Classical music with a modern beat? You probably imagined this.
While that's a cool mix, it’s not the full story.
Whether or not Mozart and Johann Sebastian Bach have made it intentionally to your Spotify library, you may be surprised to learn just how often classical makes its way into more contemporary forms of music like pop, hip hop, and rock.
So what does classical music with a modern beat look like?
Well, you don't necessarily need to be a technically trained musician to spot it.
Read this article and discover just about how intertwined music culture really is.
Does Classical Music With A Modern Beat Make it Less...Boring?
Classical music is commonly misunderstood by technically untrained modern society. Its formality, structure, and history make it seem like the stuffy classes of music: out of reach, out of touch, out of date.
Compared to the heavy beat we seem to be drawn to in other genres, classical music can also seem uninteresting, or even too complex.
While many other genres operate on a binary - pop, for example, tends to express happiness or sadness - classical music is capable of expressing and invoking all sorts of thoughts and feelings.
So really, who’s the boring one?
Of course, boredom and beauty are in the eye of the beholder, and hopefully, by the end of our time here you'll realize that classical music is very much the latter.
A Brief History
For being such a technical music form, there's a whole lot of confusion as to what constitutes classical music, so it’s helpful to look back at the history.
Classical music is relatively young compared to the musical stylings that inspired it, yet it covers anything from as far back as the medieval period up to contemporary works.
The genre emerged in the 18t century, about 1750 CE, and existed as the musical style of its age until about 80 years later, or 1830 CE.
It took inspiration from the Baroque period, the era of Bach, as well as the Renaissance and Medieval musicians, who "borrowed" their music from the Greeks and other ancient styles.
Just as its predecessors, classical music inspired many generations, all of which both used and rebelled against its brilliance, as you would expect.
Early and late romantic periods were followed by postmodern music, which succeeded the Great War. From there, music began to change rather drastically, taking on many new forms up until today’s dubstep masters.
Much of the modern classical music you'll hear is from the minimalist movement, which is considered the branch under the tree of classical.
Here's a helpful definition of minimalism:
"The minimalist aesthetic relies on repetition, subtle rhythmic changes, and selective harmonic dissonance that resolves throughout a movement. Many minimalist pieces incorporate steady pulses, drones, phasing tape loops, and African and Indian rhythmic concepts."
Where Did Minimalism Begin?
Much like other art forms that responded to the social and political climate of the time, composers and musicians of 1960s New York City began to challenge and manipulate classical thought and tradition.
Minimalism was born from the idea to strip back all the fluff and flourishes and reveal the essentials. It was as much a musical commentary as any other period or genre before it.
The movement picked up steam, quickly gaining contributors in San Francisco Bay, and eventually all over the world. The names Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and La Monte Young became synonymous.
In his musing over the connection between minimalist music and the liberalism of the ‘60s and ‘70s, American music critic, Kyle Gann, noted this:
"We were disenchanted with expertise. The experts all seemed to be wrong. We were inclusive. We were writing music for Everyman."
He notes that minimalism, often considered ambient music, is not exactly the free-spirited style it’s often thought to be but is rather process-driven.
Most minimalist compositions are written for and played by traditional classical instruments, which require years of theoretical and practical training. It seemed as though knowledge of classical music was necessary to play and to appreciate minimalism.
Surprisingly, minimalism tends to be much more appealing to the modern listener, perhaps those of us who never studied music (or gave up piano lessons during high school to hang out with friends and do things that teenagers do).
One of the greatest differences between classical music and popular contemporary is the obvious beat in the latter.
Young listeners, in particular, like the strong beat and rhythm - often the sounds of percussion instruments - of contemporary music, which we don't often find - at least not in the same way - in classical music.
Classical songs that demonstrate a more obvious beat and a rhythm that’s easy to pick up are more likely to capture modern ears. This is why minimalism is such a popular form among today's listeners.
Philip Glass's Metamorphosis is a fantastic composition if you're looking for contemporary composers who put out classical music with a modern beat. Written as a part of his album, Solo Piano, which unsurprisingly features a piano and only a piano, this song feels rather slow and relaxed, and yet urgent and intentional.
Although much of the beat comes up in the bass, the mix of emotions it draws is certainly a testament to its classical background. Its dropping is much like the one used in popular music.
Dutch composer Louis Andriessen was inspired by classical, rock, and jazz music, all of which you can hear in De Stijl. This is the kind of stuff you would hear in movies from the 60s, starring Hayley Mills. Its cool sound could be used in many ways, especially because it’s so layered.
Michael Nyman, a British Minimalist, composed Time Lapse, which would be an incredible track to sample as a hip hop or pop artist. Have a listen and imagine Adele on the vocals, or Kendrick Lamar putting lines down. It’s incredible stuff.
Classical Music and Hip Hop
Some of the biggest names in hip hop have used classical music to complement their brilliance.
While the two may seem an unlikely pairing, especially given one is a piece of African-American music and the other began with old white guys, the two are an incredible match. Classical music with a modern beat smoothes out hip hops 'rough edges' while also benefiting from its pronounced beat and rhythm.
One of the best examples that you've absolutely heard as a hip-hop fan is Nas' I can.
Kids chanting “I know I can/be what I wanna be”...ringing any bells? The whole track is laid over Beethoven's Fur Elise. Alongside Puff Daddy (as he was known then), Nas had previously sampled the medieval collection, Carmina Burana for their collaboration, "Hate Me Now."
When she wasn't singing about her milkshakes, Kelis must've been listening to operas. She used Mozart's The Magic Flute to create her song Like You.
Kendrick Lamar made noise when he shared the stage with a symphony with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Centre in 2015. Here he is performing These Walls.
If you're looking for some killer instrumentals, check out Showoff by Black Violin, two classically trained string instrumentalists, Kevin Sylvester and Wilner Baptiste. These two are exceptional examples of how hip hop, funk, and jazz musicians align with classical music, and vice versa. They've also worked with the illustrious Alicia Keys.
Classical Music and Rock
There are some wicked examples of classical music's direct and indirect influence on rock.
Some of the most famous rock stars found success when they laid classical music with a modern beat. We caught your attention, haven’t we?
Well, this first is a fascinating little bit of music history. After hearing Yoko Ono play Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, John Lennon asked her to play the piece backward. Shortly after, the Beatles' Because was born. It’s also believed that Hey Jude, written by Paul McCartney, incorporated some of Bach's Arioso from Cantata... you hear it too, right?
If you're an Oasis fan, or if you've ever drunkenly scream-sang Don't Look Back In Anger at the bar as they begin to turn the lights on, you've enjoyed Baroque composer Johann Pachelbel's Canon in D. They tricked ya, but they created a wicked anthem in the process.
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Bowie once said he learned that "classical music wasn't boring" when as a young artist he came across Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Holst's Planets.
He was so enthralled with orchestral instruments that he presented his scores to the London Philharmonic and together they recorded his debut album, David Bowie. Have a listen to Uncle Arthur for the full effect.
What's cool is that Bowie was not simply influenced by classical music, but he himself influenced classical music.
Remember Philip Glass, the Minimalist? Acquainted with him in the ‘70s, he was inspired by Bowie's 11th studio album, Low, and used it as a guide for writing The Low Symphony. A notable piece is his 4th symphony, which took from Bowie's Heroes.
Following his death, the BBC even pondered if Bowie was, 'the ultimate crossover composer.'
Other influential rock artists such as The Doors, Radiohead, and Muse also took from classical pieces
Classical Music and Pop
Where would this list be without the pop artists? First of all, here's a quick list of a few pop artists who are classically trained:
Alicia Keys (of course), Katy Perry, Charlie Puth, Ed Sheeran, Freddie Mercury, Elton John, Ariana Grande, Kelly Clarkson, Bebe Rexha, Jason Derulo, and Lady Gaga.
There are many others, as well as artists who, though formally untrained, have incorporated classical music with a modern beat.
Yes, Lady Gaga herself sampled Vittorio Monti's 'Csárdás' in her own Alejandro. She also invoked the brilliance of Bach, who is not a classical composer though is often thought to be, into Bad Romance.
Perhaps a little-known fact, she is a very gifted pianist and was accepted to the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City.
Pachelbel's Canon in D is not only a popular song for getting the bride down the aisle but is also possibly one of the most covered classical music pieces.
You've heard it several times including Memories by the pop-rock-hip hop-techno group, Maroon 5. You've also heard it in Kylie Minogue's I Should Be So Lucky, and if you're a millennial you'll remember Vitamin C's Graduation (Friends Forever), way back playback, right?!
Of course, these are a simple few examples so have a look at Mika, Robbie Williams, Little Mix, even Barry Manilow for some more.
Classical and Electronic
Electronic and classical are believed to be the most natural of all collaborators, though this is perhaps because so many electronic artists dabbled in classical and became immersed, obsessed, influenced, and vice versa. Throw on your headphones to listen to these next ones.
Detroit techno master Carl Craig's album Versus is an incredibly exciting composition that is the perfect example of classical music with a modern beat, Darkness, is a fantasia of the modern-day; it’s dark nights in black and white, mayhem in close pursuit.
If Clean Bandit's made your playlist, you may or may not be surprised to find that Mozart's House sampled Mozart's String Quartet No. 21. Unsurprisingly, their song Symphony was recorded with a symphony orchestra. The music video shows singer Zara Larsson on vocals as the musicians play to the conductor.
This is simply a small glance into the world of possibilities that draw artists to continue creating and using classical music with a modern beat.
From its long and varied history to contemporary representations like minimalism, we find classical and modern examples all around us.