Here are 10 of my favorite classical compositions. They are listed in no particular order, except I saved the best for last.
1. Beethoven Symphony #9 “Ode to Freedom” – Conducted by Leonard Bernstein, 1989
This is a personal one. My family had an exchange student in 1988/89 from West Berlin, Tim. He and my sister were seniors in High School. I was in 8th grade. He returned to Germany in the summer. On the night the Berlin Wall fell, my family was watching the news.
We saw Tim on top of the wall, celebrating, on live television. He sent us this CD on Deutsche Grammophon, and a couple months later, my sister and I visited him in the newly united Berlin. “Ode to Freedom” was an important part of that time for me. Also, it’s Beethoven’s 9th, so, there’s that.
2. “A Chloris” by Reynaldo Hahn
A beautiful love song in French published in 1916 by Reynaldo Hahn, who moved to Paris from Venezuela at the age of 3. A child prodigy, Hahn entered the Conservatoire de Paris at age 10, in 1884. “All that they say of ambrosia Does not stir my imagination Like the favour of your eyes!”
3. “Why Fum’th in Fight” by Thomas Tallis
Written in 1567, one of the nine Tunes for Archbishop Parker's Psalter, this song is based on Psalm 2. “Why Fum’th in Fight” (or “Why Fum’th in Sight”) was adapted in 1910 for the popular Ralph Vaughan Williams piece “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis.”
Tallis is credited with popularizing polyphonic music, consisting of two or more simultaneous lines of independent melody, during the early Renaissance.
4. “The Tale of Genji” by Isao Tomita
Named after the world’s first novel, this symphonic fantasy for orchestra and synthesizer was written in 1999. It evokes the feelings and concepts of ancient Japan, a very strange place.
5. “Four Last Songs” by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Four simple, English songs composed between 1954 and 1958, these were among Vaughan Williams final works before his death in 1958. "Procris", "Tired", "Hands, Eyes, and Heart", and "Menelaus" make up the songs. I particularly like “Tired” -"Sleep, and I'll be still as another sleeper, holding you in my arms."
6. “Clair De Lune” by Claude Debussy
Part of the Suite bergamasque composed by Debussy around 1890, this is just a great song Who doesn’t love “Clair de Lune?”
7. “Toccata and Fugue in D minor” by Johann Sebastian Bach
This is death metal before death metal. Composed sometime between 1704 and 1750 (nobody knows), this one is a rager! If you can ever hear this played on a cathedral organ, do it! You won’t be sorry for long.
8. “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima” by Krzysztof Penderecki
This is included in my list to demonstrate how music can bring experience and definition to anything, including absolute terror, pain, suffering, fear, and unfathomable horror. This is not for the faint of heart. This music is fractured and broken, caustic to the senses, yet powerful and expressive of all that is terrible in humanity.
9. "Cuckoo!" by Benjamin Britten
Part of the collection of 12 songs “Friday Afternoons,” the words to this song are from a poem by Jane Taylor, who also wrote the words to “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” This song was written between 1933 and 1935 for the students of Clive House School in Prestatyn, Wales, where Benjamin’s brother Robert was headmaster.
The song speaks of the cycle of a cuckoo bird’s life, reminding us of the change time brings. It’s a great song to sing along with.
“In April, I open my bill
In May, I sing night and day
In June, I change my tune
In July, how far I fly
In August, away”
10. “Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra” by Ralph Vaughan Williams
My favorite music. My favorite composer. Originally composed between 1926 and 1930, this piece began as a solo piano concerto. It was deemed “too difficult to play,’ so Vaughan Williams revised the piece for two pianos. It premiered in 1946.
This music brings the rage and triumph of the storm, tempered with tranquility, beauty, patience. I feel the conflict of the heavens when I listen to it, and the assurance that weathering the deluge will reveal the soft loam, the gentle grass shoot, swaying new flowers in the breeze. Anyway, that’s just how I feel. I like it a lot.