A look into classical

I have very little in classical music. The local library has a lot of classical cd's available. Rather than taking the hit & miss approach are there some suggestions for me to get my feet wet? I do like what I have: Mozart "A Little Nightmusic"...1812 Overture...Nutcracker.

The Mozart disc really floats my boat of the 3.
Thanks for all the input! I wish I could get Pandora and the such at work. I'll try the internet suggestions at home when I have the time to "listen"...but, it's lunchtime for me so off to the library!
If you like Mozart, may I suggest the Opera 'Le Nozze Di Figaro' Herb Von Karajan on EMI Classics.
I think that if you want to jump start an investigation of classical music with the primary focus on finding music with the greatest immediate enjoyment factor, newbee offered the best suggestion: compilation discs with lots of works by different composers.

many booksellers with cd offerings, such as barnes & noble , borders, etc, have a selection within the classical music selection that are compilation cd's of best loved melodies, etc. borders even makes a few under their own label. these cd's offer excerpted music - sometimes entire movements or 2-5 minutes of a movement. i suggest seeking out a 2-4 cd box set since breadth is the object for you at this time. the cost will not be large. as you may know, there are also "greates' hits cd's by composer. there are also compilation discs by mood or period (ie, music to chill, baroque music for brunch, music for driving the autoban... etc)

when you have the cd's, then just start to listen. BUT do so systematically! how so? i suggest sitting down with a pen and post it. divide the post-it into 3 sections: (one post it for each cd)
a. love it (the music captivated you, floats your boat...)
b. ok or no opinion
c. dislike / not into it

when listening to each cd, jot the track number down into one of these 3 categories. dont bother with the composer or name of the work at this point. listen to the cd 3 times over the course of a week. use a different post it for each time you listen. why 3x? because your mood when listening may greatly influence your engagement with a pc of music. if you listen to everything 3x, you will give each musical excerpt a better opportunity to speak to you... or not. that is the goal here.

at the end of the week, compare your 3 evaluation sheets for each disc. you will probably have 6+ works in the "love it" category. look up the composer and specific composition. seek out these full works in your library. for more investigation, the comp discs should also have the composer's birth/death dates. maybe even the period and nationality. you may find that a large grouping of the music that has engaged you the most falls into time frame chunks which may coincide with fairly codified "periods" (baroque, classical, romantic, late romantic, impressionist, modern, etc). or nationalities, or genre (chamber music, soloist, large orchestral, etc ) . as you learn more about what engages you most, you may come to realize that you not only enjoy , for example, colorful large orchestral works, but more specifically "romantic period" large orchestral works, and even perhaps large orchestral/romantic period /russian works (ie tchaikovsky, borodin, rimsky-kor., etc).

you may find your enjoyment follows more than one distinct tendency.. .or none at all. these is over 500 years of classical music, much of it recorded quite extensively. you are not going to figure out what you like best from such a wide selection in a week. in fact, what you find engages you most this year may not be what you favor next year ! the objective is start with what engages you most readily now and continually broaden your experiences when you have the time. once you take a week or so to start your "survey" with excerpts, you will some direction.

other: wikipedia online often lists the major compositions of all the important composers within the bios, so you can get an idea where to start in terms of each composer's major works that are on your "love it" list in addition to the excerpted work. fyi: some composers are easier explore than others. for example, tchaikovsky's major works in the genres of orchestra music and orch+soloist total about 15 works, , whereas with mozart, you can easily explore 40 masterpcs in these 2 genres alone. some composers are an abundance of riches, others less so, but it hardly discounts their worth to you. afterall, you are after works that ultimately float your boat.

if you start with the compilation discs, you will not get overwhelmed, which will be easy to do if you should happen to pick up any "how to build your own music library", which is not your stated objective.

a note of caution: i would not be too concerned at this point with the ensemble or soloist performing the work. most well known and well recorded groups do a more than adequate job at bringing a classical work to life.

at this stage of introduction to classical music, whether you hear heifetz or hilary hahn or any of the other 2-3 DOZEN top tier violinists perform the tchaikovsky violin concerto (for example) is completely unimportant. most if not all have the capability to engage you fully... and float your boat.

happy sailing ! marc

An inexpensive way to find out what you prefer is to listen to the radio. Most large cities have a classical or fine arts music FM station - a public radio station - often connected to a local university and generally around 88 - 92 Mhz. Many of these stations post their playlist on their website. Jot down the time of day that you heard the work and look it up on the playlist. Most folks that I know who have developed a passion for fine arts music later in life have employed this method.

Several guides are a good place to start for classic performances - my recomendation is the Gramophone annual guide. Less comprehensive than the Penguin annual guide but, in my opinion, a better place to start.

By 'classical' music I am assuming that you mean everything from Bach to Berg. Keep in mind that there are different, somewhat arbitrary divisions. A more narrow definition would classify Bach and contempories as Baroque, include mainly Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven as Classical, with Beethoven transitioning into Romantic - followed by Schubert, Bruckner, etc, and with Shostakovich, Berg, and others representing modern or 20th century genres. My guess, given your stated likes, is that you will prefer, at least at first, Baroque, Classical, and Romantic to 20th Century.

You may also want to take a sampling of (1)orchestral, (2) chamber, and (3) instrumental performances (i.e. (1) symphonies and concertos, (2) string quartets and piano trios, (3) piano and violin sonatas). Also consider choral and opera (although a full opera may be daunting at first - highlights are perhaps a better way to begin).

A couple things to keep in mind about collecting classical music that is somewhat different than how popular music is typically collected (although not alltogether different than collecting Jazz - one can never have enough takes on a Gershwin tune). (1) Generally, one ends up with several performances of a composer's work by various performers. For eg. I have roughly 20 performances of Beethoven's 3rd symphony. (2) While a given work can certainly be enjoyed in the first, second, or third listen, the real pleasure comes in becoming extremely familiar with the work.

A nice series of DVD's that may be of use to you are those done by Michael Tilson Thomas - he is a brilliant conductor and the DVD's include performances as well has his and members of the San Fransisco symphony, musings on given works.

The above is essentially an intellectual treatment of music - one which most collectors of classical music do engage in. However, there is also a visceral aspect to listening to fine arts music - not analytical - more of a zen like approach - rewarding in a different way and largely separate from the intellectual treatment. Both are valuable.

Good luck.

This might seem off-the-wall, but it just can't be coincidence that most of my favorite classical recordings are on "Living Stereo" SACDs.