Classical Music Insults

keep calm and keep insulting

Throwing shade, tossing zingers, lobbing jabs. It’s always entertaining to hear about a superbly-delivered insult. Especially when we aren’t at the brunt of it! Here are 10 truly delightful classical music insults and music by the composers that inspired them:

1. “Listening to the fifth symphony of Ralph Vaughan Williams is like staring at a cow for 45 minutes.” –Aaron Copland
And here is the work in question! Vaughan Williams’ Fifth Symphony.

2. “Anton Bruckner wrote the same symphony nine times (ten actually), trying to get it right. He failed.” –Edward Abbey
Here is Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony.

3. “I found [the Second Symphony] vulgar, self-indulgent, and provincial beyond all description. I realize that there are sincere Sibelius-lovers in the world, though I must say I’ve never met one among educated professional musicians.” –Virgil Thomson on Jean Sibelius
It would be difficult to hate Sibelius’ Second Symphony as much as Thomson did!

4. “I can compare Le Carnival Romain by Berlioz to nothing but the caperings and gibberings of a big baboon, over-excited by a dose of alcoholic stimulus.” –George Templeton Strong
Hector Berlioz’s Le Carnival Romain!

5. “A composer for one right hand.” –Richard Wagner on Franz Liszt
It’s not seeming like Liszt’s Transcendental Etude No. 10 in f could be played with one hand. Look at her fingers fly!

6. “All you need to write like him is a large bottle of ink.” –Igor Stravinsky speaking of Olivier Messiaen
Messiaen’s Turangalia Symphony. A bottle of ink could sound worse!

7. “He’d be better off shoveling snow that scribbling on manuscript paper.” –Richard Strauss on Arnold Schoenberg
Schoenberg’s Fantasy for Violin and Piano. If tasteful dissonance exists, this is it!

8. “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.” –Mark Twain
A man of many famous pieces, here is Wagner’s prelude for Tristan und Isolde.

9. “All of Bach’s last movements are like the running of a sewing machine.” –Arnold Bax
So much sewing machine. Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in a minor, BWV 543.

10. “If he’d been making shell cases during the war it might have been better for music.” –Camille Saint Saens on Maurice Ravel. Rivalry, much??
Here is Ravel’s effervescent Sonatine.


Musical or not, what is your favorite insult?

Music and Data Visualization, part 4

Are you ready for more music and data visualization? We sure are! This time we have a fun selection of interactive musical data visualization. You’ll want to bookmark this page for later, as you are likely find yourself slipping down a music and data visualization rabbit hole!


Carla shares Every Noise at Once which is a scatter-plot of every musical genre imaginable. We could spend days here. Seriously.

Have a look!

Every Noise at Once-music and data visualization


With Music Map, type in the name of any composer/artist to generate a map of other music you are likely to enjoy. Impressive.

For the example below, we selected Beethoven. Awesome that Frank Zappa is just a couple inches away!

Music Map - music and data visualization


So far we’ve looked at tools for discovering musical genres and artists. And with musicovery, we can hear what our mood sounds like!

musicovery - music and data visualization


Do you ever listen to a song or piece of music and wish it would continue forever? Carla shares with us The Infinite Jukebox. Just click different parts of the circle to create your own infinite loop of the song/piece of music of your choice.

Infinite Jukebox - music and data visualization

Do you have a favorite destination for interactive music and data visualization? Let us know and we’ll add it to our next interactive music and data visualization post!


Classical Music Fans in Interesting Places: Susan Orlean

We recently caught up with author (The Orchid Thief, Rin Tin Tin) and New Yorker staff writer Susan Orlean to ask her thoughts on classical music. She happens to be a big fan!

susan orleanWhat is your favorite composer or piece of classical music and why?
Handel’s Messiah. It’s gorgeous, stirring, classic, and majestic but human. It’s hard for me to hear it without feeling moved.

Is there a piece of classical music you don’t like? If so, what is it?
Hard to answer this, since there is plenty of orchestral music that I find sludgy and dull.

What is your earliest memory of classical music? Did this shape the way you feel about the genre today?
I grew up hearing classical music constantly: my parents were great devotees, and they had music playing at home almost all the time. We also went to the symphony (the Cleveland Orchestra — not too shabby!) from the time we were very young. I’m sure being exposed at such a young age and so regularly made me appreciate the music and got my ear accustomed to it. I also think it just made me love music in general.

What is your favorite time of day or place to listen to classical music?​
I’ve begun listening to it sometimes when I’m driving. It’s not the usual driving music, of course, but sometimes it’s just perfect, especially when I’m tired of the rattle and bang of pop music.

If you were to recommend one piece of classical music to someone who is unfamiliar with the genre, what would it be?
Handel or Bach — something beautiful and bright.

Thanks for talking with us, Susan! May your day be filled with the sounds of Handel. Cheers!

Also Sprach Zarathustra: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

also sprach zarathustraIn honor of Richard Strauss‘ 150th birthday, we compiled a selection of tributes to one of his most famous works: Also Sprach Zarathustra!

We know Also Sprach Zarathustra best from the opening sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, but did you know that Strauss’ music was originally intended to serve solely as placeholder sound until the film score was completed? Alex North, the successful Hollywood composer who was hired to write the score, did not learn of Kubrick’s decision to forgo use of his composition until the film premiered! Ouch.


Other Also Sprach Zarathustra fun facts:

-Strauss’ piece is an homage to Friedrich Nietzsche’s poem by the same name.

-Human life and nature are illustrated in the piece by using contrasting tonalities. Can you tell what they are?

-Also Sprach Zarathustra‘s fame is a result of its presence in the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The work wasn’t often performed (or heard) prior to its placement in the film.


And now for the tributes!

First, the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Without this one, the others probably wouldn’t exist!

Eumir Deodado’s jazz/funk Also Sprach Zarathustra rendition was released in 1972. Shake it down!

Do you dig dubstep? Check out Koyunbaba’s remix!

Phish got in on it too!

The list wouldn’t be complete without some Also Sprach Zarathustra fails. This is probably the best one out there. Get ready to laugh ’til you cry! WOW.

Okay, one more fail. We’ll stop while we’re ahead! (Or behind?)

Do you have a favorite Richard Strauss remix to share? Let us know!

5 Amazing Classical Music Flash Mobs

When apparently random members of a crowd come out of the woodwork to present a rehearsed performance, you have a flash mob! And with the increasing popularity of online video viewing, flash mobs are not only fun for the crowd who gets to see an unexpected live performance, but for internet users around the world as well.

While almost any type of performance can be presented by a flash mob, some of the most popular flash mob videos out there feature classical music. The facial expressions of the unsuspecting audience members are priceless!

Here are some favorite classical music flash mobs:

1. The Copenhagen Philharmonic performs Ravel’s Bolero at Copenhagen Central Station

2. “Ode to Joy” in Sabadell, Spain’s Placa de Sant Roc

3. The Opera Company of Philadelphia brings 650 choristers to Macy*s to perform the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. Wow!

4. People’s Opera of Vienna perform Carmina Burana in the Wien Westbahnof train station. Complete with back flips and ticker tape!

5. Another rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus. This time in a mall food court!

Do you have a favorite classical music flash mob? Please share in the comments section below!

Music and Data Visualization, part 3

With our Voyager: Interstellar Music and Science event coming up on April 26, we’re celebrating music and science all month long! And what better way to do so than with another music and data visualization/sonification post? Below are four fascinating science-based visualizations and sonifications that utilize classical music in incredible ways. So cool!

1. NeuroKnitting
Jenn came across this fantastic video awhile back. Brainwave activity of a person listening to a selection from Bach’s Goldberg Variations is tracked, recorded, and then visualized in the form of a wearable scarf. What a fantastic idea!

On why music instead of another sound sample was used:
“Because music is one of the most powerful mood inducers, provoking immediate affective reactions that can be deduced by looking at human physiology, as in the case of brain cortical activity.”

NeuroKnitting from varvara on Vimeo.

2. Solar Wind Sonification
solar wind sonification

True, the sound of solar wind realized as music is not a common consideration. But the result is incredible! The music in the video below was created from satellite-captured solar wind data. Thanks to composer Robert Alexander, we can listen to a representation of outer space!

3. What does 24hz look like?

Brusspup shows us that it is pretty easy to see what 24hz looks like. Definitely a fun DIY project! How many frequencies can you visualize?

4. Crystallized Sound

crystalized sound

Artist Tokujin Yoshioka created a stunning art installation based on growing crystals as influenced by musical vibrations. Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake was the catalyst for one of the pieces in his exhibition. Read more about Tokujin Yoshioka_Crystallize here.

Do you have favorite works of musical data visualization and sonification? We’d love to include them in our next post!

Spring is here! Let’s listen to some happy spring music.

Most of the U.S. is still waiting to thaw from a very long winter, so we put together a “Springtime Joy” playlist to help lift your spirits! Coax that snow to melt with this two-plus hour playlist full of spring music favorites. Most are happy, joyous, and light. And, of course, we included the intensely ornery Rite of Spring for good measure as well.

Head on over to our Rdio page and listen! We’d also love to add your springtime favorites–please add them in the comments section below. Happy Spring!