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Pull Some Strings

Aug 4, 2016


I’m not a musicologist but I play one at the Reference Desk.  I did play the Cello when I was a kid.  I played from the age of six all the way through high school but most of the orchestras I played in were small, mostly chamber orchestras and string ensembles.  A brass section will drown out the strings in a small orchestra so most of the orchestras I played with played Baroque and Early Classical music which is mostly string music.  From Beethoven on, metallurgy and valve technology vastly improved.  Musical instruments, especially woodwinds and brass, became better and more powerful.  Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelsohn and Schubert, for example, wrote bigger works with a fuller sound because from the Industrial Revolution on they had a much wider variety of orchestral instruments to work with.  So most of the orchestras I played with were small string groups that played a lot of the early Baroque and Classical composers such as Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Corelli, Boccherini, Albinoni, and so forth.

Johann_Sebastian_Bach  MAJ06_12_Shepheard.indd

You’ve heard all these composers and their music even if you haven’t always heard their names.  They permeate our culture.  They use their music to sell cars, set the mood in movie soundtracks, and as music for video games.  Their music often sounds courtly and it is.  Much of it was commissioned by the various court nobles of Europe but it is the foundation of all western music.  Rock, Jazz and the Blues wouldn’t have been possible without it.  You’ve probably heard, and heard of, the Four Seasons by Vivaldi and the Brandenburg Concertos by Bach, but you’ve also heard the Concerto for Two Violins in D minor by Bach (unless you’re living under a rock) and you’ve also heard Albinoni’s Adagio in G.  In movies it’s almost a cliché to use Albinoni’s Adagio in G for sadness and angst.  You’ve probably also heard Boccherini’s famous minuet, and when you hear it again you’ll say:  “Oh! That’s what that is!”


I’m not saying you should listen to this music, whether you know it or not you already do and often, and I not saying you have to listen to it to be musically literate or cultured.  That’s being a condescending snob.  What I am saying is these are works of pure artistic genius and if you love music, when you sit back and listen, you will be beguiled.


Robs listening list for Baroque and early Classical 

Orpheus Chamber Orchestra: Albinoni: Adagio Pachelbel: Canon

Bach Brandenburg Concertos nos. 2 & 5

Handel Concerti Grossi OP. 6 Nos. 5-8

Bach Suites for the Cello

String Quintets Guitar Quintets: Boccherini

Corelli: 12 Concerti Grossi OP.6

Albinoni:  The Complete Concertos OP.9