The Importance of Listening

Nation-wide, music students are achieving new heights with performance, producing creative compositions, and are becoming confident with set works. But, the element of musicianship that students are struggling with (and not just in exam scenarios) is listening. Being able to recognise scales or modulations, being able to hear subtle changes of rhythm or melody between two motifs, or being able to write down a melody having only just heard it: these are all such important skills, but they have become neglected in favour of performance prowess and knowledge of set works. Yet, sitting and listening to music can be time-consuming, as you hunt for a decent recording or a piece that suitably represents a particular style or period. So, to make life a little easier, we will be giving you recommendations for different genres, so all you have to do is sit back and listen.

These recommendations are suitable and highly encouraged for all year groups, but the genres have been shaped around the L6 course, because the course utilises relatively clear categories and cover a wide spectrum of music that will appeal to all. Each post will include a recommendation for each genre.

Vocal Music:

Puccini – Tosca

One of Puccini’s best operas, this passionate tale of love, crime, betrayal, and murder is best witnessed live, but the music is powerful enough to maintain a listener’s engagement without being presented on stage.

For those who fall in love with this opera and want to listen to the whole thing, we recommend the incomparable Maria Callas in the title role:

For those with a little less time, try Luciano Pavarotti’s performance of ‘E lucevan le stelle’:

Instrumental Music:

Rachmaninov – Symphony No. 2

Rachmaninov’s most famous symphony, this highly Romantic piece can sweep you off your feet. The second movement is particularly famous and a regular feature on Classic FM, but all of the movements are worth a listen if you have the time.

For the full symphony, complete with a score that you can follow:

Music for Film:

Dario Marianelli – Atonement (original soundtrack)

An Oscar-winning score, Marianelli’s accompaniment to the adaptation of Ian McEwan’s heart-breaking novel is a masterclass in contemporary score-writing. Very few works manage to seamlessly combine a chamber orchestra, organ and typewriter, but Marianelli manages it brilliantly. If the music does not move you by itself, then it will definitely do so with the film’s images.

For a taste of multiple cues, try this suite:

For the ‘Elegy for Dunkirk’, one of the most tragic cues of the film:

Popular Music and Jazz:

Frank Sinatra – Songs For Swingin’ Lovers! (full album)

Modern day jazz and pop music owes a lot to Frank Sinatra. He is still regarded as one of the greatest artists to ever have lived, and his vocal talents have become a bench mark for anyone singing swing music or ballads. This album contains some his best-known songs, including ‘You Make Me Feel So Young’ and ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’, songs from the prime of his career.

For the full album:


Enya – The Celts (full album)

Enya may be best known now for her contribution to the soundtrack of The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring (2001), but her musical career has spanned several decades, and her folk-inspired sound is instantly recognisable. “The Celts” is one of her earlier album releases and includes songs in Gaelic.

For the full album:

New Directions:

Stockhausen – Cosmic Pulses

Like many avant-garde composers, Stockhausen’s music can be divisive, but there is no doubt of his pioneering spirit in using electronic techniques to create art music. “Cosmic Pulses” is not his most notorious work, but may nevertheless be strange to listen to for those not familiar with his style.

For the full work:

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