Cymbals crashing, oboes soaring to angelic heights, strings cascading down down down, airplane engines preparing for the conductor’s cue, gamelan clanking mechanically in sync with the trombones, fuzz guitar and synthesizers attacking with a vengeance, final note holding … and … Applause!
Golly gosh, symphonic music has come a long way.
While traditional classical and romantic symphonies are as popular as ever, many new wrinkles have emerged in this genre during the past 100 years. American composer Charles Ives called upon sections of the orchestra to play unrelated bits of music in different keys simultaneously (and, believe it or not, the result was often quite beautiful). Colin McPhee’s Symphony No. 2 was inspired by the not-so-familiar sounds of Indonesian gamelan music. Rock groups such as Yes, The Bee Gees and Muse have weaved symphonic music into their own compositions. This is not your great-grandfather’s symphony!
Here are a few symphonic gems worth checking out:
For a pleasant non-threatening venture into modern symphonic music, Tabula Rasa is a most excellent choice. Written by Arvo Part , an Estonian minimalist, this piece blends the familiar with the unexpected. Ultimately, Part’s music leaves an impression of immense beauty.
Scriabin composed in an exciting era, at a time when tonality was pushed to and beyond its limits. His music zigzags around the trends and compositional schools of early 20th century music, and remains delightfully original.
America’s most well-known symphonist, Aaron Copland, combined American folk music with a modern take on traditional symphonic music. His music is familiar, even when heard for the first time, and is filled with an energy that has become part of the soundtrack of everyday American life.