Für Elise might be the most recognisable piece in the countdown so far (which, by the way, looks set to continue for about 5 years if I don't up the tempo). Wikipedia informs me that the piece was actually most likely written for someone called Therese, whose hand he sought. The change of titular identity is put down to some illegible handwriting on Beethoven's part. The article adds, brutally, "Therese did not want to marry him." Lang Lang is the performer in my chosen rendi
"Daddy, when does it get fun?" my youngest daughter asked recently when the music I was listening to caught her attention. My reply - "it doesn't do that, it's Mahler". I posted the exchange on Facebook prompting multiple friends to rush to Mahler's defence. One shared this clip of a sledgehammer blow from his 6th Symphony. It was the 5th Symphony I listened to today though, which occupies 70th place in the Hall of Fame countdown. Now I can see why Mahler has such stalwart fa
I like guitar music - rock, folk, acoustic pop, you name it. If you include electric guitars, it's hard to imagine any instrument being more versatile. Of course, this countdown of classical music doesn't include electric guitars, sadly. It won't include many acoustic guitars either. Even though guitar-like instruments have been played for hundreds of years, they're just too quiet to be much use in an orchestra. In 1939 Joaquin Rodrigo wrote a piece for guitar and orchestra t
I know you're confused. The latest piece in this increasingly elongated blogging countdown is Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2, which was actually the first one he wrote. It was just published second, hence the numbering. And it ranks in at #72 in the Classic FM Hall of Fame (that is, in the 2020 rankings. Have I really been doing this for a year now?)
Apparently Chopin wrote this piece in his early twenties, which makes it all the more impressive. And fitting that I should ch
And if that title wasn't corny enough for you, here's a joke: I know a Slovakian sound technician, and a Czech one too, a Czech one too. It's a relevant awful joke though because Smetana, the composer of this 73rd-ranked piece was Czech. That's my excuse anyway. In the words from Classic FM's Hall of Fame, "Ma Vlast is a mighty work, comprising six poems in total; but its popularity is due mainly to the second one, Vltava a beautiful, evocative musical painting of the rolling
There's nothing subtle about Music for the Royal Fireworks, Handel's bombastic piece that ranks 74th in the Classic FM chart. Apparently it had pretty explosive first outing in 1749. The music launched with greater success than the actual fireworks, which set their wooden stage alight causing havoc. In the video below, taken from the BBC Proms 2012, the orchestra aim to recapture the raucous energy Handel must have intended. The conductor is striking in his sorcerer's outfit.
We'll get to the fish, but you'll have to bear with me. Ranking at 76th place in the hall of fame is Chopin's Nocturne in E flat major. Listening to a nocturne (night music) in the middle of the day is like eating After Eights for lunch. You feel like you're missing out on the intended effect, but who cares if it still tastes great?
The performance I watched was Valentina Lisitsa's. I can't remember seeing a pianist with such floaty hands. She even strokes and massages the
It's been a while since I wrote a blog post, mainly because of working on and releasing my own music. As I returned to Classic FM's top 100 chart, Mozart was predictably there to meet me. This time with his 40th symphony, which I guess he wrote at the age of 6. Wolfgang must have realised he'd hit on a particularly catchy melody, because it seems like most of the material in the first movement is based on the first four bars. The introductory phrases are certainly the most re
I've been surprised by how many pieces were new to me in this top 100 countdown so far. You hardly expect a Classic FM ranking to include obscure works. I suppose I'm even less familiar with classical music than I first thought. I'd have to have lived under a boulder to not know the pieces in today's post though. At 79th place in the countdown is Tchaikovsky's music for the ballet The Sleeping Beauty, including a waltz so magical it even made it into the Disney film version o
Ask any music student what they think of Sibelius and I'll guarantee most won't be thinking of the Finnish composer. Instead, they'll give you their comments on the music notation software that shares his name. (And the comments will mostly be negative. The Sibelius app can be infuriating to use, although it's not really the design that's at fault - it's the fact that music notation wasn't conceived of as something to be assembled on a computer). I'm in that crowd by the way.
Emperor Joseph II supposedly made the criticism "too many notes" about one of Mozart's new pieces. I'd love to hear what he thought about Rachmaninoff's music. His third piano concert ranks 82nd in Classic FM's chart (sorry if you were expecting Mozart) and it's full of them. Notes that is. Never mind the music, it's visually stunning watching Anna Fedorova's hands hammer the keys with such combustible energy. Just watch from about 42:20 to the end if you want to be amazed, a
A couple of quick ones today. Ludovico Einaudi's I Giorni (#84) is probably the least classical piece of music in the countdown so far. It's beautiful piano music sure, but it would fit better in an Instrumental Pop playlist than Classical Greats. As the YouTube commenters point out, it's hard to dislike Einaudi's simple, emotive melodies. Slap this over the credits of any film for instant catharsis. You might be able to tell, I'm a little ambivalent about Einaudi. Is he that
Bach's St Matthew Passion ranks in 85th place in Classic FM's Hall of Fame, being described as one of the greatest masterpieces of classical sacred music. Or so says this article, which also narrates how Felix Mendelssohn revived interest in Bach's music 80 years after his death by putting on a performance of the work. It's an epic composition, stretching to just under three hours in length. I opted for a tasting platter of a few select arias instead of the whole banquet. One
After a hiatus, I'm diving back into my countdown through Classic FM's top 100 popular classics. Handel makes his first appearance at 86 with his well-loved Water Music suites (although I think the German Wassermusik has a better ring to it). If you want to hear most recognisable section first, skip ahead to 28:36 in the video below. My YouTube searches so far have revealed a decent number of Historically Informed Performances, and the Water Music video here is one of them. Y
#88 E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial - John Williams In my last post I mentioned the orchestral instrument libraries I compose with. One of those libraries is aptly called Hollywoodwinds although it might be more accurately named Johnwilliamswinds. It's full of his signature runs, trills and other effects that turn a great film into something magical. I chose a video of one of the E.T. soundtrack pieces being conducted by Williams himself. The sound quality may be middling but the
YouTube comments on classical music videos are often quite helpful, and I've titled this post with some words from one of them. John Borstlap wrote in full, "Beautifully conducted & performed... This piece is insanely original, depicting something grand that is sometimes on the verge of disintegrating but is recovering again and again." The piece he described was Sibelius's 5th Symphony, performed by the Frunkfurt Radio Symphony with Hugh Wolff wielding the baton. Sibelius p
Maybe I'm a sucker for punishment but this is the second opera on the top 100 list and again I decided to watch the whole thing on YouTube instead of just listening to the highlights. This time it's Bizet's Les Pêcheurs de Perles (The Pearl Fishers). Being composed 70 years after Mozart's lower-ranked Cosí fan Tutte, I naively thought the whole opera genre might have developed into a more exhilarating format. Was I ever wrong. Classic FM says Bizet's t
#92, Organ Symphony No. 5 in F major - Charles-Marie Widor Feet are the most underutilised body parts in music. Drummers, pianists and electric guitarists get to use pedals, does anyone else? Oh yeah, harpists. But does any instrument demand more from a poor foot than the mighty organ? As if four separate keyboards (manuals) for your hands weren't enough, the feet have a giant wooden keyboard to themselves. This footboard is reserved for the lowest, most guttural notes, which
It's been said that in previous centuries violinists were the rock stars. Paganini was melting faces with four strings long before Hendrix or Van Halen did it with six. In fact, I even wonder if the bar to be considered a virtuoso guitarist is a little lower than for a violininst? Maybe it's because when I listen to legendary lead guitar solos I think 'I could get there one day', whereas when I hear pieces like Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E Minor I have no such delusions
For a long time I didn't understand why some people were drawn to sad songs. Mystified by an advert for the 'Greatest Tearjerkers' compilation CD, I was convinced people who strove to avoid misery in real life were a bit thick to pay good money to hear songs that would make them cry. Number 94 in Classic FM's Hall of Fame 2020 is Henryk Górecki's (pronounced goretsky - thanks mum) Symphony No.3, known as the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. A solo soprano features in all three mo