If I had a lot more time, and the licenses to reproduce extended excerpts from tons of recorded music, the ideal versions of my beginner’s guides to modern classical music and art jazz would actually be audiobooks, with me talking for a bit, and then playing 30 seconds of some piece, and then explaining how it’s different from some other piece, and then playing that piece, and so on.
Such audiobooks do exist, and I’m going to call them audio music explainers — as opposed to e.g. text-based music explainers, like these, or interactive music explainers, like these (sorta).
Below are some examples, with Spotify links when available:
- Siepmann, Instruments of the Orchestra
- Naxos’ Classics Explained series: Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 4 & 5, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2, Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, Ravel’s Bolero an Ma Mere l’oye, Schubert’s Piano Quintet in A Major, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.
- Naxos’ Opera Explained series: Beethoven’s Fidelio, Bellini’s La sonnambula, Bizet’s Carmen, Debussy’s Pelleas et Melisande, Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, and many more (choose one, then search Spotify for it).
- Robert Greenberg’s courses for The Great Courses, e.g. How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, How to Listen to and Understand Opera, The Symphony, The String Quartets of Beethoven, and Stravinsky: His Life and Music.
- The Great Courses‘ other music courses: Elements of Jazz, Broadway Musicals, and How Music and Mathematics Relate (maybe? I haven’t heard it). 1
- Britten, A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (with narration, e.g. this version)
- Schiff, Beethoven Lecture-Recitals
Do you know of others?Footnotes:
- Unfortunately, the music courses by The Modern Scholar don’t play many clips of music amid the explanations, but I’ve only listened to their How To Listen To and Appreciate Jazz so far.[↩]
Ben Pace says
The first thing that comes to mind is Britten’s “A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” which is a low-detail version of what you’re talking about.
Will Everett says
The soundtrack to Moonrise Kingdom contains both Britten’s Young Person’s Guide and which shows what each instrument in the orchestra sounds like.
Right, thanks. Added.
Will Everett says
Okay, I don’t know how to use the html tags, but the link for the Desplat piece is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QxRnd_ACxJo
Andras Schiff did a fantastic lecture series on the Beethoven piano sonatas, combining explanations with live performance and demonstrations of themes and motifs.
Nice! Will add.
If possible, would you consider including links to Deezer or SoundCloud instead of Spotify? The latter isn’t available in some countries, Russia being one of them.
I looked at these. Deezer isn’t available in the US, where most of my audience is. SoundCloud has almost none of the music I’m linking to. So I’m probably going to just keep linking to Spotify and YouTube. Sorry!