A Guide To Bullshitting Classical Music

Ok, we've all been there. With that elderly relative who insists on putting on some music whose artist sounds more like a type of pasta than a name, especially grating when they attempt to talk about it, and all you want to do is up the beat, drop the bass and add a drool-worthy guitar lead over the top. But it's a worthwhile skill to have, being able to converse about classical music, and who knows? You might learn to enjoy the genre. Ok, the first thing you want to know about Classical music is that when normal people say “Classical,” they don’t mean classical. They mean orchestral. Or old. In fact I don’t actually think they know what they mean when they say Classical. Real Classical music is anything composed between the years 1730 and 1830. Anything by Mozart, anything by Haydn is classical. You either pray to it or dance to it. Until Beethoven. Beethoven was the first musical diva. Before him, musicians were like plumbers. They came in when you had guests round, did the job, got paid, and left. Really posh upper class people had live in musicians, there incase they suddenly decided to have a party or ball, or impromptu orgy in which they wanted a little music to set the mood (first recorded as used by Roman Emperors and Greek Senators, but it is suspected Chinese Emperors had musicians in their sex pads too). But Beethoven really took to the stage and shook up the status quo; his third symphony, the Eroica, was an absolute monster, dedicated to Bonaparte of whom Beethoven, as a republican, was a huge fan, right up until he declared himself Emperor (the angry lines crossing through Napoleon’s name are visible on the original manuscript). It inspired huge emotions upon all, it was the marmite of the time: love it or hate it, someone near you had the opposite opinion. Beethoven invented the romantic style and thus came the new era. Between 1830 and 1900 is the romantic period, think ballet: swan lake, firebird, nutcracker; all gushing emotional melodies that inspire emotion within you. If it makes you feel something it’s probably romantic, as opposed to the polite classical background fluff. The romantic era brought forth Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky and Wagner in the entertainment stakes. The romantic composers thought you could learn everything by sitting near a babbling brook and meditating, while simultaneously dying of cholera, or at least applying make up to make it look like you were dying of cholera, dying men being considered very poetic and artistic back then. The religious composers kept doing their thing in the metaphorical outer corners of society, but it was the Composer’s time to take to the stage. Murder, infidelity and all other sorts of enjoyably naughty things were brought to the stage in the revolutionary “The Ring Cycle,” by Wagner, revolutionary in that it took over over sixteen hours from start to finish throughout the four operas. That’s a third of a star wars marathon, not that I’m the sad sort of person who would’ve attended one of those… After the romantic period is the period most inventively referred to as “20th century music,” self-explicably consisting of all music composed within the 20th century. Pre-Classical era was the Baroque period, think light strings and short life expectancy. Vivaldi is typical of the era, a male teacher at an all girls music school, he churned out pieces as if he had to keep himself busy, leading to such famous pieces as the four seasons. Handel is the baroque composer of the piece known by all: The Messiah. Personally I hate the piece: partially due to it’s popularity, partially due to the fact that one night last year, after a solid performance of the Messiah, the violin section and I went out on the town, had a very good night, resulting in me drunkenly messaging the cute ginger bass singer, who has yet to speak to me again. Naturally I cringe whenever I hear it’s most famous chorus, the lyrics of which you will most definitely recognise: “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” but despite such complex linguistical features, it’s the harmonic features that are the staple of the Baroque era. The Baroque period was basically 150 years of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding: The Musical, as far as musical ornamentation was concerned. Think lace, frills and a harpsichord, comparable to the horror of the flares of Abba. Before the Baroque era is the Renaissance period, in which western music was very much a religious occupation, or common, violinists being the olden day equivalent of the busker with a guitar. Interestingly guitars were also common back then, being on par with the violin in the socially acceptable stakes, which was just above using the front window as a urinal. While musicians were considered above servants but below people, their folk tales and songs spread the tales of battles and wars faster than any method of circulating news, as back then it mostly relied on your next-door neighbour’s son’s girlfriend’s father’s uncle’s master’s son reporting back in a long-winded game of Chinese whispers. Classical music can appeal to the ear more than the modern 4-chord trash pop, it increases brain activity in relation to other styles of music due to its harmonic complexity. Being able to talk about it and appreciate it is a useful skill, and who knows? Perhaps one day that ginger singer will talk to me again, and Handel’s great work will be bearable to me once more.