As they embraced cannabis, the hippie generation seized on a variety of artistic traditions from throughout history to enhance their high — as a result, Lord of the Rings, sitar music, and Native American art have all become deeply associated with psychedelia. Western classical music is one cultural phenomenon that’s been surprisingly overlooked in the endless search for good stoner music. With hundreds of years and thousands of composers to draw from, there’s a powerful classical piece for every set and setting.
Along with suggested strain pairings, here are recommendations for some truly profound listening sessions.
You’ve almost definitely heard “Ride of The Valkyries,” Richard Wagner’s most famous instrumental piece — it was used to tremendous effect in Apocalypse Now and provided the melody for Elmer Fudd’s “Kill the Wabbit” in a popular Looney Toons short. Wagner is the great-grandaddy of serious dramatic opera
He’s responsible for that whole trope of women belting out arias dressed in breastplates and Viking helmets
but don’t let that stop you from appreciating his genius. His overture to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is a catchy, fast-paced piece that sets an optimistic tone for the opera that it precedes. It follows a fairly straightforward musical structure, allowing you to have a general idea of where Wagner is going without having any idea what he’ll do next. The Meistersinger overture is as exciting as any action movie soundtrack, so pair it with a buzzy sativa strain like Durban Poison for the fully energized effect.
It’s strange to think that a living composer could be considered “classical,” but Philip Glass retains enough of the traditions of western classical music to fit the category. His avant-garde work is based in principles of variation: he takes a simple melody and plays it over and over, slowly tweaking single notes and rhythms bit by bit until a piece gradually becomes something entirely new and unrecognizable. Glass’ 1976 biographical opera Einstein on the Beach is considered one of his best. The opening piece “Train” is a perfect example of how he uses repetition and subtle changes in pattern to hypnotize and then startle the listener. Enjoy an indica-heavy hybrid like Skywalker that will leave you spacey, but alert enough to appreciate the emotion behind Glass’ seemingly mechanical composition.
Bach has a well-deserved reputation as master of the baroque era, but he had plenty of contemporaries who don’t fall far behind. German-born, English-bred Handel is one such peer. His emotional music stands out from an era that sometimes valued technical skill over genuine feeling. Composed to commemorate the end of the War of Austrian Succession in 1748, Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks is a suite that runs the gamut from playful to triumphant, with epic melodies threaded throughout. Listening, it’s not hard to understand why this music drew 12,000 people and caused traffic jams in London the first time it was performed. Listen with a strong sativa like Super Silver Haze hat will put you in a cerebral frame of mind to appreciate Handel’s combination of order and extravagance.
Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is cultural cliche that’s lost its power through overuse. If you’re in the mood for something equally dramatic but not as well known, check out the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. Written in 1811, it’s a great example of how Beethoven, whose personal life was tragic and intense, brought a passionate romantic streak to the classical tradition.
Close your eyes and try to piece together a narrative from the shifting musical phrases and moods
You’ll probably also hear echoes of the Imperial March from Star Wars. Smoke an evenly balanced hybrid like Jack Herer while listening to feel the full physical and emotional weight of what Beethoven himself considered some of his best work.
Musical sampling isn’t limited to the digital age — 20th-century Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninov also mastered the art of the remix, taking a five-minute tune from 19th-century violinist Paganini and turning it into a full-blown, half-hour orchestral riff. Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini moves through 24 different variations, pulling inspiration from different chunks of the original melody and elaborating on them with incredible originality.
Although the approximately 24-minute piece switches between wildly different tones, it all works together seamlessly
A highlight is the sweeping 18th variation, which flips the original melody upside down; it’s been used in movies like Groundhog Day and Somewhere in Time. Turn on Rachmaninov’s showstopper and smoke a bowl of something sativa-dominant like Purple Diesel — it’ll allow you to be alert enough to enjoy the fast-paced tension of the music, but stoned enough to just let it wash over you. Or take a hit of Gorilla Glue and find yourself couch-locked while you Rachmaninov takes you for his wild ride.
Ravel had the rare advantage of writing classical music for a contemporary audience that appreciated his genius. Because his music is still easily accessible, here’s a double helping of tunes that should enhance your buzz in very different ways.
Ravel’s 1899 composition Pavane for a Dead Princess was originally written for piano and later adapted for a full orchestra. It typifies his impressionistic style, using phrases that bleed in and out of each other to set a general mood. The title doesn’t refer to any specific historical figure but instead refers to Ravel’s fantasy of the kind of music a young princess might have danced to in Spain. Follow along with a couchlocking indica like Afghan Kush and just float along with this lullaby; don’t be surprised if you just drift off to sleep.
Composed decades later in 1928, Boléro will wake you up as quickly as Pavane puts you to sleep. Instead of a beautiful, rambling melody, Boléro feels like more of a march. Starting with a simple drumbeat, Ravel repeats a single tune over and over, each time adding more complex harmonies and instrumentation until it builds to a gigantic finish. If you don’t have neighbors (or if you hate your neighbors), it’s a great one to blast as you kick back with some Blue Dream and pretend you’re conducting this awesome piece of music.