Classical works with the best use of percussion

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Classical works with the best use of percussion

Postby SirMustapha » Tue Jul 26, 2011 8:59 pm UTC

Last week I attended a performance of Prokofiev's symphony no. 5, and I noticed that I really dig the clever and diverse use of percussion in classical works. I mean things beyond tympani and the occasional bass drum: woodblocks, whips, gongs, snare drums and so on. Aside from the aforementioned Prokofiev work, Gershwin's Piano concerto has some great instances. There's a suite by Camargo Guarnieri that has the celli playing col legno, but I was never able to find out exactly which suite it is. I'd like to get other recommendations, if anyone has examples to share. Works for percussion ensemble do interest me also, but I'm more curious about percussion in orchestral works.
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Re: Classical works with the best use of percussion

Postby cjmcjmcjmcjm » Wed Jul 27, 2011 5:57 am UTC

I'm not sure if you count minimalist music as classical, but Steve Reich. I also like the use of percussion in Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie (sp?) and Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra.
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Re: Classical works with the best use of percussion

Postby Kangaroo » Fri Jul 29, 2011 10:45 am UTC

IIRC, Frank Zappa's The Yellow Shark has some nice percussion use, although it was quite some time since I last listened to it...
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Re: Classical works with the best use of percussion

Postby MisterCheif » Fri Jul 29, 2011 8:08 pm UTC

I'd say Holst's 2nd Suite in Eb, especially the 3rd movement, Song of the Black Smith. The score calls for an anvil, but at District Band when it turned out that we had no anvil, they took one of those removable metal door posts (that are especially used in double doors at schools, because of the fact that you know, the band kind of needs to get the pit percussion outside, and a lot of the boards are wider than a door.) and used it as an anvil. It had some quite nice resonance.

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Re: Classical works with the best use of percussion

Postby Phill » Mon Aug 01, 2011 12:34 pm UTC

How about Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story suite? I heard that performed a few years ago and the percussion section were worked hard throughout.

Not really sure if the West Side Story counts as 'classical' exactly but it is orchestral.
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Re: Classical works with the best use of percussion

Postby gingermrkettle » Tue Aug 02, 2011 12:54 pm UTC

If you are going for Bernstein, then also try the suite from On the Waterfront. Belshazzar's Feast by Walton also springs to mind, especially in the evocation of the Babylonian gods.

When it comes to more modern music, I do find that percussion gets overused to my ears.* However, if you can get hold of the recordings, Voices or the 9th symphony by Hans Werner Henze are definitely worth a listen (the third movement in particular for effective use of percussion).

* In that the balance between harmonic and percussive considerations generally in all instruments seems to tip too far to the percussive.
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Re: Classical works with the best use of percussion

Postby podbaydoor » Tue Aug 02, 2011 3:10 pm UTC

gingermrkettle wrote:If you are going for Bernstein, then also try the suite from On the Waterfront. Belshazzar's Feast by Walton also springs to mind, especially in the evocation of the Babylonian gods.

When it comes to more modern music, I do find that percussion gets overused to my ears.*

In my unsophisticated opinion, percussion in modern classical music can get overused to the point of preciousness. Sure, it's great that you discovered that banging on a metal sheet juxtaposed with banging on a piece of wood (or whatever) is fascinating...but making an entire piece into a loosely strung collection of disparate percussive sounds without a unifying theme? Better suited for a science museum exhibit about sound waves for the kids to peruse, than for a concert hall.
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Re: Classical works with the best use of percussion

Postby KestrelLowing » Tue Aug 02, 2011 4:23 pm UTC

This is a band piece (standard for many college and good high school bands) but I really enjoy Incantation and Dance by John Barnes Chance. There are whip cracks, claves, maracas, vibraslaps, and just about everything you can think of in a really awesome high-energy song. The instrumental parts are also really awesome. Definitely check it out.

While it's certainly not baroque or anything, it is still very much a classical piece in the sense that it's not jazz or pop or anything else. It's just a bit more modern than some others.
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Re: Classical works with the best use of percussion

Postby Dream » Tue Aug 02, 2011 10:39 pm UTC

podbaydoor wrote:making an entire piece into a loosely strung collection of disparate percussive sounds without a unifying theme? Better suited for a science museum exhibit about sound waves for the kids to peruse, than for a concert hall.

Having trouble with the whole concept of music there, are you? Pro tip: "I don't understand this, it mustn't be music" is not really a tenable position. Pro tip two: "This shouldn't be in a concert hall, it's more like a science experiment, one for kids" if unbelievably insulting to whoever's music you're referring to.
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Re: Classical works with the best use of percussion

Postby podbaydoor » Wed Aug 03, 2011 9:56 pm UTC

I've been listening to classical music since I was in the womb (thanks Mom) and playing classical music since I was 5. I've been in orchestras since I was 13. Admittedly I don't have formal theory training, but from speaking to my friends who do, they also have many varied and decided opinions on what they like and what they don't. Loving classical music does not require loving all of it.

And I'm perfectly capable of understanding something and disliking it at the same time. I've heard plenty of pieces composed in the last few decades that I liked, and plenty that displeased my preferences even if I got what they were trying to do. Intellectual understanding is different from the more emotional liking.

"Someone doesn't like what I like, I'm going get in a snit and insult their intelligence" is also a remarkably untenable position. You seem to just hate it when I attack one of the sacred horses of things made in the last century. Excuse, me, I missed the memo where making something recently gives you a free pass from criticism - including criticism from non-liberal arts academics, remarkably.
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Re: Classical works with the best use of percussion

Postby Dream » Wed Aug 03, 2011 11:08 pm UTC

podbaydoor wrote:And I'm perfectly capable of understanding something and disliking it at the same time. I've heard plenty of pieces composed in the last few decades that I liked, and plenty that displeased my preferences even if I got what they were trying to do. Intellectual understanding is different from the more emotional liking.

Now, let's see. What part of your personal emotional liking makes something belong or not belong in a science exhibition as opposed to a concert hall? Because it looks a lot like your emotions are defining what is and isn't acceptably defined as actual music. And that's not cool. That's you claiming to be able to tell other people what they should and shouldn't be emotionally liking, in a concert hall, and instead might be intellectually understanding, in a museum.

I don't care for a moment about what you do or don't like. I would never seek to tell you your taste is wrong. But I will tell you every single time that you cannot tell another person what they should or shouldn't be considering music. And listening to classical music since you were born is not a remotely mitigating factor. Your taste and its formation is irrelevant.
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Re: Classical works with the best use of percussion

Postby ++$_ » Thu Aug 04, 2011 5:34 am UTC

Why are you so irate about this? Saying that a particular piece of music is better suited to a science museum than a concert hall is just criticism, even if it is a bit sardonic.

If you don't believe there's such a thing as objectively "good" or "bad" music, then understand that whenever someone says anything about a piece of music, it is shorthand for the same statement prefixed with "In my opinion".
gingermrkettle wrote:Belshazzar's Feast by Walton also springs to mind, especially in the evocation of the Babylonian gods.
This one came to mind for me too. The invocation of the idols with the corresponding instrument is a bit cheeky, but the passage is also very satisfying musically, and there's a lot of work for the percussionists throughout the piece.
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Re: Classical works with the best use of percussion

Postby Cloud Walker » Thu Aug 04, 2011 8:51 am UTC

++$_ wrote:If you don't believe there's such a thing as objectively "good" or "bad" music, then understand that whenever someone says anything about a piece of music, it is shorthand for the same statement prefixed with "In my opinion".


Well, not everybody believes this, so they may not be implying, beforehand, an "IMO". Thus, the discussion. PBD's assertion did seem to be on the side of "objective musical value", to me and Dream, at least. If she actually is of the opinion that no such objective value exists, then we can understand her comment as such and let it be. I, personally, don't know if she is, though. We'll leave that up to her clarification.

P.S., I don't see any anger in his posts.
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Re: Classical works with the best use of percussion

Postby Dream » Thu Aug 04, 2011 11:47 am UTC

++$_ wrote:Why are you so irate about this? Saying that a particular piece of music is better suited to a science museum than a concert hall is just criticism, even if it is a bit sardonic.

Because she's being overwhelmingly patronising and objectively wrong at the same time. Then she cites the hilarious "expertise" of having listened to classical music a lot in a greatly pompous manner. And overall, the contention that one person knows what art is and can comfortably pronounce entire genres as not art is dangerous and offensive.
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Re: Classical works with the best use of percussion

Postby Cloud Walker » Thu Aug 04, 2011 3:56 pm UTC

Ok, there's some anger there.
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Re: Classical works with the best use of percussion

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Aug 04, 2011 6:40 pm UTC

++$_ wrote:Saying that a particular piece of music is better suited to a science museum than a concert hall is just criticism
The problem is not that it's criticism. The problem is that pbd, here and in a number of other art-related threads, makes claims with this kind of objective purport, when no such objectivity exists. She makes claims about what art is, or what music is, instead of about what she thinks of as good art or music.

Contrast this with what gingermrkettle said, which was that percussion was overused to his* ears. And notice how, shockingly enough, Dream didn't take exception to this clear statement of personal taste.

* I'm assuming "his" because of the "mr" in the username. Sorry if this is incorrect.
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Re: Classical works with the best use of percussion

Postby Sir Drinks-a-Lot » Tue Sep 13, 2011 6:20 pm UTC

Prokofiev's first piano concerto makes nice ,although sparing, use of percussion, especially in the first movement.

And, of course, several of the Mahler symphonies...
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Re: Classical works with the best use of percussion

Postby ChocloManx » Sun Sep 18, 2011 12:12 am UTC

I've always found the offstage random clattering in Mahler's 6th somewhat disturbing, but very cool.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Stravinsky's Rite of Spring (maybe it's too obvious? I feel like a noob now :P) Also Ionisation by Edgard Varèse (get a load a' them clusters!!).
Worth mentioning too are Xenakis' Psappha, Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion & Celesta (link to the second movement), Cage's Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano and the incredible Rothko Chapel by Morton Feldman. The use of percussion in the last one is so subtle I recommend listening to a higher quality version (or listening to it live if you're a lucky mofo).
Last edited by ChocloManx on Sun Sep 18, 2011 6:11 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Classical works with the best use of percussion

Postby Dream » Sun Sep 18, 2011 12:36 pm UTC

ChocloManx wrote:the incredible Rothko Chapel by Morton Feldman. The use of percussion in the last one is so subtle I recommend listeing to a higher quality version (or listening to it live if you're a lucky mofo).

http://open.spotify.com/album/7hHsCl2RtTQdoSD0z70of8

Spotify link to that. Recommendation seconded, by the way.
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Re: Classical works with the best use of percussion

Postby sbarr » Tue Sep 20, 2011 8:04 pm UTC

Lots of nice pieces in this thread! I'll add Short Ride in a Fast Machine by John Adams. I find the woodblock really drives the piece and holds it together without ever being too much. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pi4A9bPDvTc
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Re: Classical works with the best use of percussion

Postby Jave D » Sun Nov 27, 2011 12:15 am UTC

Well, as to the obvious, Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. BECAUSE IT'S GOT CANNONS. It's the one they play at 4th of July Celebrations in lots of places in America, because, I dunno, it feels patriotic to celebrate Russian victory over France at a time when France was our one and only ally because, well, fuck France. It's also more commonly known as "the one with the cannons." BECAUSE IT'S GOT CANNONS.

As a percussionist I can tell you that bigger is indeed better, and it doesn't get much better than CANNONS. Although one day I intend to write a symphonic score that calls for the use of hydrogen bombs, just so I can say, "Take that, Pyotr Illytch. NUCLEAR. BOMBS." Of course that's probably already been done.
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Re: Classical works with the best use of percussion

Postby SirMustapha » Sun Nov 27, 2011 1:52 am UTC

Hell, I thought I had replied to this thread before, just to leave a not of "I'm following ya!". Oh, well. :|

Since I posted this, I grew crazy over Messiaen's Turangalîla Symphonie, and it's definitely a textbook example of what I like about percussion -- abundant yet measured and unpredictable. But then again, I love the whole work.

ChocloManx wrote:I'm surprised no one has mentioned Stravinsky's Rite of Spring (maybe it's too obvious? I feel like a noob now :P)


I think it's one of those cases that are so "obvious" that people don't realise to mention it. I guess Rite of Spring has some of the best use of ALL instruments in the orchestra, but the percussion has some great stuff going. I also really like Xenakis's percussion work, especially Rebonds. That's a really great rendition of Psappha you linked, by the way. Ionisation is brilliant.

ChocloManx wrote:(...) and the incredible Rothko Chapel by Morton Feldman. The use of percussion in the last one is so subtle I recommend listening to a higher quality version (or listening to it live if you're a lucky mofo).


I'll definitely check that one out! I've also definitely got to listen to more Mahler and Bartók (which I love).
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Re: Classical works with the best use of percussion

Postby Bartimaeus » Sun Dec 25, 2011 4:18 am UTC

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Re: Classical works with the best use of percussion

Postby bmonk » Sun Dec 25, 2011 4:33 am UTC

Jave D wrote:Well, as to the obvious, Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. BECAUSE IT'S GOT CANNONS. It's the one they play at 4th of July Celebrations in lots of places in America, because, I dunno, it feels patriotic to celebrate Russian victory over France at a time when France was our one and only ally because, well, fuck France. It's also more commonly known as "the one with the cannons." BECAUSE IT'S GOT CANNONS.

As a percussionist I can tell you that bigger is indeed better, and it doesn't get much better than CANNONS. Although one day I intend to write a symphonic score that calls for the use of hydrogen bombs, just so I can say, "Take that, Pyotr Illytch. NUCLEAR. BOMBS." Of course that's probably already been done.

In the first chapter of one of the Stainless Steel Rat books, de Griz stages a heist during the premier of a piece entitled, IIRC, "Galaxies in Collision". He is able to blow a safe during one of the louder passages, during which the dust between the floorboards is dancing. Now, with sounds like that--I'd think some is percussion--who needs NUCLEAR BOMBS?
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