In today's mainstream media, classical music (defined here as orchestral, instrumental compositions) has been relegated to corny movie scores, old-timey cartoons, and commercials for diamonds. Most people think of it as their grandparents' music, boring, disconnected, and certainly not something they'd choose to listen to on their iPod at any given time. Even if you've tried to tune in to your local classical station, chances are you've either heard courtly harpsichord noodling or what sounds like the soundtrack to a German invasion. So, what does this dusty genre have to offer you, the indie music lover?
Part I: The Adoration of the Earth (from The Rite of Spring) - 1913
I'm here to offer a bit of assistance with a handy guide, connecting genres of contemporary music with some of my favorite composers, in hopes that you may find an emotional connection - maybe even a new favorite song. After all, why should we, as a generation, discount an entire genre of music, with all its emotional and musical offerings? My hope is that your journey into classical will begin here. Find the category that fits your taste, and have a listen to its slightly antique equivalent. Fuck Beethoven and Mozart; this is what you should be listening to.
If you like: Bjork, Pink Floyd, The Knife
You may also like: Igor Stravinsky, a super-influential Russian/French/American composer who experimented heavily with rhythm and harmonics. The first performance of his Rite of Spring (a piece about paganism and human sacrifice) in 1913 was so ill-received that the audience actually started a riot: fistfights broke out, objects were thrown continually at the orchestra, and police needed to intervene by the second act. Pretty hardcore stuff.
Because it sounds like: a bad acid trip that you tried to cure with cocaine.
If you like: Beirut, Devotchka, Decemberists
You may also like: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, another late 19th Century Russian obsessed with fairy tales, folklore, and the ocean (he spent a good part of his life in the Navy). If you're intrigued by fantasy and adventure, here's your soundtrack.
Because it sounds like: pirates telling stories by the light of the moon.
The Story of the Kalendar Prince (from Scheherazade) - 1888
Here's the full-length version of this movement (with an awesome climax around 8:30-9:30), in case you like what you hear:
If you like: Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, Radiohead
You may also like: Modest Mussorgsky, a dramatic composer who wrote about Russian witches in songs that have been called "19th-Century metal" and had me head-banging at Lincoln Center (no joke).
Because it sounds like: a fucking nightmare. Or a psychotic killing spree.
Night On Bald Mountain - 1867 (you can listen until about the 8-minute mark if you're feeling impatient)
If you like: Nick Drake, Belle and Sebastian, Foxygen
You may also like: Erik Satie, an experimental French composer whose music had a comeback in the 1970s due to its cerebral but romantic nature. Fans of the Amelie soundtrack will also approve.
Because it sounds like: a warm afternoon in your Brooklyn apartment full of introspection and old books.
Gymnopedie No. 3 - 1888
If you like: Olafur Arnolds, Sigur Ros, romantic movie scores
You may also like: Camille Saint-Saens, a whimsical French composer who had very literal inspiration (he wrote a collection of songs based on animals at the zoo). But his songs are far from childish: arguably his most famous work is "Danse Macabre," a creepy tune about death that Danny Elfman totally ripped off.
Because it sounds like: a dark, haunting fantasy from your childhood.
The Aquarium (from Carnival of the Animals) - 1886
If you like: Arcade Fire, Florence + The Machine, Muse
You may also like: Piotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, a depressive Russian genius best known for composing the ballets Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. Fortunately, these works have received plenty of attention from mainstream media over the past several decades. Unfortunately, this means we associate it with Disney's Fantasia and Christmas commercials (and Black Swan, but I'm actually okay with that). Like the contemporary bands listed above, he was a sucker for romantic, evocative sounds and grandiose presentation. Try to listen to it with new ears, if you can.
Because it sounds like: bittersweet nostalgia tinted with desperation.
Scene Finale (from Swan Lake) - 1876
Did you find anything that spoke to you? Have any more parallels between classical and contemporary sounds? Let us know below.