Hello! I'd like to start listening to some classical composers and I was wondering if you'd mind giving a few links to pieces that are good for starting with. It can be anything, really, but I'm interested in Shostakovich and composers like him. Thanks, and I always enjoy seeing your posts on my dash!
hello!! im glad that you like, want to try listening to some of this stuff, but i fear that you’ve asked the wrong person because i am extremely biased towards 20th century and late romantic (so you know, 1860s onwards) kinda classical music BUT I WILL TRY TO BE DIVERSE OK. shostakovich is down in the 20th century section if you wanna skip everything else :)
baroque 1600s - 1750s - ok so i listen to like 0 baroque era but anyway,
vivaldi was also another dude who wrote the four seasons, but he’s also got 12 violin concertos which i guess are worth listening, but i know like 2 baroque pieces so im not the best to ask about this era
handel - i don’t remember ever listening to any handel woops but have a look here
scarlatti - same with scarlatti, but im pretty sure all he did was piano sonatas so you know go nuts
classical 1750s - 1830s - mozart, haydn, gluck and beethoven are your main guys here, sometimes schubert is included in this era but sometimes argued into the romantic era (i think so), but yeah, i don’t listen to this era much as well
mozart, he’s got some cool symphonies, like no. 40 and no. 25, which are prob his most famous and his only two in minor keys i think that’s cool, classic string quartet like eine kleine nachtmusik, concertos like piano, flute and horn and it goes on forever
20th century/modern - 1900s - present. my favourite era, probably yours too if you’re looking into shostakovich and friends! im not going to get into present-day classical music because there’s just so much! also im gonna be biased and put my favourite composers here:
shostakovich - as you mentioned, you’re interested in shostakovich. he’s best known in his symphonies. for starters, listen to no 5, no 7 and no 11, they’re his main symphonies, and go on from there! they are long, and that’s the thing about 20th century/modern music, things start to get BIG. he’s also got piano concerto no 1 and no 2, a cello concerto, and 15 string quartets which are all worth a listen, but his most famous one i think is no 8. there’s a lot of shostakovich!
mahler - kinda earlier than shostakovich, he influenced shostakovich a fair bit. mahler has like ten symphonies. i think no 5 is his famous one, but no 6 is quite famous as well (probably because of the hammer), and i also like no 3, but they can be so long. otherwise i haven’t listened to anything else by mahler besides his symphonies (also try symphony no 1 mvt 3, frere jacques as a funeral march!)
other great 20th century composers: bartok, britten, vaughan williams, sibelius, barber, poulenc, satie, ligeti, janacek, lutoslawski, stravinsky, shall i continue? this is where music gets interesting, listen to them you’ll hear some of them sound completely different! that’s why i don’t want to list any from the present-era, because there are like 791 different things happening rn it’s hard to list even a good broad variety.
that’s my little ridiculously over-the-top excessive guide! i don’t think you’d really need to listen to all of these, just the ones that interest you. i hope this helps!
Beethoven - Piano Sonata no. 29 in Bb Major, “Hammerklavier”
I try to keep my blog varied, and not post music by the same composer twice in a row, but I had listened to Beethoven’s 6th symphony the other day and held off that blog post until today, and today I had a very, very strong itch to wipe the digital dust off of the titan that is the Hammerklavier sonata. I remember in high school, when I was getting more and more into classical music, I was excited to listen to this sonata, because everything I read about it spoke about its epic length and scope. But I also remember being disappointed, because to me, “Epic” Beethoven was something like his 5th piano concerto. This sonata was…weird. It turned me off. It seemed incomprehensible, especially the last movement, a fugue that didn’t sound like anything I’d heard before. As the years passed and my musical tastes ‘matured’ a bit more, I came back to the Hammerklavier and was able to follow along with a new mindset. Beethoven published the work as “Große Sonata für das Hammerklavier”, and indeed he puts a lot of emphasis on “Große”. You’re immediately grabbed by the strength and energy of the first five bars, the main theme that introduces Beethoven’s obsession with the interval of the 3rd [musicologists could go on forever about the different examples of Beethoven building all of the sonata’s musical ideas out of this interval, if you wanted to deconstruct it to the extreme]. And the movement goes on through deceptive “pretty” moments, to jittery octaves, to arpeggios of a single note across the keyboard to “cleanse the palate”, and overall a huge emphasis on counterpoint. The movement is pretty heavy, loud, and, under the surface, complicated. It’s contrasted with the super short scherzo, a playful movement cutting between lighthearted and dramatic music for comedic effect. As if improvising, we get a sudden glide from the bass of the keyboard all the way to the highest note, and then go right back to the lighthearted skipping theme. The short and playful is then contrasted by the long and deeply emotional adagio. It is played anywhere between 15 and 20 minutes [the recording I have with Christopher Eschenbach stretches to nearly half an hour!], and the opening chorale gets expanded through subtle variation as the music goes on, reaching operatic heights, and it sticks out with its relative thinness and solemnity, in compared to the opening extroverted toccata. Despite the pain, we are brought into a major key resolution and coda, a nod of acceptance that things will get better. The last movement, I’m going to argue, is almost…Postmodern. What I mean is that, in a meta-musical gesture, it sounds like Beethoven thinking aloud “I want to end this sonata with a fugue, how will I write it?”, the “cleansing the palate” single note arpeggio comes back, he plays with two different contrapuntal exercises, both sounding Baroque, as if Beethoven is looking through Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier for guidance. But he stops short each time, shakes his head, and tries something else. After a few “restarts”, he finally gets to The Fugue. And how insane it is. He uses a long, complicated melody, that modulates and uses chromatic runs, and writes it into a sprawling ocean of sound, using fugue writing conventions and a sewing-machine type Baroque mentality to create something dense, nearly atonal, robotic. But it isn’t a strict fugue, and breaks the rules here and there [it wouldn’t be True Beethoven without rule breaking]. There is so much conflict, a constant drive forward that is difficult to follow along, but its mesmerizing, until the inevitable slap of the last chords. Throughout his music, Beethoven consistently tries to push the boundaries of convention. Almost like William Blake, a contemporary English poet, Beethoven takes what came before, destroys it, and builds something new with the remains. At the end of the day, we have one of the greatest piano sonatas ever written, by one of the greatest composers of all time. But I’m concerned that all this hype, all this discussion about Beethoven and his music, makes it seem like something on a far off pedestal that only a few “gifted” listeners can enjoy. That’s not true at all. Despite the flowery language, the myth making, the academic and analytical writing, Beethoven is human, and his music is humanist. You don’t need theory to appreciate it, because he always writes from within.
I have a lot of paper ephemera from travels that I still need to add to my journal. Hopefully I can actually get that finished rather than lazing around. Though hey, at least I prepared lunch, ahaha.
It’s also really nice to be playing on the piano again. I’m actually MAKING it a goal to work through the Well-Tempered Clavier, which… will probably take a while since fugues are infuriating. For once, I wish I had my feet.
TO-DO LIST: — unpack a few more things — repasar español — finish abstract for conference — send emails to professors — rework statement of purpose
I believe it impossible to claim irrefutably that any part of the Well-Tempered Clavier belongs exclusively to any one keyboard instrument, whether harpsichord, clavichord, or organ. Furthermore, their piano and forte implications reach far beyond the confines of any mere keyboard instrument. Just as drawings are often sketches of paintings, so are many of the fugues suggestions of choral works.