIETH CENTURY COMPOSERS ----------------------------------------
TWEN 301 AMER - Ives - Comment
The third type of 20th Century music I mentioned is the truly avant garde. I will begin with a couple of pieces by Charles Ives. Charles Ives was one of the first really outstanding, truly innovative modern composers. He did things differently. His music has a lot of 'wrong' notes. Yet once you hear one of his pieces a few times, the wrong notes seem oh-so-right. I'll start with 'At the River' which is based on an old gospel song which goes like this' 'Shall we gather at the river, Where bright angel feet have trod, With its crystal tide forever, Flowing by the throne of God?' If you are not used to hearing that song, then the riffs Ives does on it won't be quite as interesting to you. But it is still pretty cool music.
TWEN 303 AMER - Ives - Variations Comment
In a similar vein, here is a segment from Ives' 'Variations on America'; that is, on the song 'America'.
See Wikipedia for more about Ives.
TWEN 307 GERM - Stockhausen - Comment
While Germany was not a very big source of classical music in the 20th Century, there were a few composers we should mention.
Some 20th Century composers took the new electronic music capabilities that were being created by the burgeoning electronics industry and ran with it as a medium for composition. I am referring to instruments like the Moog Synthesizer.
In my opinion these early machines were too primitive to be used for music that would appeal to most classical music audiences. That situation slowly changed over the following decades, to the point that sometimes we listeners aren't even aware whether parts - or even all - of a performance are being done electronically. I think that is just fine… if the music is great, it doesn't matter to me how it was produced. (Well, I certainly don't want live symphony performances to be replaced by a computer, but I am assuming that is unlikely.)
I want to play for you one piece from this early electronic era. As I said, to me such music amounts to a failed experiment. But some listeners will disagree. Here is part of a piece called 'Contact' by Karlheinz Stockhausen. You may disagree that this is 'classical music', but that is what it was intended to be.
See Wikipedia for more about Stockhausen.
TWEN 311 RUSS - Stravinsky - Comment
Well, next I'll show you that classical composers can be innovative without adopting any fancy new instruments. Igor Stravinsky was a born a Russian. But he moved to Switzerland just in time to escape WWI, then later spent many years in France. He moved to the US just as the beginning of WWII.
Stravinsky was one of those people who seemed always to be pushing the envelope artistically. He wrote this amazing piece called 'Le Sacre Du Printemp', or literally translated, the 'Sacrement of Spring'. Or,as usually translated, 'The Rite of Spring'. The name refers to a pagan spring sacrificial ritual.
I'm going to play a couple of short selections from it. Remember: this was composed around 1915. It is pretty dramatic music. In fact, the story goes that when Stravinsky was directing this himself in New York for the first time, the audiences were shocked. It was so dramatic, so loud, so … , so different! At one point, as many were leaving the theatre in disgust, a man from the audience jumped up on the stage with a program coiled up in his hand and started beating Stravinsky on the back of the head while he was conducting. Stravinsky paid him no mind. Either he didn't notice or he didn't care and the wild music went on. Boy, did it. This is another performance directed by Leopold Stokowski. It old, but well done. I'll play three short segments. For full effect it should be played rather loud.
See Wikipedia for more about Stravinsky.
TWEN 321 AMER - Glass - Comment
I'll end this class with a discussion of a very interesting 20th Century composer. His name was Phillip Glass. He has been around quite a while but has gotten a little more well-known recently. His music is very different. Before getting into it too much, I will play a piece of his Dance 3 from an album called The Upper Room. Then we can discuss it a little bit better.
TWEN 323 AMER - Glass - Explanation Comment
Okay, what in the world was that? Like Baroque music, this music doesn't have a single melody line with accompaniment. Instead, Glass has reverted back to essentially polyphonic music, as in the Baroque Era. If you back up and play the previous piece again you can hear where the first polyphonic line, or thread, begins. Then a second thread begins at a higher or lower tone, with a faster or slower tempo. Then a third begins at yet a different tone level, and a different pace. When it gets to four threads, I lose track of the separate threads, and instead am just immersed in the hypnotic sound.
This next piece is called just 'Dance 4.' The polyphonic threads here are way too complex for me to keep them all going in my mind - not that the Glass ever expected anyone to do so. Instead, they just have this great hypnotic effect.
By the way, the technical name for this music style is minimalism, due to the very short note cycles which are repeat and repeated with slight changes. This music has been widely accepted as classical now. Let's play a bit of 'Dance 4' and also 'Dance 8.'
TWEN 327 AMER - Glass - Orpheus Comment
Glass has composed Operas too, using the same minimalistic approach. Some of them I just don't care for. But I like his Suite named Orpheus, Yes, after all the music we have played, we end up with music which is not only polyphonic, but is inspired by the same Orpheus in the Underworld story that inspired the first piece we played by Claudio Monteverdi from the Renaissance era, and inspired Offenbach when he wrote the Can Can. But to end on what is to me a humorous piece, I am going to play the one segment from Glass' Orpheus which is not fully polyphonic. Instead Glass applies his minimalistic approach slightly differently in this opening cafe scene. Listen to how he plays with the music, doing endless variations of a short melody to the point that it seems the pianist has forgotten where he is. Then he seems to suddenly remember what he was doing and jumps back to the main theme. It still has Glass' usual hypnotic effect when the pianist is lost in his variations.
See Wikipedia for more about Glass.
TWEN 998 End Of Class
This is the end of my Introduction to Classical Music. But I hope it is only a beginning, or perhaps reawakening, of your interest in classical music. We have only touched on a fraction of the popularly played classical composers, and barely tasted the product of each of those we did touch. I hope you have found some composers that make you want to go look for more music by them, and that your life may be continually enriched by the almost endless catalog of classical music which is available.