There’s a common misconception in our contemporary society that classical music is just one kind of music. People think that classical music is relaxing, the type of thing you’ll want to throw on at the end of the day to chill out. While Chopin’s Nocturnes are pretty darn relaxing to listen to, and JS Bach has some incredibly peaceful organ compositions that will lull you to sleep, there is also anger and passion in a Beethoven symphony, and often Erik Satie’s piano works have an amusing, almost comical quality.
With opera, it is certainly the same: it is considered a genre, and yet this doesn’t really reflect the truth of the matter. Early opera as it developed in Italy was simple and melodic and traditionally beautiful. Italian opera was brought to its zenith in the golden age known as the Bel Canto era, which celebrated composers such as Vincenzo Bellini and Gioachino Rossini. Many would argue that opera was perfected by Giuseppe Verdi who wrote the celebrated operas Rigoletto as well as La Traviata, which contain some of the most recognizable, objectively beautiful melodies in the broader universe of “classical music.”
While Mozart a native of Salzburg, Austria was composing renowned operas that fell into the category of Opera Buffa before the Bel Canto era, some would say that these were written in the style of Italian opera, with their decadent overtures and passionate characters. It was in the late 19th century that Richard Wagner came onto the scene with his heavy handed, stormy, complex operas that stretched on for hours and hours (his famous Ring Cycle takes fifteen hours to complete in its entirety).
Most opera lovers and classical music aficionados don’t love all classical and opera, they pick and choose. Some might say that Wagner is an overrated perfectionist, while some think that Italian opera is fluffy and unsophisticated. Think of it this way: it’s not unusual for a fan of rock music to worship Radiohead while thinking that Pearl Jam is crap. Similarly, you could love Jay-Z and think that Drake is terrible.
So if you’re trying to get into so-called “classical music”, but you’re having a hard time, remember: there’s a ton of stuff out there and you might dislike a lot of it. On the other hand, there’s probably something out there that you’ll enjoy. Listening to a well executed symphony by a world class orchestra is a unique and satisfying pleasure you just need to figure out which composer is your cup of tea.
If you’re encouraging your child to learn an instrument, or considering taking one up yourself, it’s worth noting that Long & McQuade offers music lessons in a variety of instruments and styles to suit your taste. Because we live in the era of YouTube and digital streaming services, its easy to flip through a myriad of different music in an afternoon, figuring out what you like through a process of exploration and trial and error. It could be Baroque string quartets, Ethiopian Jazz or Swedish Speed Metal.
Of course this can feel overwhelming, but if you’re patient, the process of developing your own unique musical taste can be extremely rewarding. Happy hunting!