Thursday, December 21, 2006

Not At First

When you think of the most popular melodies in classical music, I recently realized that in cases where the piece is not a single-movement work, the most popular melodies tend to come from the first movement of the symphony, concerto, sonata, etc. In most cases, I think that is justified. However, it may also come from something to do with “listener patience”, in that maybe listeners rarely hold their attention past the first movement, especially if it’s a piece like Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony (first movement is nearly 30 minutes alone!). Either way, these are all great melodies, but I thought it would be interesting to come up with a set of pieces where the most memorable, or famous, melody does not come from the first movement, but rather is found later in the work. Therefore, this article is more exploratory rather than being an opinion-backed commentary.

As a disclaimer, I realized it is tough to include works like operas, ballets, and suites in this conversation, because typically in these pieces “highlights” were intended to be scattered throughout the work and the “opener” (or overture), if one exists, is meant to introduce or ease the audience into the work.

The first such work that comes to mind is the famous “Ode To Joy” chorus from the finale of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. If you’ve read any of my previous writing, you know by now how I feel about the entire work as a masterpiece. However, I do acknowledge that in most cases, people are most familiar with the finale. Think of it another way – when you pick up many of those “Classical Music’s Greatest Works” compilations, it’s never the first movements of the 9th that are on there – it’s always the finale.

Also by Beethoven, I would cite the Allegretto from his 7th Symphony (the 2nd movement). Few people can actively sing the other movements, but that Allegretto has come to be one of the more famous melodies in all of music.

Here’s some others I could think of:

  • Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 21 in C, 2nd movement (“Elvira Madigan”)

  • Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 22 in Eb, 3rd movement

  • Vivaldi: Four Seasons, Winter, 2nd Movement

  • Handel: “Hallelujah Chorus” from “Messiah”

  • Haydn: Symphony No. 94, 2nd Movement (“Surprise Symphony”)

  • Chopin: Piano Concerto in B Flat Minor, 2nd Movement (“Funeral March”)

  • Verdi: “Dies Irae” from “Requiem”

  • Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, 2nd Movement (“New World”)

  • Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 in D, 4th Movement

Again, there’s not much deeper psychological insight that I have into this topic, nor do I really have any opinion on it. I just thought it interesting to think about which works have survived in this manner – in which the true gem of the piece is found within and we have to dig a little to find it.


At 8:45 PM, Blogger Kerry said...

I just wanted to bring to your attention a documentary film I'm doing on Beethoven's Ninth, calld Following The Ninth (www.followingthe

Happy Hollidays,

kerry candaele
venice, ca


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