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PRESS PLAY: Teenagers CAN engage with classical music!

Updated: Jul 2, 2021

Here are some commonly-heard phrases as to why teenagers can't/won't listen to classical music:

  • "A half-hour symphony or three-hour opera is too long for them; they don't have the attention span for it" (there are plenty of shorter works out there, and a four-hour arena concert doesn't seem to be an issue...what's going on there?)

  • "It's not "cool"; their peers don't listen to it" (plenty of teens enjoy listening to, performing, and just talking about classical music together)

  • "It isn't present enough in the media" (the soundtracks for many films, shows, games, etc. may be considered "classical")

  • "School music programmes are undervalued and underfunded; they don't get exposed to it enough" (this one is often true)

  • "They find it boring; it doesn't resonate with them" (maybe Beethoven doesn't resonate with everyone, but what else are they hearing?)

  • "They need to hear it live in order to appreciate it" (live isn't possible for everyone, and the quality of audio and video performances now available is of an increasingly high standard)

  • "They are too used to the immediate gratification of short pop songs, visual media, Netflix, etc" (there are plenty of short works and visual performances out there, and binge listening to/watching different media forms over several hours is common!)

While these phrases may not be entirely inaccurate, they are far from being entirely the truth.

We've selected four examples of classical music and also created a larger Spotify playlist, curated especially for teens! You can also visit the "Learning Hub" section on our site for more resources and media.


Antonio Vivaldi: Amor, hai vinto

Let's start with some Baroque (1600-1750 AD) music. Firstly, the term "Baroque" was used as an insult by the older generation at the time to describe the new art forms which they thought were "bizarre and uselessly complicated" (Michel de Montaigne). When the term was used to describe music, it meant that the listener thought it was lacking a coherent melody, too dissonant, and/or changed too much.

Antonio Vivaldi (a.k.a. the Red Priest) composed much of his music for the orphaned/abandoned girls of the Ospedale della Pietà. The musicians here were known as the figlie di coro, and they often gave concerts for important visitors, during which the audience and the performers were separated by a metal grill. The figlie di coro were similar to modern-day influencers, receiving gifts, free Italian villa getaways, and more!

"Amor, hai vinto" (Love, you won) is an angsty, heartbroken cantata (like a mini opera), which exists in two versions, probably composed around 1726. The version we have chosen is for solo contralto voice, violin, viola, and continuo (bassline/harmonies - usually played by cello/harpsichord). We've posted an English translation below the video.

Recitative 1

Love, you won.

Here is my breast pierced by your arrows,

Who now supports my soul, abandoned by grief?

I feel my blood run cold in every vein,

and only breath and pain keep me alive.

My heart throbs in my breast with new tremors.

Cruel Clori, how harsh is your strictness?

Aria 1

I pass from sorrow to sorrow

like the little ship

which in this and in that other wave

goes crashing.

The sky thunders and whirls,

the whole sea is in a tempest.

It sees no port or shore,

it does not know where to land.

Recitative 2

In what strange and confused vortex of thoughts

does my mind wander?

Now it is calm, now it is angry,

and where it stops, it is not resolved.

Now it wants to turn into stone, now into dust.

O God! But what is it you are complaining about

unbelieving, treacherous heart?

Alas, what are you complaining about?

Do you not know that in the bosom of Clori

you have a port and a shore?

Aria 2

If you turn your gaze to me

my beloved treasure,

I will feel no more torment,

I will return to breathing.

It no longer fears danger,

it feels no more pain and distress,

my soul is reassured

as the calm in the sea.


Franz Liszt: Mephisto Waltz No. 1

Franz Liszt was a pianist and composer, who loved causing a stir with his elaborate and fiery playing (much to the distaste of some other people - *cough* Frédéric Chopin, *cough* Clara and Franz Schumann). He became a celebrity with a large, passionate, and frenzied fan base. They would do things like fighting over his handkerchiefs and gloves, trying to get locks of his hair or piano strings he had broken, and wearing his portrait on brooches and cameos. This phenomenon of the star-struck Liszt-lovers was termed "Lisztomania".

One of Liszt's favourite stories, on which he based several of his works, was the German tale of "Faust". Faust has a wonderful life, but he is not happy. This leads to him making a terrible deal with the devil. The evil Mephistopheles will use his magical powers to help Faust to do anything he wants, and, in exchange, Faust must agree to become his slave forever once their deal ends. In the original version of the story, once the agreed-upon time is up, Faust has to keep his promise. However, in Johann Goethe's version, Faust is saved, thanks to his beloved Gretchen. Gretchen, who has ended up in prison, refuses to leave her cell until Faust is released from his deal.

The first of Liszt's "Mephisto Waltzes" is inspired by an episode where there is music and dancing happening at a wedding. Mephistopheles and Faust join in the festivities, Mephistopheles plays magical music on the fiddle, and everyone falls under a frenzied and sensual spell, dancing out into the forest as he plays. When the music fades away, a nightingale sings a love song.


Dmitri Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 8

20th century Russian Soviet composer Dmitri "Harry Potter" Shostakovich's music features different musical techniques, strong and sometimes grotesque elements and contrasts, and experimental/ambivalent tonality (musical "home").

The eighth String Quartet (1960) was composed in only three days, shortly after Shostakovich had reluctantly joined the Communist Party. The piece was subtitled "to the victims of fascism and war". It uses Shostakovich's signature "DSCH" (representing his name) musical motif - consisting of the notes D, E flat, C, B natural (in German: D, Es, C, H). The whole quartet is great, but the second movement is really something (at 5:14)!


Friedrich Gulda: Concerto for Cello and Wind Orchestra

Composers have always made use of the instruments, technologies, tastes, etc. of their time - their music wasn't necessarily considered "classical" at the time of composition.

Austrian composer and pianist Friedrich Gulda worked in both the classical and jazz fields, and enjoyed the contrasts between different styles of music. He broke away from traditions and was considered unorthodox - he even announced his own death in order for an upcoming concert to serve as a party for his "resurrection"!

In his five-movement "Concerto for Cello and Wind Orchestra" (1980), we hear jazz, a minuet, rock, polka, a march, and improvised cadenzas mixed in with more "traditional" sounds. Listen to the first movement below!


Contemporary Classical

There are many composers of all ages who are writing in the 21st century, including teens such as Alma Deutscher.

Watch TwoSetViolin introduce 5 pieces by 5 living composers:

You can check out our Living Composer posts on our blog - each month, we feature a new composer.



If you are a Spotify user, listen to our Classical Music for Teens playlist, which will continue to be updated:


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