How To Learn To Understand Classical Music

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How To Learn To Understand Classical Music
How To Learn To Understand Classical Music

Classical music is shrouded in an almost mystical halo: to listen and understand it, you need not only a special attitude, but also remarkable education. Even if you did not go to a music school, and your parents did not force you to listen to Mozart's favorite bands instead, this does not mean that the world of symphonic, opera and other works is closed to you. Experts explain how a person without preparation can start listening to classical music.

Andrew Watts

Before listening to a piece, study its context and ask yourself the following questions: What is the goal of the composer? When and where did he write the work? What was happening at that time in that place? It will completely change the way you listen. Many pieces have several levels of depth. Without knowing the background, you will only understand the superficial, most obvious things. You may enjoy them, but it is quite another matter to see the whole picture.

Composers paid a lot of attention to filling their works with depth, nuances and additional meanings. This is how they connected their work with other musical, artistic and literary works of that time. Today, these subtleties are easy to learn: you can start at the Classical Archives or Wikipedia. Symphony orchestras and classical music companies usually offer programs written by composers, music critics, and other experts that tell you everything you need to know before listening. The BBC has also produced several quality documentaries about the life and work of famous composers.

Go to concerts with your friends and talk about music with them. Classical music, be it recitals, chamber ensembles, symphony orchestras or opera performances, are best listened to with someone else. Conductors, composers and musicologists often give lectures before concerts. Therefore, come to the concerts in advance. Beginners often tell me that they get a lot more pleasure from the concert after such lectures.

Pay attention to the movements and gestures of the conductor and performers. These musicians have been honing their skills for decades: it's amazing how they can turn small black dots on paper into expressive narratives. It is advisable to look at the score and individual parts, to find out what was required of each musician. And after the concert, if possible, talk to the musicians and try to find out which part of the piece they like the most and which was the most difficult to learn. Share your opinion and listen to other points of view. Many composers have conceived their works in such a way that they spur people to discussion.

Talk to people who know a lot about classical music and ask them for advice. Classical music includes the works of thousands of composers over a period of several hundred years. It is not so easy to study everything in detail. Therefore, talk to people who know more than you (as I do), and ask them which works are worth listening to next. Before following their advice, be sure to study the context of each piece.

David Leigh

The chronological approach to classical music became a real revelation for me: thanks to it, I figured out what was going on in the composers' heads. So, when the premiere of Beethoven's Third Symphony took place, its incredible scope for those times confused the audience. Before her, the development of the sonata had never been so long. But you, the person who heard Wagner (and, for that matter, The Velvet Underground) will find it difficult to imagine how amazing she was then - you need to put yourself in the place of the listener of that time.

Most people today only care about the melody. But in works like the Third Symphony (and in almost all of Beethoven), the point is not in the melody. The melody of the Third Symphony is just arpeggiated chords and an unexpected harmonic transition. And listeners of that time were amazed first of all by the way Beethoven handled the form. In places he stretched out some particularly exciting parts of the composition, and sometimes confused the listener. If you learn to perceive music the way people perceived it then it will amaze you.

Fortunately, listeners of that time did not study music for the most part and did not prepare for every concert. They just listened to the works of the era in which they lived - and only her. There was no "canon" yet: if you lived in the 1820s, then you listened to the music of the 1820s. So try to immerse yourself in classical music. Listen only to Handel for a whole week; I am sure that this way you will fall in love with Haydn and Mozart. Then repeat this with Brahms, Wagner, Stravinsky, Cage, Adams. This approach will allow you to get a sense of the context. There is nothing more beautiful than listening to music and understanding what it means. Modern composers are interesting because they break certain rules, and you can feel their music only if you intuitively understand what these rules are.

Material was first published on Look At Me

Photos: Yeko Photo Studio -

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