- Blog #41: This is one of those topics where you wouldn't realize when something is good, until it's gone. Classical music is slowly fading away from the likes of many youths, what with this new sensation of hip-hop/rap music that's been spreading the nation on a 24/7 scale. Aging from the 11th century, and even lasting in our present day culture, classical music is largely distinct from any other genre of music in existence. It laid a foundation for every other style with it's introduction to the Grand Staff. Highly underrated, more or less disregarded. Classical music was what really brought art through note-taking and pitch-making. While the form of it isn't always that enjoyable to many musicians, there are certain pieces that stick out in the mind. A lot of us don't really know why they do. They just...do. Let's say you're listening to a classical song on the TV/radio/etc and you say: "Hey, I love this song! Uh...I don't know the name of it, though..." Isn't that always the case? Well, isn't it? You may think you know music, but you don't unless you can discover and learn about the roots of origin. For the purpose of this blog, I'm reliving some of classical composer's finest moments. These are the pieces that, whether we know the title/composer of them or not, are beloved by music fans everywhere. These are the ones that, upon listening, makes you recognize that song in an instant. WARNING: You may need to turn the volume up for these videos, as they may be on the soft side!
1. Toccata and Fugue in D Minor - Here's Johann Sebastian Bach's most "supposed" famous musical composition for the organ. I say "supposed" to emphasize the fact that there have been theories that Bach didn't even compose this piece. "Toccata" means "touch" in Italian, which indicates how delicately the fingers should be to perform on a keyboard instrument. The "Fugue" part of the piece is a compilation of the same tune repeated over and over again in different voices and different key signatures. Eventually, it returns to the original key that it began in, and it will end in a major or minor key. In this particular video link (seen below), the Fugue starts at around 2:46. I plan on being a music major in college. Don't worry if you're having trouble understanding some of this! The main focus here is the reason as to why this song is so noticeable. What is that focus? The first eight measures of the piece. Maybe even the first three notes. You hear them, then a light bulb blinks on. "I've heard this on The Phantom of the Opera and Fantasia!" I'm sure that this piece wasn't exactly written for the purpose of it being in a majority of horror movies. Horror movies, along with the occasional movies that are named Rollerball.
2. Bridal Chorus - Of course! Ladies, this one's for you! If you've ever attended a wedding ceremony, then you've definitely heard this song before. If you haven't been to a wedding yet, then you're bound to hear this song eventually. If you don't plan on getting married, well...that's about that. This song most often gets referred to as "Here Comes the Bride" or "The Wedding March", but Richard Wagner intended this piece to be played during the bride's entrance at the wedding. There are lyrics to this song, but you almost never hear them at the ceremonies. The chorus is usually replaced by an organ or another group of classical musicians. Why is that? I don't really know. This piece originated from a love-story opera, called Lohengrin. The opera does not end happily, however. I won't summarize the entire opera here. Look it up.
3. Overture to William Tell (Finale) - Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes made many classical pieces popular to the young television viewers. Not only Looney Tunes, but a large variety of other cartoons use this song. There's even a good number of advertizements that use this piece. It's a beautiful arrangement. The movement that's most recalled is the finale of this piece. You can't help but picture a large fleet of galloping horses during this section. Horses...or The Lone Ranger. This entire overture, which was written by Gioachino Rossini, lasts about 12 minutes and gives you the vision of life in the Swiss Alps, which is the setting of the Guillaume Tell (in English: William Tell) opera. There are four parts to the overture and each part transitions into the next one without any gaps in between. So, it's not like most other symphony performances.
4. Ride of the Valkyries - Another piece that was mainly made famous by the likes of Looney Tunes, Apocalypse Now, and the WWE. It's also the second piece on my list that was composed by Richard Wagner. It was made for the opera, which was called Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). It's an opera that's composed of four different cycles of operas. This is interesting, because a cycle is often in a shape much like a ring. Along with the "Bridal Chorus" piece, the second movement of Der Ring des Nibelungen is Richard Wagner's best-known work. The second movement is called Walkürenritt/Ritt der Walküren, or as we like to call it, the Ride of the Valkyries. The Valkyries are minor female deities. The Valkyries' purpose was to choose the most heroic of those who had died in battle and to carry them off to Valhalla, where they became lone warriors. This was necessary because the Valkyrie leader, Odin, needed warriors to fight at his side for the preordained battle at the end of the world, Ragnarök. Just imagine a large army of flying horses and warriors. If it's easier, just picture Elmer Fudd chasing Bugs Bunny through a parody of operatic movements.
5. O Fortuna - This may be one of the most continuously used classical pieces of all time. Even today, many trailers for many movies are never complete without the addition of a 13th century medieval poem. A poem that, obviously, written into song by the German composer Carl Orff. The piece opens up with a slower pace of thundering drums and a choir that drops quickly into a whisper. This builds up so that the song transits into a steady crescendo of drums, plus some short strings and horn notes peaking on one last long powerful note. Ending abruptly. The word "dramatic" is an understatement for this. The poem was part of a much larger collection of words, known as the Carmina Burana. Carmina Burana's transformation of O Fortuna remains to be one of the most popular pieces of music ever written for pop culture of the 20th century.
6. Für Elise - (A.K.A. Bagatelle No. 25 in A minor (WoO 59 and Bia 515) for solo piano) One of Ludwig van Beethoven's most popular compositions for the piano. It wasn't until 40 years after Beethoven's death that this piece was ever published. The original manuscript of the Für Elise was dated all the way back from April 27th, 1810. This manuscript was lost. There have been ongoing arguments that Beethoven was not the one who structured this piece into the form we know today. This seems to be a constant point of discussion where there is no one solution to the issue. Another issue was that nobody had ever discovered who this "Elise" was, that whom which Beethoven had named the piece after. It seems as if many classical pieces were made famous by cartoons, as this was featured in one of Charlie Brown's shows. A solo pianist will often choose this piece to play, due to it's familiarity.
7. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (Allegro) - You can't have a classical "Top 10" list without one of the most renowned composers in the classical era! Having composed over 600 works, it's not a wonder that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart became so popular amongst musicians of the world. This was intended to be performed by a small chamber ensemble of string instruments. It was composed at a time where Mozart was working on a second act for his opera. Mozart, apparently, had written this piece on commission for someone who needed some jaunty music for a ball. The serenade has a light feel to it. It's widely performed and recorded by many orchestras and chamber groups across the globe. There are four movements to this piece. The first movement is the most well-known of the bunch. It is the Allegro. Allegro means fast or lively. However, the term is not always to par with the laws of music. Some artists tend to use the word more loosely-based on the emotion, not on the specific tempo markings.
8. Hallelujah Chorus - It was written by Händel Messiah and that's about all I can say. You've heard the song and all of it's holiness before to understand the idea that the chorus is deeply in gratitude for Our Lord and Savior.
9. 1812 Overture - Ah...a song that just screams: "FIREWORKS AND THE FOURTH OF JULY!" Written by Russian composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. This piece was to commemorate Russian defense of Moscow against Napoleon's advancement at the "Battle of Borodino" in 1812. The overture is climatic for it's imagery of cannon-fire volleys and ringing chimes. Actually, no. It's not just imagery. There are 16 cannon shots written into the piece. Can you believe it? There's no specific arrangement for this piece, so long as it contains a brass band, woodwinds, percussion, and strings.
10. Any song composed by John Williams - I don't believe I'm going over the top with this entrant. It's very likely that I've never heard a bad classical composition from John Williams. He is one of the best film scorers in history, if not THE best. He's scored so many songs for big name movies, such as: Star Wars, Harry Potter, Saving Private Ryan, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, Dracula, Superman, Jaws, and so many more! John Williams even wrote the themes for certain events, like the Olympic Games and the NBC Nightly News. Six long decades and he's still making music. Williams has been awarded five Academy Awards, four Golden Globes, seven BAFTA Awards, and 21 Grammy Awards. He's basically done it all! Together with the great composer, Alfred Newman, Williams is the second most nominated person under Walt Disney. Around the world, John Williams has conducted with some of the greatest groups of musicians, from the New York Philharmonic to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Since I'm only including one video for each entrant, I've decided that it didn't matter which one I included. This is because...John Williams is the man. Any piece is a good piece when it comes to John Williams. I suppose I will just put my personal favorite song by John Williams on here. It's good to end the list with a more modern-day approach to classical music.
- Done. Proud to be a musician!