Indie Rock’s 5 Favorite Classical Composers


Pop music and classical music are supposed to be different worlds. Yet, in the last few years, the two have begun bleeding together again. On “Colouring of Pigeons,” from Swedish pop duo the Knife’s just-released album

, one can hear echoes of both Varèse’s Ionisation and Guillaume Dufay floating among metallic passages reminiscent of Björk. The album itself is the score to an opera about Charles Darwin, made in collaboration with avant-garde Berliner Mt. Sims and the British multimedia artist Planningtorock. It merges the artiness of musique concrète and minimalism with the grit of house music.

Since that’s far from the only high-brow stuff whizzing around overhead, we thought we’d give you a look at five composers whose works influence some of the indie pop you know and love. Listen to their music, and the work they’ve inspired, after the jump.

1. Karlheinz Stockhausen

Though he experimented with and pushed Western art music in many different directions, Stockhausen is most remembered for Gesang der Jünglinge, a piece of musique concrète comprised of a sequence of recorded children’s voices, sine waves, and synthesizer tones. It was one of the first widely praised pieces of electronic music, and its influence, both from a theoretical and a musical standpoint, can still be heard in everything from the stitched-together passages of Dirty Projectors’ fractured, musique concrète-inflected 2005 album

to Negativland‘s sound collages.

Listen: Stockhausen — Gesang der Jünglinge ytaudio(3XfeWp2y1Lk)

2. John Adams

A Pulitzer Prize-winning composer with strong roots in academia, Adams’s work is often explicitly tied to modern political events (sample works: Nixon in China ; Dr. Atomic , an opera about the Manhattan Project; On the Transmigration of Souls , a piece commemorating the victims of 9/11). Though he’s often identified as a minimalist composer, Adams’s work features an epic, cinematic quality often absent from most other minimal work, whose flourishes can be heard in Owen Pallett and Nico Muhly‘s most dramatic passages.

Listen: John Adams — On the Transmigration of Souls (excerpt) ytaudio(S6nrJ3ByzzE)

3. Claudio Monteverdi

Though his music was considered passé when he died in Venice in 1643, Monteverdi is remembered today as one of the finest vocal arrangers of all time and is generally considered one of the fathers of baroque music. His madrigals, secular songs which were popular during his lifetime, and, in Monteverdi’s case, part of the foundation of opera, manage to be both aching and complex all at once. There are tons of them (Monteverdi wrote nine books of them over the course of his lifetime), but you can bet that Dirty Projectors’ Dave Longstreth has digested his fair share.

Listen: Monteverdi — “Lamento della Ninfa” ytaudio(z3ZX5hFN-is)

4. Steve Reich

Arguably the most recognizable American minimalist after Philip Glass, Reich’s hypnotic, cycling music has explored repetition from many different angles, from Javanese music (Drumming) to mechanical rhythms set out of phase (Come Out). Some of Reich’s works are notoriously unpleasant to perform (Music for 18 Musicians, for example, requires pianists to take over for one another in the middle of the piece), but thanks to sequencers and sampling technology, Reich’s ideas live on in everything from tunneling techno to harmonically shifting chamber pop.

Listen: Steve Reich — Drumming (pt. 1) ytaudio(USRGNr17Jm4)

5. Arvo Pärt

This Estonian composer is best known for works informed by tintinnabuli, or the ringing of bells, a compositional idea Pärt himself came up with after almost a decade of creative paralysis. Mystical, austere pieces like

and TTe Deum

are designed to let each note cast its own spell on a listener before the next is played, and in his choral work, which owes a debt to Monteverdi’s, the lean, evocative harmonies are especially striking. The opening track of A Sunny Day in Glasgow’s

is an explicit homage to Pärt, and a fine one.

Listen: Arvo Pärt — Tabula Rasa ytaudio(v0uYpYHOYB8)