Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Ultimate Classical Music List

I've been gone for awhile. And as usual, it was because of computer problems. Someday I'll be rich enough to have a computer that always works. But until then, well, every time I start to get my readers back, I go AWOL.

So, I've been thinking for awhile now. There are pieces of music that I consider vital to being a well-educated individual. But I never have sat down and made a comprehensive list. Now is the time to rectify that. But I'm not going to be able to make a complete list, so every Sunday for awhile I'm going to repost this, and hopefully each week either I'll think of more, or people will suggest more works in the comments (although people tend to email me more than comment).

Here are the ground rules; it's not about how "good" the work is. It's more like the greatest hits. It should be a song that most people will recognize, even if they don't know where it's from. An example of a piece that shouldn't cut it is the Beethoven Third Concerto. It's actually my favorite of the five, but it's not highly influential. It's not well-known. And if you're not familiar with it, it won't make me think any less of your classical knowledge. The Fifth Concerto, though - that's another matter. Also, if it's popular because of weddings, don't put it on there. We already know those. Pachelbel. Damn you.

Almost all the ones I can think of are either orchestral or piano works. This may be due to my background - so if you're a vocalist or instrumentalist, I especially hope you'll chime in on the vital literature that I'm just not thinking of.

So, for the first week, here's my list.

Prelude in C, Well-Tempered Clavier book one
Air on a G String
Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello

Fur Elise
Piano Sonata No. 8 in Cm, Op. 13, (the Pathétique Sonata)
Piano Sonata No. 14 in C#m, Op. 27, No. 2, (the "Moonlight" Sonata) - first movement
Piano Concerto No. 5 in Eb, Op. 73 (the "Emperor Concerto")
Symphony No. 5 in Cm, Op. 67
Symphony No. 9 in Dm, Op. 125

Nocturne in Eb, Op. 9, No. 2
Waltz Op. 64, No. 2 in C#m
Scherzo No. 2 in Bbm, Op. 31
Fantaisie-Impromptu in C#m

Clair de Lune

Suite from Peer Gynt
Piano Concerto in Am, Op. 16

Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2
Liebestraum (No. 3)

"To a Wild Rose" Op. 51, No. 1

Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major, K 331, last movement (Rondo alla Turca)
Sonata in C, K 545, first movement
Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467
Le nozze di Figaro
Die Zauberflöte
Serenade No. 13 for strings in G, K. 525, (Eine kleine Nachtmusik)
Requiem Mass in D minor K. 626

Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64

Prelude in C#m
Piano Concerto No. 2 in Cm, Op. 18
Piano Concerto No. 3 in Dm, Op. 30
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini in Am, opus 43

Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78

Gymnopedie No. 1

Six Moments musicaux, D. 780 Op. 94

Ride of the Valkyries

Okay, what am I forgetting? Fill me in! (I know I especially need more operatic works)


  1. I did not realize at first that the composers were in alphabetical. So half way through it I was saying to myself, dang Jess what about Wagner. When I finished the list I saw what you were doing and hung my head in shame.

    My knowledge leads mainly in Mozart (as you should know). But your list of his most vital music was pretty complete. The only other thing I would put in there would be a Don Giovanni. It is important in opera; so much many think it has been hugely overdone. If you disagree that is fine. I can take rejection.

    Others to be considered:

    Tchaikovsky – 1812 overture
    Rossini – William Tell oeverture

  2. Hmmm, there are so many that I can include here, but for the moment here are just a few of the ones that I am jotting down ...

    Toccata and Fugue in Dm
    The Musical Offering
    Brandenburg Concertos

    Slavonic Dances
    Cello Concerto in Bm

    - Pie Jesu

    Ave Maria

    Water Music

    Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
    Das Lied von der Erde

    Ave Verum Corpus

    Lieder ohne Worte
    Hear My Prayer

    Ave Maria

  3. Well, allow me to school you. No, wait.

    I will say that two of my favorites are missing; Specifically:
    Ginastera, Danzas Argentinas
    Bartok, whatever it is you had me listen to

    My reason for these is:
    Danzas Argentinas -- Story told in music
    Bartok -- Beautifully coherent dischord

    However, I don't know enough of the previous lists to know whether these aspects are covered. Between this, and the list of musicals from Max, I have a long way to go...