Essential Classical Composers to listen to...

jononotbono

Luke Johnson
I was wondering if anyone could help with guiding me on a journey of listening to what you deem as essential Classical music that everyone should have in their vocabulary? I know this is probably an endless thing but I'm just after some guidance to get me on my way to knowing what is regarded as essential classical music. I'm not ashamed to show my ignorance of this musical world as I'm trying to better myself and as I keep improving with music theory and attempting to learn Tonal Harmony (so I can hopefully one day be great at writing music for an Orchestra) I really want to start studying Classical music but it's knowing where to start that's feeling overwhelming to me. Obviously I'm not completely alien to Classical music and love pieces such as the Moonlight Sonata or Ride of the Valkyries (two examples that just pop to my head), but every time, for example, I go to buy some Mozart from iTunes, I just don't know what I should start with (probably buy all of it is the ideal solution if I could afford to) and there isn't some kind of Complete Collection on there.

So far I notice people always talk about Mahler, Ravel, Shostakovich, and obviously Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. I remember listening to Chopin when I was very little (my mum loved Chopin) and yeah, there are just so many composers and so much music that I was wondering if people could share what their most influential pieces are and what you would recommend for me to listen to.

Serves me right for spending the majority of my life listening to Rock and Electronic music but now I need to catch up! :)

A lot of people seem to complain that all people ever talk about on VI-C are Sample Libraries so perhaps this is a great opportunity to talk about music and some guidance would be splendiferous! Sorry for such a naive post but we all start somewhere!

Jono
 

Jimmy Hellfire

Senior Member
Just a spontaneous throw-in: Ravel, La Mere L'oye. It's genius.
Tchaikowsky, that was film music before there was cinema.
Saint-Saëns. Danse Macabre, Carnival of the Animals.
Holst, Planets, that's where all this Star Wars doodle came from.
Prokofiev, Lieutenant Kije.
 
OP
jononotbono

jononotbono

Luke Johnson
Just a spontaneous throw-in: Ravel, La Mere L'oye. It's genius.
Tchaikowsky, that was film music before there was cinema.
Saint-Saëns. Danse Macabre, Carnival of the Animals.
Holst, Planets, that's where all this Star Wars doodle came from.
Prokofiev, Lieutenant Kije.
Thanks! Amazing, I shall check them all out. Although I do know The Planets Suite. Again, something my mum played to me when I was much younger. Holst is a genius.
 

Jaap

Senior Member
Jimmy has a nice start :)

Here some additions for you.

John Adams: Harmonielehre and Short ride in a fast machine



A favorite piece of mine from Vaughan Williams


A lesser known symphony from Shostakovich, but a great one (and conducted by Gergiev)


Gorecki - Symphony no.3 - a snippet was recently used in the a Medal of Honor game trailer

 

Iskra

Active Member
If you want to comprehend classical music I think you should listen to the usual suspects (don't know exactly what you're listened to or not, so bare with me) - I mean, just grab a couple of 'classical greatest hits' album from Spotify and check what speaks to you the most from the start (those albums will have a mix of Bach, Haydn & Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms, etc). This is for general purpose, from there you can dig deeper on what you've find pleasant.
For orchestration chops, I would recommend listening a lot to late romantics/ early contemporary, as the modern orchestra was defined in that era (baroque or classical orchestras were pretty different in size and instrumentation than modern orchestras). Anything by Richard Strauss, Ravel, Debussy, Rimsky-Korsakov, Prokofiev and Stravinsky will give you good insight on modern musical vocabulary plus an amazing amount of orchestration discoveries.
And, as a side note, I'm a huge fan of chamber music, as many times the musical vocabulary of the composers are more sincere and 'naked' in those settings (from Beethoven strings quartet all the way to Debussy's sonata for violin and piano, you have around 100 years of chamber music creation ;) )
It's a hell of a lot, I know. Just start and enjoy! I wish I was still able to discover some of the greatest composers and live again the feeling I had back then... :)
 

muk

Senior Member
Bach Well Tempered Clavier. Haydn string quartets (at least op. 33). Mozart last three symphonies, Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, clarinet concerto, viennese piano concertos (at least d minor K 466). Beethoven all symphonies (yes, all), piano sonatas (at least one of each period), string quartets (at least opp. 18 no 1, one of the Rasumovsky quartets, and one of his last quartets, for example op. 130), piano concerto no. 5. Schubert string quartets (Rosamunde, Death and the Maiden), symphonies (c major 'the great', unfinished symphony), his last piano sonata b flat major D 960, his string quintet. That's just the bare basics off the top of my head.
And if you want to make sense of it not just by hearing, read Charles Rosen's excellent book 'The classical style':

 

JPComposer

Senior Member
You could say that Mozart was, in a way, one of the great pioneer film score writers with his operas. The overture to The Marriage of Figaro is one of my favourite all time pieces, not just because it's good in itself, but because of the way it foreshadows and sums up all of the ups and downs and ins and outs of the (comic) opera.



and for something a bit darker, one of the earliest examples of something 'sinister' perhaps


 

Iskra

Active Member
Check "Love of the three oranges" as well ;) And of course his piano concertos (top stuff!).
Also worth checking Heitor Villalobos from the contemporary side of things (the Bachianas Brasileiras comes to mind).
 

Carles

Senior Member
A comprehensive list would result so long...

Thinking about more "modern" inspiration and orchestration a few that came to mind

Great orchestration, great inspiration

I have no words to describe this, just magical

This is a quite unknown composer from New Zealand

Really descriptive
 

enyawg

Member
I find Richard Strauss generated an abundance of ideas... often with harmonic richness and yet the sense of delicate accompaniment. Check out his tone poems which is a sort of gateway to modern orchestration.

As a polar opposite I'm also a big fan of "The Mighty Five", a group of five Russian composers—César Cui, Aleksandr Borodin, Mily Balakirev, Modest Mussorgsky, and Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov—who in the 1860s banded together in an attempt to create a truly unique musical movement in Russia free of the stifling influence of Italian opera, German lieder, and other western European forms.
 
OP
jononotbono

jononotbono

Luke Johnson
A comprehensive list would result so long...

Thinking about more "modern" inspiration and orchestration a few that came to mind

Great orchestration, great inspiration

I have no words to describe this, just magical

This is a quite unknown composer from New Zealand

Really descriptive
Thank you for sharing these!

I find Richard Strauss generated an abundance of ideas... often with harmonic richness and yet the sense of delicate accompaniment. Check out his tone poems which is a sort of gateway to modern orchestration.

As a polar opposite I'm also a big fan of "The Mighty Five", a group of five Russian composers—César Cui, Aleksandr Borodin, Mily Balakirev, Modest Mussorgsky, and Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov—who in the 1860s banded together in an attempt to create a truly unique musical movement in Russia free of the stifling influence of Italian opera, German lieder, and other western European forms.
Interesting. Someone recently recommended a Tonal Harmony book and I think it was by Rimsky Korsakov.

Edit - My bad. It was Kostka
 

Sibelius19

Music is just color and rhythm --Debussy
So much to choose from, and so much good stuff. Here are just a handful of my favorites. So this is the most influential music for myself.
(sorry this is such a long list)

 

Sibelius19

Music is just color and rhythm --Debussy
Ok, cool, I think at least one of Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov's books is called 'Principles of Orchestration (Study & Practice)'
Used to own that, but it had some missing pages so I gave it away. Very insightful from what I read --not unlike Berlioz' treatise on instrumentation. Both books kind of give insight into the best ways to use various instruments (like when to use or not use Clarinet as opposed to a Piccolo...or when best to use Trumpet, etc. etc.) I heard that he (Korsakov) believed that ingenuity and creativity trumped all else, including rote knowledge of orchestration. Interesting considering he was a pretty big music scholar. Interestingly, I think Berlioz fit the description of having ingenuity and creativity --kind of auto didactic and used his own eccentric ideas of orchestration (also heard he was obsessed with using the Piccolo).