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3,197 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
A Beginner's Guide to Classical Music

Often people unfamiliar with Classical music will ask advice on how to approach it. Where do you start?


Frankly, many already are familiar with a lot of classical music.

Cartoons from the 1940s and 1950s are loaded with it.

And anyone who's a fan of theatrical films will have heard a great deal of it, even though they may not have realized it: For instance, 2001: A Space Odyssey used a great many classical pieces for its score. From the impressive opening of Richard Strauss' Also Spracht Zarasthustra, to Johann Strauss' The Blue Danube, the use of already composed works helped give the film the impact that made it so very successful.

Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange used Beethoven's 9th Symphony.

Apocalypse Now used Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries from his massive operatic suite Die Walk?re.

Even Ferris Bueller's Day Off used music from Boccerini's String Quintet in E.

So . . . I compiled a collection of some of the most compelling and accessible classical works for novice listeners.

Originally it was to be a Top Ten, which quickly grew into a Top 20, then a Top 25, and so on.

One of the problems with getting folks to come over to "the classical side" will be familiar to Prog Rock lovers . . . the length and complexity tends to just chase folks away.

CAUTION: This list is NOT really a "ranking", although works I feel are better are more likely to appear in a higher position. The list is more of an "ordering" to introduce the uninitiated to Classical Music, in a sequence that in my opinion is more likely to entice one "into the fold".

But the 1st piece is

The Planets
Gustav Holst, an 8 movement symphonic work that clocks in at well over a half hour.

This piece is #2 on the Parker Symphony Orchestra's List of 10 BADASS PIECES OF CLASSICAL MUSIC. Here's THAT full list.

Orff - Carmina Burana / "O Fortuna" (#18)
Holst - The Planets, Mars (#1)
Verdi - Requiem "Dies Irae" (#79)
Wagner - Ride of the Valkyries (#31)
Vivaldi - The Four Seasons: Summer Mvt. 3 Presto (#6)
Bizet - Carmen Overture / Les Toreadors (#62)
Mussorgsky - Night on Bald Mountain (#19)
Verdi - Il Trovatore / "Anvil Chorus"
Khachaturian - Sabre Dance
Strauss - Also Sprach Zarathustra, Prelude (#24)

. . . and their "Honorable Mentions":

Tchaikovsky - 1812 Overture (#5)
Shostakovich - Symphony No 5, Mvt 4 (#153)
Bruckner - Symphony No 1, Mvt 3
Grieg - In The Hall Of The Mountain King (#11)
Dvorak - Symphony No 9, Mvt 4 (#2)
Mozart - Requiem in D minor, Dies Irae (#35)
Bizet - L'Arlésienne Suite No 2, Mvt 4 (Farandole)
Saint-Saëns - Symphony No 3, Mvt 3 and 4 (#408)
Beethoven - Symphony No 9, Mvt 4 (#39)
Glinka - Overture from Ruslan and Ludmilla (#231)
Holst - The Planets, Jupiter (#1)
Mozart - Symphony No 25, Mvt 1
Bach - Toccata and Fugue in D minor (#90)
Smyth - The Wreckers (Overture)


Ah, but The Planets is a great look at orchestration and variety. And several film composers have used Holst's techniques to great success. John Williams has paid great tribute with his scores to Star Wars and others (he's pretty damned prolific).

Of course, the best way to experience Classical music is in a live setting. Unlike rock music, which sometimes suffers in concert, Classical music is exacting . . . it's important to the players and conductor that it be perfect. You won't find fall-down drunk singers or guitarists on acid here.

Here's a great and spirited live version by the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain.

This version also has a new movement, to include Pluto, discovered after the suite was written.

Mars, the Bringer of War 0:00
Venus, the Bringer of Peace 7:15
Mercury, the Winged Messenger 15:09
Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity 18:58
Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age 26:42
Uranus, the Magician 35:32
Neptune, the Mystic 41:20
Pluto, the Renewer 49:17

Proms 2016 - Gustav Holst - The Planets


This extensive work has popped up in popular music as well, especially the 1st movement.

Sinfonia, a large group of electric guitarists covered it, as did King Crimson (retitled "The Devil's Triangle"), and eventually, Emerson, Lake and Powell.

Jimmy Page adapted part of 'Mars' in the song 'Friends' on Led Zeppelin III.

Yes quoted a few sections of Jupiter in the song "The Prophet" from their 1970 album "Time and a Word".

Isao Tomita did an electronic version many years ago, and Jeff Wayne and Rick Wakeman teamed up as well in 2005 with an album Beyond the Planets.

Many artists, such as Frank Zappa, have "quoted" licks from the suite in instrumental sections of songs.

John Williams used the melodies and instrumentation of Mars as the inspiration for his soundtrack for the Star Wars films (specifically "The Imperial March")

Hans Zimmer closely used the melodies, instrumentation and orchestration of Mars as the inspiration for his soundtrack for the movie Gladiator to the extent that a lawsuit for copyright infringement was filed by the Holst foundation.


In presenting this in serial form on a blog, there will be a continual problem with videos becoming "inactive". Due to the settings of Talk Classical, I cannot easily go back later and find an active link an simply insert it, as the editing feature becomes inert after a very short period of time. I'm not complaining, mind you, that's just the way it is.

Generally, the specific video I choose will be live, with decent sound and video. I'll usually give a title and artists (the players, conductor, name of the orchestra, etc), so if the link goes dead, one can generally search for it, or a replacement, fairly easily.

I think that being able to watch the performance adds to the enjoyment somehow. So most of these videos are live, even though there are often "better" (subjectively) recordings. "Better" sometimes just means that the studio recording has better production value, and no audience coughing during the quiet sections.

I welcome comments and suggestions. In general, given that this is a blog format, that is likely to happen anyway. Suggestions for entry-level Classical works will be met with bemusement, as it's very likely I'll already have that work on my list. But possibly not. As I mentioned, the list was started quite some time ago, and grew from humble beginnings to a completed list of 200 finished blurbs of specific works, to a projected list of over 600.

I've actually been compiling this on a different vblog, a band fanpage, but as the band and its fans age and leave (in some cases they "transition"), the membership has dropped drastically, and has been in danger of simply "closing shop" several times. The Admin there has moved to a smaller server after "dumping" a good portion of its archives, and is in the process of doing that again.

So, it's already put together for people to follow along and listen as I drop a post.

3,197 Posts
Discussion Starter · #12 · (Edited)
You should include a smattering of piano, modernist, and chamber music, too-- some people may like that more than the orchestral music that draws most people in.

Dvorak: Complete Humoresques
Chopin: Ballade No. 4
Brahms: Hungarian Dances
Beethoven: Moonlight, Hammerklavier movement 1

Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra
Stravinsky: Rite of Spring, Ebony Concerto
Ravel: Piano Concerto for the Left Hand

Mozart: Clarinet Quintet
Brahms: String Sextet no. 1 movement 2
Ravel: String Quartet
Schubert: String Quartet no. 14, Trout Quintet
Dvorak: Dumky Trio
Mostly excellent suggestions.

For the most part I've attempted to stay away from collections, at least near the top of the list. Enticing someone into loving classical means fighting a century of pop music conditioning, where people tend to lose focus after 3 minutes.

Of course, first off, I've broken my first rule by including The Planets Suite, and it won't be long before I'll have to mention Beethoven's 3rd Symphony (or 9th), or The Nutcracker, or WTC.

But I'll be spreading the love around; and most of your suggestions ARE on the list, though not necessarily near the beginning.

I love me some Brahms and Schubert as much as the next guy, but their complexity may chase folks away. You mentioned Brahms twice, and he's got many spots on the list, just not near the top. I suppose it's daunting that there is so much great music, and to create a diverse list is a challenge. But in the Top 100 Brahms' Piano Trio No. 1 (Eroica) is the only work from him I've included, although there's some other great chamber works that are easily more accessible. Expand that to my Top 200, and Brahms does much better: Symphony No. 4, Academic Festival Overture, Symphony No. 3, and Piano Concerto No. 1. Like I said, the competition is fierce. Top 300? Four Songs for 2 horns, harp, and Women's Choir, Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Piano Concerto No. 2, and Symphony No. 1.

And after that Brahms is still well represented:

Double Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra
German Requiem
"Brahm's Lullaby"
Symphony No. 2
Tragic Overture
String Quartet No. 1
Piano Quartet in C minor
Waltz in A flat Major

But I'll tack the Sextet on the back of the list (it just keeps growing). Occasionally I'll discover that I've made duplicate entries, and that was actually the case with Brahm's 2nd symphony, so I slid the Ebony Concerto in the duplicate's place. Woo-hoo!

And Dvorak gets plenty of love, with the Dumky listed at #149

I'm unfamiliar with Stravinsky's Ebony Concerto, but I've got it playing right now and loving it. It seems like a great suggestion. Somewhat modern, incorporating some big band sensibilities, phenomenal orchestration technique. I'll find room for it, as my list is quite modern-phobic at first. The noise-makers of the 20th Century tend to drive people away until their ear is ready for it. I daresay that Beethoven would have enjoyed some Stravinsky far more than Mozart would have. I don't know, if Mozart were brought back from the dead, would have be a Kanye fan? Would he love Gentle Giant? As for his Clarinet Quintet; as great as it is, almost EVERYTHING Mozart composed is great. I'm betting that Mozart is the MOST represented composer on the list so far.

Here's the Mozart I've included in my Top 100 (and the only composer with TWO works in my Top 10):

Jupiter Symphony
Overture, Marriage of Figaro

Symphony No. 40
Requiem in D minor
Piano Concerto No. 20
"Elvira Madigan" Piano Concerto (No. 21)
Symphony No. 35
Symphony No. 36
Overture, Magic Flute

And, after that, in the Top 200

"Michael Haydn" Symphony
Symphony No. 38
Symphony No. 39
Horn Concerto No. 3
Don Giovani
The Marriage of Figaro
The Magic Flute
Concerto for Flute and Harp
Clarinet Concerto in A Major
"Alla Turca" Piano Sonata (No. 12)

. . . And as I'm digging this information out, I've just discovered that Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 was listed twice, at #60, and at #170. I've rolled out this list elsewhere, and it was a year between the two listings, yet I chose the same video clip with Yeol Eum Son for both entries!

Which means I have room for the Clarinet Quintet.

What can I say? Mozart's a monster. Imagine if he'd lived as long as Haydn; Would we be talking about his Symphony No. 150? Piano Concerto No. 99?

3,197 Posts
Discussion Starter · #13 ·
For a general introduction I don't think very long works like the Messiah or an opera would work. What might be best is works that
[1] have some melodies that the newcomer already knows, but serve to show how much more there is to a work than that melody;
[2] are not too long (ideally not much beyond half an hour to keep their attention)

Some candidates (incidentally, these were among the ones that helped me get into classical music):

- Beethoven's 5th symphony
- Vivaldi's Four seasons (just one of them for starters)
- Mozart's piano concerto 20
- Grieg's first Peer Gynt suite
- Bach's first cello suite
- Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto
Excellent suggestions. On the list in prominent positions. I like the way you're thinking.

3,197 Posts
Discussion Starter · #14 ·
I'd take stuff that is catchy but not so well known, thereby less burdened by any prejudices regarding 'classical music', and spanning from medieval times until contemporary. Say like Respighi's War Dance from the Belkis Suite, medieval Carmina Burana and Ventadorn original stuff, a Bruckner Scherzo (9th?), Schubert's Moments Musicaux, a V-Williams pastoral work, and so on.

But another key question would be the existing taste of the new, interested person. If the person likes smurf songs, Xenakis probably isn't the way to go. If the person likes jazz, there's a lot of say 20th century music to bring up. If it's heavy metal, some Shosty might be relevant, for example.

And then I'd bring in some lasting, basic repertoire stuff. Bach's Brandenburgs, Mozart piano concertos, Beethoven symphonies and piano sonatas, etc.
Yeah, I'm going with the "One Size Fits All" approach, which allows for a wide breadth of diversity for the list, although it naturally will be biased towards my own tastes and experiences.

I've got a few by Respighi on the list, but failed to include War Dance fr. Belkis Suite. I'll find a place for it.

3,197 Posts
Discussion Starter · #15 ·
After only one entry I'm surprised that no one yet mentioned Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition".

Mr. M would've been a rock & roller had he lived in this era, and Pictures is, perhaps, the closest thing in the classical world to rock, and since most people are fully acquainted with rock, it makes sense to recommend it as a starting point.

But as it is, it's relegated to spot #13 (so . . .still in the Top 20), as there are some other heavyweights that pushed him out of the Top 10. Given the volume of really accessible "Great" classical works, that's actually pretty damned good.

3,197 Posts
Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Symphony No.9 in E minor "From the New World", Op 95.

Specifically the 4th movement, which may be the most recognizable of the four. Keith Emerson used sections of it for the introduction for his cover of Bernstein's "America" in his pre-ELP days with The Nice. He also interpolated more of it during the piece.

Chris Squire of Yes also covered the 2nd movement on Ultimate Yes: 35th Anniversary Collection

Antonín Dvořák's popular "New World" Symphony is, indeed, "inspired" by the negro spirituals and indigenous music of North America, although, in his own words, is composed of "original themes embodying the peculiarities of the Indian music, and, using these themes as subjects, have developed them with all the resources of modern rhythms, counterpoint, and orchestral colour." Also of inspiration were the "wide open spaces" of Iowa, which he visited in 1893.

The work, as is typical of Symphonies, is in four movements, which are labeled by their tempo markings or dance style, often with some sort of expressive phrase:

I. Adagio - Allegro molto
II. Largo
III. Scherzo (molto vivace)
IV. Allegro con fuoco

If you're familiar with Italian (or perhaps some Spanish or Latin), these may make perfect sense. So, a basic glossary of terminology is appropriate:

Andante - walking speed
Allegro - "cheerful"
Presto - quickly
Vivace - lively
Largo - broadly
Lento - slowly

Dance style names, like Allemande or Sarabande, would be 'intuitive', as they were very popular common dances that were almost always at commonly expected tempi.

If one sees a "con fuoco", you'll know the composer wants played with fury, or in a fiery or impetuous manner.

I highly recommend the video from New York Philharmonic, in the gala performance for the start of their 175th season, but as happens in Youtube Land, the video has 'vanished', and it's now only available as short single movement videos, which is somewhat inconvenient.

Dvořák's "New World" Symphony

Gimnazija Kranj Symphony Orchestra under the baton of maestro Nejc Bečan


3,197 Posts
Discussion Starter · #18 ·
If you enjoyed Antonín Dvořák's 9th Symphony, you may be interested in "skipping ahead". He wasn't just a "one hit wonder".

My list includes, of course, Dvorak's Slavonic Dance No. 7, Op. 46, the Cello Concerto in B minor, and the String Quartet No.12 in F (American Quartet).

There's also his 7th and 8th Symphonies (all of his symphonies are worth a list, his Carnival Overture (Op 92), and his "Dumky" Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor Op. 90 ("Dumky" is a Slavic slang for a collection of brooding, introspective "little" epic ballads, specifically a song or lament of captive people, with cheerful sections interspersed within).

Oh, and "My Homeland", Op. 62. And his Wind Serenade.

Oh, and The Noon Witch (Polednice), Op. 108. Nice and compact symphonic poem. With tubular bells!


But it is remarkable that the first actual Symphony on my list is from Dvořák.

Of course, we've had the Best Symphonies discussion before, with the focus on the Best Beethoven Symphony.

Of course, Beethoven towers large over symphonic works. Only 9 symphonies, and most of them GREAT. People love the 5th, the 9th (Choral), the 6th (Pastoral), and the 3rd (Eroica). And the 7th gets a great deal of respect as well, probably because it's sort of an 'underdog' when pitted against Beethoven's others.

Many lists often name Beethoven's 3rd Symphony as the Greatest of All Time.

Classic fM Digital Radio (a "Pop" Classical Radio station) has their own list of the 10 Greatest Symphonies of all time, and lists Dvorak's 9th first, somewhat validating its position so high on this list, although the indulge in a bit of "spreading the love around", including only ONE Beethoven Symphony.

Dvořak - Symphony No. 9 ('From The New World')
Mozart - Symphony No. 41 ("Jupiter")
Berlioz - Symphonie Fantastique
Mahler - Symphony No. 2 ('Resurrection')
Brahms - Symphony No. 4
Gorecki - Symphony No. 3 ('Symphony of Sorrowful Songs')
Shostakovich - Symphony No. 5
Beethoven - Symphony No. 9 ('Choral')
Tchaikovsky - Symphony No. 6 ('Pathetique')
Rachmaninov - Symphony No. 2

Other lists include
Beethoven's 5th, 3rd, 7th,
Mozart's 40th,
Tchaikovsky's 5th and 4th,
Mahler's 5th, 8th, and 1st,
Brahms' 1st and 4th,
Schubert's 8th and 9th, and
Sibelius' 2nd,
Bruckner's 8th,
Shostakovich's 11th and 9th,
Copland's 3rd, and
Prokofiev's 10th

If you enjoyed the "Symphony" format, you could check out any of these, and be certain that these are the best of the genre.

3,197 Posts
Discussion Starter · #19 · (Edited)
1. Holst - The Planets, Op. 32. 1918
2. Dvorak - Symphony No.9 in E minor "From the New World", Op 95. 1893

Symphony No. 3 "Eroica"
Ludwig van Beethoven

That's right . . . the Best symphony of ALL TIME. Well, according to some. Why is that? Opinion. But if you're making a Top Ten List of Best Symphonies of All Time, you are likely to include it (unless you're Classic fM).

And I've placed Dvorak's 9th above it.

But I've said it before, and I'll say it again . . .


There is no "best" classical work.

There are plenty of great works all. But there is no "greatest".

You cannot compare The Planets to Mozart's Requiem.

You cannot compare Beethoven's 3rd Symphony to Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

You cannot compare the Enigma Variations to Handel's Water Music.

You cannot compare the Revolutionary Etude to Scheherazade.

You cannot compare the 1812 Overture to Rhapsody in Blue.

And you cannot compare Night On Bald Mountain to Ave Maria.


. . . And it only points out the extreme difficulty in making a "Best of", "Greatest of all time", or, in this case, a "Beginner's Guide". I've put the "Greatest Symphony of All Time" behind Dvorak's 9th Symphony. I've placed Beethoven's 5th Symphony down at #16, after Peer Gynt, Pictures at an Exhibition, and Rhapsody in Blue.

And Beethoven's 9th Symphony, a brilliant and influential groundbreaking work down in 39th place, after Bolero, Also Sprach Zarathustra, and the Ride of the Valkyries.

There's a reason for this, of course. If you're just getting your feet wet for the first time, you may not want to jump into the Deep End right away.


It has been over 200 years since Beethoven's 3rd Symphony was written and is testament to his absolute genius.

There is just so much to it, there is so much happening.

This symphony is about humans - our struggles, challenges and victories. You come away having experienced the power and joy of being alive.

The Eroica, written in 1803, was originally destined to be called "The Bonaparte", a celebration of Napoleon and all he stood for. Beethoven changed his mind when he heard that Napoleon had declared himself emperor. Beethoven denounced him as a tyrant and scrubbed out his name so hard there is a hole in the original manuscript.

The way Beethoven works out all the motifs, melodies and themes in such detail, while at the same time maintaining a completely organic development of the emotional message, is extraordinary.

This is where it starts to get interesting. And by 'get interesting', I mean 'the rulebook gets incinerated in a political and revolutionary rage by a deaf genius'. The third symphony is the one that, everyone generally agrees, changed everything and kick-started the Romantic period in music.

So . . . here's a live version (the BEST way to experience classical music), conducted by a modern genius, Leonard Bernstein leading the Wiener Philharmoniker.

1ST MOVEMENT: Allegro con brio
2ND MOVEMENT: Marcia funebre: Adagio assai
3RD MOVEMENT: Scherzo: Allegro vivace
4TH MOVEMENT: Allegro molto-Poco andante-Presto

BEETHOVEN - Symphony no. 3 in E flat Major, Op. 55 - Leonard Bernstein


3,197 Posts
Discussion Starter · #24 · (Edited)
From the OP: "Often people unfamiliar with Classical music will ask advice on how to approach it. Where do you start?"

1. This phenomenon is not "widespread", at least not in terms of being asked whether I'd prefer "Paper or Plastic?" at the grocery store. But it happens frequently enough to inspire me to create this list.

2. I am curious as to how widespread this phenomenon is--the unsolicited(?) asking of advice about CM? Any testimony from other members? Also it would be useful to know something of the pre-existing musical tastes of the seeking individual so that one could be aware of any patterns that might suggest better what pieces to select. And surely the age--very important--of the seeker. Addressing a general audience of people who show up to hear a speaker explain CM to them will require a whole different approach from the tailored personal approach. Ditto for a college class taken to fulfill a requirement. In Geology teaching, there are "Rocks for Jocks" courses for such. Never having taught music or music appreciation, I could only offer in retrospect what I heard in my childhood and adolescence, and, from that, speculate now on what a suitable general-purpose syllabus might consist of. But I certainly like the idea of using already-existing cultural usages and references as a starting-point. Judge Judy on the Tube surely pays out massive royalties to Beethoven for her use of the opening notes of his Fifth Symphony for her show. ;)
Well, I'm taking a one-size-fits-all approach. I'm afraid that making different lists for different potential demographics may simply be one subcategory too far.

For instance, further on down my list there's some more modern atonal and electronic works, and they most certainly won't be to everyone's taste. I cannot make a list for kids, a list for teens, a list for Metalheads, a list for jazz-lovers, etc.

There are some longstanding members here that really prefer edgier works such as these, but providing an on-ramp using more accessible works tends to garner more fans.

THAT is why Classic fM radio plays so much John Williams, shorter works, and old chestnuts (I just went to their current playlist and there's the Gymnopedie No.3, Beethoven's 1st Symphony, William Tell Overture, some James Horner, etc. They DO play rare works and experimental stuff, but those are somewhat infrequent and certainly spread out over the day). They play these because people enjoy them. They shy away from John Cage and Stockhausen during the day because they don't want people closing the browser page, or changing the dial.

When they stick to shorter pieces, and someone in their audience doesn't like it, they know it won't be long before something else comes up.

3. There are a few new members that are looking precisely for something like this, and there may be more in the future. If they comment, then they'll see the thread pop up in the "New Posts" with a little green dot on it, making it easier to spot.

4. I am so damned sure that I'll get some things wrong, or leave details out. I have no doubt there will be corrections offered by the esteemed membership here :p

There will also be educated and experienced folks that will roll their eyes at the inclusion of one entry or another. You just can't please 'em all.

5. Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 is #16 on my list. It really IS an iconic work, whether you are tired of it or not. Perfect entry-level Classical.

6. Carnival of the Animals DID make the list, but it's far down. It's fun, but really is geared for children. Same with Tubby the Tuba, although it's not in my Top 500. Or Top 600. Yeah, I've got The Nutcracker on the list somewhere. I think.

3,197 Posts
Discussion Starter · #25 ·
Maybe it's an idea to keep the length of the music down so we don't overwhelm the people new to classical music. It's too easy to be eager about all the music we love. The last 2 years I've taught music history in high school so I have some ideas on the topic. I thought it was very hard to pick the right pieces to use for learning more about listening skills and music theory. Next year we'll have a new curriculum, so I have to plan it all even better. Then I'll have to include world and folk music! Like if classical music isn't vast enough. After my 1st year I made a little poll based on a playlist of 33 pieces. The class favorite composers were Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Schumann and Grieg.
I'm in agreement here, although some of Classical Music's greatest achievements are the expansive epic works we all know and love.

I've tried to strike a balance.

But what do you do with WTC, or The Four Seasons? Or Chopin's Preludes? The Sonata and Symphony forms generally dictate multi-movement pieces. Sure Beethoven's 1st movement of the 9th Symphony could be listened to as a stand-alone piece, but we know he quotes it in the 4th movement, which ties ALL of the movements together.

You're going to love #4!

3,197 Posts
Discussion Starter · #31 · (Edited)
The Firebird
Igor Stravinsky

This ballet has historic significance not only as Stravinsky's breakthrough piece, but also as the beginning of the collaboration between Diaghilev and Stravinsky that would also produce the acclaimed ballets Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913).

It was somewhat surprisingly very well received at the time, with one reviewer writing "The old-gold vermiculation of the fantastic back-cloth seems to have been invented to a formula identical with that of the shimmering web of the orchestra".

Stravinsky used several ideas from works by Rimsky-Korsakov in his score.

Stravinsky was only 28 years old when he composed this innovative work, and was his first ballet score.

"Music is given to us with the sole purpose of establishing an order in things, including, and particularly, the coordination between man and time."-Igor Stravinsky

Here is Stravinsky conducting The Firebird in 1959. Perhaps not the best-sounding version, but hey, he is the "original artist".

Stravinsky Conducts The Firebird Suite, Japan 1959


Progressive Rock band Yes has regularly used the ballet's Finale as their "walk-on" music for concerts since 1971.

3,197 Posts
Discussion Starter · #32 ·
1812 Festival Overture, Op. 49
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

When I was growing up, this was perhaps my all-time favorite Classical work. The rousing brass fanfares, the volley of cannon fire, the ringing chimes . . . Way to go, Tchaikovsy!

Not that most people really care, but it's actual title is The Year 1812 Solemn Overture, festival overture in E♭ major, Op. 49, and was written to commemorate the successful Russian defense against Napoleon's invading Grande Armée in 1812 at the Battle of Borodino, during the French invasion of Russia.

In this respect it shares a link with Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, which was originally dedicated to Napoleon, a dedication he withdrew after Napoleon proclaimed himself Emperor.

So, why is it played every 4th of July in the USA? You can trace that back to Arthur Fielder leading the Boston Pops through the piece in 1974, during a televised 4 July concert, which elevated the 1812 Overture to full-on national anthem status.

Of course, my favorite version is the one I grew up with, with Antal Dorati conducting the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra in 1958. They found the "perfect" cannon shot (using a cannon at Westpoint), and overdubbed it onto the studio recording. Same with the bells. But, again, Classical works seem to be so much more enjoyable in a live context, and there are several on YouTube from which to choose.

There's a sumptuous version by the Hong Kong Festival Orchestra with a supplemental vocal chorus of 100 voices. Instead of cannons they use what they refer to as "live explosions using concussion technology". Ah, the Chinese and explosives go back for centuries.

There's another by the Het Koninklijk Concertgebouw Orkest that uses an rack with a score of actual bells, and rifle-firing soldiers in period costumes.

Other versions use recorded bells, timpani or large bass drums, military brass bands in the balconies. One actually has rows of cannons lined up OUTSIDE the concert hall firing in perfect synchronization.

And then there's the 2013 version at the Hollywood Bowl with synchronized fireworks.

As they're all live, they all have varying sound qualities, and it's certainly difficult to choose.

But here's the Banda Simfonica d'Algemes performing outdoors, with explosives from a balcony in the square, and real tower bells operated by bell ringers pulling the ropes to make them swing. There's a high number of very young musicians in the orchestra, and is not the original orchestration, as you can tell by the inclusion of saxophones.


The impact of the 1812 Overture cannot be diminished. It's been used in film, television, and advertising.

And in popular music . . . . Here's the Swingle Singers


3,197 Posts
Discussion Starter · #33 · (Edited)
The Four Seasons
Antonio Vivaldi

The Four Seasons is an extended work of four three movement violin concerti, and as many here have suggested, I decided to choose just one of the suites, Summer, although I highly recommend the whole damn thing. Still, in choosing just one of the Seasons, it's still a 3-movement piece lasting 10 minutes. In my opinion, the Summer concerto is likely the least popular of the four. It seems that the other three are better known. I just think that Summer is the most 'sophisticated' of the bunch. It has short little introspective sections, some wild variations in dynamics

AND . . . They were written around 1716-1717 and published in 1725 in Amsterdam, together with eight additional concerti, as Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione (The Contest Between Harmony and Invention).

So . . . one could make a case for Vivaldi's Four Seasons being the best musical piece of all time. And "best" is a very subjective term. But The Four Seasons is a great example of what it is, a group of four Baroque violin concerti. And it's a beautiful piece that has stood for centuries, beloved and revered by millions. Sure, it's not as complex as Bach, but so what?

Anyway, it's certainly a tough call to single out the best of the bunch as far as accessibility.

But I went with the 2nd concerto, Summer, or more precisely . . .

Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 8, RV 315, "Summer" (L'estate)
I. Allegro non molto
II. Adagio e piano - Presto e forte
III. Presto

It has an unusually slow start, and creeps up on you. Before you know it the oppressive summer heat has turned into a tempest (in a Heavy Metal kind of way), then, just as suddenly, switches back.

Here's Julia Fischer and Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks (Bavarian Radio Symphony Chamber Orchestra)

Note that with the exception of the cellists and continuo (keyboard) player [in the back], they are all standing.


This video is nice because Ms. Fischer gives you an encore of Niccolò Paganini's Caprice No. 2 (from 24 Caprices for Solo Violin, written between 1802 and 1817) at the end. These are designed as études, with each Caprice exploring different skills; the 2nd Caprice focuses on detache with many string crossings across non-adjacent strings - watch for it! Oh, and Paganini was the most celebrated violinist of his time.


So, naturally, Summer is just a portion of an intensely wonderful epic work, but it's best to just get your feet wet first, and see how it goes. I've got the entire 42 minute Suite on the list a bit later (at #29).

3,197 Posts
Discussion Starter · #34 · (Edited)
Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B flat, BWV 1051
("Concerto #6 due Viole da Braccio, due Viole da Gamba, Violoncello, Violone e Cembalo")
Johann Sebastian Bach

It's an excellent example of Bach's mastery of polyphony. The entire collection is widely regarded as some of the best orchestral compositions of the Baroque era.

The six "Brandenburg Concertos", no two of which sound alike, encompass an impressive range of style and topic, and manifest in combination the courtly elegance of the French suite, the exuberance of the Italian solo concerto and the gravity of German counterpoint. Subtle and brilliant at the same time, they are a microcosm of Baroque music, with an astonishingly vast sample of that era's emotional universe.

There is an interesting story behind the music's survival: The manuscript was nearly lost in World War II, when being transported for safekeeping to Prussia by train in the care of a librarian. The train came under aerial bombardment, and the librarian escaped the train, and the bombardment, in a nearby forest, with the scores hidden under his coat.

Anyway, ALL of these concertos are great, each in their own way. Personally, if I were to pick just ONE movement, it would be tough, but I'd go with the 3rd movement of the 2nd Concerto, with its piccolo trumpet solo bits (in this video the trumpet part is evidently played by George Washington) . . .

Brandenburg Concerto 2, 3rd movement, Mozart Orchestra Bologna


. . . followed very closely by the 1st movement of the 4th Concerto, dominated by a pair of recorders.

Brandenburg Concerto no. 4,

., APOLLO'S FIRE - The Cleveland Baroque Orchestra


An awful lot of folks tend to give Bach's 5th Brandenburg a lot of praise, so here's the 1st movement of that one.

Brandenburg Concerto, No. 5, 1st mvt., Apollo's Fire Baroque Orchestra, with Jeannette Sorrell, Music Director, on harpsichord.


But when we're talking about 15-20 minutes of an entire piece, the 6th (probably the one written first, by the way) is remarkable for several reasons.

For starters there are no violins, just two violas, two violas da gamba, a cello, and the violone, which is near the cello range but from the gamba family. And a harpsichord.

16 minutes of joy.

Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B flat major, BWV 1051 (Freiburger Barockorchester)

00:13 I. Allegro
05:40 II. Adagio ma non tanto
10:07 III. Allegro


I especially love when Bach is played on period instruments. Really puts it over the top for me.

Bach was able to create great variety in the confines of "acceptable" music [of the day] with the now-almost-obsolete instruments available to him.

I'm a avid fan of Bach's works, and used to compete with the keyboard works (inventions, preludes & fugues, etc.). His music is unequaled in our history - NO ONE writes like he did . . .

3,197 Posts
Discussion Starter · #35 · (Edited)
Symphony 41 in C "Jupiter", K. 551.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

The name of the symphony, as the story goes, is that impresario Johann Peter Salomon called it Jupiter because the opening chords of trumpet and drum flourishes, which reminded him of the god Jupiter and his thunderbolts.

The Jupiter is the third of a trio of symphonies Mozart wrote.

It's the final movement that stands out as one of the most interesting symphonic movements written by any composer. It begins with a very simple four note theme that could have been taken from a church work. What follows is a strict sonata form, but with so much use of fugal imitation that early 19th century German musicians referred to the entire work as the "symphony with the fugal finale." The movement has also been described as Mozart's most "learned" piece of music, in that it could easily serve as a textbook of fugal devices. In the final coda, all five major thematic elements are played simultaneously, yet the overall effect is not a lesson in counterpoint, but a fitting conclusion to a dramatic symphonic movement.

So here's Russian-Finnish Dima Slobodeniouk conducting the Sinfonica de Galicia from Spain. Neither the conductor nor the symphony is very well known, but this live version has both production quality, musicality, and clarity.

I. Allegro vivace (0:17 )
II. Andante cantabile (12:10 )
III. Menuetto. Allegretto (22:31 )
IV. Molto allegro (27:48 )

W.A. Mozart: Symphony nº 41 "Jupiter" - Dima Slobodeniouk - Sinfónica de Galicia


3,197 Posts
Discussion Starter · #36 ·
In the Steppes of Central Asia
Alexander Borodin

When Alexander II of Russia held his Silver Jubilee, in 1880, among other things he commissioned Borodin to compose a symphonic poem. It was intended to be the soundtrack to a tableau vivant - a slightly curious and now largely forgotten art form in which actors pose, motionless, in a set, often lit to resemble a painting.

The music, as well as being crammed full of great tunes, is beautifully comprehensible: the listener can easily hear the Russian troops and Central Asians travelling across the steppe. Both have their own melodies, which briefly meet, working perfectly over each other, before the Asian music wafts off into the distance and the Russian theme is left alone.

The composer provided the following description in a note to the score:

"In the desert of Central Asia the melody of a peaceful Russian song is heard at first. The approaching tramp of horses and camels is heard, together with the doleful sounds of an oriental melody. A native caravan guarded by Russian soldiers crosses the boundless steppe. It completes its long journey trustingly and without fear under the protection of the victors' awesome military strength. The caravan moves further and further away. The peaceful melodies of both vanquished and vanquisher merge into a single common harmony, whose echoes long resound in the steppe before eventually dying away in the distance"

Alexander Borodin: In the Steppes of Central Asia
Main Line Symphony Orchestra, Don Liuzzi


3,197 Posts
Discussion Starter · #37 · (Edited)
Overture from The Marriage of Figaro
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart composed this 4 act comic opera The Marriage of Figaro (Le nozze di Figaro) in 1786.

Mozart famously composed the overture just a few hours before the opera's premiere. You'll recognize it.

So here's two versions from which you can choose.

First, the brilliant Leonard Bernstein conducting the extraordinary New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

And then the well-known and well respected James Levine leading a staged production of the Overture.

MOZART Le nozze di Figaro (Overture) LEONARD BERNSTEIN

Le Nozze di Figaro: Overture -- James Levine


3,197 Posts
Discussion Starter · #40 · (Edited)
I'll share when pianozach's done.

I may never be "done".

But I'd like to reiterate the gist of all this. I'm not 'ranking' these works: If I've got Holst's Planets at #1 and Mozart's Overture from The Marriage of Figaro at #10, there is NO WAY I am inferring that one is "better" or more "popular" than the other.

But if someone wants to delve into "Classical Music" for the first time, from what ever diverse background they are from, I think that my list, at least up to #25, are a great primer.

Holst - The Planets, Op. 32. 1918
Dvorak - Symphony No.9 in E minor "From the New World", Op 95. 1893
Beethoven - Symphony No. 3 "Eroica"
Stravinsky - The Firebird. 1910
Tchaikovsky - 1812 Festival Overture, Op. 49. 1882

Vivaldi - Summer, The Four Seasons. 1723
JS Bach - Brandenburg Concerto #6, In B Flat, BWV 1051. 1721.
WA Mozart - Symphony 41 in C "Jupiter", K. 551. 1788
Borodin - In the Steppes of Central Asia. 1880.
WA Mozart - Overture from The Marriage of Figaro. 1786

What . . . what do all of these have in common, other than there's someone around here that thinks these are all old and moldy, overplayed, or overrated?

They're all hummmmmable. :clap:


It's time to break it up a little. Here's some Paganini played while hula-hooping.

"Paganini 24 Hula Hoop (with Hilary Hahn)"


I find this especially amusing as I know someone that used to play trombone while hula hooping, which is more impressive as the slide is larger than a bow.

3,197 Posts
Discussion Starter · #43 · (Edited)
pianozach, This is a great project -- obviously a lot of thought has gone into it. Congratulations!
Thank you!

Impressive indeed. Once it is finished, it could be worthwhile to post this collection of recommendations as a blog entry or a separate post (stickied and closed by a mod) so newbies can be referred to it without being distracted by the comments in this thread.
I think the comments make it a bit more personal. I am far from being the last word on this, I simply have an opinion and am not afraid of posting it.

3,197 Posts
Discussion Starter · #44 ·
Immersion Level: Norwegian Ninja

Part 1 of 3

Peer Gynt: Suite No. 1, Op. 46, and Suite No. 2, Op. 55
Edvard Grieg

A complicated history for a "work".

Peer Gynt, Op. 23 is the incidental music to Henrik Ibsen's 1867 play of the same name, written by the Norwegian composer Grieg in 1875. It premiered along with the play on 24 February 1876 in Christiania (now Oslo).

Later, in 1888 and 1891, Grieg extracted eight movements from the original 26 to make two four-movement suites: Suite No. 1, Op. 46 in 1888, and Suite No. 2, Op. 55 in 1891. The score for the original work wasn't even published until 1908.

Suite 1 has two very popular and accessible movements, the 1st and 4th:

1. Morning Mood (Morgenstemning)
2. The Death of Åse (Åses død)
3. Anitra's Dance (Anitras dans)
4. In the Hall of the Mountain King (I Dovregubbens hall)

In the Hall of the Mountain King is astonishingly popular, with Pop and Rock covers being recorded as early as 1941, when Alvino Rey and His Orchestra recorded a jazz version.

Nero & the Gladiators reached No. 48 on the British charts in 1961

Big Brother and the Holding Company played it live in 1967, as did The Who, also in 1967.

Electric Light Orchestra recorded their cover in 1973.

So . . . here's Suite No. 1. Otto Tausk is conducting the Limburgs Symfonie Orkest

Grieg Peer Gynt Suite no.1 - Live - HD - Limburgs Symfonie Orkest olv. Otto Tausk

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