The Shoulders of Giants: Trollheart's History of Classical Music


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    The Shoulders of Giants: Trollheart's History of Classical Music

    Could have sworn I heard someone out there shout “Enough of this heavy metal and progressive rock, Trollheart! What about something with a bit of culture? Something for the older guys?" Hey: your wish is my command!

    Classical music tends to get a bad rap, especially among the younger generations often, but the truth is that without it our music today would either not exist at all, or would be very much different. Classical music laid the building blocks for everything from jazz to rock and everything in between, and there's probably no musician anywhere who does not owe something to the likes of Beethoven, Holst, Chopin, Berlioz and a host of other composers who blazed a trail from the fifteenth century and popularised not only music as a genre, but as a public spectacle, holding the first real concerts and getting people talking about music among themselves. Classical music often survived on the patronage of kings and lords, which could be a double-edged sword: you would certainly have access to anything you needed but at the same time you might very well be under tremendous pressure to, for instance, come up with a special piece to celebrate the birthday, coronation or other event important to the monarch, or to mark a great victory, anniversary etc. And it was never advisable to disappoint the king or queen!

    But classical music gave us some timeless, amazing melodies that have stayed as fresh and accessible to we in the twenty-first century as they were when they were written. Of course, with the rise of so many different and varying genres in music, classical often gets overlooked, and that's one of the reasons why I'm writing this. My own appreciation and knowledge of classical music is quite limited, and in this journal I hope to share with you what I know of it, and learn more as I go along. Don't expect album reviews – that would be pointless – but I will be going as deeply as I can into the life and works of the great composers – and some of the less great, or at least, less well known – as well perhaps as those who play their music today. I hope to gain a better appreciation of this often forgotten art form this way, and in the process perhaps educate a few of you on the way, or rekindle an interest in classical music.

    After all, no matter what genre you follow, there's no escaping the very concrete fact that, as the title of this journal asserts, every rock or pop star you've ever heard has built his on her career by essentially standing on the shoulders of these giants. All of which will be explored here.

    I'm under no illusions here that this will interest everyone; after all, I'm going to be talking about dead guys here, most of the time. It's not like you can run out and purchase the latest Beethoven or Facebook about how great Delius is. Well, you can but, you know… You won't find these guys in the charts, or likely on Last.FM or Pitchfork. But if you can put your doubts and your prejudices aside and just listen, you will find music that is moving, beautiful, powerful and stirring. There's no question that a lot of classical can be boring: there are no words usually, so no lyrics to grab you (unless we’re talking about opera, and that’s invariably in a language other than English) and the pieces are often quite long, but I will be trying to direct you towards the better stuff in classical, and there's a hell of a lot of that.

    This journal will, though, primarily encompass the History of Classic Music, rather like and at the same time completely unlike my History of Prog journal. In that journal, it’s possible for me to describe a timeline and fill it in with important albums and artistes as it develops. This isn’t something I can do with classical, as there were few if any notable “albums” in the genre, given that for much of its heyday music was not even recordable, and for a very long time the only way to even hear classical music was to attend concerts. So instead I’ll be concentrating on the various periods in the genre, the major figures in those, and giving you an idea of important compositions relative to each.

    Also unlike my History of Prog journal, I will not be sticking rigidly to the history timeline, but will divert from it regularly to take in artists and pieces I like, talk about composers and even those soloist and players regarded in the field today, and basically talk as much as I can in as varied a way as I can manage about the whole genre. There’s also a good chance I may look at particular monarchs or nobles who became patrons of music, as, as mentioned above, it was often only on this very patronage - or at the very least, support - that artists could survive. What were these men and women like? Did they truly love and, more importantly, understand music, or did they give their stamp of approval to, and often provide the funds for, the composers more as a way of building up their own esteem?

    It will probably be incredibly boring for a lot of you, and I understand that, but for those who want to either get into classical music or share their love of it, this journal may provide a small service and a place to talk about a genre often relegated to the domain of the elderly and the never-hip. Classical music is, has been and unfortunately probably always be looked down upon by the young, who find it tedious, pointless and, well, dead. Some of these accusations could be supported, if you listen to too much of the wrong classical - chamber music can be very taxing on the attention if it goes on too long, and I’m no fan of opera - but as with all musical genres, there are good and bad, and this blanket dismissal of classical is as blinkered and ignorant as saying all punk is terrible because it’s loud and has no melody (phrase copyright Trollheart MCMXX - MMI approx) or that reggae all sounds the same or that there’s no beauty in black metal, and so on. One thing my musical explorations over the last ten-odd years has taught me is that nothing is black and white, and that you can’t judge a book by its cover, especially if you haven’t bothered to look inside it.

    As always, I invite comment and discussion, and while there are, I am quite sure, those of you here who are far better versed in classical music than I am, and while those people are very welcome to disseminate their knowledge here, I would also love to see those who either don’t understand or have been put off by classical wander in here to see what it’s all about. If you like, and to probably use a flawed analogy, we’ve all become at least aware of classical music through a process of osmosis. What I mean by this is that no matter what age you are, assuming you are old enough to be reading this, ie old enough to be a member of this forum, and even if you hate classical music, there is a one hundred percent chance that you have heard at least one piece of classical. Whether it's been through the telly, the movies, on an ad, mashed up or sampled by some pop or rock artist, the process of osmosis means, in this case, that you have absorbed possibly more classical music than you even realise.

    So everyone knows just a little bit of classical, and if you want to take the next step, join me on my journey.

    Oh, one point before we start: classical music is known to harbour the biggest musical snobs, and some people consider it not only the best, but only music genre. The former is open to your own subjectivity of course, the latter is not. There is a ton of music out there, and just because it’s not written by some guy who tickled the ivories or played a horn back in the sixteenth or seventeenth century, doesn’t make it any less than yours. So though I love classical myself, I won’t be entertaining classical snobs here. If your intention is to stick your nose in the air, roll up your sleeves and try to conduct this journal, teach everyone about why they should be, nay, must be listening to classical, in the finest traditions of Mozart, Grieg and Haydn, fuck off. You’re not wanted here.

    That sounds a little confrontational maybe, but I don’t want anyone here lording it over anyone else due to their perceived “better taste”. I concede whole-heartedly that there are those who will know more about classical music than I do, and those people are welcome to share their knowledge, providing it is done in the same way you would critique a story, ie constructively. Educate, do not lecture, and above all, do not bring disdain and superiority in here, because it just won’t fly. I can’t stop anyone posting of course, but any posts of that nature will be ignored by me and I will advise others to follow suit, so you’ll end up talking to yourself. No offence intended to anyone, and I hope nobody expects to act in such a way, but if you do, be forewarned.

    As usual, my research tool of choice is Wikipedia, but I will be sourcing other articles and reading books on the subject, as well as watching any television documentaries I can. This will of course be slow progress, as we’re talking about hundreds, even thousands of years of the development of music here, so I guess it’s even possible it could be a life’s work. It might never get finished, who knows, especially with all the other projects I have on and the others I have planned, to say nothing of the odd spot of real life here and there. As the old saying goes, it’s a marathon not a sprint, so don’t expect too much.

    But if you stick with me, it could be very interesting and educational, and who knows, maybe even fun. Stranger things have happened.

    If music be the food of love, let’s get stuck in; hope you brought your appetite, because there’s one hell of a banquet waiting!

    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

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    Offline: Depressed Trollheart's Avatar
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    Before we get into the history of classical music, it's perhaps incumbent upon us to explore what exactly the term refers to. What
    is classical music? Well, The OED defines it as Serious music following long-established principles rather than jazz, folk or popular tradition and, perhaps slightly more accurately, music written in the European tradition during a period lasting approximately from 1750 to 1830, when forms such as the symphony, concerto and sonata were standardised. Both these definitions I feel are overly simplistic, and also the second fails to take into account the wealth of classical music that emerged in the previous centuries. Although it does qualify the statement by using the word “approximately”, this definition would have us believe that classical music sprang up in 1750 and lasted a mere century or less, and this is patently not true. For one thing, classical composers were still writing important compositions well into the twentieth century, so to say it vanished or had run its course by the middle of the nineteenth century is pretty much a fallacy.

    We will see, when we go into the timeline, how far the reach of classical extends, both back into the past and indeed to the present (and there's no reason to believe it won't continue on into the future, as there are many fine musicians working in the field today) but for now, I'd like to, not quite offer my own definition of classical music, but to attempt to explain where and why and how it came about, and why it has lasted as long as it did, longer, indeed, than any other music form other than traditional folk music.

    Concerto for Ignorance and Fear: The World Before Classical Music

    Those of you who know your history, or those of you who have glanced at my History of Ireland journal, will know that the recent past (the last thousand years or so) is divided roughly into three sections: there is the time around the coming of the Vikings and the Normans, when conquest was rife and supposed “savage” lands were placated and settled and indeed ruled by “superior” forces (the word here usually referring to superiority in arms, but often of intelligence too: a well-armed attacker can take towns and cities but it takes intelligence, foresight and planning to keep them and build upon them). Then there is the period referred to as The Dark Ages, when learning stalled, wars were rife and poverty stalked the lands, where ignorant and wretchedly poor peasants scratched out a meagre living on lands generally owned by wealthy barons, nobles or kings, and where the belief in magic and witchcraft held sway, with the Catholic Church a driving force both in repressing other religions and waging war on its enemies. Crusades as well as international wars seemed always to be going on during this time, and people were poorly educated, battling the likes of the Black Death and famine, which left little time for the pursuit of entertainment. And then there was the Renaissance, of which more shortly.

    Now, like our OED definitions above, this splitting up of the second millennium of Man's existence on this planet is rather simplistic, and of course there were many different and varied periods within this time, but from a point of view of how music was appreciated, we can look at them that way. Vikings coming from the North brought with them their traditional war songs, hymns to their gods (which were usually also war songs), drinking songs and so forth, all usually sung with perhaps a minimal accompaniment of a drum or just hands clapping. Well, they probably had instruments, but I don't know that much about the Vikings that I could say, but it is certainly safe to believe that any Viking, man or woman, was probably happier with an axe or sword in his or her hand than, say, a minstrel's lute.

    "Let's have some music! Olaf the Blood-letter! Did you remember to bring your ipod? By Thor's Hammer, that Britney Spears can sing!"

    The only other music prevalent at this time would have been religious. In just the same way as the Norse invaders saw their death chants and war songs as tributes to their gods, so too did the Christians in the lands they pillaged, the Muslims and Arabs and other religions across the known world mostly utilise praise to their god as the medium through which their music was played. Of course, again, I don't know much about Arab or Indian or Egyptian or Mesopotamian music, and I don't need to as it doesn't really matter here. The point is that, since classical music (or at least, what became known as the more popular and enduring classical music) was almost exclusively a European phenomenon, we can concentrate mostly on the music it supplanted there, and across Europe music was not, before the Renaissance, widely available. You would get certain ditties and poems set to music, played by strolling players or balladeers, but usually as part of an overall performance, as in a play by mummers (travelling actors) or wandering minstrels (aye!) who would sell their song for food and drink, and you would of course get a better class of minstrelsy and music in the courts of kings.

    During the Dark Ages, one of the things that a king could do to show his power and his importance was to have musicians play at his table. We've all seen the movies and series where, as the guests sit down to a massive banquet (while out in the fields of the king the poor starve, but that's another story) musicians would play as sort of background music, largely ignored, really, by those eating, who would talk over them (the music would not be too loud, as amplifiers were yet a good four or five hundred years away, to say nothing of electricity!) and later the people would dance, again to the music of the hired musicians. But if you didn't get invited to the palace then the chances were you probably heard very little if any music. Someone might strike up a tune in the old tavern, someone else might hammer away on a lute or banjo or something (I don't know when banjos were created, so don't quote me, but I'm pretty sure the mandolin is a relative and possible descendant of the lute) or a whistle, bang a table in rhythm, and you'd have music. But that would be about it.

    As the Dark Ages receded, and a new era of knowledge, enlightenment and hope dawned, the Renaissance was born. Beginning in Florence in Italy after the fall of Constantinople (now known as Istanbul) and the end of the Byzantine Empire, the Renaissance (the word literally means “rebirth”) was fuelled by many different factors, none of which I intend exploring here, but one of the major ones was the emigration of scholars from Greece and the rise of the powerful patrons of Florence, the Medicis. A rediscovery of an appreciation for the finer things in life – art, literature, poetry, political thought, architecture – and the need to shake off the drab shackles of the last few centuries' ignorance and superstition, as well as rising city states and new powers, coupled with a reaction to the Catholic Inquisitions and their subsequent seizure of what were seen as banned or blasphemous literature led to Florence leading the way as a centre of learning, enlightenment and freedom.

    Many of the big names in the Renaissance are of course well known to us – Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, Botticelli, Michaelangelo and Caravaggio to name but a few – but where they worked in the more visual arts – painting, sculpture, architecture etc – we are of course more concerned with those who turned the idea of music into something other than just entertainment for monarchs or something to be sung in the street, the first true musicians. The ones we all know – Beethoven, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Elgar, Strauss, Mozart as well as the operatic composers such as Puccini, Verdi, Bizet and Wagner – all come into the picture comparatively later in the story, as it were, so many of the names I'll be talking about in the initial sections of the time line will be unknown to most of you (and probably to me too) but just as in the History of Prog journal I make sure to give space to The Wilde Flowers as well as Yes, or Gong and Genesis, these people whose names may be largely lost in the mists of time deserve their part in the story. After all, without their genius and inspiration, perhaps the bigger names we all know might not have come to be known at all.

    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  4. #4
    Trollheart, do you plan to go into what people give the label classical music (while it is composed perhaps a year ago), as opposed to say rap, or rock?

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    Offline: Depressed Trollheart's Avatar
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    I'm not quite sure what you're asking there Darren. If you mean when say a band like Metallica uses an orchestra, then no. If you mean people composing classical-like music in the 21st century, like for instance Olafur Arnalds, then no. If you mean people actually composing their own classical music, then yes, and if you mean people playing classical musical today, then yes.

    But mostly it will be the history of the genre from its inception (so far as I can dig back) up to its heyday and then beyond. It will be a very long project, and at the moment I'm tied up with my History of Prog journal, but I will definitely get into it at some point. Just more or less wanted to announce it here and see if anyone was interested in talking about classical music.
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  6. #6
    Let me ask you more specific questions then:

    How do you categorise 'classical'. As an era thing, or more a style?

    Under what category would you place the following composers:
    - Ludovico Einaudi
    - Max Richter
    - Yann Tiersen

    That is what I mean.

    The latter three compose also film music, but not exclusively. I've written my own (draft) choreography to Tiersen's work.

  7. #7
    So will we be sharing specific pieces of classical music by composers played by (whoever) or are we only looking at classical music in terms of history? If the latter shall we start a new thread to share and discuss music by specific composers such as Rachmaninov or Debussy and different interpretations. For example, you have some musicians such as Vanessa Mae and Richard Clayderman who have have simplified/popularised classical music and brought it to the masses.
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    I'll tell you two I'd be interested in (talking about twentieth century). John Cage and Moondog. Both were very experimental and I think both (Cage for certain) are considered classical music. Also Leonard Bernstein who I actually reviewed in my Albums review thread (West Side Story soundtrack). I was inspired to do that by something I saw in one of your threads but I can't remember where.
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    My familiarity with classical is trivial, but I would love to read about the history. I really liked your intro pages so far.

    I'm slightly familiar with Dvorak. I have a digital copy of a CD with three symphonies and the Carnival overture I think. I tend to just skip to the Carnival lol.

    I also used to listen to Chopin's Nocturnes on the bus.

    It tends to be one of those genres I go on a YouTube bender for a week, but never develop a real appreciation.
    I sprayed spot remover on my dog and now he's gone. - S. Wright.

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    Offline: Depressed Trollheart's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Darren White View Post
    Let me ask you more specific questions then:

    How do you categorise 'classical'. As an era thing, or more a style?

    Under what category would you place the following composers:
    - Ludovico Einaudi
    - Max Richter
    - Yann Tiersen

    That is what I mean.

    The latter three compose also film music, but not exclusively. I've written my own (draft) choreography to Tiersen's work.
    I don't know any of them. I'd have to check into them. Certainly there are classical composers working today, but I wouldn't intend to include the likes of Zimmer or Williams or Barry, who mostly or entirely concentrate on film scores. As I said, I'm not any sort of expert on classical music, so while I can read about the history and add my own limited experience of the genre, many of you here will be better versed in it than me, and in that case hopefully you can guide me.

    Quote Originally Posted by PiP View Post
    So will we be sharing specific pieces of classical music by composers played by (whoever) or are we only looking at classical music in terms of history? If the latter shall we start a new thread to share and discuss music by specific composers such as Rachmaninov or Debussy and different interpretations. For example, you have some musicians such as Vanessa Mae and Richard Clayderman who have have simplified/popularised classical music and brought it to the masses.
    Ahem. From the intro:



    Don't expect album reviews – that would be pointless – but I will be going as deeply as I can into the life and works of the great composers – and some of the less great, or at least, less well known – as well perhaps as those who play their music today.


    Also unlike my History of Prog journal, I will not be sticking rigidly to the history timeline, but will divert from it regularly to take in artists and pieces I like, talk about composers and even those soloist and players regarded in the field today, and basically talk as much as I can in as varied a way as I can manage about the whole genre.


    As always, I invite comment and discussion, and while there are, I am quite sure, those of you here who are far better versed in classical music than I am, and while those people are very welcome to disseminate their knowledge here, I would also love to see those who either don’t understand or have been put off by classical wander inhere to see what it’s all about.

    So basically, yes of course anyone can and we will discuss composers, pieces and so on. The main thrust of the journal will be going through the history, but it doesn't have to be limited to that. I'd hope to make this the place to discuss and enjoy classical music here.


    Quote Originally Posted by mrmustard615 View Post
    I'll tell you two I'd be interested in (talking about twentieth century). John Cage and Moondog. Both were very experimental and I think both (Cage for certain) are considered classical music. Also Leonard Bernstein who I actually reviewed in my Albums review thread (West Side Story soundtrack). I was inspired to do that by something I saw in one of your threads but I can't remember where.
    Well you know what I think of Cage, though in fairness that's limited to his work with VU and that bloody 3'57 or whatever it's called. Damn Frownland anyway. Yes, I know. Moondog I've heard that one album and it is great, though whether it would qualify as classical I'm not sure.
    Quote Originally Posted by BadHouses View Post
    My familiarity with classical is trivial, but I would love to read about the history. I really liked your intro pages so far.

    I'm slightly familiar with Dvorak. I have a digital copy of a CD with three symphonies and the Carnival overture I think. I tend to just skip to the Carnival lol.

    I also used to listen to Chopin's Nocturnes on the bus.

    It tends to be one of those genres I go on a YouTube bender for a week, but never develop a real appreciation.
    Thanks. Hopefully it will be fun for all. My own initial experience was through compilations such as The Classical Experience and such, and then I explored certain artists further. Mostly I like Dvorak, Grieg, Rachmaninoff, Mozart, Chopin and so on. I also collected, for a time, the magazine The Great Composers, which was very helpful. And of course I saw Amadeus. When I was younger I got classical tapes out of the library, and while I don't like ALL classical, there's probably not too much of it that I really can't listen to.
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

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