Classical Tyro

A Beginner's Guide to Great Music

Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, BWV 1048 (1721)

“I love the Brandenburg Concertos and think they are so rhythmic, and so full of life, and so related in a way to jazz.” – Dave Brubeck, 2007

1st and 2nd Movements (2nd Movement begins at 5:53 – a short movement)


3rd Movement

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra
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Bacharach, South American Getaway (1969)

In 1970 Burt Bacharach won an Academy Award for Best Original Score for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In the film, “South American Getaway” is performed by the Ron Hicklin Singers. The version I’ve embedded below, however, is arranged for cello ensemble, and if you’ve never heard Crocellomania, you’re in for a treat.


Crocellomania directed by Valter Dešpalj
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Alive Inside: The Power of Music

"The imagining of music, even in relatively nonmusical people, tends to be remarkably faithful not only to the tune and feeling of the original but its pitch and tempo. Underlying this is the extraordinary tenacity of musical memory, so that much of what is heard during one’s early years may be ‘engraved’ on the brain for the rest of one’s life."

– Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain

Two days ago, in a blog titled “Music and the Doctrine of Ethos,” I wrote, “music has the power to magnify emotions.” As a follow-up to that blog, I have embedded two film clips below that show how powerfully the memory of music is imprinted in our minds.

The first clip shows an old man named Henry reacting to music from his past. Henry is an Alzheimer’s patient who has spent over ten years in a nursing home. He is depressed and normally unresponsive when people speak to him. He comes alive, however, when listening to music. As seen in the film, music has the power to liberate Henry's memories more than any other form of therapy.

The clip I have embedded comes from
Alive Inside, a documentary about the power of music and the social worker who uses it to help patients with dementia and Alzheimer's.

Man in Nursing Home Reacts to Music


“[Music] gives me the feeling of love, romance! … The Lord came to me and he made me a holy man, so he gave me these sounds.” – Henry

The second film clip comes from ABC’s
Nightline and shows U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords finding her voice through music. In January 2011, Giffords was shot in an assassination attempt. Although the bullet passed through her head, she has recovered some of her ability to walk, speak, read, and write. She owes her life and partial recovery to many talented doctors and physical therapists. I have embedded this clip to show how music therapy was a large part of her recovery.

Gabby Giffords Finds Her Voice Through Music


2500 years ago the Greeks believed that the right kind of music had the power to heal the sick and shape personal character in positive ways. In modern times the doctrine of
ethos seems to have modern science on its side.


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Music and the Doctrine of Ethos

Music has the power to magnify emotions.

Notice how music is used in films to exaggerate the drama, horror, or comedy in a story. It might be tragic enough to see an innocent child die in a film, but if the death is accompanied by the right music, the film can make you sob until you are honking like a goose.

A belief of the ancient Greeks held that music had a magical power to speak directly to human emotion. In what has come to be known as the doctrine of
ethos, the Greeks believed that the right kind of music had the power to heal the sick and shape personal character in a positive way. The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that when music was designed to imitate a certain emotion, a person listening to the music would have that emotion.

"We accept the division of melodies proposed by certain philosophers into ethical melodies, melodies of action, and passionate or inspiring melodies, each having, as they say, a mode corresponding to it".

– Aristotle, Politics, Bk 8, Pt 7

In Aristotle’s mind, someone listening to the wrong type of music would become the wrong type of person. Certain instruments and modes would take one toward either the logos (rational) or pathos (emotional), and it was essential to raise children with the right kind of music.

"Shall we argue that music conduces to virtue, on the ground that it can form our minds and habituate us to true pleasures as our bodies are made by gymnastics to be of a certain character?"

– Aristotle, Politics, Bk. 8, Pt. 5

In a similar manner, many people in modern times believe music can be used to help educate children and promote good health.

According to the
American Music Therapy Association, music can be used to "promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, express feelings, enhance memory, improve communication, and promote physical rehabilitation."

In an article posted on the Huffington Post," Therese J. Borchard, who is the author of the
Beyond Blue column, writes that music can be used as therapy. “Everything with a beat moves my spirit,” writes Ms. Borchard. “I can't get enough of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart, because I think so much better when these guys are playing in the background.”

I recommend reading what Ms. Borchard has written and then listen to the pieces I have embedded below to get a sense of what she is saying. Both pieces are referenced by Ms. Bochard in her article “
Music Therapy: Got the Blues? Play Them."

Whether we call it music therapy or the doctrine of
ethos, the concept is simple to grasp. At its best, music has the potential to affect our emotions so deeply that it can cleanse our soul and connect us with something that might only be described as “spiritual.”

Sarah Brightman singing “Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera


Rachmaninoff, Prelude in C-sharp minor (Ruslan Sviridov, piano)

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Scriabin, The Poem of Ecstasy (1908)

Kirill Petrenko, a 43-year-old Russian-Austrian conductor, has recently been named chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, one of the world’s great orchestras. Petrenko will replace Sir Simon Rattle, who has served as principal conductor since 2002. Rattle will leave the Berlin Philharmonic in August 2018.


Kirill Petrenko conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in 2012
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Mascagni, Cavalleria Rusticana, Intermezzo (1890)

Here’s a wonderful performance of one of classical music’s most beautiful pieces of music. Mascagni inserted this interlude into his opera Cavallaria Rusticana (Rustic Chivalry) to denote the passage of time. If it sounds familiar, you may have heard it in the film Raging Bull. (The music begins at 0:40 after much encouragement from the audience for an encore.)


Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Gothenburg Symphony
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