Listening to Music: Appreciating Classical Music
Whether or not you’re a musician, listening to music is a great joy. The thing is, while most of us easily understand modern music, the same cannot be said for Classical music.
This category is designed to help you understand Classical music better, and thus be able to appreciate it more when you listen (beyond just knowing that it sounds good). Since Classical music tends to be so different than what we listen to nowadays, it can sometimes take a bit of effort to get to know it – but it’s well-worth that effort!
As a piano student, I highly recommend regularly listening to music actively. It’s one thing to listen to music while you cook dinner, but it’s another thing entirely to put all of your attention and focus on the music. Actively listening to music will make you a better musician, and will help you to enjoy practicing much more.
If you’ve never been able to get into Classical music, check out the pieces featured in this video. It’s a different sort of list from others you’ll find around the internet, mainly because it’s a selection of my entirely biased favorites. These selections tend to be enjoyable to many people, regardless of their musical preferences.
This is a challenge I started in September 2017. It’s a 30 day challenge of deep listening to Classical music. Check out my Spotify playlist if you’d like to do your own listening challenge!
The music of the Disney movie Fantasia is a great starting point for anyone interested in Classical music. Not only does it feature some truly great music, but it pairs that music with a bizarre but captivating story.
In this video, I share my 10 favorite compositions from the year – the pieces that I listened to on repeat.
Listening to Baroque Music
Johann Sebastian Bach
This is a good starting point for anyone wanting to get into the music of Bach. Featured here are some of his more popular and well-respected tunes for a variety of instruments.
This one was fun to make! Oftentimes we hear music in movies and TV, but have no idea what piece it is or who it’s by. I’ve found five of these pieces specifically by Bach, most of which you’ve likely heard.
Bach’s famous Goldberg variations are quite long, but that’s just because he takes a short melody and recreates it a bunch of times (the premise for theme and variations). A must-listen for anyone getting into Bach.
Baroque composers tended to favor the popular dance suite, and Bach was no exception. This particular dance suite isn’t really French in sound or style; it was given that name after Bach’s death. But it’s a good look at a popular Baroque style written by a master of the form.
Everyone knows Canon in D! But not everyone knows that it was written by Pachelbel in the Baroque era. Like most of the videos in this section, you don’t have to be a music theory nerd to understand this video – I try to keep it understandable for all types of fans.
Handel’s Messiah is a Christmas staple, and a Baroque classic. This brief analysis looks at the Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah.
Listening to Classical Music
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
This video is an overview on some famous tunes by Mozart, to give you a sense of this Classical composer’s style. If you’ve never listened to him before, this serves as a launching point.
Mozart’s K545 is the first sonata many students learn by Mozart, and it’s very well-known. Though this video explores sonata form, it looks at this particular sonata in great detail.
Mozart’s moody and somber fantasia is a bit of an anomaly in its darkness. Mozart tended to prefer cheerful tunes and seldom wrote in minor keys – this being one famous exception. It was said to be inspired by his impending death.
Ludwig Van Beethoven
These are six of my favorite Beethoven pieces across the various genres he wrote in – solo piano, vocal, string quartet and so on. This is a good introductory video to Beethoven’s music.
Probably one of Beethoven’s most well-loved compositions, this video takes an in-depth look at all three movements (most people are just familiar with the moody first movement). The third movement of this sonata is such an exciting surprise if you’ve never heard it before.
Franz Joseph Haydn
Haydn isn’t as well-known as Mozart or Beethoven, but he was just as important to the development of Classical music. He was especially famous for his many symphonies and string quartets.
Listening to Romantic Music
In this video, I chose six selection from Chopin’s catalogue that are very well-known. They show the range and style of Chopin’s compositions, acting as an introduction to his works.
This nocturne is all over pop culture, so you’ve probably heard it before. It’s also not quite as tough as some of these others, at a grade 9 level. It’s a great example of Chopin’s beautiful and expressive piano writing.
This video series takes a brief look at all 24 Chopin preludes, discussing the work as a whole, and interesting facts about the individual (and often odd) pieces contained within.
Here’s a primer on Liszt if you’re not familiar with his music. I take you on a tour through six pieces that I find represent the full spectrum of his works and style.
Liszt wrote three Liebestraume for piano, and they’re all very romantic (in the lovey-lovey sense of the word). The third Liebestraum is the most famous, and it’s quite difficult at an ARCT level through the RCM (the level higher than grade 10).
This is probably one of my favorite piano pieces of all time. It’s got so much going for it – it’s very difficult and impressive, has tons of energy, and gets a little wild.
This video is an overview of Schubert’s music to get you acquainted with his sound and style. Schubert wrote a lot of great vocal and instrumental music in his short lifetime.
This work by Schubert is well worth checking out if you’re getting into Schubert. It’s a little complex and very lovely.
Other Romantic compositions
Ave Maria is a very famous prayer, and has had many great musical compositions fashioned around it. Schubert’s Ave Maria is the most notable, though it originally didn’t follow the words of the prayer. Other famous versions are by composers such as Liszt and Bruckner.
Tchaikovsky is a very well-known Russian composer from the later Romantic period. He wrote music for various ballets such as Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker. This video is a brief look at 5 of his famous compositions.
This Halloween-y composition by Berlioz s very creepy and very well-known. Though the symphony has multiple movements, this video explores the Witches’ Sabbath movement in particular.
Listening to 20th Century Music
Clair de Lune by Debussy is probably one of the most well-known piano pieces of all time. It’s very atmospheric and gorgeous, and fairly challenging to play (at a grade 10 level). You don’t need to know anything about music or theory to watch this video!
This early 20th century genre developed before, and alongside, jazz. It’s marked by very lively piano music with lots of jumping chords and bright melodies.
Debussy is a very well-known Impressionist composer from the turn of the 20th century. His music is dreamy and abstract, and this video takes you on a tour of some of my favorite compositions of his.
This video provides an overview of the development of Blues music, from its origins in the early 1900s to where it has ended up in the 2000s.
Instruments and Vocal Music
These videos serve as a tour through the various instruments that are used in an orchestra – what they look like, what they sound like, and their origins. It’s nice to know what you’re listening to when you kick back to a symphony!
Opera is an unusual but important genre in the history of music. It paved the way for modern-day musicals, and they feature some of the best writing of famous composers such as Mozart. Some have strange and tragic storylines, while others are like romantic comedies. There’s an opera for everyone!