Andrew Mallett's Guide to Classical Music Andrew Mallett's Guide to Classical Music

If you're anything like me, you love some classical music but struggle to remember those foreign-sounding names. Perhaps you think a movement is just something which happens in your trousers after a large curry. Certain classical pieces have become well-known through advertising and films or are enjoyed on the radio, if you're fond of twerking to the BBC National Service or groovin' to your local Classic FM station.

If not, then here is list of popular classics that you probably recognise already. Remember most people know absolutely nothing about classical music, so all you need to remember is the title and the composer's surname and you'll become an instant classics intellectual, impressing people at parties, get lots of shags, etc.

The A-List

Albinoni - Adagio (in G Minor) - a slow and haunting piece with violins and something which sounds like a pipe organ and probably is. Always makes me a bit misty-eyed when I listen to it.
   

Bach - Air (on a G String) - aka Air from Orchestral Suite No.3. A beautiful, melancholic, tear-inducing violin which will have you pondering the meaning of life. The full title has nothing to do with drying out underwear. The term refers to one violinist who could play the whole thing on just one string (G) of his violin. Popular in films and television.
   

Bach - Toccata (and Fugue) - Yes that organ piece. The definitive, stirring organ solo used in many horror genres. Picture spooky shadows and fangs plunging into the necks of maidens, pale-and-wan. Also popularised and moderned up by bands such as Sky (although 'modern' is such a relative term..
   

Beethoven - Für Elise - a quiet, rolling piano solo which gently drifts from an attic window as you walk up a small, picturesque street in some distant German town. No, nothing to do with fleur-de-lys you eediot; Fur Elise is simply German for For Elise - Ludwig's favourite squeeze at the time. Hear it playing sweetly on some appreciative German officer's tinny gramophone in the Wolfenstein games as you gently squeeze the trigger and cap the bastard.
   

Beethoven - Moonlight Sonata (aka Piano Sonata No. 14 "Moonlight", 1st Movement) - another piano solo, slower and more solemn than Für Elise. Also heard a lot in the stalking halls and Fachhallenhaus of Wolfenstein and the like. Good pondering music for the thinking man/woman, although I wouldn't listen to it if you've had a bit too much gin.
   

Beethoven - 5th Symphony - one of the most recognisable - and covered - compositions of classical music ever. Very popular during WWII, the opening "dit-dit-dit-dah" was used for the letter "V" in Morse Code. Covered by bands such as ELO and Walter Murphy; seen in films such as Fantasia and used in a doorbell in A Clockwork Orange (probably not Beethoven's finest adaptational moment).
   

Chopin - Funeral March (aka Piano Sonata No.2, 3rd Movement) - pronounced 'shoh-pan' for the uncultured - he wasn't an executioner! And yes, Chopin wrote this for the ushering of souls into the next world. Instantly recognisable to audiophiles and ghouls everywhere, these 11 simple notes have been used from films and cartoons to greetings cards and, well..funerals.
   

Pachelbel - Canon - note only one 'n' please - this isn't the bloody 1812 overture! This gentle violin piece conjures up Aardman-esque sheep bouncing around in some idyllic rural setting somewhere in say, Devon. This is probably because it was used for the British Wool adverts in the 1970s. If this resonates with any budding Mnemonists, then picture sheep being fired from a cannon with bells around their necks..
   

Strauss - The Blue Danube - probably the most famous waltz ever written and the classical sound of traditional Vienna. Imagine dashing, tuxedoed gents waltzing big-skirted ladies around the dance floor. Used to excellent (modern contrasting with futuristic) effect in 2001: A Space Odyssey as the space shuttle manoeuvres to enter the space dock. Johann would be so proud.
   

Tchaikovsky - Swan Lake - if you want a definitive, classic ballet piece to remember, then this is the one. Starts off gently and builds to a moving crescendo before changing pace again. Imagine those white, frilly ballet dancers lined up in a row. Used in the dramatic final scene in the film, Billy Elliot. You don't have to be a mad ballet fan (I'm not) to appreciate it.
   

Vivaldi - The Four Seasons - one of the most popular and recognisable classical pieces ever. Consists of four parts depicting Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. You can really imagine scenes from each season as you listen. Visualise horse-drawn sleighs whispering through a snowy forest in Winter. Each season has its own 'mood'. Much recorded over the years including a punchy number by modern classicists, Red Priest.
   





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