Other than writing, one of my other passions is music. I love many different types of music, but I’m very biased to classical music. (Not surprising, since I’ve played it for the vast majority of my life.) Strangely enough, I think classical music can be a lot like reading a book – if you don’t understand any of the words of the book, you won’t have an enjoyable reading experience. The same holds true for music – the more you understand music, the more you will appreciate it and enjoy it. Even though I love music, I like a piece much better if I have some background and familiarity with it. 🙂
So here are a few of my favorite classical pieces with a few of my ramblings to give a little context! I hope maybe this introduces some new favorites for you or gives you a new perspective on an old favorite. I also think many of these would make great music to write to if you’re that sort of person. 🙂
Chaconne in Dm by Johann Sebastian Bach
Even if you’re not a musician, you’ve probably heard of Johann Sebastian Bach. The dude was an absolutely incredible musician and composer, and he’s known for so many pieces: concerti, the Brandenburg Suites, cantatas, and of course his suites for unaccompanied instruments (probably most famously for the violin and the cello.)
For much of my life, I wasn’t a fan of the Baroque era of classical music (the era in which Bach lived and composed.) I studied some of the movements from the Sonatas and Partitas for unaccompanied violin, but push finally came to shove in the form in March 2020. (Everyone knows what happened then.) I couldn’t play any pieces with my accompanist at school, so in the summer of 2020, I embarked on a Bach journey.
It wasn’t love at first sight, that’s for certain, but I grew increasingly fond of each piece I studied. And last semester, I reached what I think is the pinnacle of Bach’s violin suites: the Chaconne in d minor. This is close to twenty minutes of grief, hope, longing, and desire, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Bach reportedly wrote this when he arrived home to find that his first wife had died in his absence.
All of the sonatas and partitas are worth listening to, but the Chaconne is, in my opinion, the best of the best!
Tchaikovsky’s 4th and 5th Symphonies
In my book (figuratively, of course), anything by Tchaikovsky tends to be epic. The man knew how to write melodies like no other. They’re simple, yet full of longing and pain and joy. Tchaikovsky himself is not a good role model – dude had some serious issues—but he wrote some of the most beautiful, famous music in the world, including The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, concerti, and several symphonies.
And that’s where things get really good. The fourth and fifth symphonies are probably some of my favorite orchestra literature out there. I’m massively biased toward the fourth because I played it long ago and far away in youth orchestra, but the fifth might just edge past it. I would recommend the recordings by the Oslo Philharmonic – Vasily Petrenko is one of my favorite conductors, and this Russian dude definitely knows his Russian lit.
Dvořák’s New World Symphony
I’ll tell you upfront: Dvořák in general is amazing. He, like Tchaikovsky, had a talent for developing gorgeous melodies. Being Bohemian, he was very influenced by his homeland, but after a brief trip to America, he wrote the New World Symphony in honor of the folk songs of America. Somehow, this Bohemian guy wrote a symphony that sounds incredibly American! He also wrote a string quartet (“The American”) that is as close to a rollicking cowboy movie soundtrack as there was before cowboy movies existed!
Yeah, I love Dvořák. 😊
Shostakovich’s 5th and 7th Symphonies
I’m a major music history nerd, and Shostakovich is just an example of why that is. His 5th Symphony was written while he was trying to stay alive and satisfy the Soviet demands. It’s probably the most listener-friendly of his symphonies, and the pain he expresses has to stem directly from all he and his country has suffered from their Communist oppressors.
His Seventh Symphony, commonly called the “Leningrad Symphony,” probably has the most dramatic and heartbreaking story attached to it. The city of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), was sieged by the Nazis, and though he escaped before the worst hit the city, his heart was always with his home. The 7th Symphony is a tremendous work, and the first movement contains an irritating, yet unforgettable, motif that seems like it will never end (begins around 7:08). Whether that’s the Communist oppression or the Nazis’ advance, that’s up to the listener, but it’s an amazing piece of music. For further reading, check out this book I just reviewed!
Violin Concerto in Gm by Max Bruch
Finally, this is a sort of honorable mention. Bruch is near and dear to my heart for a couple reasons. First of all, because I wrote a long research paper about him. But mostly – and this was the reason I wrote that paper – I adore his Violin Concerto in g minor. It’s the concerto I’ve spent the most time with, and for such a conservative composer, Bruch created such a romantic and heart-wrenching composition. It’s definitely one of my favorite violin concerti of all time—again, I’m wildly biased. His Scottish Fantasy is also so worth a listen. Although it’s known as “Scratch Frantically” among violinists, it contains beautiful melodies from Scotland even though Bruch was a German composer!
I hope you enjoyed this little foray into classical music! Do you know or love any of these pieces? Do you have a favorite composer or piece of classical music? Do you enjoy writing with music in the background?