Classical music: a genre which remains unknown and side-lined by many. The term itself encapsulates a multitude of different styles, whether choral, orchestral, contemporary or romantic, and most of these remain undiscovered by the average student. Pubs and clubs, venues that play host to most student activity, blast out pop, rock, indie and techno. In contrast, classical music seems reserved only to the concert hall and the opera house.
Snippets of famous classical melodies occasionally appear on television. Perhaps most notable is O Fortuna from Carmina Burana, played at the beginning of The X Factor as the judges walk on. The British Airways advert also features the famous Flower Duet from Delibes’ opera Lakme. It is however, the famous Go Compare advert that steals the show with the most slapstick stereotype of the operatic tenor-with full moustache and vibrato to match!
Whatever positive and negative connotations Classical music has acquired, it has undoubtedly formed part of our national heritage. Elgar, one of the most prominent and influential British composers, appears on our bank notes, as will Benjamin Britten on the 50p coin next year. The genre also regularly infiltrates itself into club music. Barber’s Adagio for Strings, has undergone countless remixes, as has Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. We need look no further than the recent Olympic opening ceremony to see that classical music forms part of our cultural identity, whether we are aware of it or not. Without the study of classical music, the development of popular music would no doubt have evolved differently.
So how can a student, keen to broaden their cultural horizons, broach the massive, and somewhat daunting, genre that is classical music? Perhaps a good introduction to the orchestral sound is through the medium of film music. The music of Hans Zimmer, James Horner and John Williams has touched the masses through cinema. The dramatic and evocative power of music enriches the visual spectacle.
If we descend into the multitude of orchestral compositions, here are a few that shouldn’t pass you by…Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5, Borodin’s Symphony No.2 and Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances. All these feature stirring and rhythmic and melodious lines that embed themselves in your memory.
When it comes to choral music, the list is endless again. Described as ‘the instrument of the soul’, the voice remains one of the most stirring and powerful musical tools. With Christmas fast approaching, performances of Handel’s Messiah will no doubt dominate classical performances. The celebrated ‘Hallelujah’ chorus is perhaps the most iconic and recognizable part of this piece, Youtube it and there are thousands of different recordings! The Dies Irae from Verdi’s Requiem also needs no introduction; if there is one thing you listen to from this article, let it be this. You will recognise it immediately – powerful, utterly encapsulating and masterfully written.
If you’re looking for a more relaxed approach to choral music, Eric Whitacre provides the perfect solution. This is, dare I say it, ‘easy listening’ music, perfect for just before bed. The Seal Lullaby, Sleep and Nox Arumque are just a few examples. Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium also provides a calming, lilting antecedent to slumber.
Examples of famous operatic numbers should probably feature Beethoven’s Fidelio finale, as well as The Anvil Chorus from Verdi’s Il Trovatore. To many, opera remains a genre that alienates, but listen to these excerpts and see what you think.
Although unashamedly biased towards the genre (having just entered my final year studying for a Bachelor of Music), Cardiff itself provides a wealth of musical opportunities, especially in the Classical genre. Tickets to see BBC National Orchestra Of Wales tickets are £3 for students, and for many orchestras £5. These prices tend to quadruple upon graduation! Dress rehearsals to see Welsh National Opera are also free. I would urge all of you to make the most of these performances: there will never be a cheaper time to experiment and widen your musical tastes!
As a music lover of almost all genres, (perhaps apart from heavy metal), I can safely say that whether orchestral, choral, or otherwise, ‘classical music’ offers an alternative, challenging and often thrilling experience to enrich our musical lives. Listen to these examples, experience some concerts, and see for yourself.
Words: Amelie Taylor
Photos: Jordan Merrick