We’re back with more Classical Music to deepen your appreciation of the genre. All the pieces showcase mastery of structure and styles from every period. Take a listen and enjoy.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Beethoven’s last piano concerto got its name from his publisher, not Beethoven himself, but the size and grandeur of the piece certainly give it an imperial flair.
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Schubert only finished two of the four movements of this symphony, but they’re among his most popular music. No one knows why Schubert didn’t finish the piece— he lived for another six years after stopping work on it.
Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)
Years before acid rock, Berlioz took some opium and wrote the first piece of psychedelic music— a symphony-length tone poem written in response to his crush on an actress he never met. The symphony ends with Berlioz being executed and awakening at a satanic ritual. You know… your usual classical music stuff.
Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
The French title of Tchaikovsky’s final symphony translates to “The Passionate Symphony”. This wasn’t just Tchaikovsky’s final symphony— it was the last piece premiered while the composer was alive. Tchaikovsky died nine days after the first performance, under circumstances which some believe indicate he took his own life.
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Brahms final symphony was praised by many as the greatest symphony since Beethoven. The final movement is particularly impressive: it’s a passacaglia, a musical form in which the bass line repeats continuously while the music evolves on top of it.
Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
When Dvořák first arrived in the United States, he was confused: American composers were obsessed with sounding like their German counterparts, but he encountered African American spiritual and Native American melodies unlike any music he’d heard before. He decided if American composers weren’t going to explore the music of their own country, he’d do it for them.
Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)
When Mussorgsky’s friend Viktor Hartmann died, his friends organized an exhibition of the artist’s paintings in his honor. Mussorgsky was so moved by the experience that he decided to commemorate the experience in music. Pictures at an Exhibition portrays a walk (or promenade) through the hall, stopping at each painting along the way. 48 years later, Maurice Ravel adapted this piano piece into an orchestral work.
Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Inspired by a Mallarmé poem, the Prélude portrays a faun in ancient Greece interacting with nymphs and naiads. Mallarmé’s symbolist imagery is innovatively transformed into hazy harmonies and seemingly improvised melodies.
William Grant Still (1895-1978)
The first major symphonic work composed by an African American composer and performed by a major orchestra, the Afro American Symphony combines standard symphonic form with the melodic style and harmonies of the blues, spirituals, and other African American musical idioms.
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Shostakovich spent his career alternating between composing music that ticked off the Soviet government and writing pieces that apologized for having done so. The Fifth Symphony falls into the latter category… kind of. Shostakovich referred to the work as “a Soviet artist's creative response to justified criticism”— likely a reference to the condemnation he’d received from Stalin following the premiere of his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. However, some have questioned the sincerity of Shostakovich’s apology, pointing out that the finale sounds a bit overly enthusiastic— like “forced rejoicing.”
- Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 Eroica
- Sibelius’ Finlandia
- Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture
- Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 “Italian”
- Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn
- Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2
- Mussorgsky’s A Night on Bald Mountain
- Stravinsky’s The Firebird
- Holst’s The Planets
- Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht
- Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra
- Ravel’s Bolero
- Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915