New Classical Essentials
Often referred to as Indie Classical, Neo-Classical and various other names, the labels don’t really matter. This innovative, disruptive scene represents an intersection of contemporary classical, experimental and indie-rock, leaving traditional boundaries behind.
Confusingly, the term 'classical' not only refers to the genre as a whole, but also the classical period in musical history. Spanning from roughly 1730 to 1820, it boasts such composers as Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn plus many more composers who may have less famous names, but some pretty famous music.
From stirring openings to flourishing finales and all the beautiful themes in between, this list will guide you through the evolution of the symphony from its beginnings in 18th Century Germany through to today. Drawing on themes as diverse as love and war, and inspired by everything from travel to grief, the symphony is an enduringly fascinating musical form.
To many people, singing in a choir is not just a defining musical experience, but a vitally social one too. Humans have been making music with our voices – the instrument we are all born with – for as long as we've existed. From plainsong and motets right through to modern cantatas and masses, choral music is as varied as it is innately human.
String Quartets Essentials
The balanced, intimate sound of the string quartet makes it irresistible to composers, and it became one of the cornerstones of the classical era, with Joseph Haydn often hailed as the "father" of the form. The string quartets of Beethoven, Mozart, Shostakovich and Bartok are considered among their most important work.
The origin of the piano can be traced back to 1700 when an Italian harpsichord maker Bartolomeo Christofori made the instrument as we know it today. From Mozart to Rachmaninov, Brahms to Scriabin, discover the variety of the world’s greatest piano masterpieces.
Opera's origins lie at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries. Several works compete for the honour of being the 'first' opera, but the earliest opera still performed today is Claudio Monteverdi's 'L'Orfeo' from 1607. Developed over the centuries by greats like Handel, Mozart, Rossini, Verdi and Wagner, it is today a diverse and exciting artform.
20th Century Essentials
The 20th century saw an explosion of diverse musical styles and languages, reflecting the rapid and significant historical and cultural changes of the time. Modernism, neoclassicism, minimalism and endless countless other experimentations all flourished, leading to a century rich with remarkable music.
The Baroque period not only gave us some of the greatest music in the repertoire, but also some of the most famous today. The music of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi and many more is characterised by many things, but above all an emphasis on rich counterpoint (multiple lines of music supporting and interacting with each other) – a notable change from the more homophonic music of the preceding eras.
Chamber Music Essentials
Chamber music, or 'the music of friends' was first written to be performed in a small room – hence 'chamber'. These days, music for small groups is performed everywhere from art galleries to multistorey carparks, on street corners by busking string quartets, and aboard helicopters by intrepid interpreters of Stockhausen.
As with all labels, the 'romantic era' doesn't exactly have defined borders. Although it spanned roughly from 1870-1910, the music of the period can be divided into early and late: the late works of Beethoven, for instance, are often considered to be the dawn of romanticism, and many composers who lived and wrote well into musical explosion of the 20th century began in a more romantic tradition. Much like in art and literature, the romantic composers were all about self-expression, emotion on a grand scale and new ideas.
The cultural phenomenon of minimalism brought to the art world an influx of new philosophical and aesthetic ideas during the 1960s and early 1970s. In Western art music, the rise of minimalism can be traced to the New York Downtown scene where composers like Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Terry Riley and La Monte Young were experimenting with new forms, techniques and technology. For example, the influence of such experiments can be heard to powerful effect in Reich’s Electric Counterpoint from 1987, where the soloist becomes their own ensemble and performs over a backing of 12 pre-recorded electric guitars and bass parts.
A hugely exciting time in the history of many disciplines, the Renaissance gave us an abundance of music, both religious and secular, vocal and instrumental. Spanning two centuries from 1400-1600, this special period inspired timeless classics from the likes of Tallis and Palestrina, as well as an entire school of Franco-Flemish masters whose influence extended all over Europe.
The avant-garde is all about the shock of the new – experimental, radical, or unorthodox music which challenges the traditions of the time. While composers fitting this description have been around since the Renaissance and before, this playlist focuses on the explosion of innovation and ideas around the latter half of the 20th century which changed music - and our perception of it – for good.
Art Song Essentials
Known as Lieder in German or mélodie in French, art songs can be hard to define. Generally though, they are born of poetry set to music and are performed in a concert setting. It is through song that music shares the strongest bond with literature. Themes like love and nature have inspired poets and composers of all cultures and ages – Schubert in particular couldn’t stop himself composing and amassed over 600 Lieder in his lifetime! This selection encompasses all the many different themes, cultures and forms that this varied genre can take, finishing up on a hopeful tone on a bright tomorrow to come.
Film Music Essentials
Since the beginning of the 20th century when synchronized sound in films became possible, film music has developed into a standalone genre and industry of its own with thousands of people willing to devote their lives to soundtracks for the moving image. From John Williams to Bernard Herrmann, Ennio Morricone to Hans Zimmer, get ready to listen to the greatest soundtracks of all time.
Contemporary Classical Essentials
Broadly speaking, "contemporary classical" is defined as music written in our time using classical forms and instrumentation. This is vital, expressive music which reflects the world we live in today using an enormous spectral pallete, informed by all that has gone before. The composers featured in this playlist are almost all alive and still writing, with just a few exceptions for titans we recently lost.