"Great Books"/"Cultural Literacy" list for classical music?

Posted by: BWV 846

"Great Books"/"Cultural Literacy" list for classical music? - 02/13/13 07:31 AM

I started piano lessons as an adult about a year and a half ago. I also started listening seriously to classical music and going to a lot of concerts (in the last week, Angela Hewitt and the Concertgebouw orchestra).

I want to make a specific plan to increase my musical knowledge in a logical, progressive way in the next year or two It would be very helpful to have a list of the basic "great" works or basic repertoire to be a starting point in my studying/listening, especially when it comes to keyboard works. I find the Gramophone Suggested Basic Library and NPR Performance Today 50 helpful, but I am looking for something more comprehensive.

What works (a) do you think are essential to a good basic classical music "cultural literacy"? (b) have others identified as essential? Not looking for books about music, but the actual music. Thanks.
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: "Great Books"/"Cultural Literacy" list for classical music? - 02/13/13 08:17 AM

Unless you have unlimited resources, I don't see much need to purchase the music for a basic library of great piano literature(assuming I understand from your post correctly about wanting to do that). All of the basic piano literature is available for free at IMSLP, and you can follow along with the score to any work you want this way. A fair portion of the great piano works would probably be difficult for someone with 1.5 years of lessons to even follow the score to, so actually buying all that music seems not so logical at this point.

It might be more reasonable to purchase a library of piano literature suitable for your present level of playing which would be smaller but still quite extensive and costly.

The best book I know of for an overview of the great piano literature is David Dubal's The Art of the Piano. Half of the book is about great pianists and the other half is about great piano literature.

I do think that if you want to learn about classical music it is important to read about it in addition to just listening or playing. Without reading about it you are forced to figure out everything by yourself.

Posted by: bennevis

Re: "Great Books"/"Cultural Literacy" list for classical music? - 02/13/13 08:39 AM

If you want a basic library of works to study/listen (rather than learning to play, which depends on your current skill level), you won't go far wrong by getting volumes of the Mozart and Beethoven piano sonatas (or, if you just want a few specific works, try K310, K330, K331 and some of the named sonatas by Beethoven (Pathetique, Appassionata, Les Adieux, Waldstein)) and Chopin Nocturnes, Waltzes (and Ballades, Scherzi, Polonaises, Mazurkas etc), Schubert's Impromptus D899 and piano sonatas like D664, Schumann's Carnaval, Fantasy, KInderszenen, Kreisleriana, Brahms's Op. 118....the list can go on almost forever. And I haven't even mentioned several composers (Bach, Scarlatti, Haydn...).

But bear in mind that the vast majority of those pieces will be far too difficult for you to learn to play, if you have only been playing for 1 1/2 years. But to look at the score while listening, they will certainly broaden your knowledge, give you a good idea of their different pianistic styles, their harmonic and melodic language etc, and will hopefully inspire you to keep practising so that you will be able to play them one day.
Posted by: pianovirus

Re: "Great Books"/"Cultural Literacy" list for classical music? - 02/13/13 09:01 AM

Although maybe more comprehensive than what you are looking for I'd still recommend at least having a look at Hinson's Guide to the Pianist's repertoire. There is a 4th edition planned for some time later this year; I have the 3rd, it's very good for overview and reference.
http://www.amazon.com/Guide-Pianists-Repertoire-Maurice-Hinson/dp/0253336465

I have read the paragraph in your post that says you are not looking for "books about music", but the Hinson is essentially a looong list of works, with only few sentences for every work or even a whole work group, so I thought it might be useful for you, too...
Posted by: Brad Hoehne

Re: "Great Books"/"Cultural Literacy" list for classical music? - 02/13/13 02:22 PM

It might seem a little "lo-fi" but for almost all great works mentioned here (and in other threads in the PianoWorld forums) there are YouTube videos by numerous performers, both professional and amateur.
Posted by: BWV 846

Re: "Great Books"/"Cultural Literacy" list for classical music? - 02/15/13 03:24 PM

I have the Hinson book. Other than the Well-Tempered Clavier and the Beethoven sonatas, what would you say the top 20 to 30 keyboard any pianist should be familiar with are?
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: "Great Books"/"Cultural Literacy" list for classical music? - 02/15/13 06:37 PM

Originally Posted By: BWV 846
I have the Hinson book. Other than the Well-Tempered Clavier and the Beethoven sonatas, what would you say the top 20 to 30 keyboard any pianist should be familiar with are?
Your desire to familiarize yourself with the piano literature is, of course, highly commendable but I think it's more complicated than you realize.

Most of the great composers for piano wrote many great works for piano. I doubt you'll get much agreement on such a small number of pieces. For example, even though the WTC is sometimes called the Old Testament there are many works by Bach that could be considered just as basic to the piano literature...the Goldberg Variations, Italian Concerto, 6 Partitas, 6 French Suites, 6 English Suites, Inventions.

I would just start listening to any of the great composers and be slightly less concerned about having a list to go through. Or you can probably put all the suggestions you get on this thread together and get a much longer than 30 list of pieces to listen to.

Posted by: beet31425

Re: "Great Books"/"Cultural Literacy" list for classical music? - 02/15/13 06:42 PM

One piece of advice: If you really want to increase your musical knowledge, branch outside of the keyboard. Even if your ultimate interest is the keyboard. You can only know Beethoven so well without familiarity with his symphonies and string quartets.

-J
Posted by: BWV 846

Re: "Great Books"/"Cultural Literacy" list for classical music? - 02/16/13 05:30 PM

I definitely want to include a lot of non-keyboard works in my listening/study, beet31425, and would appreciate any recommendations on where to start.
Posted by: FSO

Re: "Great Books"/"Cultural Literacy" list for classical music? - 02/16/13 06:03 PM

Well...Beethoven's symphonies (all of them), Op 133, Mozart's Requiem Mass...all pretty much required listening in my opinion as well as the entirety of Gould's recordings, of course laugh Bruckner's eighth is far from bad. Elgar's Cello Concerto. Um...my recommendation would be, if you truly have nowhere to start, find a composer you like, listen to as much of their music as you can before moving around to who influenced them (look it up on Wikipedia, for example) and who they influenced. Don't forget Penderecki, Scelsi, Xenakis, Mosolov etc. If you like Bach, and who couldn't smile , then, um, I heavily advise that you check out Rameau; mostly harpsichord but almost invaluable in my opinion.
Posted by: bennevis

Re: "Great Books"/"Cultural Literacy" list for classical music? - 02/16/13 06:15 PM

Originally Posted By: BWV 846
I definitely want to include a lot of non-keyboard works in my listening/study, beet31425, and would appreciate any recommendations on where to start.


I recommend starting with Mozart's Symphonies No. 39 - 41, Beethoven's No. 3, 5, 6, 7 & 9, Schubert's No. 8 & 9, Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, Brahms's No. 1 & 4, Dvorák's 'New World', Tchaikovsky's No. 5 & 6, Rachmaninov's 2nd, Mahler's No. 2, 4, 5 & 9 and Das Lied von der Erde, Sibelius's No. 2, 5 & 7 and Tapiola, maybe Shostakovich's 10th. Of the non-symphonic orchestral works, Stravinsky's Le sacre du printemps is a must.

For the concertos not involving a keyboard, there are Haydn's Trumpet Concerto and Mozart's Clarinet Concerto; Beethoven's, Mendelssohn's, Brahms's, Tchaikovsky's and Sibelius's violin concertos, and Dvorák's Cello Concerto.

For chamber music, most involve the piano, but you can always start with Bach's Partita No.2 in D minor for solo violin.......
Posted by: beet31425

Re: "Great Books"/"Cultural Literacy" list for classical music? - 02/16/13 06:40 PM

Originally Posted By: BWV 846
I definitely want to include a lot of non-keyboard works in my listening/study, beet31425, and would appreciate any recommendations on where to start.

There's so much, BWV, and it will take a lifetime to explore. Here are five great (and somewhat arbitrary) starting points:

1. the classical string quartet: Start with Beethoven. Start with the three "Razumovsky" quartets, op.59.

2. the classical symphony: Beethoven again. Try #4, which might be unfamiliar enough to function as a good starting point. The second movement of #7 is a miracle.

3. romantic chamber music: There's a lot of great music for piano and other instruments. One of the greatest is Brahms's F minor quintet, op.34.

4. the late romantic symphony: Try Mahler's first symphony. It's a big mouthful, but it can change your life.

5. the 20th century: Turangalîla by Olivier Messiaen. A super-symphony for full orchestra with ten percussionists, piano, and more. A cosmic dance with movement names like "Joy of the Blood of the Stars". Come hear what music can do when it's completely unleashed. (And be in on one of the really inside jokes in Futurama.)


Obviously, I haven't even mentioned Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Ravel, Debussy, Shostakovich, or dozens others. This list is just a start, under the philosophy that too few pieces might be more helpful than too many.

-Jason
Posted by: BWV 846

Re: "Great Books"/"Cultural Literacy" list for classical music? - 02/16/13 07:23 PM

Jason,

Thanks a lot. I already adore the second movement of # 7 -- he does so much with such simple building blocks. I went to see the Concertgebouw perform the Mahlher first at the Kennedy Center last week and liked it for a number of reasons: I'm like D major a lot (for example,Book I of Well Tempered Clavier); there was a fair amount of brass, which I like; and it had a Ländler, which reminds me of two things I love -- the scene at the ball in The Sound of Music, and variation 4 of the Goldbergs.

I just downloaded the Berlin Philharmonic app, which has # 4. I went to the Philharmonic last year -- the best sound I have heard in my life -- amazing talent and acoustics.

I would appreciate any other recommendations. I must say, I have a tough time appreciating Debussy and Ravel, so if you could recommend some beginner/starter work that would be great.

Bach and Mozart are my two favorites. I think the gigue from the fifth French Suite is one of the best things in the world. I saw Die Zauberflote and Nozze di Figaro in Berlin, and both were fantastic.
Posted by: BDB

Re: "Great Books"/"Cultural Literacy" list for classical music? - 02/16/13 08:11 PM

Go to as many live concerts as you can.
Posted by: bennevis

Re: "Great Books"/"Cultural Literacy" list for classical music? - 02/16/13 08:46 PM

Originally Posted By: BWV 846


I would appreciate any other recommendations. I must say, I have a tough time appreciating Debussy and Ravel, so if you could recommend some beginner/starter work that would be great.





I hope I'm not stealing anyone else's thunder by posting yet again here, but as nobody's replied...

Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé, Suite No.2 (starting with the famous Daybreak): http://youtu.be/9VH90dvybvc
Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, which almost single-handedly gave rise to Impressionism in music: http://youtu.be/bYyK922PsUw
Posted by: BWV 846

Re: "Great Books"/"Cultural Literacy" list for classical music? - 02/16/13 10:15 PM

Thanks bennevis. I saw Daphnis et Chloe in Berlin -- Yannick Nezet-Seguin conducting. I find it a bit difficult to listen to -- without the ballet to go with it, it seems to be a bit unorganized/ADHDy. I guess I need to learn not to expect the same kinds of things from all music, and to appreciate what musical features are emphasized in a particular piece.
Posted by: beet31425

Re: "Great Books"/"Cultural Literacy" list for classical music? - 02/16/13 10:38 PM

BWV,

For what it's worth, Debussy became one of my favorites only after I carefully studied a recording of his 24 preludes, following along with the score. (The score was important; without it, the music might have been too ephemeral to make a structural impression.) Ravel didn't become one of my favorites until last year, when I started studying Jeux D'eau. Some composers take actual work at the piano to get into. Schumann was like that for me for some reason.

If I can offer one general cultural-literacy direction, it's this: string quartets. Really, a strongly disproportionate percent of the world's great music is string quartets. Some of the very best of Mozart, Schubert, and Beethoven. Debussy and Ravel each wrote a great one. The six Bartok quartets and all 15 Shostakovich quartets are phenomenal. The string quartet seems to be the medium in which composers most consistently hit it out of the park.


-Jason
Posted by: bennevis

Re: "Great Books"/"Cultural Literacy" list for classical music? - 02/17/13 06:46 AM

Originally Posted By: BWV 846
Thanks bennevis. I saw Daphnis et Chloe in Berlin -- Yannick Nezet-Seguin conducting. I find it a bit difficult to listen to -- without the ballet to go with it, it seems to be a bit unorganized/ADHDy. I guess I need to learn not to expect the same kinds of things from all music, and to appreciate what musical features are emphasized in a particular piece.


Unlike Debussy, Ravel had a horror of ever repeating himself. So you'll find in his music a huge range of styles, impressionism juxtaposing with Mozartian clarity with Lisztian bravura. I could easily sit through an all-Ravel piano recital (and have done so) but I'd never go to one where the program was Debussy's two books of Préludes. I expect you already know Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit, where you'd be hard put to find three more diverse pieces making up one work. Or his Miroirs, or Le tombeau de Couperin. And he wrote his two piano concertos simultaneously, but they are as different as chalk and cheese - here is a fine performance of his LH Concerto: http://youtu.be/KJTUUKAdZDU (you can see Ravel doesn't spare the pianist's poor fingers....).

If you prefer Ravelian clarity of form and texture to the impressionism of Daphnis et Chloé, try his marvelous Piano Trio, or Violin Sonata, as well as the LH Concerto.

Posted by: RachelEDNC

Re: "Great Books"/"Cultural Literacy" list for classical music? - 02/17/13 09:43 AM

Have you thought of purchasing a set of lectures for a college course of an overview of classical music? There are also many free ones online. Here is the link to lectures on early music at MIT. http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/audio-video-courses/#music-and-theater-arts

I would think doing something like this would give you lots of historical background on the composers and a more structured approach to what you're trying to do.

Also, I second what another person posted: pick a composer you like and become absorbed in them. I have probably replayed certain favorite pieces by composers 500 times and I can still find something new. I also find the more I listen to a piece of music, the more I can appreciate it. This kind of deep appreciate does not seem to happen with just a few listenings.

Keep in mind you won't like every composer or style off the bat (or ever!). I have a MM in piano, have played and taught Debussy, and still don't really love Debussy. This is ok. Don't force it. Again, pick someone you like and become absorbed in that person's life and works. Your musical tastes will naturally progress and change the more you learn.

Lastly, just some general suggestions for modern piano music since nobody has really mentioned it:
Stravinsky- Petrushka, Prokofiev- Sonatas 7 and 8; Bartok- Sonata; Liebermann- Gargoyles; Copland- Sonata, Three Moods, Piano Variations; Bolcom- Ghost Rag, Garden of Eden; Barber- Excursions, Sonata
I know I said pick a composer and find one you like and go from there... but if you want to get lost in youtube to find a modern composer to learn more about, this would be a decent enough list to start with for modern music.

Basically, take an online free college course in an overview of Western Music (or a particular period). In addition to this, go get lost on youtube for awhile and choose someone from any period to become absorbed in. Listen to works by that composer. Read a biography of that composer. Repeat.
Posted by: asthecrowflies

Re: "Great Books"/"Cultural Literacy" list for classical music? - 02/17/13 02:56 PM

Classical music is as varied and rich as the history of western literature, and it can be overwhelming to approach.

A book that helped me explore the canon
http://www.amazon.com/NPR-Guide-Building-Classical-Collection/dp/0761104879

It's kind of the equivalent of David Denby's "Great Books" (if you were referencing that) and while by no means encyclopedic & plenty to debate over, it's not a bad place to start.

There wasn't this whole youtube thing going on back then, so it was much harder to explore what the "major" composers and works were... so I used this, and went bargain hunting at my local CD store.

Now, you can pretty much access it in real-time and figure out what you like, what you don't.

Enjoy your journey!
Posted by: BWV 846

Re: "Great Books"/"Cultural Literacy" list for classical music? - 02/18/13 11:55 AM

I got the NPR book, asthecrowflies, and also the more recent NPR Listener's Encyclopedia of Classical Music -- http://www.amazon.com/NPR-Listeners-Encyclopedia-Classical-Music/dp/0761120726 -- which I read from cover to cover.

RachelEDNC, I have listened to a couple of the teaching company courses (Understanding the Fundamentals of Music, How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, Bach and the High Baroque). Also, my piano teacher gave me a copy of Joseph Kerman's "Listen" and I am working my way through that.
Posted by: Arghhh

Re: "Great Books"/"Cultural Literacy" list for classical music? - 02/18/13 04:10 PM

Maybe even a 1st year college music history textbook would give you what you're looking for. The history will allow you to understand what went on behind the music, and how it evolved. And understanding it will help you enjoy it more.

I'm more of a book person than a lecture person, so I get more out of reading that from those lectures referenced above.
The one I used in my undergrad I found was clearly laid out and easy to understand (for me at least). It does take a while to get through, though. a History of Music in Western Culture

Used copies are easy to get a hold of and much cheaper than the original price.

Posted by: BWV 846

Re: "Great Books"/"Cultural Literacy" list for classical music? - 02/20/13 08:27 AM

I just ordered the Dubal book, pianoloverus, as well as another book by him, The Essential Canon of Classical Music http://www.amazon.com/The-Essential-Cano...;keywords=dubal

I look forward to reading them.
Posted by: Marco M

Re: "Great Books"/"Cultural Literacy" list for classical music? - 02/22/13 06:37 AM

Hopefully not OT: I recently was in a kind of "second hand shop for supporting a social service" (wouldn´t even know how to name it correctly), where people bring in for free whatever might be of value to others, so that the aid organization can sell it to receive some income to run their work. I found everything from clothes to lamps to bicycles and also books, LP, and CD. You will not believe, which high quality series of encyclopedia on all kind of topics and thus also on history of music I found there. Besides beeing covered by the dust from years of waiting their for a new owner, plenty of them seem to so far only have been used as decoration in the libraries of now deceased millionaires and have been in perfectly new condition. After comparing several multi-volume "history of music" books, I now have a luxury and very high quality content 5-volume edition filling 20 cm shelf at home! Lots of recommendations on the "must know" pieces in there, nicely commented! The official price was 15 EUR only(!). You are of course wellcome to donate more if you want and can. LPs with Martha Argerich recordings from 50 years ago, and sets of the complete Beethoven Sonatas for piano on CD, and many more, are still waiting there for a new owner...
Give it a chance to find your "Cultural Literacy" or other treasures also there, and besides saving a lot of money and thus having more resources for building up an even bigger private collection you still help some aid organization!