When I was an elementary school student in HISD (Houston Independent School District) a rather long time ago, music appreciation was taught as a weekly course, teaching us many numerous classic composers and compositions. All elementary schools (much smaller number in those days) were treated to a couple of full Houston Symphony full student concerts at the then Music Hall. This implanted in many students, certainly myself included, a life-long love and appreciation for classical music, which has been truly life enriching. Unfortunately, budget cuts and other curriculum priorities eliminated such courses in public schools over the years, and for most children and many of their parents, not being exposed to this sort of music much, or at all, never even have an opportunity to “try it out.”
In a bit of an effort to at least offer a little exposure, I decided to put on my practice website a page called “Classical Clips of the Week.” At that or at least regular intervals I hope, G-d willing, to feature a short clip from the vast collection of YouTube musical video concerts, of a variety of orchestral and other musical highlights. There will be a short introductory note, and a suggested start-stop timing indicator, which can obviously be extended in both directions. I hope this will provide some musical enjoyment and education to kids and caretakers, and maybe even produce some true music lovers. I would strongly suggest that, if possible, they be listened to with either good computer (or larger) speakers, or good earphones or headphones, as phone or laptop speakers just cannot reproduce orchestral music adequately. And a decent display is better than a little phone screen. It is worth noting that, more than ever before, YouTube and other music sites offer unlimited access to an enormous range of the five or so centuries of classical music. Give it a try. See what you think.
A Sampling of Dances for Orchestra
In modern times, we usually think of dance music as, well, music to dance to. In musical history a lot of dance music has been just that. However, many composers wrote orchestral music based on folk tunes, dance and other, mainly for listening. Here is a small sampling of composers from various parts of Europe who wrote collections of short pieces based on their own folk or other regional musical traditions.
Dvorak: Slavonic Dance #1 (1878)
Brahms: Hungarian Dance #8 (1883)
Grieg: Norwegian Dances (1880—originally for piano. Try from 5:00 to 10:10 or so)
Smetana: Dances from Bartered Bride (1886)
English Country Dance (John Playford 1651)
Tchaikovsky: Russian Trepak (1892 from the Nutcracker ballet)
Antonin Dvorak: Symphony #9, "From the New World"
The symphony is perhaps the most fundamental form of classical music—after all, full classical orchestras are called symphony orchestras though they play many other classical music forms. A symphony is an elaborate, lengthy musical composition for full orchestra, divided into three or more (usually four) sections called “movements.” Some movements have “fast” music some “slower,” some loud and some quiet, etc. The first symphonies appeared around the 1730’s in Italy, and have been composed until the present in countries around the world. Composers such as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak among many others are especially well known for their wonderful symphonies.
I will admit to a favorite symphony, which I first heard at the age of seven or eight: the Symphony #9 of the Czech conductor Antonin Dvorak, (1831-1904) which is subtitled, “From the New World,” because Dvorak composed it while he was brought to teach and work in the United States. Composed in 1893, it utilizes Native American and African-American melodic themes the composer heard while in America.
This link is to a fine performance conducted by the Houston Symphony’s current music director, though this performance is by the Frankfurt Symphony Orchestra. The whole piece is about 45 minutes long (there are about four minutes of applause at the end. I have listed below some suggested timing marks to hear the main themes of each movement, though I’m hoping at some point many will want to hear the whole symphony. There are well over 150 different recordings on CD available of this work!
First movement: “fast”: 1:30 to 6:00 min marks
Second movement: “slow” 13:00 to 16:00 min. marks
Third movement: “brisk” 26:00-29:00 min marks
Fourth movement: “fast” 39:00 min to end (although last 4-5 minutes are applause)
Nicholai Rimsky-Korsakoff: “Flight of the Bumblebee” from opera, “Tale of the Tsar Sultan"
This very short piece is meant to portray in music the sound a flying bumblebee, and it definitely succeeds. Don’t need too much imagination to hear this. The piece is often played by a solo instrumentalist, especially a violinist, but the orchestral version works well.
Scott Joplin: “Maple Leaf Rag.” (1899)
While this composer, an African-American born in Texarkana, Texas, wrote music of several forms: marches, two opera, and a ballet, he is known as the “King Of Ragtime” for over 100 compositions of this form. He was largely forgotten by the general public until the use of his music in the 1973 film, “The Sting” brought his name and music style to prominence. This is performed by a small orchestral ensemble, especially because when this was recorded—and you won’t have trouble guessing how recently this was.
Modest Mussorsky: “Great Gate at Kiev” from “Pictures at an Exhibition.” Filmarmonia Narodowa
This is from a set of ten short “musical pictures” of paintings in an exhibit that the Russian composer helped set up. It was composed for solo piano, and in 1922 a French composer, Maurice Ravel arranged it for full orchestra. This picture itself was of a proposed giant gate for the Ukrainian city of Kiev.
Brahms: Hungarian Dance #5
From a set of 21 different arrangements of traditional Hungarian folk dances, this one originally composed in 1869 for two pianos together, later set for orchestra by the composer. There are many, many classical compositions based on all kinds of dance music from lots of countries around the world. This one is particularly well known.
A LITTLE BASKET OF CONCERTOS
One of the most important forms of orchestral music is the concerto (pronounced con-cher’-toe), which is a team effort between orchestra (small or large) and one or more solo instruments. A concerto is a little like a conversation or a tennis game, with the orchestra and soloist(s) taking turns and playing together. There are thousands of them, starting in about the 1600’s and still being composed today. There are concertos for just about every instrument as soloist, though the piano and violin are the most common. There are often three sections, called movements, often fast, slow, fast, though this can vary a lot. The soloist must be an exceptionally fine musician (and often plays an especially fine instrument which is heard over the whole orchestra.)
Beethoven Violin Concerto from 1806. (34:10 to 41:10) though you might want to stay until the end.) The solo violinist, a younger Izhak Perlman, often has a particularly happy look when he plays. He had polio as a child, which you can notice only when he stands up at the end.
Beethoven: Piano Concerto #5, Emperor Concerto. More great Beethoven, 1810 (4:50 until 9:15). On the longer pieces this just suggests a reasonable length segment for most children.
Not quite so famous, but two nice examples of brass concertos, two earlier pieces, with the smaller orchestras which were more common at that time:
Haydn: Trumpet Concerto, third movement (full selection). 1796. The soloist is the great trumpet player Wynton Marsalis, who is famous for playing all kinds of music with great virtuosity.
Mozart Horn Concerto #4 (13:50 until end) from 1786.
And here is the one by Beethoven:
THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER (music by John Stafford Smith, England) 1700s
Most symphony orchestras begin their season by playing the national anthem as first piece at the first concert. So we will start this collection the same way. Although just about every American and countless other people around the world are familiar with the anthem, most have not heard it in full orchestration at its normal tempo (speed) and with full orchestra. Rather more are used to pre-sports performances with popular singers offering individual styles, which change the tempo and other aspects of the music. Here is a traditional rendition played by the New York Philharmonic and chorus. You will see something very unusual: three different conductors, as this somehow combine performances in three different years.
THE WILLIAM TELL OVERTURE (Giacamo Rossini: 1829))—start about 8:20 to end of piece)
An overture is a section of music that comes before the main program, in this case an opera that is seldom performed anymore. The overture, especially the last three or so minutes, however, is very familiar to most people because it is used in so many popular ways. It became really, really famous because it was the theme music to a radio then television cowboy show (there used to be a lot of those) called “The Lone Ranger”—who wore a mask all the time, by the way. It was later used in cartoons, commercials, and lots of other things like that. Watch all the instruments taking turns playing the main theme. Close your eyes and use your imagination to think what picture or story this music makes you think of.
THE TYPEWRITER (Leroy Anderson: 1950)—whole piece
Leroy Anderson was known for light, short orchestral pieces, such the “The Syncopated Clock.” This is also one of is best know, and “cutest” I guess we could say. A lot of kids might not even know what a typewriter is, but before computers, printers, and software, these machines—first mechanical, later electric—were used to type instead of hand write documents. Ask your parents to tell you about them, and they may even have one to show you. In this piece, an actual typewriter is one of the “instruments” in the orchestra, and it has a very humorous affect.