Classical music for new listeners

by Ted Song

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No one even listens to classical music anymore.

Although this is a common sentiment among many, that doesn’t mean it’s bad music! Just like pop or other genres, classical music tells stories, evokes emotions and creates fun experiences.

If you’re interested in giving it a try, here are some recommendations for people new to classical music:

1. Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons brings listeners into an odyssey of the seasons, conjuring an experience of the vivacious spring, the menacing summer, the festive autumn and the powerful winter.

2. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik” (“A Little Night Music”) is arguably his most famous musical work. The first movement of the piece should be instantly familiar for its rocket-like melody, followed by the simplicity and elegance of the second and third movements. The fourth movement ends the piece with an accelerated version of the first movement’s rocket-like melody.

3. Niccolò Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 in A Minor is designed to be a pain for violinists. Paganini created his 24 Caprices to truly showcase the difficulty of playing the violin (to the point that they were almost unplayable by others). Despite this, they’re still great for listening, with Caprice No. 24 being the most melodic and recognizable of the Caprices.

4. Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor (“Allegro molto appassionato”) is a passionate piece. The first movement is intense and regal, accompanied by the slower yet equally dramatic and passionate second movement. In the third movement, the violin soloist zips through the playful yet powerful melody.

5. Frédéric Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2 immediately brings listeners into the night. This piano solo evokes the sensation of the serene night and is the most popular of Chopin’s 21 Nocturnes.

6. Franz Liszt’s Liebesträume No. 3 (“Dreams of Love”) is another wonderful piano solo. Liebesträume is one of Liszt’s most popular works, and if you like this solo, you should also try Liebesträume No. 1 and No. 2.

7. Antonín Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings in E major. Just listen to it. All the movements of this piece exhume passion and grandeur. This serenade places Dvořák as one of the greatest masters of music.

8. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major is fantastic. Tchaikovsky is known for the beautiful score of “The Nutcracker,” and this violin concerto does not disappoint. The lyrical first movement starts the concerto with strength, and the second movement calms the mood while remaining passionate and romantic. The third movement is magnificent, especially when the soloist rips through the notes.

9. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, Op. 35 is inspired by the tales from “The Arabian Nights.” The violin soloist throughout the piece is said to be the voice of Scheherazade, the narrator of the tales. Overall, Scheherazade is an adventurous piece that conveys love, conflict and triumph.

10. Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune is a reflection of the moonlight. The piece as a whole remains calm throughout, evoking a similar nocturnal serenity present in Chopin’s Nocturne No. 2.

11. Jules Massenet’s Méditation is an intermezzo in the opera “Thaïs.” The piece starts calmly but shifts to a period of conflict and concludes on a quiet note. Even though this piece is from an opera, “Méditation” is a hallmark of classical music, especially known as a great encore piece to many soloists.

12. Jean Sibelius’ Finlandia, Op. 26 was intended to be a form of resistance against the Russian Empire’s heavy use of censorship. Even more so, as the name suggests, the piece also serves as a patriotic work for Sibelius’ home country Finland. This piece starts with an ominous brass section but ultimately metamorphoses into passionate optimism.

13. Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18 is one of his most famous works. The dramatic first movement alone is a masterpiece. Furthermore, what makes this piece spectacular is that it momentarily provides listeners with a sense of relief, only to return to another unsettling mood. Overall, the concerto finds beauty within conflict.

14. Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 is a complex piece. The first movement creates a funereal mood. The second movement then storms in but momentarily inserts euphony before spiraling into a storm again. Shifting the mood, the third movement introduces a playfulness through the instruments’ creation of a dancing melody. The famous fourth movement is gentle and breathtaking. Finally, the fifth movement concludes the symphony with joyous triumph. As with his other symphonies, Mahler embraces the spirit of the world in his Symphony No. 5.

15. George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is a hallmark of American music. The piece starts with the famous glissando by a clarinet, spotlights various instruments throughout, and ends with a final jab by the piano. Gershwin weaves “Rhapsody in Blue” with elements of both jazz and classical music, making the piece a signature to American classical music.

Here is a playlist that contains all the songs mentioned above. Have fun listening!

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