An introduction to classical music.

Aug 25, 2017

I have recently found an interesting video of "non musicians" reacting to classical music.

Naturally, I find these kinds of videos as cheesy as you can possibly get. Then again, it does raise an interesting question: what would you play if you had to introduce people to classical music?

I'm interested to see what you think. Below, drop a list of 5 compositions of any classical genre (orchestral, chamber or piano solo) and maybe we can discuss our choices on this subject.
Stating performers or specific performances are optional.

So, What would your playlist be if you wanted to introduce friends and family to the world of classical music?


Mine would be:
Beethoven's Waldstein sonata
Liszt's B minor sonata (Personal preference: Evgeny Kissin 2011 performance)
Chopin's first piano concerto
Beethoven's string quartet no. 14
Liszt's Faust Symphony.
Probably start with the big romantic composers, only because straight to classical or baroque is harder for non-classical musicians to understand.
@Ayden.McDonald In what way harder? True a piano piece from the romantic era may be more impressive to watch but the music of mozart, bach and Haydn can have a lot of beauty and charm, if chosen well. That being said, I'd replace the Faust Symphony with the Jupiter Symphony on my list.
Romanticism is the closest style to what they would broadly consider 'classical music' - such as film music over the past 90 years. So in the same sense it is easy for them to appreciate because they can associate themselves with it by living in a time of romantic film composition. Music from the classical period may come across as foreign, although can be appreciated, it would never truly be understood for example - any fugue by Bach won't be understood unless you have prior knowledge of how a fugue works etc. Im not saying they can't enjoy the music, but have a lesser understanding (trying to not sound pretentious).
My top five would be:
1. Rach 2
2. Liszt - any Paganini study
3. Mahler 2
4. Beethoven either 5, 6 or 9th symphony
5. Any Mozart aria or piano sonata

Its really too hard to decide, the list could go on forever - just like studying this music is endless with so many composer/compositions and emerging works. But just to add, I think starting with big name composer like Beethoven is good because at least everyone (hopefully) knows who he is.
@Ayden.McDonald Oh no, of course we should include some romantic masterpieces because that is where the most exciting stuff happens. But I think its important to balance this wildness with a more traditional melody/accompaniment style. Of which some works can be just as exciting as romantic extravaganzas. Mozart's C minor sonata is just one of many examples of this.
I would never introduce someone to classical music with Mozart (and avoid Brahms as well) because that just further stereotypes what classical music is all about especially to someone who's musically uneducated. They'll probably just go like "Oh, yea that's how all classical music is like, bores me, i'll just go back to Hardwell"

You're probably better off introducing them something that sounds like star wars or just film music in general that are recorded with the traditional orchestra. Like Richard Wagner.

Or really beautiful piano solo pieces by Chopin and Scriabin. But be sure you choose wisely and not give them the same usual one's that are always promoted in tv shows and films they watch whenever a character plays the piano.

1. Wagner's Die Meistersinger overture
2. Scriabin's Etude opus 42. no. 5
3. Scriabin's symphony no. 2 5th movement
4. Scriabin's Sonata no. 3
5. Scriabin's sonata no. 4
1. Richard Wagner - Die Meistersinger overture
2. Scriabin - Symphony no. 2 5th movement
3. Scriabin - Sonata no.4
4. Scriabin Sonata no 3
5. Scriabin Etude 42 no5

Avoid Mozart and Brahms because you would be enforcing the stereotype of what classical music is to people who are musically uneducated.
@Charles Tsai Scriabin Admirer But surely playing Wagner and Scriabin to people who want to get into classical music would make them think "Wow, so this is what people call classical music? It's pretentiously atonal and brash". I'm not saying it's garbage music. But It's certainly more of an acquired taste that requires a lot more open mindedness than pieces from the earlier romantic period.
@Friedrich Hueppe I disagree with you and have you tried listening to any of the ones I listed? none of them are even close to sounding atonal. I didn't list any of Scriabin's later works because I know that's gonna be harder to get into. And the whole deal with "acquired taste" is subjective in the case with Mozart and the pieces I listed since they're all actually tonal. But by the way, Gustav Holst's Jupiter perhaps is a good one to get people into classical music.
Liszt's B minor sonata is such an outstandingly perfect composition in itself and even more perfect for the new classical ear because it combines most of if not everything that classical music is known for. Extensive structures, diverse textures, wild dissonance that doesn't get resolved, dissonance that does get resolved, majestic climaxes, divine arias, violent storms and the fugue.

It's well and truly perfect for the new classical musician.
Liszt Sonata in B minor
Beethoven Quartet No. 14
Mozart Jupiter Symphony
Beethoven Waldstein Sonata
Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time

I think its important to focus less on reinforcing/contradicting stereotypes in classical music and focus more on the diverse output of composers throughout history. Hence I have changed my list to include the convention, the extreme and most importantly the middle ground!
So here goes my new list:

1. Wagner's Tannhauser overture
2. Scriabin's symphony no. 2 5th movement
3. Gustav Holst's Jupiter
4. Rachmaninoff's piano concerto no. 2 (this one is easy for anyone or most people to get into)
5. Nikolai Kapustin's 8 Etudes from Opus. 40

Hopefully this list makes more sense to you instead of my usual Scriabin bias :)
I know of some people (myself included) either musician or non-musician who have a very hard time getting into music of Mozart because we think Mozart actually takes some open mindedness to accept as well. It's all relative and subjective.
My whole deal in proposing that we shouldn't enforce the stereotypes of classical music with Mozart is because everybody already thinks and knows what classical music generally sounds like. Mozart is one of the composers nobody in the world is not familiar with. If you showed them people like Piazzolla or Nikolai Kapustin, or some of the Scriabin's middle early works or even Wagner, you'd be doing a good job in showing them how classical music isn't just what they thought it was. In my opinion it's a better way to spark interest for them to want to get into more of classical music.
@Charles Tsai Scriabin Admirer I see what you're saying. I admit I was a little bit one-sided about Scriabin. The only piece I have listened to of his was the 5th sonata. I had mixed opinions about that piece. Listening to a few of his other works and I must say he does some very interesting things. I am now very fond of the second sonata for starters! I will dig into more of his pieces in due time!

About the Mozart, yes it is true that a lot of people are already familiar with mozart's general style but some of his pieces are significantly more popular than others. See, I'd much rather play someone the fantasy in C minor than the second movement of the 21st piano concerto. The same way I would rather play someone the 32nd Beethoven sonata over Fur Elise. It's a popular assumption that all Mozart is cheery, cheery la di da in a pretty major key and forget that a lot more drama can be found in compositions that not everyone is instantly familiar with. I don't want to demean the popular classical pieces because there is a reason why they became so popular in the first place. Because they are attractive and catchy.

I love your inclusion of rach 2 by the way.
@Friedrich Hueppe thank you! I consider myself a Scriabin evangelist and I am glad to hear that you're digging into his stuff now :) . Also check out Nikolai Kapustin if you haven't. Very Very interesting composer who incorporate jazz into western classical music.
The other pieces of Scriabin I would urge you to check out are:
The whole symphony no 2.
Sonata no. 4
Sonata no. 3
Etude opus 8 no 12
Poeme opus 32 no 1
Etude opus 42 no 5

I got into Scriabin 10 years ago because of those pieces. Many of which are love at first sight(listen) kind of experience for me so I wouldn't underestimate the power of these pieces at getting people who aren't musical trained into classical music.

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