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Need good, interesting classical music to study for structure and orchestration

Discussion in 'Score Study Resources' started by Jure Jerebic, Oct 27, 2018.

  1. Hi guys,

    Mike always talks how JW took from people like Ravel, Schostakowitsch and others to listen, analyse, and over time incorporate their elements etc., into his own music. I had a listen to a couple of their pieces, but a lot of them are frankly boring for me to listen to, as I very rarely listen to classical music. Are there any specific pieces that are more interesting but still offer a lot of content and knowledge to learn from?

  2. These are by no means intended to be direct influences on Williams. Nor is the list in any particular order or meant to be all inclusive - but these did inform the symphonic language composers in early film used to communicate with their audience. These colors and motives influenced the later generations of film and concert composers. If the pieces are frankly boring, then you need to study and familiarize yourself with them to develop an appreciation (and learn the tropes that make them successful). Scores to most of the works published before 1920-1930 are probably available on IMSLP.org.

    From Symphonic Repertoire:
    Holst, "The Planets"
    Shostakovich, "Symphony No. 5" also his "Festive Overture"
    Tchaikovsky, "Symphony No. 4"
    Richard Strauss, "Alpine Symphony" and "Death and Transfiguration"
    Dukas, "Sorceror's Apprentice" and "Fanfare from La Peri"
    Richard Strauss, "Don Juan"

    From Ballet:
    Stravinsky, "The Rite of Spring" and "Firebird"
    Tchaikovsky, "Swan Lake" and "Nutcracker"

    From Opera:
    Wagner, any prelude to any opera
    Strauss, "Der Rosenkavalier"

    From Early Film:
    Anything by Erich Korngold, Max Steiner, Dimitri Tiomkin, and Franz Waxman.
    ---- ----- ----- ----- -----

    Again, if it is boring, read the program notes, understand the story, transcribe parts, read the score, and listen multiple times. Do this in whatever order you want. Listen first, develop your own narrative, study the intended narrative, and compare. Or, study the composer's intention, listen to the piece, and determine what was successful about their musical approach. It is kind of a lifelong undertaking, so don't get discouraged as you start down the road. There's so many options to sort through, but you have to start somewhere.
  3. 1. Post an extract of what you like from Williams and ask what's the reference for this specifically
    2. Wait for @Doug Gibson to spam your topic with tons of youtube videos
    3. Watch and work.

    Paul T McGraw likes this.
  4. I never liked classical music til alot later. I grew up on video game and film score music. But now for the past 3 months I've been studying and listening to purely classical music (and maybe some J.W. since its J.W. afterall). So my suggestion, go Tchaikovsky. He's your gateway drug into classical music.

    I'm not sure why no one ever says Tchaikovsky when comparing J.W. pieces, J.W. is heavily influenced on Tchaikovsky (from unforgettable melodies, to melodic structure, developmental, the way he writes winds (where do you think J.W. got his wind runs from?, and exciting fast strings!!! vigorous strings!!! writing directly lifted from swan lake, or any of tchai's symphonies). , Of course J.W. lifts from alot of composers but before I knew anything about anything, I always knew J.W. reminded me of Tchaikovsky when I first heard Tchaikovsky ; and the more I study Tchaikovsky the more comparisons I see. As well in my personal opinion Tchaikovsky being my favorite lol, he is the easiest pill to swallow when it comes to older music before film score lets say.

    Start with Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Overture. Like if you haven't heard this piece please go listen. This piece is just so bad ass and it has the unforgettable love theme thats used in countless movies and commercials.

    As well, Nutcracker/Swan Lake Ballets. #4, #5, and #6 symphonies. The rest of his symphonies are good as well too if your interested.

    Example: check out his #5 symphony. Start about 2:30mins in when the Main Theme A starts (not counting the clarinet intro melody)... it's literally song form. A-B-A. Like its exactly what Mike preaches. He introduces the A theme, then the B, then repeats the A but instead of winds its in strings. Then he starts his transition phrases, and then develops. It sounds crazy but its quite simple what he's doing. He's just fragmenting his theme and diminishing it until it gets so small that he then brings it back full.

    Shotskovich is harder to swallow, he has some great pieces like his Waltz no. 2 or I like his Dance of the Dolls. I'm still getting into his symphonies, I liked parts of his 5th, but his 7th was a complete snooze fest for me. It had some cool ideas but an hour & 20 mins long was not worth the development for me. But he wrote 15 symphonies and I've only heard 2 so far so I'm still trying to get through them all.

    Hope you enjoy Tchaivkosky, if not you'll break my heart lol Have fun listening! :D
  5. You are all the better for it !

    Indeed ! :D Since I currently await #1 let me offer the following:

    Pick a piece you hear often in film, and listen to the entire work that it is apart of.

    So for example "In the hall of the Mountain King" listen to all of Peer Gynt.

    For "O Fortuna" listen to all of Carmina Burana.

    Mars -- all of the planets.

    Sugar Plum Fairies --- all of the Nutcracker

    Those four scores alone could give you an army of devices to use in your pieces. You can continue using this logic for any piece you enjoy.

    The other thing that got me hooked on classical music was learning an instrument, and playing classical works. When I was 14 I could not believe
    when I closed my eyes one person could make the guitar sound like 3 people. I just HAD to learn how to do that. (the OTHER John Williams)

    Oh ...... time for SPAM ?

  6. Thanks, just made a playlist of these. I know many of these, obviously, but ever listened to them with an analytical approach.

    Also, just as Mike is, I am also a type of a composer that likes to state the idea simply at first, and then develop it. So what I'm looking for in expanding my classical music knowledge is just a way to take it all in, and with time, using similar patterns and devices to enrich my own compositions. However, many classical pieces don't start with a simple idea. In those cases, I find it much harder to analyse the piece and see / hear the horizontal development. Any tips on how to tackle those kind of pieces?
  7. With patience. Lengthy focus is a skill to be developed like any other. A suite like The Planets is good because you can listen to just one movement a day, for example. Or shorter pieces like Overture to the School for Scandal can help you begin to develop your muscle for listening for longer periods of time. Being sensitive to time is crucial for film work - where the music should ultimately describe a 90+ minute suite. Sometimes the actual passage of time is necessary to create or define a moment for an audience. Take the Binary Sunset shot from Star Wars. You can understand what's happening there in 3 seconds; that's as long as that shot needs to be for its plot to be conveyed. But you can't get the vibe fully in the 3 seconds - it literally takes more time than that. With long-form music, it's the same thing - the time is not separate from the piece - it dictates when and what is happening as much as anything else does. A novel is different than a pamphlet. The length itself changes the pace and nature of the content.
  8. Take small chunks (like Mike mentioned) - say a movement or 2-3 minute passage and break it down. As far as analysis, you're right to stress both seeing and hearing. What do you hear and what does the score show? You're conceivably working on writing for instruments, so you need to know what they're used to seeing if you want to communicate with the performer on paper. Also, deciding how successful is the score/performance at conveying the musical idea.

    Part of the major problem at some conservatories and colleges of music is that they divorce seeing/hearing/performing from the cohesive whole, so if you can incorporate all of that into your studies, then I think you'll have a deeper understanding of wth is going on in music. Some people in higher education are trying to bring back this approach, but there's nothing stopping a motivated person from tackling it with some guidance.
    ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
    As far as aural listening, here's some questions to get you started:
    • can you identify/transcribe the melody?
    • do you hear the formal sections (if any)?
    • can you associate the motif of a line/phrase with a character or idea (how recognizable and memorable is it)?
    • what instruments are carrying what part of the musical load (harmonic, rhythmic, melodic, counter line)?
    • what was the mood/vibe established?
    And for the analysis of the written score:
    • can you identify the quality/function of the harmony?
    • how does the harmony establish the form? what is the harmonic rhythm?
    • how is dissonance/resolution used? how are phrases constructed?
    • what is recurring/repeating and what is new?
    • what does the composer do to develop the work into a longer form? (there's lots of tricks & techniques to study here)
    • how does the orchestration support the compositional ideas?
    • is there a signature rhythm or melodic idea that binds it together?
    • what ranges were successful and at what relative volumes/dynamics?
    You can go as deep down the rabbit hole here as you want to see the inner workings of a piece, but I strongly encourage you to continue combining written and aural analysis. Also, to reinforce the opening comment, start with small sections until you develop the skills/vocabulary to tackle more expansive works (see Rohann's link).
    Paul T McGraw likes this.
  9. Thanks everyone. I guess I'll tackle this in a way of "stretching" my capability of analysing longer pieces. Slowly adding more and more minutes, and eventually it'll be fine. Unfortunately, I can't read music, so that's out of the picture. But, Adler's The Study of Orchestration is getting here in the next couple of days, so all of these powers combined and with time, I should be able to understand all these more complex developments and structures better.
  10. Take a couple of weekends with flashcards or an app and learn to read music. You can't do any of this and be illiterate. It's easier than learning to read and write English, which you already have; smaller alphabet, less grammar.
  11. 100% thumbs up. It's like saying, "I want to be a screen writer but can't read a script." Sure, you can record your voice audio and scene directions and have a literate person transcribe and format it, but you can't study existing great scripts or read drafts/edits to see how the product developed over time into the final film. We've all seen videos of the DAW heroes that loop samples (why are they always on Ableton Live or FL Studio? - I'm teasing) and click dots on their piano roll... Glad you're aspiring for more Jure.
    Rohann van Rensburg likes this.
  12. It's definitely an area I want to dive into; I've been a musician for 18 years, so that's how I got my chops, which I'm now utilising in composition and writing for different production and trailer music libraries. However, since I will be writing for an orchestra in the future, and just for enhancing the capability of analysis, I'll try to learn how to read music. I'm not too keen on it, though - every time I've tried it in the past, I just stopped because it didn't help me in any way - I was able to write anything anyways. So this would be a good time now, as it has a purpose. For the nearby upcoming projects, I'll have other people take my MIDI and mockups and then transcribe them for an orchestra.
  13. I feel the same and believe me I have given a lot of "modern" composers a chance! Mike also compares composition to cooking. Imagine us trying to force someone who hates spicy food to try and like it. Yes if they were applying for a Mexican kitchen job it might make sense.
    I suppose it has to come from a curiosity and/or a need. As an example, with horror music it is hard to avoid dissonances and clusters. But you could also choose to avoid that genre all together if it makes you feel bad to compose in that style.
    With music there are just too many interesting composers out there for it to make sense to try and like someone whom you deeply despise unless there is a REALLY good reason. Life is very short. Personally I'm satisfied with what I got from the first John Willliams masterclass. If I have to choose between studying more JW scores or going to his Stravinsky roots I'd go with the first option. Maybe in 20 years time I'd go with the second option. But I'm grateful to Stravinsky since I love how Williams used the tools he invented.

    I would believe that there are many great movie scores out there rooted in rock rather than classical so you will always have the choice to limit your focus.

    If you want to practice note reading I suggest just get Sibelius and Noteperformer and start composing in noteperformer. You could also invest in a wacom styled pen tablet rather than a mouse (much more comfortable). Noteperformer is most of the time a 100% pleasant experience. Having suffered from wrist and back pains from piano playing I'd always go with that solution.

    Since I have a feeling we might share musical taste just a bit I would recommend everything Rachmaninoff.
    There is a movie "The Fall" that due to limited budget took Beethoven's 7th symphony 2nd movement and used as soundtrack. Even John Williams would have been hard pressed to compete with that intensity of emotion.
    I can say, despite being a deep lover of a lot of classical music I am very hesitant to go to any Mahler concerts. I am simply afraid that I would literally fall asleep.
  14. I had a mentor tell me early on "taste spirals upwards." If you feed yourself (or your way of thinking) good stuff, then it reinforces and builds new patterns/relationships. You appreciate subtleties and crave those enriching experiences. If it is consumer-grade fast food stuff (art/entertainment/food/etc.), then you kind of stagnate. You're right that life is short and necessity is the best teacher. Not trying to derail the thread, just emphasizing that some things that are worth doing take effort at the beginning, but there are unseen payoffs in the end. (I enjoy shitty stuff too, but there's always the benchmark of an awesome experience that puts things in perspective for me.)
  15. Yes but the problem then becomes who is to determine what is great taste (good stuff). History tells us that those who determined great taste in the past was wrong. Vivaldi was rediscovered in the 1920's by accident. Rembrandt was highly unpopular towards his own death and in the years that followed. Now we are rediscovering a great composer named Cimarosa who was far more popular than Mozart in his own time. The painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau was one of the absolute giants when he was alive but had the unfortune to be determined as being bad taste by the artists and critiques who lived after and who wrote our art history books.
    The great revolt of the avant-garde movement meant that any measurement of technical mastery was thrown out of the window. I don't know if it was a good thing or not. It also liberated art and music in a way that probably hadn't been witnessed before.
    In any case today we are privileged in that we have science and psychology and specifically neuroscience. This means that our art and music history and theory is slowly being determined more by facts and less by taste.
    I had the great fortune to be recommended one of the philosophical works of the early avant-garde movement (José Ortega y Gasset). The way that Beethoven was thrashed as being some kind of untalented manipulating bastard using cheap tricks to mislead his audience into some kind of mass hysterical state has really helped shape my opinion of modern classical art and music of the 20th century (Debussy was a saint descending from paradise).
    I personally see jazz as being our 20th century classical music and the other "modern version" I don't often listen to. I feel mostly sad and depressed when I do since I can hear so much talent and skill in composers such as Benjamin Britten and others (also Stravinsky) - how I wish they had been born 100 or 200 years earlier.
    I believe they were very anxious of not constantly "re-inventing themselves" something that I feel makes their music very unnatural. I don't really know how to explain it.
    Mozart had the opposite problem - his dissonance quartet was so radically avant-garde that people seriously disliked it. After that he gave up publishing his more artistic endeavors.
    Sorry for writing too much about this, personally I do plan to study Stravinsky at some point. There are just so many other geniuses on top of that list (Danny Elfman, the Doors, Led Zeppelin, Arvo Part, Chopin etc..).
  16. #17 Leonardo Badinella, Oct 31, 2018
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2018
    There are numerous pieces that come to mind, and trying to make a comprehensive list will be akin to making a new imslp. Having said that, my suggestions to the fantastic pieces already mentioned would be to listen to Respighi's "Feste Romane" and "Pini Di Roma", Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique" and Copland's "Appalachian Spring" or "Orchestral Variations". Thomas Goss is going through "The Planets" note for note so that's a really good watch and study, and he also did that with "The Rite of Spring" by that other new kid. So use those shortcuts.

    Funny thing is after mentioning all of that, I feel like going back to the beginning and just listening to Bach and Beethoven would be enough.... But then I think Ravel, Debussy, Hanson, Holst, Prokofiev, Wagner, and Wagner, did I mention Wagner, lest we forget Wagner.....
  17. I think that's bypassing my larger point, without going into questions of aesthetics, that studying good stuff pays off. We know Transformers, Hunger Games, and the Twilight movies will not hold up to Citizen Kane, The Godfather, or Gone With the Wind. There's some critical consensus (that I agree changes over time) that can point the way. We're sharing in that consensus here with some select pieces and not obscure works. I agree with a lot of your points, the purpose of my previous post was just to encourage Jure to do the grunt work now and reap the rewards of being musically literate (which I think is a necessary attribute for most composers).
    One of many of your points I agree with.
    Thanks for sharing those. I look forward to seeing Goss's break down (I think his orchestration page is a great resource). I also love Respighi.
  18. Nope. Respectfully ..... total rubbish. You have to remember the word "context"

    World War II changed classical music forever.

    Hitler LOVED Wagner. Hitler was considered a romantic. So if you are jewish - Morton Feldman or Polish - Penderecki you probably are going to go out of your way to avoid sounding like "Romanticism". In fact they did.
    We will never know what Shostakovich would have accomplished as an opera composer because of Stalin. (he wrote 2.5 pieces)

    (I love Wagner and Shostakovich. Parsifal is a true "Watershed" moment in classical music. A masterpiece)

    To say there is no measurement of technical mastery is false. They wrote out their scores, and got the results they wanted.

    As you state too...... they all wrote so much and so much different music. Let me offer you a friendly intro to the composers of the avant garde.
    You might not ever be a fan...... that's ok.
    No reason you have to be, but don't be so quick to dismiss.....IMO

    Personally I think we could use a hell of a lot more avant garde right about now.
    We are in culture that rewards pleasant banality over the creatively vexing.
    I was just reading this article before logging on here

    Let's begin with Stravinsky






  19. @Doug Gibson this might be the part on which we differ.
    And above is the rest of the quote for context.

    The thread topic is "Need good, interesting classical music to study for structure and orchestration." I concede all of the pieces you linked in your follow up post are interesting and worthy of study, but I think we'll end up devolving into quibbling over definitions - "classical" and "avante-garde". The Stravinsky piece (1920) predates WWII and is in one of his neo-periods, but I think the other links support your argument really well.

    My difference regarding the technical mastery portion of the quote above (probably because of my definition of avant-garde) is the lack of technique required to compose aleatoric music like Cage's 4:33 (more a philosophical statement maybe?) or throwing out tonality for serialism (I'll create new rules that aren't constrained by the self-imposed limitations of the tonal system). These techniques certainly shaped our tolerance for dissonance and expression, but they don't share the technical mastery I think Hans was referring to. To the untrained-ear-off-the-street, aleatoric and serial music can both sound like cats dancing on the inside of a piano. By which I mean the auditory product of both compositional processes (highly structured and highly unstructured) can omit the structure needed to help the listener along. Maybe my head is up my ass and I am misstating/misreading your post.

    I also agree that we owe a lot to the post-War composers for the freedom of expression and expanded vocabulary we inherited. I don't know if a new learner will have the historical/cultural context to understand 20th century music without a foundational understanding of the music that preceded it. On the other hand, I don't know if you need to go all the way back to organum to "get" Beethoven. It's a hard thing to pin down (finding a relevant starting point to begin tackling a topic). We may need to give Jure back his thread though!
    ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
    I saw that Post Malone article too and enjoyed the critic's take - thanks for sharing it. One of my favorite comments on that page: "OR maybe, and more likely, the writer of this article is an ignorant elitist that should stick to boring symphony music and not venture out of their dark holes."

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