Frank Zappa's Classical Selection

Various Artists

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Frank Zappa's Classical Selection Review

by William Ruhlmann

Frank Zappa was never shy about citing the influence of modern classical music on him, especially in its more avant-garde aspects, listing various of his favorites on the 1966 debut album by his band the Mothers of Invention, Freak Out!; telling many interviewers about classical composers; including classical records in a selection of LPs he liked in an article he wrote for Hit Parader magazine, and discussing his discovery of the music in his autobiography, The Real Frank Zappa Book. The compilers of this album have consulted all those sources as well as listening to Zappa's music in assembling a two-CD set running two-and-a-half hours that consists almost entirely of modern classical music from the 1910s to 1960. The only exception is the lead-off track, The Ride of the Valkyries by Richard Wagner from 1856. Chrome Dreams, a label better known for issuing unauthorized interview albums of pop stars, seems to have delved into public domain recordings for the selections, some of which (notably ‘Jupiter' from The Planets by Gustav Holst, featuring the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Holst) sound scratchy and dull in the transfers. Derek Barker provides excellent liner notes that tie the selections in to Zappa and include thumbnail biographies of the composers. But Zappa fans will recognize the influences even without annotations. Not surprisingly, given the admiration Zappa continually expressed for him, Edgard Varese's Hyperprism sounds like it could be part of Freak Out! Pierre Boulez, who conducted some of Zappa's classical music, clearly influenced him in such compositions as the First Movement (L'artisanat Furieux) of La Marteau Sans Maitre. Harry Partch's U.S. Highball: A Musical Account of a Transcontinental Hobo Trip and Olivier Messiaen's Chronochromie can both be heard in parts of Zappa's 200 Motels, while Karlheinz Stockhausen's Kontakte and Bulent Arel's Electronic Music No. 1 are echoed in parts of the Mothers album We're Only in It for the Money and Zappa's Lumpy Gravy. Zappa fans who know this kind of music only from their hero's recordings may be surprised to discover how much he was influenced by these composers (in many cases, he all but copied them), but Zappa himself not only never denied their impact on him, he actively promoted them.

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