Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Ludwig van Beethoven

What Classical Composers Would Have Been Great Rockstars?

Fast is only cool if it’s melodic and has substance.



In a highly educated human society, people listen to classical music. You really need some basic knowledge to understand anything about the centuries-old music, just so you don’t get bored.

Others listen only to rock music. And when I say rock music, I’m not talking about Elvis, I’m talking about heavy metal. There are enough rock songs with lyrics about different medieval topics, but it’s a whole different genre.

But what about those who like both genres equally? Some made listening to both at the same time possible.

Can you imagine what classical music would have been like if great composers had electric guitars? Most likely, the history of rock music would’ve been longer than it already is.

But due to the fact that we haven’t yet discovered a way to send electric guitars back in time, let’s see how we can bring the music of the past in present days. Even if you’re not a rocker, I bet you’ll find this at least remarkable…

Yngwie Malmsteen: from Beethoven to neoclassical metal

Which piece of classical music do you think would sound awesome if re-orchestrated in rock style? Easy answer: all-time world-famous German composer, Ludwig van Beethoven’s “5th Symphony”.

This symphony is considered one of the best in the world of classical music. It took Beethoven 4 years to finish it. Finally, in 1808, it was played on the stage of the Vienna Theatre and, since then, its success was off the charts.

Nowadays, although fewer young people listen to this symphony in its original form, the four-note opening motif is often found not only in music, but also in pop culture. However, hearing it on an electric guitar, without any backing orchestra, is spectacular. It sounds so natural that you can’t stop but think that Beethoven had somewhat of a rocker in his heart.

This performance belongs to Yngwie Malmsteen – one of the masters of metal sounds on electric guitars, alongside heavy names such as Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. As an innovator on the guitar chords, he was frequently compared to Jimi Hendrix or to Eddie Van Halen. Amongst others, Yngwie is well-known for the incredible speed with which he managed to play each musical note on his guitar.

What's his name again?
Even though you may know Yngwie Malmsteen, I wouldn’t bet my bottom dollar that you could correctly pronounce his name. Most try to read his name with an English accent, but let’s not forget he’s Swedish. So listen here and never forget:
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The Swede comes from a family of musicians from Stockholm. Even though everyone around him was into music, Yngwie’s passion for music didn’t start until the age of 7, when he saw Jimi Hendrix’s sacrificial burning and smashing of his guitar on TV. The child was so impressed, that “the day when Hendrix died, Yngwie the guitarist was born,” as said on official site.

It seems that Yngwie was continuously changing, depending upon what he saw on TV. After several years of hard guitar practicing (till his fingertips would start bleeding), he saw a violinist, Gideon Kremer, on TV performing Paganini’s “Caprice No. 24″. It was then he realized that he could combine his passion for the guitar with that for classical music 1)Guitar Gods: The 25 Players Who Made Rock History” de Bob Gulla, book published by Greenwood in 20082)Legends of Rock Guitar: The Essential Reference of Rock’s Greatest Guitarists” by Pete Prown and Harvey P. Newquist, book published by Hal Leonard in 1997.

How can you combine these two extremely different musical genres? When you have a passion for both, it’s possible. Sure enough, Yngwie Malmsteen had such talent that enabled him to invent a new music genre: neoclassical metal 3)Neoclassical metal” în Wikipedia.

Famous guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, member of Deep Purple, was the pioneer of this style in the 60’s. The band held a memorable concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London, in 1969, alongside the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Malcolm Arnold. The poster said: “Concerto for Group and Orchestra”, symphony composition with rock and baroque influences by Jon Lord, another famous Deep Purple member.

Others also tried this new idea. But Yngwie Malmsteen wasn’t pleased with just experimenting. He put it all together and in the 80’s, he unlocked a whole new musical genre of which he has every reason to be proud.

One remarkable achievement of his, out of many, was the sold out concerts held in Moscow and Leningrad, in 1989. Yep, in communist times. Those were the biggest shows of an occidental artist in the Soviet Union 4)Guitar Gods: The 25 Players Who Made Rock History” by Bob Gulla, book published by Greenwood in 2008. Yngwie filmed his concert in Leningrad and put it on CD so he could give his fans the album, plus video, with the tittle “Trial by Fire”. It became one of the best-selling albums of his whole career.

But the highlight of his career, as a high caliber musician, is his collaboration with the New Japan Philharmonic, in 2001. He played his own creation “Suite in E Flat Minor”, on his guitar, with symphonic accompaniment. The concert was filmed and sold on DVDs.

Dan Mumm: when the metal of Bach’s organ tubes become heavy metal

On our list of great classical composers that could have been great rockers, there’s also Johann Sebastian Bach. He lived between 1685 and 1750. He had German origins and composed baroque pieces. During his time, Bach made a name for himself when he introduced new rhythms, inspired from both Italian and French culture, in his musical pieces.

In modern days, baroque music, especially that of Bach, is also used to maximize learning and retention of information, being recognized as the best for these types of activities 5)Using Music as a Training Tool” by Lenn Millbower, book published by American Society for Training & Development in 2004. (Between us, I tested this theory and had no positive results, probably because I replaced studying with sleep, or simply forgetting to study all together.)

Is there a tighter bond between rock and baroque, besides the fact that they rhyme?

Who transformed “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” into a rock song? That would be Dan Mumm. He’s an American with so much passion for music, that he can play the violin, piano, and drums, besides being able to play all kinds of electric guitars, as it’s said on his official website. What can I say, he’s like a one man-orchestra!

Dan Mumm doesn’t only do Bach. A lot of great composers have had their musical pieces re-orchestrated by this guy. He’s an adept of neoclassical metal and on his Youtube channel he regularly uploads re-orchestrated pieces, as well as his own music. His videos have had so many views (sometimes even over a half a million), that Youtube decided to make him partner.

Onur Narin: Paganini was a rocker with a violin

Let’s concentrate a bit on Niccolò Paganini. He was born in 1782 in Genova, probably with a violin in his hands. Just so you can understand, at the age of 8, when you were learning basic arithmetics by heart, Paganini finished his first sonata. At age 13, when you were deciding to stop playing with toys, Paganini traveled to Parma to improve his violin skills, but the professors there couldn’t help, telling him he already knows everything there is to know. So all that was left for him to become was his own professor. He studied like 15 hours a day. All that hard work combined with his remarkable talent, made going places possible, like the Royal Court, or even foreign countries. He had the life of a star, with all its pros and cons.

Is it just me or does Paganini’s life story strongly resemble “the secret to success” for our times? Can you imagine what it is like to have that much success in your life that your musical pieces are still being re-interpreted centuries after you passed away? And even in hard rock style!

Do you remember when I told you that Yngwie Malmsteen changed his life after he listened to Paganini? Well here’s the piece that gave Yngwie the idea to sing classical music on a guitar: “Caprice No.24”.

In this version, it’s reinterpreted in heavy metal style by Onur Narin, a Turkish musician.

Still have doubts if Niccolò Paganini would be a great rocker?! Let’s add another little known detail: he also knew how to play the guitar very well. He even composed over 200 songs on this instrument 6)Underground Guitar Handbook” by Jason Earls, book published by Lulu in 2009!

Van Stratho: Vivaldi’s Winter with metal sonorities

What do you know about Vivaldi? You probably think he was completely passionate about music, thus dedicating his whole life to it. What if I told you he was a priest?

Antonio Vivaldi was born in 1678. It seems that his mother pushed him to priesthood, even since childhood. But his father was a great violinist and taught him everything he knew. Until Antonio Vivaldi finished his studies to become a priest at the age of 25, he was already a famous musician (more as a violinist, rather that a composer). He didn’t do much of his work as a priest due to some respiratory illness. Some speculate that this was just an excuse to dedicate more of his time to music. Anyway, being a good man, he remained a priest all of his life. And he also received an interesting nickname: The Red Priest (because of his hair color) 7)Antonio Vivaldi: The Red Priest of Venice” by Karl Heller, book published by Amadeus Press in 2003.

Have you ever felt bad about yourself for having A’s in only 2-3 classes, and D’s in the rest? No problem, Vivaldi was in the same boat as you. Amongst hundreds of pieces he had composed, “The Four Seasons” and “Opus 3” were greatly appreciated, but there were some of them that were so bad, they seemed like amateur exercises. But being well-known for his thirst of musical innovation, it’s understandable that he would mess up every once in a while. But what would happen if he had an electric guitar in his hands?

No matter how tone deaf you are, you’ve certainly heard Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” at least once. Van Stratho took a fragment from “Winter” and reinterpreted it so it would sound good to rockers. And that’s not all he’s done.

Lai Youttitham: hand in hand with Mozart

There isn’t another composer like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – a free spirit, full of creativity. He was born in 1756. Already knowing how to play instruments with keys and the violin, he composed his first musical piece when he was 5. I remind you that at age 5, most of us only knew how to compose screams and fads. In his short life, he had time to get married, have 2 kids, compose over 600 musical pieces, so he can ultimately die of mysterious causes.

You can easily imagine Mozart in our days. He would produce number one hits one after the other. But how about heavy metal?!

Lai Youttitham is one of those who felt Mozart would have been a fantastic rocker, if he would’ve lived in our times.

Lai is a guitarist originally from Laos. As he confesses on his personal website, he decided to go to Canada at the age of 19, in search of a better life. But before reaching civilized countries, Lai had to cross a river to get to Thailand. He managed that without getting shot, but he was caught and sent to a refugee camp.

News reached his parents ears, who sent him some money for food. What do you think an artist does in these circumstances? He buys himself a guitar.

That helped him out a lot, because that guitar was his one way ticket to Canada. He was unique in that camp, being the only one with a guitar. He made himself known enough to change camps twice, to play in a band, and to pass the immigration interview.

Since then till now, he became a Canadian citizen and is still pleasing the whole world with his rock remixes on Youtube.

Charlie Parra: A modern Mozart, as modern as he could be after centuries

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed a lot of cheerful pieces. Even dance music (only around 200 8)The Cambridge Mozart Encyclopedia” – book published by Cambridge University Press in 2006). Now don’t go thinking it’s the swing or lambada; they had different dance styles back then. It’s certain that if Mozart would’ve lived now, you’d be hearing his music in all the clubs.

For example, “Rondo alla turca”, with some minor adjustments, you could head bang to this piece.

As you may see, Charlie Parra, from Peru, also chose Mozart and that was wise of him, because that feat brought him over a half a million views on Youtube.

But since when did Charlie start to please people with his musical talent? In his native language, on his personal website, he writes that he took the first step at the age of 13. Because he was always playing computer games instead of studying for school. Yes, you read correctly. In these circumstances, some get grounded, whilst others get a musical instrument, so they can focus their energy on more useful things. He started with percussion instruments, but after less than 2 years he grabbed an electric guitar and never let go of it since.

After a while of trying to form a band, in 2010 he started his solo career. How, you ask? The same way it’s done lately: with Youtube videos. And you know what’s even more interesting? He’s one of the few from these artists that have Wikipedia web page.

Dr. Viossy: Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata with an electric guitar

We started with Ludwig van Beethoven, let’s also finish with His Highness.

Born in 1770, he composed exactly in the middle of the transition between the classical era to the romantic era. And maybe it wasn’t by chance that this transition continued beyond his earthly existence, this influence being found even nowadays.

One of Beethoven’s most famous pieces is “Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2: Sonata quasi una fantasia”. Before you say anything, let me tell you it’s pet name: “Moonlight Sonata” 9)Moonlight Sonata” in Encyclopædia Britannica. Could it be possible to play this emotional piece in rock style?!

This version belongs to Dr. Viossy, Absynth Aura’s guitarist. It reached the 6 million views milestone!

There are other artists that have tried to re-orchestrate classical pieces, though the results aren’t always successful. Why do they do that? Maybe because there’s something profound and mystic about centuries-old music. Or, as in famous Swedish guitarist’s Yngwie Malmsteen’s case, neoclassical rock was the only way to combine his passion for his electric guitar with that of classical music.

What will you listen to from now on: classical music, rock music, or something different? All in all it doesn’t even matter. The important thing is for it to be good music!

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References   [ + ]

1. Guitar Gods: The 25 Players Who Made Rock History” de Bob Gulla, book published by Greenwood in 2008
2. Legends of Rock Guitar: The Essential Reference of Rock’s Greatest Guitarists” by Pete Prown and Harvey P. Newquist, book published by Hal Leonard in 1997
3. Neoclassical metal” în Wikipedia
4. Guitar Gods: The 25 Players Who Made Rock History” by Bob Gulla, book published by Greenwood in 2008
5. Using Music as a Training Tool” by Lenn Millbower, book published by American Society for Training & Development in 2004
6. Underground Guitar Handbook” by Jason Earls, book published by Lulu in 2009
7. Antonio Vivaldi: The Red Priest of Venice” by Karl Heller, book published by Amadeus Press in 2003
8. The Cambridge Mozart Encyclopedia” – book published by Cambridge University Press in 2006
9. Moonlight Sonata” in Encyclopædia Britannica

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