Some of you may already know this, but for those of you who are newer friends, here's a little backing track from my childhood.
When I was around eleven my sister received a violin for Christmas. I still remember it was wrapped in red paper, and shone like the cheap china-make it was. And for the record, the Chinese have definitely produced some powerful violins too.
There was a ribbon around the case, and unzipped, the instrument rested in its silence, full of voice. I loved it.
The size, although small, was a little too large for my sister and, my parents, music enthralled as they were, passed it up to me so that, at the age of eleven, I began to learn classical violin.
For over the next eight years, I studied, practiced and grew so connected to that little hollow bird; its chirping, wing-flapping, falling falling falling.
The scales, diminuendos, mismatched bowings, the hours that ticked away the clock. The early-mornings and late-night just-one-more-times. The driving back and forth to Nova, to Miami, to Pompano, Fort Lauderdale. To Barberville and Cherry Blossom Washington, D. C. From car-journey to bus-ride, from the little town to the little, growing city.
Every moment in the back of the car-pool, in the studio, traveling between orchestras, preparing for auditions, practicing days into years. Every moment was a favorite. I loved the music of my violin, and I wanted to make it melody forever.
I'm going to tell you a little fact about me, okay? And it's only because, even though there's so much more to learn, I want you to know that I have lived. the world of classical musicians and their music.
Over the last nine years, I played the violin in eleven different orchestras: The Florida Youth Symphony, The Florida Youth Repertoire, Meldrum Academy Orchestra, The Inverurie Repertoire, The Aberdeen Training Orchestra, The Florida Youth Principle, An NEMC Repertoire, The University of Dundee Orchestra, The Dundee Symphony Orchestra, The Turl Street Orchestra at Exeter College, Oxford. On top of this, I was also a member of Keili Kids, Fiddleworks, Inc., provided classical quartet music for charitable fundraiser events and concerts as a second-violinist with The Ovation Quartet. For all of this, there were weekly rehearsals, additional practices, lessons every Thursday after school, quartet get-togethers, and individual exercises.
These are some of the most cherished experiences. However, this does not mean they are exempt of the awkwardness, forgetfulness, all-round embarrassing memories that always seem to follow one into the moments we hold close. And so, feeling nostalgic, I thought about creating a series of Classical Music Memories for you with some of the strangest, best experiences as a classical musician.
I thought I'd give myself an easier challenge to begin; my top ten most overplayed classical music pieces. Da-da.
Ah, wait. Before we read on, note: These are compositions that classical musicians often have to either perform hundreds of times or hear on repeat in practice, and so, there is the idea that (for us) these themes start to lose a bit of their luster. They can still be so beautiful, calming, uplifting and charged-------but sometimes, let's agree that a little breather is needed.
Oh, and also, if you are relatively new to classical music, it occurred to me that this might actually be a relatively good introduction.
10. The Blue Danube Waltz, Johann Strauss II
Thanks to, of course, the almighty maestro André Rieu, this piece has been forever cemented into "the modernized world of being overplayed." Despite this, it's a nice waltz with a full orchestra, and André Rieu will forever be a master at conjuring the fantastical with his strings and sound.
9. Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Ludwig van Beethoven
I just clicked on the first Classical Music video to load on Youtube for some inspiration, and this was the opening symphony. When I was studying for my A-levels during my Sophomore year, I enrolled in a Music & Art History Class where we had to memorize some of the most recognizable works. I think Stravinsky and Debussy were on that list as well, and I'd definitely recommend musicians who might not be as familiar with these two artists to google The Rite of Spring and/or Claire de Lune. I'm sure you'll recognize them right away.
Anyways, I remember we were given about a minute or so to listen to the beginning measures of each piece before writing down both the name of the composer and the piece. This was the only composition where everyone in the entire school only needed about four seconds to immediately recognise the correct answer.
On that note, I'd really recommend listening on to the second movement, Andante con Moto. For some reason, it reminds me of the soundtrack from Disney's Bambi. It might just be me, but there's that sort of forest--light to it, especially with the brass instruments.
8. Hungarian Dance No. 5, Johannes Brahms
Brahms wrote quite a few Hungarian Dances. It's a show-piece. But also written in a set of 21 lively folk melodies. This one is really mesmerizing so it makes complete sense to me why it has been so well-received.
7. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, W. A. Mozart
Every gig. The Corporate gig. Wedding gig. Anniversary gig. Fundraiser. Batmitzvah. The 50th Celebration Of gig. The Birthday Party. Conference. Open-House. The Local Show. Every Annual Furniture Store Champagne. Art Fair. Commencement Ceremony. For the Community Choir. Conservatory. Holiday Party. Retirement Home. Realistic estimate: I've probably played Eine Kleine Nachtmusik at least two hundred and forty-nine times in three years.
6. The Four Seasons, Antonio Vivaldi
My first solo was Spring. I remember I was wearing a pink butterfly dress. We had to wait in the little hall behind the chapel, and walk up the steps to the front of the stage while everyone in the audience watched. I was so nervous.
My score had markings everywhere, and I think the alphabet up to G had been written underneath the notes so that I would know exactly where to place each finger on the fingerboard. I think it is still one of my favorite performances.
Years later I learned Vivaldi's Summer. I realize now how overplayed it must have been, but, at the time, I was unaware of this, and because no one I knew had studied the movement, it felt all new to me. Silly, I listen to it now and I still only hear nostalgia.
I'm sure that many classical musicians are familiar with this rendition, but if you're looking for another way to experience the Seasons, Max Richter's version on Youtube/Spotify is truly remarkable. I'd recommend!
5. Czardas, Vittorio Monti
In the grand scheme of scores, Czardas seems to be everywhere. It seems that all the something'sgottalent finalists have recreated this piece. While it sounds lively, and it is, it's honestly not that difficult to play if you've done all your practice. I reckon it sounds more impressive than it is. Of course, it is a challenge: to play any piece of music is, even the easiest, simplest melody deserves to be taken as seriously as the most intricate, elaborate composition. Music is not simply about the right notes; there's an art in correct articulation.
4. Für Elise, Beethoven.
It's almost sad, really, I struggle to Für Elise as a piece in and of itself anymore because I've heard it so many times. It's one of the only melodies that I still have memorized from when I studied piano as a child. White key, black key, white key, black key.
The second section of the piece is actually quite beautiful, and I think, from now on, I'll just skip straight to that and see if someone still recognizes it?
3. Cello Suite No. 1- Prelude, Bach
Honestly I love this suite.
I heard somewhere that a good measure if a classical piece is overplayed is to listen for a street rendition. Buskers. I'm not too sure about that as I've only ever heard a few cello buskers... but I will say, I think the amount of times I heard this composition while walking back and forth from practice room to practice room might fit into this as well? Also, the advertisements and commercials love this song too much.
2. The Flight of the Bumblebee, Rimsky-Korsakov
So this is a classic addition that always makes me giggle because I did hear someone once call it The Flight Of The Mumblebee. I think this piece is interesting because it is considered to be one of those compositions that represent a musician's ability to play very, very, very quickly. However, in viewing The Flight Of The Bumblebee in this way, there is the chance that the integrity of a piece as well as the accuracy of a musician's interpretation of the song might be compromised.
This song is really, really difficult to play accurately very, very fast. Although overplayed in social streams, I have a high respect for the musicians that have taken The Flight Of The Bumblebee and practiced to a level of excellence-----magnificence-----that truly shows the articulation, intentionality and musical integrity. I'd recommend listening to David Garrett's rendition for the Guinness World Book of Records.
Some of my firsthand suggestions for some similarly-paced pieces would be 1. Paganini's Moto Perpetuo, the Barber Violin Concerto Mvt. 3 and J. S. Bach's Presto.
1. Canon in D, Johann Pachelbel
Canon in D is one of the most slowest, longest, crushing pieces to perform. We probably played this piece over two hundred times, in a year. It is basically Canon in your Ear Drums, which would be alright if not for the fact that there was one year with the craziest wedding season ever booked. Our poor cellist. She was such a trooper because, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the score, the cello part for Canon in D is four notes? If you go listen now, I promise you'll hear the sound of a wood metronome chipping away at time as it walks down the aisle one wedding after another.
On the bright side, however, Canon in D is easily memorizable: eight bars of music repeated 28 times. Other composers recognized Pachelbel's genius here, and Handel, Haydn and Mozart, for example, all used the iconic bass line in some of their own compositions in the following years. Also, I read somewhere once that Pachelbel wrote more than 500 pieces over his lifetime so, even if I have overplayed this melody a hundred and eighty-six too many times, I still have high respect for this world-renowned composer.
Bonus &/= Special Mentions: I wanted to include a little bonus section to provide (and ask for) a few suggestions on works that, although often well-versed in a musician's repertoire, would be perfect, integrating compositions for anyone relatively new to classical music.
If you're interested in Quartet/Chamber Music, I'd recommend listening to Handel's Water Music, Antonin Dvorák String Quartet in F, Op. 96 "American," and Ludwig van Beethoven's Quartet in B flat, Op. 130. The last one in this list is particularly special to me because I performed it years ago at an orchestra camp with my quartet.
Piano is also a welcoming instrument to anyone interested in expanding their classical music knowledge. Debussy (Claire de Lune) and the Chopin Nocturnes. You might even recognize the Nocturne in C sharp Minor (No. 2) as its appearance in a few films seemed to raise its popularity a little. It's so majestic, almost sorrowful at times.
A couple more? I'd recommend listening to Mahler, Strauss, Monteverdi, Bartok, and Prokofiev. Sibelius, Mendelssohn and Puccini are also renowned composers and have influenced many of the modern crossovers composed within the last ten years.
Also, why not try New Classical? It's a genre for classical music composed in the 21st century.
Thanks for reading today! If you'd like to add your own favorites to my list and/or share about your own experiences with these top 10 pieces, please do feel free to direct-email or comment below.