Well, I recently did a post on my top 10 favorite classical music pieces, and I thought to myself – why not do a post on my favorite of the larger kinds of classical music. These are the orchestrations with more than one part. There are a lot of technical terms, but I think I’ll eschew those, so me and me don’t come off sounding nerdy and with no life. These are the longer kinds of music. They typically have either understood different segments, like adagios, prelude and the like, or they have changes that weren’t written in but are clear to anyone listening. I will have links to every composition on the title. Also, this is just orchestral music, so nothing with lyrics. Hopefully some of my audience are mature enough to enjoy it. Let’s get down to it. Oh, one last thing – we are taking another cue from Fantasia and using pictures to describe what we see when we hear the music. Enjoy.
10. The Grand Canyon Suite
This is an interesting piece. In fact, I hadn’t heard of this until just recently. There is a classical music station in the part of the world where I live. I know, amazing. Given all the stations that play shitty music, Christian “rock” and Alex Jones’ insanity, the fact that we have decent music in this red state amazes me. This is a piece of music that really does feel like the telling of the story of a day. From the gentle opening number, to the way it all comes to a gentle end, this feels like a day. And you know, it actually makes me think of something like the Grand Canyon. Somewhere out in the desert, where the sun shines down. If you haven’t heard this piece before, I highly recommend.
9. The Pastoral Symphony
Ludwig von Beethoven
Now, this was Beethoven’s 6th Symphony but it was called the “Pastoral Symphony.” When it was written, Beethoven meant for it to describe a day in the life of the countryside that he was familiar with. I first heard this piece in Fantasia, and have been in love with it ever since. I know, I’m a little biased. So are all of you. Don’t pretend to have the high ground. In any case, this is an amazing piece of music. It also feels like the hours of the day, starting off softly and ending in a nice wrapping up that feels like the setting sun. You have all the emotions of the day playing out, and the whole thing always feels a little playful. It’s a lovely piece of music, and it has earned its spot here on the list.
8. Afro-American Symphony
I don’t know if this guy knew him or not, but it is abundantly clear that he took a lot of cues from George Gershwin. I’m not ragging on him. Far from it. I love Gershwin, and you will see some of his work on here later. This is a very mellow piece of music. To me, this is music that talks about a city. I’m thinking New York, because this city has personality. Each street tells a story of history and the people who live there. Each part of the symphony tells the story of a different part of the city. There are the quieter parts, the louder parts, and the parts that are just different. Like any good city is supposed to be. You know, if America wasn’t a crime-ridden cesspool.
7. The Firebird
Now, this is a full ballet number. However, the full piece has a REALLY dull opening number and it drags. The best version of this song is in Fantasia 2000. They shorten all the extraneous stuff, and get to the best material. Though maybe I’m biased, because it is an awesome sequel to one of my favorite movies of all time. Me and me are so biased! In any case, the animation captured the feel of this perfectly. You have spring returning to the forest, with the Spirit of Nature revitalizing everything. Then there is the confrontation with the titular Firebird. The epic scale they gave that part of the piece in the film is just awesome. For real, if you haven’t seen it, you really must. On blu-ray! Then there is the end, where it just keeps building and building, breaking open and ending with such joyful emotions that it makes you all warm and fuzzy inside. I love this music, then and now.
6. Porgy and Bess
Now, this one is cheating a bit. After all, this music was written with spoken words in mind. However, I just can’t help it. As music goes this is so good! This music clearly tells a story, even without the words. A down-south story of love, family and growing up. It evokes the emotion of finding out who you are. Each piece of music has a different emotion, and that is what ties all of it together. It is an emotional experience, from beginning to end. When I hear it, I think of some island in the Caribbean. Where a young man is growing up, trying to deal with the ups and downs of life. What do you all see when you listen to it? Don’t look at the visuals. Just close your eyes and hear it. Do that for all of the pieces I list. What do you see?
5. The Nutcracker
Now, the first time I heard this music was in Fantasia, but make no mistake – I love the original version of it as well. My dearest lady-friend and I go see it every year as part of a new tradition, which is a continuation of a tradition she used to have. It is a favorite thing of mine, not just because I love the music, but because I love spending time with my dear lady-friend. I see so little of her these days. This is some of the greatest holiday music ever recorded. Granted, this version doesn’t have the cute little overture that I so enjoy with this music. Still, you take what you can get. Part of me laments that 2D animation has gone the way of the dodo, because the original format of this ballet lend itself to animation. I can see gorgeous vistas and amazing visions of the dreams. All the possibilities! Alas, the kind of animation I grew up with and have so much respect for is all but dead. Sad-making…
4. Rhapsody in Blue
Now, I know that this piece of music has only one section of it, technically. However, you can’t argue with me that it might as well have more. This piece changes in emotion and mood so much that it feels much longer than it is. Just like Afro-American Symphony, this piece tell the story of a city with attitude. The version of this in Fantasia 2000 is almost perfect with the mood of this song. It helps that they used a style of animation that was used in drawing by Al Herschfeld. That is clever. So much emotion comes through the song. Not to mention, the film captures how this song tell the hours of the day. It is a story that begin as the start of the day, and ends where the day ends. Given that it is NYC that I see, I bet the entire city is a mess of lights by the night. Neon lights that cut through the dark, breathing a different kind of life into the city.
3. A Night on Bald Mountain
This is probably the darkest piece of music created. Ever. People can talk about heavy metal all they want, but that doesn’t even come remotely close to the dark emotions in this piece of music. The piece actually tells the story of Bald Mountain, which is a place where Satan and his chum supposedly gathered each night. This suite goes through such a night. The terror that it leaves you with is palpable. You are effed up by the piece of music. I can only imagine what a mind-fuck that would be like to see in real life. Demons, ghosts, all forms of hell-creature. That must be one fun party! How I wish that I could be there. It would be quite a sight.
2. The Planets Suite
I don’t know where the inspiration for this came from, but wherever it was, it was amazing. Each of these pieces of music flows from a theme – the Roman gods that they were all named for. You have Mars, the song is warlike. Venus is gentle. Ironic, given the violent and destructive nature of the planet, but hey, that’s old-timey civilization for ya. Mercury is light and whimsical. Jupiter is big and bombastic. Saturn is sad and old. Uranus is weird and off-putting. Neptune is quite and thoughtful. When I hear this music, it brings to mind images of wandering through space, seeing the universe as it has never been seen before.. There was this art project called “The Planets,” which was being worked on by a guy named Greg Martin. I never knew what happened with his work. It was pretty awesome. I guess that they gave up on the project, somewhere along the way. Sad, really. Still, this is some amazing music, with each part telling its own little story.
And my favorite classical music suite is…
1. The Rite of Spring
When this music premiered, it was so controversial that it caused a riot, with Stravinsky having to flee Paris. This music – harsh, violent and unforgiving – was so unlike anything that was being made at the time that people had no idea what to think about it. In a lot of ways, people still don’t. Then Disney came along and decided to make the song a telling of the history of life on Earth. You know what, that feels perfect. To me, I get the feeling that Igor Stravinsky would be more than a little pleased if he had seen Disney’s interpretation of his music. If you haven’t seen Fantasia, I cannot stress how much you are missing out on great music and great animation. Have I sucked these films’ dick enough? Maybe. Still, there is no other way I could envision the cold nature of Stravinksy’s work than in this way. Bless its heart.
So, what are your favorite classical music suites? Let me know down in the comments section. You know, I wonder how much of my audience actually likes classical music. I think that me and me are part of a dying breed. Sad-making…
Until next time, a quote,,
“Walt Disney once described animation as a voyage of discovery, into the realms of color, sound and motion.” -Angela Lansbury, Fantasia 2000