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Classical Music

Top 100 Classical Music & Recordings

Top Classical Music Records
Posted: May 6, 2014 at 8:38 pm   /   by   /   comments (1)

Classical music is music that has withstood the test of time, and has delivered the same kind of pleasure it did when they were performed in the concert halls and royal chamber rooms in the distant past. Some classical music are hard to appreciate because it takes a kind of sensitivity to take pleasure from it. Lovers of classical music are those who:

  • like the sound of a full orchestra (found in symphonies, suites, etc.) and/or the combination of traditional musical instruments (found in chamber music, sonatas, etc.),
  • like to hear what the best composers – many of them unique geniuses – have created through the ages,
  • like the intellectual stimulation of listening to complex musical elements,
  • appreciates the emotional depth of music.

Classical music demands a listener’s full attention. Yes, some will find it boring because the rhythm is not always danceable, and the melody is not always obvious (Classical music is not always about melodies.). Yet the best classical music has the power to move many people even if they heard it a hundred times. (That’s why the music is still alive after all these centuries)

Below is a list of 100 best classical music pieces for people who are just beginning to expand their musical horizons. These are not “light classical music” like waltzes or overtures, but full-length compositions that are “deep” but accessible.

A short cut to appreciating classical music is to place them in the context of their time periods. Each time period has its own musical style in vogue, and it would help a lot to learn the features of each time period, and the circumstances in which the composers worked.

Baroque (1600-1750) – characterized by polyphony or ornate or heavily ornamented music

Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 First Movement


1. Bach, J. S. – Brandenburg Concertos
Exciting pieces from the greatest Baroque master, exploiting the sounds of unique instrumental combinations, from the jubilant first to the intimate sixth.

Bach – Brandenburg Concertos English Chamber Orchestra, Britten
Bach – Brandenburg Concertos ASMF, Marriner
Bach – Brandenburg Concertos Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, Koopman

2. Bach, J. S. – Goldberg Variations
Written for an insomniac baron, Bach created an astonishing series of transformations of a simple, gracious, and unadorned theme, from the ebullient to the introspective.

Bach – Goldberg Variations Glenn Gould
Bach – Goldberg Variations Murray Perahia
Bach – Goldberg Variations Pierre Hantai

3. Bach, J. S. – Double Concerto for Violin
A marvel of contrapuntal inventiveness, with the imitative solo lines weaving in and out of each other with a playful brilliance in the first and third movements, and intense lyricism in the slow movement.

Bach – Double Concerto for Violin Igor and David Oistrakh
Bach – Double Concerto for Violin Itzak Perlman, Pinchas Zuckerman
Bach – Double Concerto for Violin Arthur Grumiaux, Herman Krebbers

4. Bach, J. S. – Mass in B Minor
A magnificent spiritual work that defines high baroque. It shows Bach’s considerable skill as a choral composer, producing a work characterized by architectural grandeur and complexity.

Bach – Mass in B Minor Collegium Musicum, Hickox
Bach – Mass in B Minor English Baroque Soloists, Gardiner
Bach – Mass in B Minor The King’s Consort, King

5. Handel, G. F. – Water Music
Along with Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, the most popular instrumental music before Mozart. This music was composed to be played outdoors, specifically on the barges that float on King George I’s water party in the Thames river.

Handel – Water Music The English Consort, Pinnock
Handel – Water Music Le Concert Spirituel, Niquet
Handel – Water Music ASMF, Marriner

6. Handel, G. F. – Messiah
This oratorio is so spiritually moving that many believe it to be divinely inspired. In his use of soloists and choruses, Handel’s sense of timing and proportion is matchless, and the sheer physical pleasure of the sound is remarkable too. Famous for the very popular “Hallelujah chorus”.

Handel – Messiah The English Consort, Pinnock
Handel – Messiah English Baroque Soloists, Gardiner
Handel – Messiah London Symphony, Davis

Handel: “Hallelujah Chorus” from The Messiah

7. Vivaldi, A. – The Four Seasons
Each of the four concertos depict a season, beginning with Spring. A bravura showpiece for the violin soloist, and a dazzling example of musical scene-painting.

Vivaldi – The 4 Seasons Drotningholm, Baroque Ensemble, Sparf
Vivaldi – The 4 Seasons Concerto Italiano, Allesandrini
Vivaldi – The 4 Seasons Il Giordano Harmonico Ensemble, Onofri

Classical (1750-1820) – characterized by music of strict form, grace and elegance

8. Mozart W. A. – Symphony No. 35 “Haffner”
This magnificent symphony opens with a movement that is full of energy, with commanding unisons, tremendous leaps and the vilins’ cracking grace notes. The finale is full of surprising extensions and diversions.

Mozart – Symphony No. 35 Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Walter
Mozart – Symphony No. 35 Berlin Philharmonic, Bohm
Mozart – Symphony No. 35 English Baroque Soloists, Gardiner

9. Mozart W. A. – Symphony No. 39
A smiling symphony, full of sunlight and mellow, flowing lines, once the discordant and angry introduction has passed.

Mozart – Symphony No. 39 Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Walter
Mozart – Symphony No. 39 Berlin Philharmonic, Bohm
Mozart – Symphony No. 39 English Baroque Soloists, Gardiner

10. Mozart W. A. – Symphony No. 40
A tragic utterance quite unlike anything previously written by Mozart. The second movement is profoundly spiritual.

Mozart – Symphony No. 40 Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Walter
Mozart – Symphony No. 40 Berlin Philharmonic, Bohm
Mozart – Symphony No. 40 English Baroque Soloists, Gardiner

Mozart: Symphony No. 40 First Movement

11. Mozart W. A. – Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter”
Known as the “Jupiter” because of the haughty and imperial nature of the first movement. For complexity and sheer excitement, here is nothing comparable to the finale where Mozart juggles many distinct themes, until he unites them all in a dazzling display of invention.

Mozart – Symphony No. 41 Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Walter
Mozart – Symphony No. 41 Berlin Philharmonic, Bohm
Mozart – Symphony No. 41 English Baroque Soloists, Gardiner

12. Mozart W. A. – Sinfonia Concertante in E flat Major for Violin and Viola
Mozart’s “crowning achievement in the field of the violin concerto” is an interplay of glorious melodies between the violin and viola.

Mozart – Sinfonia Concertante Perlman, Zukermann, Mehta
Mozart – Sinfonia Concertante Grumiaux, Pellicia, Davis
Mozart – Sinfonia Concertante Heifetz, Primrose, Solomon

13. Mozart W. A. – Piano Concerto No. 21
This work has a lot of exquisite melodies and limpid textures. Famous for the serene and lyrical second movement used in the soundtrack of “Elvira Madigan”.

Mozart – Piano Concerto No. 21 Anda, Salzburg Mozarteum Camerata Academica
Mozart – Piano Concerto No. 21 Perahia, English Chamber Orchestra
Mozart – Piano Concerto No. 21 Brendel, ASMF, Marriner

14. Mozart W. A. – Quintet in A Major for Clarinet and Strings, K. 581
With its wide palette of color, extreme emotional contrasts, wonderful melodies and innovative exploration of the clarinet’s range, this is one of Mozart’s most brilliant creations.

Mozart – Quintet in A Major Leister, Berlin Soloists
Mozart – Quintet in A Major Stoltzman, Tokyo String Quartet
Mozart – Quintet in A Major Goodman, Boston Quartet

15. Haydn F. J. – Symphony No. 94 “Surprise”
The “surprise” nickname comes from the second movement where halfway through a light Andante, there pops a sudden fortissimo from the timpani. It was believed that Haydn did this to wake the sleepy among the audience.
Haydn – Symphony No. 94 Philharmonia Hungarica, Dorati
Haydn – Symphony No. 94 Concertgebouw Orchestra, Davis
Haydn – Symphony No. 94 London Philharmonic, Jochum

16. Haydn F. J. – Symphony No. 100 “The Military”
The nickname comes from the use of “military” instruments – kettledrums, triangle, cymbals, and bass drums in the second movement. The military flavor also appears near the end of the symphony with great grandeur.
Haydn – Symphony No. 100 Philharmonia Hungarica, Dorati
Haydn – Symphony No. 100 Concertgebouw Orchestra, Davis
Haydn – Symphony No. 100 London Philharmonic, Jochum

17. Haydn F. J. – Symphony No. 103 “Drumroll”
The drumroll appears unannounced at the beginning of the symphony. This dramatic flourish announces one of Haydn’s most original works.
Haydn – Symphony No. 103 Philharmonia Hungarica, Dorati
Haydn – Symphony No. 103 Concertgebouw Orchestra, Davis
Haydn – Symphony No. 103 London Philharmonic, Jochum

Romantic (1820 – 1900) – characterized by music with freedom of form, and is usually passionate and expressive

18. Beethoven, L. V. – Symphony No. 1
Beethoven brought his own, rough-edged manner to the “old” classical style.
Beethoven – Symphony No. 1 London Classical Players, Norrington
Complete Beethoven Symphonies – Berlin Philharmonic, Karajan
Complete Beethoven Symphonies – Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Harnoncourt

19. Beethoven, L. V. – Symphony No. 2
The symphony bubbles with life and optimism, despite Beethoven’s coming to terms with his deafness. Here, signs can be seen of Beethoven breaking with the classic tradition with the leg-pulling Scherzo, his innovative scoring and unexpected exchanges stops and starts.
Beethoven – Symphony No. 2 London Classical Players, Norrington

20. Beethoven, L. V. – Symphony No. 3 “Eroica”
It is said that this composition is one of the biggest leap in the evolution of Western music, indeed a transition from the classical style to the romantic. It is considered by many to be the greatest symphony ever written. It contains grandiose gestures, burgeoning themes and a scale that was never seen before.
Beethoven – Symphony No. 3 Philharmonia Orchestra, Klemperer

21. Beethoven, L. V. – Symphony No. 4
Dismissed by some as a “lighter” Beethoven, but is actually one of Beethoven’s most profound music, a witty yet often disturbing creation.
Beethoven – Symphony No. 4 London Classical Players, Norrington

22. Beethoven, L. V. – Symphony No. 5
The first five bars of this symphony is perhaps the most famous musical motif ever written. These opening bars provide the impetus for a first movement that is as concentrated as anything in the the symphonic literature, and is maintained through the whole symphony.
Beethoven – Symphony No. 5 Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Kleiber

Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 First Movement

23. Beethoven, L. V. – Symphony No. 6 “Pastorale”
This is Beethoven’s paean to nature, which he dearly loves. It is music about the countryside, and is completely different from its Promethean predecessor in atmosphere. This work is highly melodic and sunny.
Beethoven – Symphony No. 6 London Classical Players, Norrington
Beethoven – Symphony No. 6 Vienna Philharmonic, Bohm
Beethoven – Symphony No. 6 Philharmonia Orchestra, Klemperer

24. Beethoven, L. V. – Symphony No. 7
Called the “apotheosis of the dance” by Wagner. The first movement is derived from Sicilian dance music. The following Allegretto is a relentless statement of grief and mourning. The final movement is an Allegro of manic fury, with monumentally grand themes.
Beethoven – Symphony No. 7 Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Kleiber

25. Beethoven, L. V. – Symphony No. 8
This is a much lighter piece, bursting with Beethovenian energy and humor.
Beethoven – Symphony No. 8 London Classical Players, Norrington

26. Beethoven, L. V. – Symphony No. 9 “Choral”
One of the most profound piece of music ever, Beethoven’s fusion of poetry and orchestral music. The finale employs group of four soloists and a chorus singing the very popular “Ode to Joy”.
Beethoven – Symphony No. 9 Curtin, Kopleff, Chicago Symphony, Reiner
Beethoven – Symphony No. 9 Schwarzkopf, Hongen, Furtwangler

27. Beethoven, L. V. – Piano Concerto No. 4
The keynote of this work is serenity. The work is deeply poetic and has an intimate character, established by the piano entrance that is serene and contemplative.
Beethoven – Piano Concerto No. 4 Perahia, Concertgebouw Orchestra, Haitink
Beethoven – Piano Concerto No. 4 Kempff, Berlin PO, Leitner

28. Beethoven, L. V. – Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor”
The nickname does justice to the stature of the piece. The piano lets loose a flood of sound that washes over the orchestra in the first movement, has a touching and beautiful second movement and a rousing, animated Rondo in the third movement.
Beethoven – Piano Concerto No. 4 Perahia, Concertgebouw Orchestra, Haitink
Beethoven – Piano Concerto No. 4 Kempff, Berlin PO, Leitner

29. Beethoven, L. V. – Violin Concerto in D
Beethoven’s only violin concerto is a grand and beautiful work. The Adagio is exquisite, and contains one of the composer’s most inspired tunes.
Beethoven – Violin Concerto in D, Perlman, Philharmonia Orchestra, Giulini
Beethoven – Violin Concerto in D, Menuhin, Philharmonia Orchestra, Furtwangler
Beethoven – Violin Concerto in D, Munch, Boston Symphony, Munch

30. Beethoven, L. V. – Trio No. 6 in B flat Major, “Archduke”
Beethoven’s last full-scale work for piano trio is known for its third movement that consists of a hymn-like theme and a moving sense of variations.
Beethoven – Archduke Trio, Kempff, Szeryng, Fournier
Beethoven – Archduke Trio, Barenboim, Zukerman, du Pre

31. Beethoven, L. V. – Piano Sonata No. “Moonlight”
One of the most popular classical piano music begins with the famous dreamy, melancholy movement.
Beethoven – Moonlight Sonata, Goode
Beethoven – Moonlight Sonata, Kempff
Beethoven – Moonlight Sonata, Brendel

32. Berlioz, H. – Symphony Fantastique
Written just three years after Beethoven’s death, this work is so original and radical that people attribute it to the composer’s being on drugs. Indeed the content is about an opium-induced phantasmagoria, in which he hero imagines a love affair that ends with his execution for the murder of his lover. Through this work, the young Berlioz also shows a penchant for virtuosic orchestration.
Berlioz – Symphonie Fantastique, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Colin Davis
Berlioz – Symphonie Fantastique, Paris Opera-Bastille Orchestra, Myung-Whun Chung
Berlioz – Symphonie Fantastique, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Munch

33. Berlioz, H. – Harold in Italy
This is a symphony with viola solo based upon Berlioz’ impressions recollected from wanderings in the Abruzzi mountains, and the solo viola is conceived as a kind of melancholy dreamer. It is said that this piece is even more superior than the Symphony Fantastique.
Berlioz – Harold in Italy, Zimmermann, London Symphony Orchestra, Colin Davis
Berlioz – Harold in Italy, Primrose, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Beecham

34. Bizet, G. – Symphony No. 1 in C
Bizet’s finest orchestral score is a fresh, ingenious and uninhibited piece with beautiful French melodic writing.
Bizet – Symphony No. 1, Orchestre National De La Radiodiffusion Française, Beecham

35. Brahms, J. – Symphony No. 1
This work was hailed the first time it was heard as “Beethoven’s Tenth”. The finale has an awesome scale.
Brahms Complete Symphonies, Berlin Philharmonic, Karajan
Brahms Complete Symphonies, Halle Orchestra, Loughran
Brahms – Symphony No. 1, Cleveland Orchestra, Szell
Brahms – Symphony No. 1, Berlin Philharmonic, Abbado

Brahms: Symphony No. 1

36. Brahms, J. – Symphony No. 2
This is a more relaxed, amiable work than its predecessor, and has attracted a lot of comparisons to Beethoven’s “Pastorale” symphony.
Brahms – Symphony No. 2, London Philharmonic, Boult
Brahms – Symphony No. 2, New York Philharmonic, Masur

37. Brahms, J. – Symphony No. 3
A music critic describes this symphony as one that unites the titanism of the first symphony with the untroubled charm of the second. There are no firecrackers here, and the mood is of subdued confession.
Brahms – Symphony No. 3, Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Jansons
Brahms – Symphony No. 3, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Abbado

38. Brahms, J. – Symphony No. 4
With this symphony, Brahms has achieved the culmination of his symphonic style, containing grand ideas. The first movement is vast and packed with intoxicating melodic ideas. The momentous finale is a Passacaglia built upon a single harmonic idea.
Brahms – Symphony No. 4, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Kleiber

39. Brahms, J. – Piano Concerto No. 1
A flamboyant and virtuosic piece that builds towards a finale with a momentous and percussive principal theme.
Brahms – Piano Concerto No. 1, Freire, Chailly
Brahms – Piano Concerto No. 1, Barenboim, New Philharmonia, Orchestra, Barbirolli
Brahms – Piano Concerto No. 1, Gilels, Berlin Philharmonic, Jochum

40. Brahms, J. – Piano Concerto No. 2
One of the longest piano concerto ever written, it shows the mellower aspects of the composer. The tussle between the piano and orchestra in the second movement is one of the most exhilarating episodes in the entire concerto repertoire.
Brahms – Piano Concerto No. 2, Fleisher, Cleveland Orchestra, Szell
Brahms – Piano Concerto No. 2, Barenboim, New Philharmonia, Orchestra, Barbirolli
Brahms – Piano Concerto No. 2, Gilels, Berlin Philharmonic, Jochum

41. Brahms, J. – Violin Concerto in D
One of the most popular and technically demanding violin concertos. It is an essentially lyrical work, with various violin pyrotechniques, especially in the Hungarian-dance inspired final movement.
Brahms – Violin Concerto, Heifetz, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Reiner
Brahms – Violin Concerto, Oistrakh, Cleveland Orchestra, Szell
Brahms – Violin Concerto, Perlman, Barenboim

42. Brahms, J. – Double Concerto
This aggressive Brahms piece features some wonderful interplay between cello and violin, and in some places too thickly orchestrated for a concerto.
Brahms – Double Concerto, Oistrakh, Rostropovich, Cleveland Orchestra, Szell
Brahms – Double Concerto, Shaham, Wang, Berlin Philharmoniker, Abbado

43. Bruckner, A. – Symphony No. 7
This work brought Bruckner the most success in his lifetime, and has always been his best-loved symphony. This symphony, which Bruckner is supposed to have heard in a dream, is expansive and begins with his broadest theme yet from the cellos, and variously colored by other instruments.
Bruckner – Symphony No. 7, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Karajan
Bruckner – Symphony No. 7, Wiener Philharmoniker, Bohm

44. Bruckner, A. – Symphony No. 9
This symphony, incomplete in his time of death, is a musical summation of Bruckner’s life. The great Adagio subtly alludes to earlier works, while the symphony’s drama is about the resolution of self-doubts with overpowering religious faith.
Bruckner – Symphony No. 9, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Karajan
Bruckner – Symphony No. 9, NDR Symphony Orchestra, Wand

45. Chopin, F. – Piano Concerto No. 2
The orchestra plays a mostly subordinate to the piano in Chopin’s concerto, but what a sublime piano piece this is! The second movement is highly lyrical and poetic, and you can actually hear the piano sing.
Chopin – Piano Concerto No. 2, Argerich, Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Dutoit
Chopin – Piano Concerto No. 2, Perahia, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Mehta

46. Chopin, F. – Waltzes
Chopin’s waltzes are a personal response to the dance form, an imaginative evocation of gaiety and abandon, and sometimes the sadness, of the ballroom.
Chopin – Waltzes, Lipatti
Chopin – Waltzes, Rubinstein

47. Debussy, C. – La Mer
Debussy, the musical impressionist, created his finest orchestral work conveying clear images of the sea through flickering and fragmentary themes.
Debussy – La Mer, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Karajan (1964)
Debussy – La Mer, Cleveland Orchestra, Boulez
Debussy – La Mer, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Haitink

48. Debussy, C. – Nocturnes
This piece contains Debussy’s most imaginative orchestral writing. It musically paints all the various impressions and the special effects of light that “nocturne” suggests.
Debussy – Nocturnes, Cleveland Orchestra, Boulez
Debussy – Nocturnes, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Haitink
Debussy – Nocturnes, Philharmonia Orchestra, Cantelli

49. Dvorak, A. – Symphony No. 8
This Czech-flavored symphony is music of cheerful exuberance.
Dvorak – Symphony No. 8, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Kubelik
Dvorak – Symphony No. 8, London Symphony Orchestra, Davis

50. Dvorak, A. – Symphony No. 9 “From the New World”
Dvorak’s symphonic masterpiece, famous for the mournfully nostalgic third movement. The symphony’s American-influenced rhythmic patterns and tunes are turned into expression of homesickness and Czech identity. It is tirelessly melodic and brilliantly scored.
Dvorak – Symphony No. 9, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Kubelik
Dvorak – Symphony No. 9, Czech PO, Ancerl
Dvorak – Symphony No. 9, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Harnoncourt

51. Dvorak, A. – Cello Concerto
Perhaps this is the most popular cello concerto. The music is richly inventive, full of deep feeling that perfectly fits into the cello’s expressiveness.
Dvorak – Cello Concerto, Rostropovich, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Karajan
Dvorak – Cello Concerto, Fournier, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Szell
Dvorak – Cello Concerto, Ma, New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Masur

52. Elgar E. – “Enigma” Variations
The “enigma” theme is thought to be composed as harmony and counterpoint to another theme that is never heard. The variations consist of glorious music based on the composer’s friends’ personalities.
Elgar – Enigma Variations, London Symphony Orchestra, Boult
Elgar – Enigma Variations, Philharmonia Orchestra, Barbirolli

53. Franck, C. – Symphony in D
Franck’s masterpiece has great sweep and majesty, with the orchestra often sounding like an organ. The themes from earlier movements are heard in later movements, inventively transformed as their harmonies and context change. It is famous for the cor anglais solo in the slow movement.
Franck – Symphony in D, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Maazel
Franck – Symphony in D, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, van Otterloo

54. Franck, C. – Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano
This melodious chamber piece begins with a languid Allegretto, a fiery Allegro recalling earlier themes, and a gentle finale.
Franck – Violin Sonata, Chung, Lupu
Franck – Violin Sonata, Danczowska, Zimerman

55. Grieg, E. – Piano Concerto
One of the most popular piano concertos, full of enchanting thematic ideas and youthful exuberance. The opening motif, consisting of intervals typical of Norwegian folk music, is one of the most popular piano concerto openings.
Grieg – Piano Concerto, Michelangeli, New Philharmonia Orchestra, de Burgos
Grieg – Piano Concerto, Kovacevich, BBC SO, Davis
Grieg – Piano Concerto, Anda, Berliner Philharmoniker , Kubelik

56. Liszt, F. – Piano Concerto No. 1
The concerto’s opening is one of the most dramatic of any Romantic piano concerto, which is followed by fiery cadenzas, reflective passages, and more piano pyrotechnics from one of the greatest piano virtuosos ever.
Liszt – Piano Concerto No. 1, Richter, London Symphony Orchestra, Kondrashin
Liszt – Piano Concerto No. 1, Zimerman, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Ozawa
Liszt – Piano Concerto No. 1, Argerich, London Symphony Orchestra, Abbado

57. Liszt, F. – Sonata in B flat
Liszt’s greatest piano work is a monumental construction, without the unnecessary virtuosity, but only great passion, as thrilling as anything Liszt ever wrote.
Liszt – Sonata in B flat, Argerich
Liszt – Sonata in B flat, Pollini

58. Mendelssohn, F. – Violin Concerto in E Minor
Many think that this is the “perfect” violin concerto. It is stuffed full of tunes, as well as virtuoso writing.
Mendelssohn – Violin Concerto, Heifetz, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Munch
Mendelssohn – Violin Concerto, Menuhin, Berliner Philharmoniker, Furtwangler
Mendelssohn – Violin Concerto, Suk, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Ancerl

Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto No. 1 First Movement

59. Mendelssohn, F. – Symphony No. 4 “Italian”
This symphony has an ambience of Mediterranean spontaneity and inventiveness, inspired by the composer’s happy Italian visit. It shows the composer at his most winning.
Mendelssohn – Symphony No. 4, London Symphony Orchestra, Abbado
Mendelssohn – Symphony No. 4, Philharmonia Orchestra, Cantelli

60. Mussorgsky, M. – Pictures at an Exhibition
The most famous version of this suite of piano pieces is Ravel’s orchestration. Each piece depicts a painting from the memorial exhibition of the composer’s painter-friend, connected with a Promenade theme.
Mussorgsky – Pictures at an Exhibition, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Reiner
Mussorgsky – Pictures at an Exhibition, Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Jansons

61. Ravel, M. – Daphnis and Chloe
This is the finest French ballet ever written, although actually a tone poem in all but name, depicting characterizations of two lovers through virtuosic orchestrations.
Ravel – Daphnis and Chloe, London Symphony Orchestra, Monteux
Ravel – Daphnis and Chloe, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Munch

62. Rimsky-Korsakov, N. – Scheherazade
This contains an abundance of beautiful melodies carried on a sensual wash of sound and orchestral color.
Rimsky-Korsakov – Scheherazade, Kirov Orchestra, Gergiev
Rimsky-Korsakov – Scheherazade, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Reiner

63. Saint-Saens, C. – Carnival of the Animals
This unserious composition is ironically the most popular work of a composer who wants to be taken seriously. The work consists of witty depiction of “animals”, with some parody on famous composers. “The Swan” is the best known and most beautiful part of the work.
Saint-Saens – Carnival of the Animals, Pahud, Meyer
Saint-Saens – Carnival of the Animals, Argerich, Friere
Saint-Saens – Carnival of the Animals, New York Philharmonic, Bernstein

64. Saint-Saens, C. – Symphony No. 3 “Organ”
One of the most entertaining symphony by a French composer, it is known mainly because of its last movement, with its resonant organ part.
Saint-Saens – Organ Symphony, Hurford, Montreal Symphony, Dutoit
Saint-Saens – Organ Symphony, Zamkochian, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Munch

65. Schubert, F. – Quintet in A Major, “Trout”
An irresistibly good-natured piece of music, and a great introduction to Schubert. It is famous for the second movement which is a variation on his song “The Trout”, full of inventive variations and thematic contrasts.
Schubert – Trout Quintet, Zacharias, Leipziger Streichquartett
Schubert – Trout Quintet, Curzon, Vienna Octet

66. Schubert, F. – Quintet in C Major
Schubert’s greatest chamber work and also his last. Schubert scored this work with an extra cello, which gave the work a darker, more sonorous tone. The effect is a magnificent work full of tragically beautiful music.
Schubert – String Quintet in C, Schiff, Hagen Quartet
Schubert – String Quintet in C, Rostropovich, Emerson String Quartet

67. Schubert, F. – Symphony No. 8 “Unfinished”
This is the best known of Schubert’s orchestral music. It is “unfinished” because Schubert created it with only two movements, but it is already perfect as it is.
Schubert – Unfinished Symphony, Philharmonia Orchestra, Cantelli
Schubert – Unfinished Symphony, Concertgebouw Orchestra, Bernstein

68. Schubert, F. – Symphony No. 9 “The Great”
This is Schubert’s orchestral masterpiece, and is his longest, most demanding and eloquent.
Schubert – Symphony No. 9, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Solti
Schubert – Symphony No. 9, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Boult

69. Schumann, R. – Piano Concerto
Schumann’s piano concerto is one of the most popular in the repertoire. It is a romantic and a supremely eloquent piece, with emphasis on the intimate dialogue between the soloist and the orchestra.
Schumann – Piano Concerto, Perahia, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Davis
Schumann – Piano Concerto, Lipatti, Philharmonia Orchestra, Karajan

70. Schumann, R. – Kinderszenen
The work is composed of tiny, exquisite pieces about an adult recalling childhood scenes. It contains moment of disarming enchantment. “Traumerei” or “Dreaming”, a famous piano piece comes from this collection.
Schumann – Kinderszenen, Lupu
Schumann – Kinderszenen, Horowitz
Schumann – Kinderszenen, Argerich

71. Sibelius, J. – Symphony No. 1
The most original symphonist since Beethoven created his symphony with a massive sweep, but in a fairly traditional Romantic flavor.
Sibelius – Symphony No. 1, Philharmonia Orchestra, Ashkenazy
Sibelius – Symphony No. 1, Vienna Philharmoniker, Bernstein

72. Sibelius, J. – Symphony No. 2
Sibelius’ second symphony is full of energy, and has a “big tune” as the crowning point of the finale.
Sibelius – Symphony No. 2, London Symphony, Davis
Sibelius – Symphony No. 2, BBC Symphony, Beecham

73. Sibelius, J. – Symphony No. 5
This symphony is one of Sibelius’ most heroic and confident statements, with a triumphant finale whose main theme was described by Donald Tovey as “Thor swinging his hammer”.
Sibelius – Symphony No. 5, Berlin Philharmonic, Karajan
Sibelius – Symphony No. 5, Lahti Symphony, Vanska
Sibelius – Symphony No. 5, London Symphony, Kajanus

74. Smetana, B. – Ma Vlast (My Homeland)
This consists of six symphonic poems characterized by expansive Czech melodies and dramatic rhythms. Die Moldau, the most famous section, is a musical description of a river flowing through Prague.
Smetana – Ma Vlast, Czech Philharmonic, Talich
Smetana – Ma Vlast, Czech Philharmonic, Kubelik

75. Tchaikovsky, P. – Piano Concerto No. 1
One of the most famous, if not the most famous, piano concerto containing heroic bravado and typical Russian “big tunes”. The opening melody with bombastic piano chords is one of the most popular classical music tunes.
Tchaikovsky – Piano Concerto No. 1, Horowitz, NBC Symphony, Toscanini
Tchaikovsky – Piano Concerto No. 1, Argerich, Berlin Philharmonic, Abbado
Tchaikovsky – Piano Concerto No. 1, Gilels, New York Philharmonic, Mehta
Tchaikovsky – Piano Concerto No. 1, Cliburn, RCA Symphony, Kondrashin

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 First Movement

76. Tchaikovsky, P. – Violin Concerto
This concerto contains song-like parts of the violin with an orchestral score that is packed with boisterous energy and bold melodies.
Tchaikovsky – Violin Concerto, Heifetz, Chicago Symphony, Reiner
Tchaikovsky – Violin Concerto, Oistrakh, Philadelphia Orchestra, Ormandy
Tchaikovsky – Violin Concerto, Kogan, Paris Conservatoire, Silvestri

77. Tchaikovsky, P. – The Nutcracker
This most popular ballet music contains a lot enchanting music and Tchaikovsky’s best loved tunes. It became a staple music during Christmas time.
Tchaikovsky – The Nutcracker, London Symphony, Previn
Tchaikovsky – The Nutcracker, Kirov Orchestra, Gergiev
Tchaikovsky – The Nutcracker, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Dorati

78. Tchaikovsky, P. – Serenade for Strings
Tchaikovsky’s orchestral serenade is a homage to Mozart, but is unmistakably a romantic work. It takes full advantage of the strings’ sonorities, and contains a second movement waltz that is one of the most gracious, and earned Tchaikovsky the title of the “Russian Waltz King”.
Tchaikovsky – Serenade for Strings, Vienna Chamber Orchestra, Entremont
Tchaikovsky – Serenade for Strings, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Marriner

79. Tchaikovsky, P. – Symphony No. 4
The opening “fate” motive is the perfect introduction to this bleak work. The second movement is a mournful song of poignant beauty. The last movement, which incorporates variations on a Russion folk song with the “Fate” motif, is the composer’s most exciting symphonic invention.
Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 4, Berlin Philharmonic, Karajan
Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 4, Philharmonia, Ashkenazy
Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 4, Leningrad Philharmonic, Mravinsky

80. Tchaikovsky, P. – Symphony No. 5
Fate is more cruel here than its predecessor. The first movement begins with a despairing mood that works its way to hysteria. The second movement is a beautiful singing Adagio crushed by Fate, and the third movement is a melancholy waltz. The last movement uplifts the mood, but it is all just a brave face.
Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 5, Berlin Philharmonic, Karajan
Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 5, Philharmonia, Ashkenazy
Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 5, Leningrad Philharmonic, Mravinsky

81. Tchaikovsky, P. – Symphony No. 6 “Pathetique”
Despite a number of positive interludes and beautiful thematic writing, the mood is overwhelmingly melancholic. The last movement is the most anguished music Tchaikovsky ever composed.
Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 6, Berlin Philharmonic, Karajan
Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 6, Philharmonia, Ashkenazy
Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 6, Leningrad Philharmonic, Mravinsky

82. Bartok, B. – Concerto for Orchestra
Bartok’s intricately constructed show-piece, which gloriously displays the virtuoso talentsof each of the orchestral sections.
Bartok – Concerto for Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, Reiner
Bartok – Concerto for Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, Solti
Bartok – Concerto for Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, Boulez

83. Britten – A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra
A masterful set of variations on an original theme by an old English composer, Henry Purcell, with each section of the orchestra playing the variations. It culminates with an exuberant fugue.
Britten – A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Bernstein
Britten – A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony, Rattle

84. Copland, A. – Billy the Kid and Rodeo
These works are vivid depiction of the Wild West, including the obligatory shoot-outs from one of America’s most gifted composers.
Copland – Billy the Kid, London Symphony, Copland
Copland – Billy the Kid, San Francisco Symphony, Tilson Thomas

85. Gershwin, G. – An American in Paris
This symphonic tone poem, inspired by Gershwin’s trip to Paris, features jazz-inspired as well as bluesy melodies.
Gershwin – An American in Paris, New York Philharmonic, Bernstein
Gershwin – An American in Paris, Boston Pops, Fiedler

86. Gershwin, G. – Rhapsody in Blue
Gershwin combines elements of classical music with jazz-influenced effects. Written for solo piano and orchestra, Gershwin’s melodic talent is in full display here.
Gershwin – Rhapsody in Blue, Columbia Symphony, Bernstein
Gershwin – Rhapsody in Blue, Chicago Symphony, Levine
Gershwin – Rhapsody in Blue, Wild, Boston Pops, Fiedler

Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue

87. Mahler, G. – Symphony No. 1
Mahler’s first symphony has a melodiousness that recalls Schubert, and a scale derived from Bruckner. The eerie slow movement funeral march is based on Freire Jacques.
Mahler – Symphony No. 1, Bavarian Radio Symphony, Kubelik
Mahler – Symphony No. 1, New York Philharmonic, Bernstein

88. Mahler, G. – Symphony No. 5
The work starts with a first movement funeral march and ends with a triumphant, exuberant finale.
Mahler – Symphony No. 5, Vienna Philharmonic, Bernstein
Mahler – Symphony No. 5, Berlin Philharmonic, Abbado
Mahler – Symphony No. 5, New Philharmonia, Barbirolli

89. Mahler, G. – Symphony No. 9
This symphony is the most desperately death-ridden piece Mahler ever wrote. It has a colossal structure, drastic changes of tone and profound solemnity that is not always easy to bring off in a performance.
Mahler – Symphony No. 9, Berlin Philharmonic, Karajan
Mahler – Symphony No. 9, Berlin Philharmonic, Abbado
Mahler – Symphony No. 9, Vienna Philharmonic, Rattle

90. Prokofiev, S. – Peter and the Wolf
This has become one of the best-loved “fun” pieces in music where the story of a boy hunting for a bad wolf is told by instruments of the orchestra.
Prokofiev – Peter and the Wolf, New York Philharmonic, Bernstein
Prokofiev – Peter and the Wolf, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Abbado

91. Prokofiev, S. – Symphony No. 1 “Classical”
This is a tuneful and witty symphony that intends to recreate the symphonic structure of the classical period, with a twentieth century twist.
Prokofiev – Classical Symphony, Berlin Philharmonic, Karajan

92. Prokofiev, S. – Symphony No. 5
In this symphony, Prokofiev is trying to “sing of man, free and happy, of his strength, generosity, and the purity of his soul”. This goal is realized in the Adagio, one of his most eloquent creation.
Prokofiev – Symphony No. 5, Berlin Philharmonic, Karajan
Prokofiev – Symphony No. 5, Bavarian Radio Symphony, Tennstedt

93. Rachmaninoff, S. – Piano Concerto No. 2
Rachmaninoff’s most popular piano concerto is crammed with beautiful music that soars. The third movement contains one of the most popular romantic piano concerto melodies.
Rachmaninoff – Piano Concerto No. 2, Askenazy, London Symphony, Previn
Rachmaninoff – Piano Concerto No. 2, Richter, Warsaw Philharmonic, Wislocki
Rachmaninoff – Piano Concerto No. 2, Zimerman, Boston Symphony, Ozawa

94. Rachmaninoff, S. – Piano Concerto No. 3
This is one of the grandest and thrilling piano concerto, and also one of the most difficult to play. It has an unmistakable Russian flavor.
Rachmaninoff – Piano Concerto No. 3, Horowitz, New York Philharmonic, Barbirolli
Rachmaninoff – Piano Concerto No. 3, Argerich, Berlin Radio Symphony, Chailly

95. Shostakovich, D. – Symphony No. 1
This extraordinary symphony is full of boyish exuberance and vitality, and yet there are moments when the music delivers power and poignancy.
Shostakovich – Symphony No. 1, Scottish National Orchestra, Jarvi
Shostakovich – Symphony No. 1, London Philharmonic, Haitink
Shostakovich – Symphony No. 1, Philadelphia Orchestra, Ormandy

96. Shostakovich, D. – Symphony No. 5
A critic described this symphony as “deep, meaningful, gripping music, classical in the integrity of its conception, perfect in form and the mastery of orchestral writing—music striking for its novelty and originality, but at the same time somehow hauntingly familiar, so truly and sincerely does it recount human feelings.”
Shostakovich – Symphony No. 5, London Symphony, Previn
Shostakovich – Symphony No. 5, Royal Scottish National, Jarvi
Shostakovich – Symphony No. 5, New York Philharmonic, Bernstein

97. Strauss, R. – Don Juan
This tone poem, depicting the loves and death of the amorous Don Juan, contains exciting orchestral writing.
Strauss – Don Juan, Berlin Philharmonic, Karajan
Strauss – Don Juan, San Francisco Symphony, Blomstedt

98. Strauss, R. – Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks
Richard Strauss’ famous tone poem is based on the misadventures of the German peasant folk hero, Till Eulenspiegel. The music contains colorful orchestration, jaunty melodies and frenzied movement depicting Till’s pranks, and ends with a vivid depiction of his hanging.
Strauss – Till Eulenspiegel, Berlin Philharmonic, Karajan
Strauss – Till Eulenspiegel, Berlin Philharmonic, Abbado

99. Stravinsky, I. – Petrouchka
Stravinsky’s ballet music about a puppet contains burlesque and parodic elements heightened by ever-shifting rhythms and a startling polytonal harmonic language.
Stravinsky – Petrouchka, Cincinnati Symphony, Jarvi
Stravinsky – Petrouchka, Columbia Symphony, Stravinsky

100. Stravinsky, I. – Le Sacre du Printemps
This ballet music created the most famous classical music riot in Paris the first time it was played. Written for a huge orchestra, it is unrelentingly barbaric in its dissonances and asymmetrical rhythms.
Stravinksy – Le Sacre, Columbia Symphony, Stravinsky
Stravinksy – Le Sacre, City of Birmingham Symphony, Rattle
Stravinksy – Le Sacre, Philharmonia Orchestra, Markevich

Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring

See also Top 50 Operas and Their Recordings

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  • September 6, 2015 at 9:11 am Rev Eric A Waugh

    Is there a collection of DVD’s that embrace the above pieces of light classical music?