A Guide To Classical Music For People Who Hate Classical Music (Part 2)
  • WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26, 2013

  • Posted by: Dorit Finkel

Our first installment of this series sparked conversation and controversy over our conservative selection of composers, so we've decided to write up a Part 2 for all you music lovers who can't stand "modern classical."

Sure, we could have gone the route of "What's the big difference between 'cool' composers like Brian Eno and some dude doing experimental chants on NPR at 2 in the morning?" but we decided to take up our readers on their suggestions, opting to include modern composers you might hear at Lincoln Center or in a college thesis. That being said, the line between classical and pop music becomes more blurred every day, and it seems like instrumental, orchestral music is more accessible than ever. Film scores, instrumental dance music, rock and pop with a focus on a wider range of instruments, and video game soundtracks have us questioning where - and why - we draw that line in the first place. But for the purposes of this article, we'll be defining "classical" the same way your local classical radio station probably does.

Our choices this time range from music that was popular in 1920 to music that was written this year, so the definition of "modern" may feel somewhat skewed. Two things are sure, though: we're moving past Fantasia material, and we're not going to discuss Philip Glass.

If you like: Sonic Youth, Queens of the Stone Age, classic horror movie soundtracks

You may also like: Bela Bartok, a Hungarian composer and an expert ethnomusicologist in the folk music of his region. His drastic pieces often make references to Romanian, Hungarian, Bulgarian, and Transylvanian folk songs but took on a dysmorphic, heart-pounding angularity that helped shape the world of modern classical music. The selection below was featured in The Shining, so that should basically tell you what you need to know.

Because it sounds like: a beautiful nightmare that continues to haunt your waking hours.

"Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta"




If you like: The Flaming Lips, Thom Yorke, David Byrne

You may also like: Conrad Tau, a 19 year-old prodigy whose compositions may be a bit hard for some to digest, but whose incorporation of tech and moody loops like the kind ubiquitous in dance music is astounding and intense. His music has some of the rebellious atonality of modern jazz, but maintains a smoothness that lets you lean back in your chair, close your eyes, and enter that weird space in your brain. You know the one.

Because it sounds like: your computer went sentient and noodled off into a daydream.

"Iridescence" (for piano and iPad)




If you like: Low, St. Vincent, Cat Power

You may also like: Lera Auerbach, a contemporary Russian composer and poet, whose meditative and dense compositions recall the Romantics but put a decidedly twisted spin on predictability.

Because it sounds like: a storm brewing in the recesses of your frustration and sexuality.

Prelude No. 24 in D Minor




If you like: Mumford and Sons, Neil Young, The Lumineers

You may also like: Aaron Copland, an American composer who was born in Brooklyn and wrote largely in the first half of the 20th century. He wanted to develop a distinctively "American sound," often referencing the country's sweeping landscapes, adventurous history, and spirit of freedom and patriotism. His influence (along with Leonard Bernstein and other contemporaries) on American film music can hardly be measured, and his works can be recognized by their magnanimous horn sections and dramatic, sentimental flourishes.

Because it sounds like: the country farm you never grew up on but wish you did.

"Hoedown" from "Rodeo"




If you like: Sufjan Stevens, Oingo Boingo, James Bond movies

You may also like: Michael Daugherty, a Grammy-winning American composer who blends almost every category of 20th century music into ecstatic symphonies that feature heavy horns, marimbas, and lots of references to the urban landscapes of America. It doesn't hurt that his symphonies have titles like Time Machine, Dead Elvis, and Lost Vegas, or that he wrote a 40-minute symphony about Superman.

Because it sounds like: a surrealistic painting of New York or Los Angeles, filled with friendly ghosts, dirty cops, and equal moments of gentleness and brutality. Also, horns. Lots of horns.

Metropolis Symphony: First Movement, "Lex"


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