How to learn to understand classical music
THE CLASSICAL MUSIC OF OUTDOOK BY PRACTICALLY MYSTICAL AUROL: to listen and understand it, you need not only a special attitude, but also a remarkable education. Even if you did not go to a music school, and your parents were not forced to listen to Mozart’s favorite groups, this does not mean that the world of symphonic, opera and other works is closed for you. Experts explain how a person without training can start listening to classical music.
Before listening to the work, study its context and ask yourself the following questions: what goal did the composer set himself? When and where did he write the work? What was happening at that time in that place? This will completely change your listening experience. Many pieces have several levels of depth. Without knowing the background, you will understand only superficial, the most obvious things. Perhaps you will enjoy them, but it’s quite another thing to see the whole picture.
Composers paid a lot of attention to filling their works with depth, nuances and additional meanings. So they linked their work with other musical, artistic and literary works of the time. Today it is easy to learn these subtleties: you can start from the Classical Archives site or Wikipedia. Symphony orchestras and companies that produce classical music usually offer programs written by composers, music critics and other experts who talk about everything you need to know before listening. The BBC also shot several quality documentaries about the life and work of famous composers.
Go to concerts with friends and discuss music with them. Classical music, be it solo performances, performances of chamber ensembles, symphonic orchestras or opera performances, it is better to listen with someone else. Conductors, composers and musicologists often give lectures before concerts. So come to the concerts in advance. Newbies often tell me that they get much more pleasure from a concert after such lectures.
Pay attention to the movements and gestures of the conductor and performers. These musicians have been sharpening their skills for decades: it’s amazing how they turn little black dots on paper into expressive narrations. It is advisable to see the score and individual parts, 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 part was the most difficult to learn. Share your opinion and listen to other points of view. Many composers conceived their works in such a way that they encouraged people to discuss.
Talk to people who know a lot about classical music and ask them for advice. Classical music includes works by thousands of composers over a period of several hundred years. To study everything in detail is not so easy. Therefore, talk to people who know more than you (as I do), and ask them what works should be heard further. Before following their recommendations, do not forget to examine the context of each piece.
For me, a real revelation was the chronological approach to classical music: thanks to him, I figured out what was happening in the head of the composers. So, when the premiere of Beethoven’s Third Symphony took place, its incredible scale at that time confused listeners. Before her development of the sonata has 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 much she hit the imagination then – you need to put yourself in the place of the listener of that time.
Today, most people only care about the melody. But in works like the Third Symphony (and almost all of Beethoven) the essence is not in the melody. The melody of the Third Symphony is only arpeggiated chords and an unexpected harmonic transition. And the listeners of the time were struck first of all by the way Beethoven handled the form. In some places he stretched some particularly exciting parts of the composition, and sometimes knocked the listener confused. If you learn to perceive music as it was perceived by people then it will amaze you.
Fortunately, listeners of that time for the most part did not study music and did not prepare for each concert. They simply listened to the works of the era in which they lived – and only hers. 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. For a whole week only listen to Handel; I am sure that you will love both Haydn and Mozart. Then repeat this with Brahms, Wagner, Stravinsky, Cage, Adams. This approach will allow you to feel the context. There is nothing more beautiful than listening to music and understanding what it means. Modern composers are interesting because they violate certain rules, and you can feel their music.