I’ve chosen some orchestral pieces for novices who are interested in classical music but have no idea where to start. It’s so easy for young people to dismiss classical music as not being their thing but when you think about it, much of the music you hear in everyday life is classical and you might even love it without actually realizing it. It’s difficult to know where to begin because how do you know which composers you might like, what type of classical music, choral or symphonic, from which era etc – it’s massively diverse. Here’s my pick of orchestral pieces for novices as a taster.
Pachelbel's Canon is among the favorite orchestral pieces for novices. Many instantly fall in love with one of the most famous classical works of all time. It's easy to be distracted by the uplifting harmonies and the seeming simplicity of the composition – after all, the whole piece is just 8 bars of music repeated over and over (28 times, more precisely). But don't be fooled: Pachelbel's compositional technique is outstanding, almost mathematical. Even Mozart and Handel have borrowed his iconic bass line for some of their works. Imagine that!
Carmina Burana is the most famous work of the controversial German composer, based on a medieval manuscript bearing the same name. The movement you've surely heard (even if maybe you're not aware of it) is O Fortuna, a complaint about fate and luck, which has been featured in numerous movies and TV commercials, usually setting the mood for highly dramatic situations. However, I recommend you to listen to the whole cantata, as it's brilliant "from head to toes".
Brahms' Hungarian Dances, completed in 1869, are all great orchestral pieces for novices, with their lively tunes and folkloric vibe, but No. 5 is by far the most popular of them all – even heard in Looney Tunes! The piece is absolutely enchanting, keeping you drawn in with its impassioned main theme and seductive sudden tempo changes.
Saint-Saëns' Danse Macabre is another one of the orchestral works for novices to fully enjoy and even try some analysis on. Written in 1874, this bewitching symphonic poem is based on an old French superstition. As the story goes, on Halloween, Death appears at midnight, calling for the dead to dance for him while he plays the violin, until dawn comes and they must go back to their graves. It's very entertaining to listen carefully to the piece and try to see how the story is told only through instrumental music. For example, the 12 opening notes represent the clock striking midnight, and you will be able to hear the rattling bones of the skeletons dancing thanks to the ingenious use of the xylophone.
Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra has become insanely popular since Kubrik used its introduction (Sunrise) for the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey (a must-watch, by the way). Since then, the piece's introduction has been used to set the mood for dramatic scenes, to indicate space or for anything grand and vast. You've surely heard the beginning countless times, but you really need to listen to the whole tone poem, based on Nietzsche's controversial treatise bearing the same name.
You've most probably heard this piece in a myriad of cartoons, movies and TV shows without even realizing it. Grieg's Morning Mood has often been used to signify morning, many times accompanied by the sound of a rooster crow or of birds chirping. And it really is a great way to set the mood for a new day! So inspiring and full of hope!
This is another one of the orchestral pieces for novices that you will surely recognize, as it has been featured in film and television countless times, and also used as walk on music by famous bands like Deep Purple, Iron Maiden and Muse. The piece was written for the ballet Romeo and Juliet and starts in a very dark, dramatic mood. Playing with contrasts, it leads to a serene, calm middle section, finally ending with the feeling of uneasiness it started with.
I do hope this has been a good introduction into the magical world of classical music and that it has whetted your appetite for more. Do you enjoy classical music and are you going to listen to more from now on?
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