One of the problems with classical masterpieces is that they are often hidden in lengthy and seldom performed operas, well out of the reach of the casual classical listener. Thanks to the internet, we’re still discovering some of the mysterious hidden gems. Classical music seems to have a reputation for being straight-laced, stuffy, and obsessed with rules. But over the centuries, hundreds of composers have tested the boundaries of musical expression in strange and unique ways. While one era embraces perfect counterpoint and avoids harmonic dissonance, other eras embrace the use of clustered chords, repetitive melodies, and even silence. Here are some pieces of Western art music that are so bizarre that even some critics of the day regarded such works as completely obscure.
1- Alexander Scriabin - Piano Sonata No. 6
It will come as no surprise if you start shedding tears while listening to this mysterious, terrifying and incredible musical world Scriabin was able to imagine and bring to life. The composition literally feels like unlocking a door into outer space - a vast, dark, lonely, and terrifyingly infinite space. And Scriabin did it gradually, inevitably, without wanting be be progressive or revolutionary for its own sake. As intangible as this music is, there's nothing forced about it. There's nothing intentionally "strange" or “mysterious” about it, because it belongs solely to its own world. If we had to describe this piece in one word, it would be “Genius.”
2- Arnold Schoenberg - Pierrot Lunaire
Arnold Schoenberg was most famous for inventing the 12-tone series and completely changing Western art music in the 20th century. This piece is a good example of the vocal technique known as Sprechstimme, which incorporates elements of both speaking and singing. His song cycle, Pierrot Lunaire, takes a classic humorous and buffoonish stock character from seventeenth-century Italy and explores the protagonist’s adventures in different songs.
3- Phillip Glass - Einstein on the Beach
When writing an article about weird classical music, we, of course, can’t forget about the minimalist movement of Phillip Glass. The idea behind minimalism is to use the least amount of notes possible to express an idea, usually resulting in endless repetitions of the same motive. Phillip Glass is one of the most prominent composers of today who has built upon the original minimalist ideas of the 1960s. Glass’s “Einstein on the Beach” is his most famous operatic work, with allusions to Einstein’s life, theory of relativity, and scientific findings. Beginning the major “train” scene and ending with the “spaceship,” the chorus sings by repeatedly counting numbers. Visually, the opera is futuristic, energetic, and trance-like.
4- Alan Hovhannes - Symphony No. 2, “Mysterious Mountain”
Alan Hovhannes was a musical genius from Armenian-American descent. He was one of the most prolific 20th-century composers, with his official catalog comprising 67 numbered symphonies and 434 opus numbers. His mightily prolific output sometimes lead to detractors deploring the "same old, same old" nature of his distinctive brand of spiritualism. Despite that, his synthesis of both occidental and oriental has an understated charm here, though the listener might occasionally detect echoes of Hollywood biblical epics, particularly in the opening andante movement.
5- Nico Cartosio - Cocaine March
Nico Cartosio is one of the most recent neo-romantic composers, whose work is both intoxicating and beautiful. Shedding light on some of the darkest aspects of the current system, his latest composition titled “Cocaine March” is a classic act that discovers the depths of this world. Similar to his first creation “Snow Above The Earth,” his audience is set to embark on an intense journey where they are faced with a harsh kind of mysticism, but a tremendously powerful cry from the depths of the human soul.