One of the things that strikes me about classical and those who want to get into the genre is that often due to the sheer volume of music it is often hard to know where to start. I too had this problem when I decided that I wanted to get to know classical music a bit better, and I was fortunate enough to know a girl who was learning classical guitar and who made a recommendation for me. It was her recommendation that started my love affair with this music and I hope that it will spark off your love of the music too.
She had suggested that I listened to my first recommendation Sergei Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini which at the time was a bigger gamble for someone who wanted to get to know more about classical because it meant that I had to go and buy the record from a store rather than merely listening to it on one of the many music streaming services available. But I went and bought a CD that had the Rhapsody along with the 3rd piano concerto, and from the moment I heard it, I was hooked.
Now a little bit of a background about this piece, it was called a Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini because it basically features a variation of the 24th and last Caprice by the violin legend and bad boy Niccolo Paganini (who was said to have made a deal with the devil to be the best violinist ever, and was also said to have murdered three of his lovers and used their guts for violin strings. Though this is just a story of course.)
It was written for a piano and orchestra and is somewhat like a piano concerto in which the pianist has moments to show off their virtuoso skills while the orchestra accompanies and sometimes competes with the pianist. There are 24 variations split into three parts though when it is played, it is played continuously with no breaks. Which is why it is not really a concerto.
Now anyway, that is some of the boring stuff about it. However, now we get to the main thrust of it. Why do I recommend this piece? Because it is one of the most breathtaking and enthralling pieces of classical music. It is fast and playful at times, there are parts that sound like some score from the golden age of Hollywood, there are thoughtful almost mournful parts too, and you will not fail to miss that there is one bit that sounds like the song What a Feeling from the 80s film Flashdance. This is 14:42 minutes into the piece.
There are some who will say that it is not a rhapsody because it just feels somewhat too gloomy. I understand that. But once you get into the end of the piece it is gushing and romantic and so beautiful and the inverted them sounds so sunny and bright and uplifting.
I highly recommend this piece for anyone who wants to come to learn about classical because it is full of just wonderful tunes. It was the first classical music piece that I actually sat down and listened to and loved and for that reason, I am recommending it to you first. There will be much more to come of course. But for now, I urge you to listen to it. Don’t feel you have to sit in a dark room in a big chair or something like that. Put it on as you would any other music and knocking it up to the appropriate level. You are in for a wild ride.