Monday, March 03, 2008

High Brow

I've been listening to a couple of John Cale albums from the early 70s, the pop masterpiece Paris 1919 and the "I was classically trained, you know" The Academy in Peril. The latter has performed a miracle on me. It has got me into classical music.

But where do I start?

How I could have done with middle class parents, a mother who read Shakespeare and a father who listened to Bach, instead of being saddled with a mum who listened to Jimmy Young and a dad who read Wilbur Smith. I wish I'd had expensive private lessons to learn the cello instead of learning basic strumming guitar chords from my dad's long-haired factory worker friend.

My humble background is a cross to bear, but I don't let it get me down.

On Saturday I got a few classical CDs out of the library and I kind of like them. But I'm a newbie to all this and I don't know which are the cool composers, the majestic musicians or the commanding conductors. It's all a mystery to me.

Is Brahms the U2 of classical music? Is Bartok the James Blunt? Who do I adore and who do I avoid?

How on earth do I acquire taste with no guidelines, no classical "blood", no classical "ear"?

I'd be grateful for your suggestions, my learned friends.


  1. Pick some tunes that you know, and see what else is on the CD. Enigma variations, Fingal's cave, that sort of thing.
    Then move on to Tchaikovski, Mendelssohn and Bach. Get a Bach compilation rather than trying "The Complete Sonatas". For Tchaik & Mend, as us experts know them, try the violin and piano concertos and Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony. If you are still up for it, dabble in a bit of Wagner, Sibelius, Handel and Vivaldi. Try to listen to Telemann's viola concerto, and Bruch's Scottish fantasy. If you like these, then try to work out why Bruch's violin concerto was voted the favourite classical work in the first years of Classic FM's Easter poll.
    If after, all of this, you are getting the hang of it then you can progress to Beethoven and Mozart. You might, like me, get completely addicted. Don't rush it. If, after 6 or 9 months you find yourself listening to, say, the Beethoven 4th piano concerto instead of the Spice girls, then you need no more help.

    (Brahms is probably an acquired taste. Not for most beginners. Most 20th century classical music is crap.)
    Now, can I sell you some double glazing?

  2. Watch Bugs Bunny cartoons.

  3. Yikes! I'm still awaiting my classical phase, does the jazz one come first?

    John Cale is awesome though.

  4. Oh and when I did A-level music I came to the conclusion everything before late period Mozart is crap.

  5. Wether you enjoy a particular piece or not depends upon the mood you're in at the time.
    If you're a big Black Sabbath fan, try "Mars, the Bringer of War" from The Planets by Gustav Holst.
    Other than that, go with Mr Scurra's advice.

  6. Vicus - Thank you. The trouble is most of the stuff I've heard before reminds me of Hamlet, the mild cigar from Benson & Hedges, The Can-Can, Hello Mother, Hello Father, here I am in Camp Grenada and the Queen's Coronation. The stuff I like so far is by Brahms, Khachaturian, Bartok and for my ELP sins Pictures at an Exhibition. I'm probably getting this all wrong. I got Bach's cello suites but they go on forever. I'll look out for the stuff you mentioned. But I'll never give up the Spice Girls.

    MJ - Bugs is the greatest 20th century conductor.

    Billy - I should really be going through an Americana/New Canadian Scene phase but I can't stand any of it. My jazz phase was some time ago and I don't listen to much of it nowadays. Betty thinks my classical yearnings are a cry for help. I think she's right.

    Istvanski - I'm more Yes than Black Sabbath. What about Rick Wakeman?

  7. Wakeman? Perhaps you should listen to Paganini.

  8. What ever you do don't get into Wakemans King Arthur opera on ice - it is an abomination most foul. I had parents that made me learn classical piano and I embarrassed them at a very early age telling my music teacher that I hated Mozart and thought he 'wasn't very good'. I plonked through Schumann while my parents played their Beatles, Stones, Hendrix and Led Zeppelin albums really loud back to back which is what I was far more interested in playing along to. Consequently, I am still yet to go through my classical phase although I love Shostakovich. I can not name one piece of music though - I just know it all by sound. Do you think you are having a mid-life crisis? ELO did Rollover Beethoven - that was a bit classical..enjoy your foray into the netherworld ;-)

  9. Pictures at an Exhibition is fab. If you like that sort of thing, maybe also try Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals. (Thomas Beecham described SS as "the greatest writer of second-rate music who ever lived" which is pretty cool.)

    Beyond that, I can only really recommend my fave bits: Rite of Spring; Brandenburgs & Goldbergs; Messiaen's Turangilila (a bit bonkers); and Gavin Bryars, if he counts as classical.

  10. I agree with Betty.

    You should be listening to The National like me. Whether you can stand it or not doesn't come in to it.

  11. Istvanski - Did he like a curry?

    Romo - Wakeman's was the first concert I ever went to. It wasn't on ice but dear dickie-bowed Dickie Attenborough was there. I'll look out for Shostakovich. It's not a mid-life crisis so much as a...yes, you're probably right.

    Tim - Thanks for the recommendations. I was put off Gavin Bryars by an interminable car journey where we heard Robert Elms go on and on about Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet.

    Beth - Didn't Red Rum win a caption competition for one of their albums? Actually you're probably right, I should be.

  12. From Jimmy Young to Paul Young and from Wilbur Smith to Will Smith..(sigh) it's NOT your fault Son.

    As Mozart said to the naysayers of 'prog' they can "Leck mich im Arsch!"

    The valiant effort displayed by my dearest friend Scurra to defend the inherent supremecy of Classical Music, is all fine and dandy, but in the end, as the Emperor remarked, it has "Too Many Notes"

  13. I didn't realise that Mozart had something in common with The Pogues.

    Apparently classical music does not have too many notes. It's just that they're in the wrong order.

  14. All classical music is shit. Fairly straightforward.
    Stick to what you enjoy Geoff!

  15. I dare you to say that to Vicus, Murph.

    But Beethoven was deaf.

    So was Pete Townsend.

    And Lemmy.

  16. Get a Classic FM CD. These are arranged on themes or moods and you get slectins from different composers.

    Failing that, Grieg's Peer Gynt is good. As is Holst's The Planets.

  17. You Heavy Metal fans and your Planets!

    Cheers, Llewtrah.

  18. Sadly I was brought up by a middle-class dad who listened to - and indeed played - Bach, and I had cello lessons and piano lessons and oboe lessons and clarinet lessons, and I was forever being taken to classical concerts yea even to see the great Yehudi Menuhin perform at the Eden Court theatre in Inverness, and I'm afraid to say I hated every minute of all of it and to this day I can't tell Bach from Brahms or Mendelssohn from Mahler, and I don't like any of it.

    *hangs head in shame*

    I do quite like The National, though.

  19. Never say never. Age does funny things to you.

    I used to think I'd love Elvis Costello forever. I don't now.

    To mis-quote John Miles though, pop music was my first love and it will be my last. I'm not going to be one of those nodding men at the Royal Festival Hall or one of those men who opens his windows on a Sunday morning and blasts out Beethoven. Rather the Stooges.