Western Classical Music – Building Blocks For Beginners

Parsi Times brings you our monthly column promoting Western Classical Music by leading connoisseur, Khushroo Suntook, Chairman of the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA). Mr. Suntook re-acquaints you to the joys of this unparalleled form of music and invites us to relive its melodic splendour by taking us on the beginner’s journey into exploring and falling in love with the great Western Classical Music form.

I have mentioned in a previous article that I would recommend a few performances of music which you could actually start listening to, in your homes, without your children frowning to watch television. But even if you do not face that situation, here is some music that is absolutely wonderful for people who are starters in this melodious journey of Western Classical Music.

The music of Johann Strauss is all pervading in Vienna.  You can hear it in parks, in concert halls, in cafés, and in so many other parts of the world that I consider it the essential great light music.  People will differ, of course, but take my word.  Buy a few CDs on Amazon or on whichever portal you are using, of any of the New Year concerts of Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, which are available easily. I would suggest you especially seek out the concerts conducted by Carlos Kleiber.

There is a method in listening to this music. Do not play too many songs together – listen to three or four at a time. I recommend you start with Strauss’ ‘Artist’s Life’ or ‘Vienna Blood’, and end with the ever popular ‘Blue Danube Waltz’.  Thereafter try Rossini’s overtures.  They are light, tuneful and superbly orchestrated.

 If you are inclined towards instrumental and orchestral music, you cannot do better than to start with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and then move on to the great Beethoven symphonies.  All of them are wonderful but out of the 9, I prefer the odd numbered ones – 3, 5, 7 and 9.  Do read up on how they were created, because merely turning them on YouTube, without understanding the background, is rather uninformative listening. I would strongly recommend you read the magazine ‘Gramophone’ which, for almost 95 years, has been a guide to all of us, shaping our tastes and enjoying music at its best.

If you are a vocal aficionado and enjoy Neapolitan songs and operatic arias, you must invest in Joyce di Donato, a wonderful modern soprano. Next, I’d recommend Renée Fleming’s arias from various operas. As far as tenors are concerned, there is the beautiful voice of Giuseppe di Stefano. Try to get your hands on his early recordings – the ones recorded even before 1952.  His partnership with Maria Callas, in a recording of Puccini’s opera ‘Tosca’, is legendary.

Please do remember to try and play your music through the best equipment you can afford, and do not listen too much through headphones, especially if you are playing the music loud.

Parsis, as is common with the whole musical world, will revel in the romantic music of the 19th century, that is the period when, if we cheat a bit, we start with Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Verdi, Wagner etc.  They composed immortal and popular music which has been embraced internationally in all the continents of the world.

It would be so lovely if young Parsis started listening clubs, to learn a little bit more about this form of music, so that you can speak and have healthy opinion about each interpretation, and believe me the joy of those evenings, especially with people who know, is truly most gratifying.

The moment music starts feeling like hard work or an effort, stop listening for a while, because it is never good for you to be dragged to a concert and/or to be forced to listen to music for which you do not have affinity. The effort to get into this most interesting intelligible pursuit will give you joy, whether you are upfront enough to travel and hear great performances all over the world, or have chosen to be satisfied with your little boom-box in your bedroom. Both will be great sources of joy! Happy listening!

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