Today would be Mozart’s two hundred and fifty-ninth birthday. If he’d lived that long, I mean. Which seems unlikely, because he wasn’t superhuman. That we know of.
…aaaaaand this post has already gone off topic. Wow, that’s impressive even for me. I think I just set a new record there.
Anyway. I’m writing this post because, as I said, it is Mozart’s birthday. And Mozart
is was a pretty cool dude. He wrote a lot of beautiful, emotional stuff that I really admire, even though I haven’t so much as touched a musical instrument in months. (I used to play the piano, but my interest in it has really decreased as of late.)
I like classical music almost as much as I like film scores, and I can think of no better way to talk about this interest AND celebrate his birthday than by making a top ten list. So that’s what I’ll be doing today. This list is in no particular order, by the way. No rankings, just fangirling.
I have made no attempt at originality in this post. You’ve probably heard of most, if not all, of these composers and their works. That doesn’t bother me; after all, that’s not the point of this list. I just want to fangirl over the pieces I like best. I’m not at all concerned with having original choices.
I will apologize, however, for the all-male top ten list. I tried to feature someone other than just old white dudes. As it is, the only “minority” is an American dude. (#10, yo.) I had the same problem when I wrote a top ten list of my favorite film score composers; I couldn’t think of any lady composers. I’m sure there have been some, but you just don’t hear very much about them. (If anyone has a favorite female composer, please mention them in the comments, because I would love to find some!)
There’s just one more thing I want to say, and then I’ll get started on my list: I’ve listed the piece, the larger body of work it is taken from (if any), and the composer.
Enjoy, and happy listening!
1. “Lacrimosa” (from Requiem Mass in D Minor) – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Way back when I used to practice the piano regularly, this was one of my all-time favorites to play. It took absolutely forever to learn but I’m glad I didn’t give up, because I’d dreamed of being able to play the “Lacrimosa” since I was a little girl. And I suppose I’ve probably forgotten how by now…
Anyway, this song is amazing, not to mention heartrendingly sad. It really does have a beauty that is not quite of this world. I’ve said it before on this blog, but I’ll say it again: As an atheist, the closest I get to experiencing a sense of religious awe happens when I encounter really beautiful things – writing, art, music. This song gives me that feeling.
2. “Spring” (from The Four Seasons) – Antonio Vivaldi
Ah, spring. How I wish it were already here. This piece is so gosh darn happy, and that makes me happy. Every bit of The Four Seasons is lovely, but this is by far my favorite. Also, little brother, if you’re reading this: I included it for you, because I’m amused that you listen to both trip-hop and Vivaldi.
3. “Ode to Joy” (from Symphony No. 9) – Ludvig van Beethoven
Possibly one of the most beautiful compositions ever created! I looooove the way the music slowly increases its beauty and tempo. Beethoven wrote a lot of moody stuff, and… well, I’m not saying that stuff is bad. I enjoy it just as much as the next person. But it’s so, so lovely to hear one of his really happy songs. I have a huge goofy smile on my face as I’m writing this, in fact.
4. “Sarabande” (from Keyboard Suite in D Minor) – George Frideric Handel
THIS IS SO MUCH FUN TO PLAY, YOU GUYS. Even though I probably played it too fast… oh, well. “Sarabande” is majestic and intimidating and astonishingly gorgeous. (Does that mean it’s me in musical form?) It’s perfect background music for those days when you don a black cape and stride menacingly around your house, pretending to be a villain.
…please tell me I’m not the only person who does this.
5. “Nocturne in E-flat Major” (from Nocturnes, Op. 9) – Frédéric Chopin
It’s story time with Engie! Gather ’round and I’ll you a tale of my second piano teacher, who was terrible. I mean, I’m sure she meant well, but I really resented having to learn Chopin, Chopin, and nothing but Chopin. (At least, that’s what it felt like.) It took me FOREVER to get over this little dislike of mine. I still hate playing his music – ugh, too many notes and too much complicated fingering – but now at least I listening to his works.
And this song is so beautiful. Very relaxing stuff!
6. “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” – Johann Sebastian Bach
Things I need in my life: A large castle, an organ, and a minion to play it. Hey, guess what? This is another lovely song to play during all your villainous activities! It’s rather catchy, too – always a plus when you’re choosing a soundtrack to play while you destroy the world. (I do hope you clean up after yourself, though. Always villainize responsibly.)
7. “Aquarium” (from The Carnival of the Animals) – Camille Saint-Saëns
This little composition sounds exactly like its namesake! I love listening to this and pretending that I’m in a tiny one-woman submarine, floating around above coral reefs and whatnot. Seriously good stuff.
8. “The Year 1812” – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
I almost picked “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from The Nutcracker instead, but in the end I think this is a better choice. More popularly known as the “1812 Overture,” this song is… this song is… wow. I’m sorry, but not even the prettiest, Christmassy-est ballet music can compete with a song that includes CANNONS as part of the orchestra. I’m pretty sure this makes Tchaikovsky the badass of the classical music world. Please buy me a cannon for my next birthday.
If you’ve seen the movie V for Vendetta, this is what V plays every time he blows up a building. I know that really shouldn’t make me laugh (because blowing up buildings is dangerous and destructive and you shouldn’t try this at home, kids), but it does. Because that’s like the perfect soundtrack. #aesthetic
(Also, thanks, Wikipedia, for filling my idea with even more useless knowledge: Apparently Tchaikovsky was gay? Really gay and fond of including cannons in music for no particular reason. #AESTHETIC)
9. “Ride of the Valkyries” (from Die Walküre) – Richard Wagner
This is the third-best villainous song, am I right?! It’s on my fantasy-writing playlist, actually. It’s beautiful and terrifying – it’s pure adrenaline in the form of a song. You might recognize it from the movie Apocalypse Now. (Which I’ve never seen, but I know that it was in it. Because I know Things.)
10. “Rhapsody in Blue” – George Gershwin
I began this list by discussing a song I can (or could) play, so it seems only fitting to conclude with a piece that I’d love to be able to play… someday. I have high aspirations, people. This piece is delightfully weird and really, really hard to play – I’ve never managed to learn anything beyond the first few bars.
(The version I’ve linked to is performed by Gershwin himself, FYI. It’s so cool to find something like this because so many composers lived and died before the invention of recording devices, so this just isn’t something I can find for many of my other favorites!)
During the process of writing this post, I noticed a Thing. A Thing in the YouTube comments for each and every song listed here: A bunch of pre-teens thinking far too highly of themselves for listening to this stuff, and a bunch of stuck-up middle-aged folks looking down their noses at my generation because we “don’t know what real music is.”
UGH. BOTH OF THESE ATTITUDES MAKE ME SOOOOOO FRUSTRATED.
Here’s what I would like to say to the stuck-up middle-aged folks: Stop. Get a life, and stop harassing young whippersnappers on the Internet. You say my generation doesn’t know what “real music” is, but what defines “real music”?
Music is a very personal thing. All forms of art are very personal things. Every generation produces its fair share of both beautiful and trashy songs, and honestly? What makes a song “beautiful” or “trashy” is very personal too. I love this song. You hate it. So who’s right in this situation? We both are.
I don’t really have anything I want to say to the pre-teens from the YouTube comments because the way I see it, this attitude is not their own: It’s something they’ve picked up from the stuck-up middle-aged folks. If you’ve been told that the latest music has no redeeming quality whatsoever (and that you’re shallow for even listening to it, let alone liking it), of course you’re going to think highly of yourself for listening to Beethoven. Of course.
If you remember only one thing from this post, let it be this: Like what you like. If you like Bach, good for you. If your friend likes rap, your musical tastes don’t make you any better than them. If YOU like both Bach AND rap, then… that’s great.
Music is such a personal thing. I’m not saying you have to like all of it, and all of us certainly need to know at least a little bit about the history of music, but I just don’t understand this habit of putting people down (or putting them on a pedestal) because of what they like. Music is awesome. Listen to what makes you feel good, OK? And you have my permission to punch anyone in the face if they tell you otherwise. (Not really. Pfft, I would never encourage violence.)
Also, I just want to say that all you stuck-up middle-aged folks weren’t around in the time of Beethoven and Schubert and Liszt, so… wow, you must not be a real fan. You’re a fake geek unless you were there for Beethoven’s epic concert in ’94.
(That’s 1894, by the way.)
Who are your favorite classical composers? What are your favorite compositions? Be sure to tell me in the comments, because I’d love to know!
If you’d like to geek out even more, here is a list of classical music you probably know from movies – everything from the aforementioned pieces from Apocalypse Now and V for Vendetta to pieces from A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
And if you’re looking for something a little different – something that’s just a little bit more than classical music – then I know of nothing better than The Piano Guys. Here is a very, very short bonus list of some of my favorites: