Saturday, July 16, 2011

Classical Music Top Ten Hits

YouTube is a fascinating resource: you can dig into it in multiple ways. For example, here is what you get if you type "best classical music" into the search engine:
Number 10: Georges Bizet - Habanera
Number 9: Jacques Offenbach - Infernal Galop
Number 8: Luigi Denza - Funiculi Funicula
Number 7: Johann Sebastian Bach - Air On A G String
Number 6: Luigi Boccherini - Minuet
Number 5: Ludwig van Beethoven - Fur Elise
Number 4: Frédéric Chopin - Minute
Number 3: Johann Strauss jr - Annen Polka
Number 2: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
Number 1: Johannes Brahms - Hungarian Dance No.5
 I don't know how this was arrived at, but notice we do get Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Chopin. All are short, pleasing tunes. Actually, this is a classical top ten chosen with a pop sensibility. Here is another list:
1. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik-Mozart
2. Symphony No. 5, 1st mvt-Beethoven
3. Rondo Alla Turca-Mozart
4. William Tell Overature-Rossini
5. Für Elise-Beethoven
6. Blue Danube Waltz-J. Strauss
7. Moonlight Sonata-Beethoven
8. Minuet(from Quintet No. 11)- Boccherini
9. Spring-Vivaldi
10. The Barber of Seville (Overature)-Rossini
11. Dance of the Hours- Ponchielli
12. Also Sprach Zarathustra-R. Strauss
13. Hoedown(from Rodeo)-Copland
14. Prelude to Act 1. (Los Toreadores)-Bizet
15. Adagio for Strings-Barber
16. Classical Gas- Mason Williams
 Some overlap with the first list and a bit more serious with the Moonlight Sonata and the Symphony #5 of Beethoven. Which is the odd-man out? The Mason Williams. Is a piece of music classical because the word 'classical' is in the title? We could try and figure out why each piece is on the list. A clear and memorable melody seems to be key--that and rhythmic vitality plus clear harmonies. I'm interested in this because a couple of months ago I tried to write a short piece specifically for a mainstream audience and to my great surprise they quite liked it. It made me realize that, coming out of the progressive and experimental environment of the last century, my unexamined assumption in composition was to do something arcane rather than something clear and evident.

Let me see if I can come up with my personal classical top ten.
  1. String Quartet in C# minor, op 131, Beethoven
  2. Piano Sonata in A major, op 101, Beethoven
  3. Symphony #5, op 47, Shostakovich
  4. String Quartet #8, op 110, Shostakovich
  5. The Art of Fugue, Bach
  6. The Well-Tempered Clavier, Bach
  7. Symphony #41, K 551, Mozart
  8. Mazurka, op 17 no 4, Chopin
  9. Revolver, The Beatles
  10. The White Album, The Beatles
Wow, there's an eccentric list for you! The last three items I was wrestling with because I could have equally put in a Beethoven symphony, the Bach B minor Mass and something by Debussy. I could do another list that would be completely different, but it would certainly have a Beethoven quartet and piano sonata, a Shostakovich quartet and symphony, some Bach fugues and something by Mozart, Chopin, Debussy and The Beatles. So now you know where I'm at! One of the things I look for in a piece of music is the capacity to be listened to many, many times without becoming tiresome. How many times can you listen to (or play) a Bach fugue? A Beethoven sonata? Some might ask, why the Chopin? Here's why:

No comments: