Consider browsing through the Naxos online catalog for some of their CDs with multiple composers and works, such as "Orchestral Favourites" 8.554066 (which might be a good starting point) and "Chamber Music Favourites" 8.554429http://www.naxos.com/pdf/NaxCat2005.pdf
For some individual works/composers, there are several threads on Audiogon about making an intitial exploration of classical music. I'm sorry to be running to an appointment right now, or I'd find the links for you. Perhaps can do so tonight if no one else has linked to them by then.
Enjoy! There's LOT's to explore.
Classical music was composed over a span of hundreds of years, and consequently changed quite considerably over that period, from early music, through baroque, classical, romantic and then modern. I would try to select a few representative pieces of music from each part of history to see if you have a preference for one period over another.
Bach is the definitive composer for baroque music.
Mozart and Beethoven both wrote mostly classical style, with occasional romantic music.
For romantic era my favourite is Brahms, though there are many others.
For modern music a good introduction would be Rachmaninov.
Since you have specified a preference for more dramatic music I'll suggest the following:
1. Bach : Toccata & Fugue BWV 565 (somewhat overplayed, but the original is rather good) dramatic organ music.
2. Mozart piano concerto no 20: a perennial favourite piano concerto. If you don't like it you won't like any Mozart.
3. Mozart Requiem Mass ... totally unlike other Mozart ... dark and other-wordly.
4. "Tchaikovsky Festival" CD Naxos 8.550500 ... removes dust from speaker cones !
5. Mussorgsky - Night on the bare mountain (Decca Legends 289 460 977-2)
6. Carl Orf - Carmina Burana (music from "The Omen" .. there's a good version on Decca). Haunting 10th century lyrics set to modern but sinister sounding music.
I'm thinking there's probably something by Wagner you might like, but I don't really like Wagner myself, so I'm not in a position to suggest a specific piece.
If this were 25 or 30 years ago, I would suggest starting with something like Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring." Back then, Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) cited Stravinsky as a major influence to his music. Keith Emerson (the Nice & Emerson, Lake, & Palmer) and Procol Harum both cited Bach as an influence (a "Whiter Shade of Pale" is built around a Bach cantata). Also, ELP's recording of "Pictures at an Exhibition" is just their version of Mussorgsky's composition. It was interviews and music like this that got me started in listening to classical music.
Two useful web-sites to look at are:
1. Classics Today
is a newsletter that is carried in most record stores and has reviews of new releases by categories.
2. http://www.hypermusic.ca/hist/mainmenu.html - has a pretty useful overview of the different musical periods that comprise classical music.
At this point, it is not necessary to get the best recording of any piece, but rather to get to know what you like. Most classical compilations have either a "music to relax by" or "instrument" theme to them ... so they may/may not be useful to you. Find a period ( I would suggest after 1800) or composer (Stravinsky; Beethoven) or instrument (organ; violin; guitar) and jump in.
Sticking with either Naxos or EMI's Greatest Performance/Greatest Artist series is an inexpensive way to explore classical music.
Here's a link to an earlier thread discussing various points of entry for people new to classical who'd like to begin exploring:http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?gmusi&1116521882
Seandtaylor99 has offered soe interesting starting points for individual works. The link above includes many others that you might find as good starting points.
Don't forget to check with your local public library. Many libraries have nice collections of classical music on CD that would allow you to sample some different music at no cost and no risk to your wallet.
The world of classical music is so large and so diverse, there is no one avenue for exploring it. As you suggest in your opening post to this thread, listening to a sampler CD just to find out what grabs your attention may be a good way to start. The other is to borrow some CDs from the library of several works listed in this and the other thread and see if any of those works resonate with you. If you hear something that grabs your interest, tell us the music and we can offer you some additional suggestions that would build from that.
Here's a suggestion that some may consider lightweight or frivolous, but it's an inexpensive way to get briefly exposed to a wide variety of classical music. Telarc has produced a series of ten (10) classical sampler CDs (all drawn of course from the Telarc catalog), which can often be bought very cheaply used on Amazon.com from Amazon.com marketplace sellers. They are called The Telarc Collection, volumes 1 through 10. There's a lot of good stuff to be sampled in them (I have all ten). Telarc has also produced a 2002 classical sampler entitled Telarc Classical: Celebrating 25 Years (2 CDs, and it has a companion volume, also 2 CDs, sampling Telarc Jazz).
I admit to enjoying samplers, and have classical samplers from Dorian, Reference Recordings, RCA Living Stereo, Naxos, and probably a few others. Their advantage lies in exposing you to a broad range of music briefly and cheaply. Their disadvantage is that the selections are usually brief, sometimes short snippets, that may not provide enough exposure to the piece of music before moving on to the next selection. But they have their place, I think, and can also be fun for audiophiles. If you're new to classical music, they can at least point you in some rewarding directions and give you ideas as to what you'd like to explore more fully.
Thanks for the responses and recommendations. I'm not exactly sure where I'm going to start, but I hope to pick up a couple disks this weekend. The public library is a good suggestion, now if I only knew where that was...
Thanks and I'll report back
If you live in or near a metropolitan area, you should be able to pick up a classical radio station. It's free, the music is all high quality (though you may not like it all) and you will be exposed to a very wide variety of classical music. That is really the best and fastest way to learn about classical music. Beyond that, pick up a cheap set of Beethoven symphonies or piano concertos, Mozart piano concertos or anything by Brahms.
Brownsfan has a great point. The radio can be a great way to explore classical, especially if you have a public radio station w/o ads. If you live in the Bay Area, you're screwed in terms of classical radio- it's just awful. Most other major metropolitan areas, you'll find something.
Side note: Rachmaninoff is not a modern composer. He's towards the end of the Romantic, but still well entrenched in that tradition. Generally, unless you're talking about French Impressionism, the modern period is said to have started with Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. That might be a little much to start with- Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Mozart, and Beethoven are are great choices. And how bout some Prokofiev? The Second Piano Concerto is just wonderful, as are most of the symphonies. The Fifth is the most famous, the Seventh is my favorite.
Use digital cable or satelite music stations thy list all info so you could take notes on what you like, plus useful info of history and such...get "The Planets" and "Rite of spring" both are awesome and very involving!
Rite of Spring is indeed awesome, but I'm not sure I'd reccomend it to a newbee, personally. Planets on the other hand... go for it. Check out Solti with Chicago.
Rite of spring is really progressive for sure, but if you like to check out what is basically a horror flick on a musical platform it is as good as it gets!
You might want to consider something like EMI's "The Best Classical Album in the World....Ever". While it is NOT the best classical album ever, it is quite a decent introduction, a dual cd compilation of many different composers, styles, etc...this might be a good way to sample a variety of classical music and help you decide what you like best, what you are willing to explore further. The cd is relatively inexpensive, and I believe there are several versions?
Bach's Brandenburg Concertos or Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Have fun.
I looked over my collection and I do not have one "sampler" cd of classical music across a broad spectrum of composers and time periods. There are many collection albums that are typically of one composer or classical type (e.g., baroque)
One thing you might consider (that will cost nothing unless you buy) is to use Amazon.com as a resource. The Amazon web site will allow you to listen to 30 to 60 second segments from each piece on a cd. Go into search under "classical music" and type "classical" as your search item (or the name of a composer you've heard of). When I just did that the following was displayed:
1. Classical Music for People Who Hate Classical Music [BOX SET] -- Johann Sebastian Bach, Samuel Barber, Ludwig van Beethoven; Audio CD (Rate it)
Buy new: $14.99 -- Used & new from: $11.60
2. 25 Classical Favorites -- Frank Morelli, Johann Sebastian Bach, Georges Bizet; Audio CD (Rate it)
Buy new: $4.98 -- Used & new from: $2.53
3. The Most Relaxing Classical Album in the World...Ever! -- Johann Sebastian Bach, Léo Delibes, Gabriel Fauré; Audio CD (Rate it)
Buy new: $13.99 --
Then select a cd, scroll down to the sampler section and have a listen. If you like it, buy it.
Actually, the first in the list from Amazon (Classical Music for People Who Hate Classical Music) is a four cd set that has an excellent selection across many composers and time periods. I can't comment on the recording, but it provides a good selection of styles
Once you find something you like, use the library or other sources discussed above to further explore your interest.
I've had a lot of fun seeking and finding new classical music over the years. Sometimes I explore a single composer or branch out to other composers of a similar ilk. I also go to a cd/record store that specializes in classical and ask for suggestions. Last year I asked for assistance on a specific topic on Audiogon (Spanish guitar), got some advice, and now have 30+ cds across several variations of Spanish guitar. For me, there has not been any right or wrong in my selection of classical music, there has only been my own subjective likes and dislikes.
Try the library. It us free and you can rercord what you like. Lot of classical music is like beer or olives, I hated it when I was a kid but I have aquired a taste for it. Classical music is more complex and takes better equipment to reproduce. It is one of the very few acostic type music left. ( I went to a Jazz (large band) concert in a small hall and they had it applified to pain level 1).