The Well-Tempered Ear

What makes of piece of classical music great? Rob Kapilow wants you to know through his concerts and book.

April 21, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

What makes a lot of classical music great? It sounds like such a simple question. But the more you think about it, the more complex it gets.

Take the case of the undeniably great Beethoven (below):

Is his music greta because it has a memorable melody?

Or is it because it has poignant and piercing harmonies?

Maybe it is because it has an irresistible rhythm?

Perhaps it is some combination of all three?

Or maybe it is the historical importance of the work and the influence it had on other composers and works of music.

Maybe what makes particular piece of music great is the role it has played in your own life.

Clearly, what makes something great is a mix of the subjective and the objective.

But some of the decision is just pure experience or education.

That’s where The Classical Music Man comes in.

In a series of stories and analyses, Rob Kapilow – who has been both a conductor and a composer — wants to help you understand what makes shorter pieces of classical music great.

For 17 years, Kapilow (below, in a photo by Stephanie Berger) has traveled to concert halls around the country where he explains to the audience – both by playing the music and by talking about it – what makes a piece of music great.

“My project,” he says, “is to make the music accessible, to get people to ‘get’ it,’” Kapilow has said. His range is enormous, covering music from Beethoven to Piazzolla.

And now he has published his first book, “What Makes It Great” (below) that is based on the series. The digital versions even used acoustically enhanced scores. There are several of his talks posted on YouTube you should check out, including on Mozart’s Requiem, and one on a Beethoven String Quartet.

The Ear thinks this is exactly the kind of introduction to musical beauty that many people – both adults and young people – need. It is in keeping with the tradition of Leonard Bernstein’s famous “Young People’s Concerts” and, more recently and locally, with pianist Jeffrey Siegel’s “Keyboard Conversations, that next one of which takes place in Madison on May 2 at 7:30 p.m. in Mills when he will play and discuss Schumann and Brahms.

Here is a link to a story about Kapilow:

So, what do you think makes a piece of classical music great – at least for you?

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