Music for the Ages

So my friend has asked me to help him find some classical music to get him into the genre. Tricky part is that the genre encompasses about a quarter millennium of great art. So how does one help a non-music major get into it all?

I don’t think chronological really works. Bach and Mozart mean far more if you have a bit more of a formal understanding of older musical forms. So better start with the Romantic era, or 20th Century. There needs to be a familiarity with melodies, faint enough to catch one’s ear. Also, the pieces should be a tad shorter than Beethoven’s Ninth. After all, we’re most familiar in the mp3 era with 3- to 4-minute radio tunes. Lastly, perhaps some of the avant-garde or supremely dissonant could be left until a foothold has been put in place. As I’ve said many times, you can’t think outside the box if you haven’t seen the box. So no John Cage just yet.

It also leads me to the question: what if I could only pick one orchestral work to open the door to this music?

George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” to bridge the gap for those used to American pop and jazz?

Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” to touch the heart of anyone who isn’t deaf?

Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” to reach those of us who grew up on Bugs Bunny?

Beethoven’s, well, anything? I’m too big a fan to be picky, though the Sixth Symphony comes to mind.

What if you got to pick the very first piece of music a person would hear? I always go back to the sounds from my father’s old LP collection. There was album in particular, Ormandy by the Philadelphia Orchestra. Mea Culpa: “Finlandia” by Sibelius, I thought of it as “Dragnet” music. “Danse Macabre” by Saint-Saëns, I thought it was Christmas-y (it had ringing triangles and soft flutes and I was six. Shut up.)

For my mind, I keep coming back to one piece. I don’t know why. Antonín Dvo?ák’s New World Symphony (his 9th).

I’m still building my playlist, but for sure all these will be on it.