Western classical music

I used to dislike western classical music (aside from two exceptions). Those two exceptions and a Broke violin changed my mine. Before that, “Classical music” to me meant, Indian ragas, Amaradeva, and Sinhabahu type stuff which I enjoy very much. These along with, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, electronica, old Kandian songs and other varieties of music effortlessly paint pictures in my head. Western classical music just didn’t.

In western classical music what I heard was sleepy dehydrated wailing violins sloshed together into an orchestral bore. Obviously such comments paint me correctly as an ignorant philistine. The type that grunts happily at sugary troughs like YMF (yumm). However my aversion to western classical music has changed without the abandonment of old favourites.

The two western classical pieces that changed my change of perception are

  1. the sound track of the helicopter attack scene in Apocalypse Now.
  2. Carmeena Booreena” — the only piece I knew by name and initially thought had something to do with a European car.

However the catalyst for the change was a CD of solos played on a 1700s violin. The instrument had a powerful profound meaningful sound. It rose through my ancient speakers and chilled the back of my neck. The tone was serious. Yet it simultaneously gave the feeling of soaring among mountains peaks sharply lit by orange sunlight. Just like some non vegetarian bird of prey in a national geographic documentary.

After that I wasn’t in a hurry to change the channel when encountering something classical (specially if there wasn’t anything interesting on). While living in exile a bunch of us got a deal on season tickets to the symphony on Friday nights. Some of us were too tired after the week’s toil and passed out halfway through something called the second motion (or was it movement)? I readily admit to nodding off myself but I always woke up to a swell of uplifting sound.

I came away from the experience with 3 realisations that felt profound to my bovine mind.

  1. No speaker or recording can reproduce the power of live performance.
  2. Western classical music is clearly worth the listen without shedding of your pre-existing musical tastes.
  3. As with any genre of music, it is best enjoyed when you actively listen to it. Not just hearing it as background audio as people to in hotel lobbies when they want to feel sophisticated.

My recent listens are of pieces written by dead central Europeans who wore powdered wigs. Essentially the classical phase of classical western music and a bit afterwards. Almost entirely Modsart (Modie), Beythoven, and Bark. Very unsophisticatedly mainstream no?

I certainly can’t identify pieces or the composers without looking at the CD case. I’m clueless about the terminology and won’t be able to differentiate between a capachino and a sontata. I’m also ignorant about the distinctions between Overchers, majors, and minors (irrespective of the letters that are flattened or sharpened). I don’t understand the significance of music played in a chamber. Lastly I’ve yet to hear a single splash in Modie’s water music.

I have no problem with my ignorance of such things. I’m sure I’ll pick up the lingo without wikipeida as I listen along over the years. These days it is fashionable to flaunt one’s ignorance of such things. Particularly in the puddle of the Sri Lankan blogosphere. To state the obvious, all mispellings and mangling of names and references are intentional. I never was am or will be anything close to being fashionable.


18 thoughts on “Western classical music

  1. You surprise me St Fallen, what kind of course were you following that required research on Orff?

    Cerno, Water Music is by Handel not Mozart. I’m never sure how much you really know but the Apocalypse Now theme is Wagner’s Ride of the Valkries.

    Try Sibelius’s Finlandia and the Karelia Suite if you’ve got the time. Also Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, the opening was used in 2001: A Space Odyssey and is more exciting than the Wagner Ride of the Valkyries in my opinion.


  2. And here I thought Water Music was the sound of one tinkling….

    Like the saucy splash of a virgin weeing in the stream while the mosquitoes dance around the bushes and the late afternoon sunlight glances off the reeds.

    Ummm, thats a quote from somewhere. Paraphrased, since I might not remember it exactly. No idea why it stuck in my mind….


  3. Great that you’re opening your heart and mind to the Western Classical Music, it takes a lot of time (and will) to actually “enjoy” a piece; apart from the mainstream classical music, there is a whole world of Bartok (Hungary), Sibelius (Finland), Debussy (France), Dvorak (Czech), Ginastera (Argentina), Verdi (Italy), Manuel de Falla (Spain), Stenhammar (Sweden), Gershwin (United States), Villa-Lobos (Brazil), Brahms (Germany), Chopin (Poland), Porombescu (Romania), Vaughan Williams (England), Rimsky-Korsakov (Russia), Grieg (Norway), and many more. Listening to all you can find is always helpful!

    I hope you keep looking!
    Cheers, Nic.


  4. Dili: Thank you 🙂 specially for the for the tips and the links 🙂 Didn’t know you were into classical as well

    St. Fallen: Buxtehude??!! Explain 🙂

    JP: I did eventually find out (many years later) that it was Wargner’s. About the same time I realised that the Star Wars theme wasn’t written by a composing in the 1700s 😉 Thank you for the correction on Handel/Water music and the suggestions. I’ll check them out. I read your posts on classical music which tells me that you know your stuff 🙂

    Pericles: Interesting quote/paraphrase non the less 🙂 Mix of mythology and camping in the tropics come to mind… 🙂

    Nic: Thank you. Yes I keep finding out just how big the genre is. Curious to try out modern works as well. Though I have to admit my untrained ear will take a few decades to pick up the finer subtleties..


  5. nice post Mr C. Just as an aside it always amazes me that carmina burana remains a number of people’s favourite piece yet few know that it is based on erotic poetry..
    i love Mozie’s piano concertos and used to listen to them when studying and now when I listen I get taken back to a simpler time..
    I think Nic has complied quite a list but just to add something completely from left field listen to some Rachmaninov especially Opp 33…


  6. Ah, Western Classical Music… we had to remember the composers birthdays and their major works for our O/Ls, but I never really got into the genre… The closest I come to hearing orchestral music is film scores and George Martin’s orchestral backing for some of the Beatles’ songs! 😀


  7. Jack: Thank you for the recommendation 🙂 Will definitely look it up.

    Maf: Thank you 🙂 I’ve heard of Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Concerto which was related to the story line in the film “Shine” but never got around to listening to a piece in full. If I did I must have been clueless as to what I was listening to. The same must apply to most people’s idea of Carmina. To the uneducated ear like mine is sort of vaguely sounds like choir music 😉 which makes the ignorance seem more hilarious.

    Chavie: 🙂 I think the O/Levels make you memorise all sorts of useless stuff for every subject. Wonder what the composers birthdays had to do with classical western music…


    1. Just out of curiosity, what make are your ancient speakers? Also, is there a much interest in hi-fi in SL and where do people get their kit from? Just being a nerd, thanks.


      1. They were in the ancient Honda I was driving at the time. The music was off a radio station. I’m heretically agnostic about audio gear so I wouldn’t know. I bet there has to be a tiny niche of audio-heads in SL. Every country has them. 😀


  8. I just saw a very interesting TEDxMumbai presentation on differences/similarities in styles of music, primarily Indian classical and western classical but applies to most types. It’s all down to the seven notes and the cultural treatment thereof!

    I think you’ll enjoy it, the presenter is awesome: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXnV5HzS7nA


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