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In defence of classical music

Tom Segev


No music is as complex as classical. Jazz may boast intricate improvisation and unorthodox time signatures, and soul of the 1970s laid claim to potent political messages, but the established orchestration of a three-suite symphony cannot be matched in complexity and variety. Concertos are, however, losing traction among the younger generations of today. Brahms and Mozart have been replaced by Beyoncé and Migos. Heavily under-appreciated in mainstream circles, fewer and fewer people are receptive to the contrasting emotions of both fascination and fear when taking the journey of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, or the changing dynamics of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, features ill-afforded by music today. Luckily, the age-old genre is experiencing an evolution of sorts.

Brahms and Mozart have been replaced by Beyoncé and Migos

As with any art, particularly music, evolution is crucial to survival. Traditional interpretations of classical music may no longer grasp the ears of western Europeans like it used to, but its implementation in modern day society is ensuring its legacy lives on. Film scores maintain their heavy reliance on the grandeur and atmospheric nature of live orchestration that cannot be found anywhere else. A cult of appreciation has formed around the likes of Hans Zimmer, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Ramin Djawadi, and cinematic accompaniments are being deservedly recognised and praised for their virtuosity. Straying from John William’s brass-orientated masterpieces, contemporary composers emphasise strings as the driving force of their narratives. Awe-inspiring trumpet-played motifs are replaced by rich, gradually climactic strings.

Classical music at its core embodies versatility. Using this to their advantage, modern-day hip hop artists employ the use of orchestras in their live performance. Nas chose to feature live strings in his performance of tracks from the legendary Illmatic, emphasising the delicate balance between life and death, and providing the perfect accompaniment to the illustrious narrative of an all-time great. Kanye West sought to incorporate the grandiosity of a chamber orchestra into his live performances, even releasing an album titled Late Orchestration. Compiling recordings from live performances, the Chi-town rapper is able to stretch the emotional capacity of his already-consolidated hits. In unexpected and unorthodox fashion, classical performances retain their place within the world of music, albeit one divergent from the past.

Meg Colborne

As a self-confessed music geek, the decline of young people listening to classical music pains my heart. All the same, I can understand why – it’s old, un-relatable, filled with pretension and all sounds the same. In reality, it doesn’t have to be all those things. You just need to find what you like. Even during my music A Level, it was clear that there were great composers, and even whole periods that didn’t appeal to me (sorry, Vivaldi!). Personally, the Romantic era is my favourite to listen to and play, with Chopin, Debussy, Smetana being some personal favourites. I find this era softer, more emotional, less dissonant, and generally wonderful to listen to, particularly when writing essays.

While some classical purists will shun the idea of films scores, they’re a great introduction to classical music

It was this style of music that led me to my true love, and a genre I think can get more young people into classical music: film scores. While some classical purists will shun the idea of films scores, they’re a great introduction to classical music. Unlike the canon, film scores aren’t talked about with snobbery, judgement or technical jargon, and often are quite simple in their composition (I’m looking at you Einaudi). My favourites include Abel Korzeniowski, Fernando Velazquez, Philip Glass and, the king of film himself, Hans Zimmer.

If both traditional classical and film music still isn’t your bag, there are many new composers who are reinventing the genre by utilising modern technologies and sound effects to add more interest to their music. Oskar Schuster’s works contain samples of clocks ticking, jewellery boxes and typewriters for a nostalgic and eerie effect. Steve Reich writes minimalist pieces using a central group of notes or one instrument, such as his hit Clapping Music. There are also bands like Escala and Bond who use electric violins and bass tracks to reinvent classical masterpieces. Even if you think yourself a hater of classical music, I hope these suggestions can get you to dip your toe in at least one more time. You may even discover you have a penchant for 16th-century madrigals!

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