Classical Music You Didn't Know You Knew
What is Classical Music?
According to Google, the definition of classical music is “serious or conventional music following long-established principles rather than a folk, jazz, or popular tradition”. That doesn’t really mean anything to me so I’ll give you my definition of classical music.
Classical music, defined by me, is music that used to be modern but outlived the people who listened to it when it was modern. With that in mind, think about the day Metallica will be considered classical.
This may not be a very technical definition but it does remove some of the opacity that surrounds classical music and will hopefully make this hub more enjoyable when thought about in this light.
Where I could I’ve posted an orchestra playing the piece that’s being offered. There are two reasons for this, so you can see which instruments are used and because watching a static screen is boring. Where necessary I have also included the starting time of the portion that is familiar. The following list is in no particular order.
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Let’s begin with the most familiar to everyone
1. A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Felix Mendelssohn
This piece was written at two different times in Mendelssohn’s life. The overture was written in 1826 and the incidental music was written in 1842. He wasn’t procrastinating. An overture was a stand-alone piece of music at the time and sixteen years after the original overture he was commissioned to write some incidental music for a production of the play. They are now presented together. The part you will recognize begins around 43:08.
2. The Planets – Mars, The Bringer of War by Gustav Holst
The Planets consist of seven movements, each named after a planet. "Mars" is the one that is used extensively in both television and the movies. Usually it’s only a very small portion, the percussion and brass dominated parts, but this piece is so recognizable that you know it instantly. This is a very short piece so I’d recommend listening to all of it. The one thing you will definitely come away with is the relentlessness of war.
3. Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 by Franz Liszt
In addition to some of the world’s most famous pianists playing this particular piece of music there have also been some very well-known artists who are not known for their piano playing abilities. The four that come immediately to mind are Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Donald Duck, and Tom the cat (of Tom and Jerry fame). This is also a short piece so it will be easy to listen to it in its entirety. The artist playing is Adam Gyorgy. I took ten years of piano and didn’t come anywhere close to playing like this, even in my dreams.
4. Carmina Burana – Fortune, Empress of the World by Carl Orff
One of the unusual characteristics of this piece is that the opening movement and the closing movement are the same. Since it’s my favorite I don’t mind. This is also used in a number of different locations such as a silver car, I don’t remember the make, driving on a twisting roadway up a mountain or a fury half-man riding on the top of a subway car trying to reach his Beauty before yet another peril strikes her. No need for a marker since the part you’ll recognize is the first three minutes. However, if you choose to listen to the whole thing, it is worth the time.
5. Love for Three Oranges – March by Sergei Prokofiev
If I’m the only one who remembers radio then this one won’t be recognized but if I’m not, then remember the opening of The FBI in Peace and War. It aired from 1944 to 1958 and it must not have been very memorable because the only thing I came away with was the memory of the theme. Love for Three Oranges is actually an opera. A young prince laughs at the wrong person who puts a curse on him that he will love three oranges. He immediately sets out to find them. After trials and tribulations there is a happy ending. Unusual for an opera but then this is a satire. This is a very short piece, not even two full minutes, so enjoy the whole thing.
6. Piano Sonata No. 8 – 2nd Movement by Ludwig van Beethoven
The second movement of this beautiful sonata has been used by many over the years but the two I particularly remember are Louise Tucker with "Midnight Blue" and Billy Joel with "This Night". If you haven’t heard Louise Tucker’s "Midnight Blue", it’s worth a listen. Although the entire piece is beautiful, if you only want to listen to the familiar part move the cursor to 9:40.
7. The Tales of Hoffman – Barcarolle by Jacques Offenbach
The clip I’m supplying is music only but the piece is actually meant for a mezzo-soprano and soprano to sing. This beautiful and hypnotic melody was used for a song, "Adrift on a Star", in the Broadway musical The Happiest Girl in the World. Vic Damone made a popular recording of the song in or around 1961. This is another short piece, just over three minutes.
8. Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini – Variation 18 by Sergei Rachmaninoff
The first time I heard this piece, the 18th variation was a complete surprise. I had heard the melody before but had no idea where it came from. Where had I heard it? It was the background music for Maxwell House coffee commercial. The clip I’m supplying for this piece has an interesting introduction with the pianist talking to an interviewer. He explains what is meant by variations on a theme. As always, if you would rather go straight to the part you’ll recognize it begins at 20:18.
9. Flight of the Bumblebee by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
This should be instantly recognizable. You hear it in allergy commercials, other commercials that are trying to convey speed, movies, especially insect or chase scenes, and, let’s not forget, the theme song of the radio program The Green Hornet.
10. William Tell Overture by Gioachino Rossini
This overture consists of four parts and, quite possibly, all four parts will be familiar. Cartoons from the 1940’s and 1950’s used this music to depict morning, butterflies flying around, and storms but it’s the final part, the finale that will be the most familiar. Think “High ho Silver, away!” The finale begins at 8:05.
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There are so many more wonderful pieces of classical music that everyone has heard in one form of another but the list would just go on and on and this hub would never be finished. I hope you enjoy the music I’ve told you about and that it has helped you realize that, like it or not, you do know some classical music.
© 2016 Cecelia Switzer
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