This lengthy list of great music compositions is intended to give fellow beginners many hours of good listening options. I’ve listened to all of them at least once, and I think the common denominator among the ones I like best is that they are very accessible.
You don’t need to be an expert in music to enjoy this music.
ABOUT THE LIST
- The vast majority of these selections are from the Baroque and Classical Eras, both of which are characterized by disciplined structure (especially in the Baroque) and emotion constrained by logic. Both of these qualities naturally appeal to me anyway, making the music easy to understand. The more individualized, unpredictable, highly dissonant and heavily emotional compositions of later eras I find hard to grasp, let alone appreciate, at this point in my music exploration. If you are not familiar with great music, then this may be the case for you as well.
- These selections do not include many well-known masterpieces (for instance, Beethoven’s 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th and 9th symphonies) because I was already familiar with them, and imagine you are too if you are reading this. The selections that are included were not chosen randomly or whimsically, however; most of them caught my attention in my online research and reading, with descriptions that appealed to me and/or because they are considered important compositions for one reason or another. You may think Jan Dismas Zelenka, a little known composer of the Baroque period, is overrepresented here. What can I say? In the course of my explorations I’ve fallen in love with his music, and I’m not alone. I hope a composer or two hits you the same way.
- Note: My “grades” are not intended to be a technical or objective assessment of the quality of the piece — I have nowhere near the knowledge to attempt such a thing. My grades are just part of my notes to help remind me which pieces I really like and which I probably won’t go out of my way to listen to again. You may like selections with low grades if you didn’t like my highly graded options.
- Also included are occasional links to more detailed, expert descriptions and/or analysis. Reading them in advance helped me better understanding what I was listening to.
LIST OF GREAT CLASSICAL MUSIC FOR BEGINNERS
Bach, Johann Sebastian (1685-1750), Mass in B Minor, BWV 232, A+. Emotional, precise. One of the finest pieces of music I’ve ever heard, and one of Bach’s last and greatest compositions. Much more information on the Mass in B Minor here.
Bach, J. S., St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244. B. Read an excellent analysis of the piece. Sacred oratorio. Need a better understanding of the text to fully appreciate the solo, but the full choir sections are terrific.
Bach, J. S., The Art of the Fugue, BWV 1080. A. FUGUE-ETABOUTIT! All are wonderful, tightly composed. I prefer the ones with fuller orchestration. The (Fugue with 3 Subjects) Fuga a 3 Soggetti (unfinished) is probably the saddest Bach composition I’ve listened to so far. Here is a detailed analysis.
Bach, J. S., The Musical Offering, BMV 1079. B+. Unrelentingly somber. If you’re in a cheery mood and want to snap out of it this should do the trick. Ricercar 6, final piece, is absolutely inspired. About the Ricercar form.
Bach, J. S., Brandenburg Concertos, Masaaki Suzuki, harpsichord and direction, Bach Collegium Japan. (This recording frequently cropped up in my research as one of the best.) A. BWV 1046, upbeat, relentless in its rhythm. BWV 1047 has familiar melodies, seems more intricate than 1046 and more changes in mood. BWV 1048 is very robust and upbeat. Last movement, Allegro, lives up to its name!. BWV 1049 – much more subdued than 1048. The third and final Presto has passages with an unusual combination of speed and sorrow – fascinating. Here are a few notes on BWV 1049. BWV 1050 – Another very familiar melody in I. Allegro. Parts of the harpsichord passages toward the end are about as fast as I’ve heard from Bach, brushing up against the border of out of control – fun and engaging. II. Affettuoso slows things down with a pleasant, melodic counterpoint (?) with harpsichord and flute. III. Allegro features intricate interplay from flute, violin and harpsichord. This concerto is the best of the bunch so far. BMW 1051 – Not as intricate as the others, apparently the earliest written. More about the famous Brandenburg Concertos.
Bach, J. S., Overture No. 4 in D Major, BWV 1069. A+. First movement very jaunty, 12+ minutes of fun, with an occasional transition to a beautiful, minor key melody. Outstanding piece from start to finish. More information on BWV 1069.
Bach, J. S., Overture No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068. A. In the slow and somewhat mournful second, I notice the steady, one-note continuo. This turns out this is a famous movement, called “Air” or “Air for the G string.” (I never heard of it.) Very pretty; a bit different from the usual Bach light touch. More information on BWV 1068.
Bach, J. S., Overture No. 1 in C Major, BWV 1066. A. First movement quite formal and disciplined and deliberate compared to the previous two. It’s hard to imagine how beautiful the inside of Bach’s head must have sounded: like his most beautiful composition, times 1,000. The snappy, short 6th movement sounds a bit like Vivaldi, only crisper, with more pointed melodies.
Bach, J. S., Overture No. 2 in B Minor, BWV 1067. A. II. Rondeau is lovely. V., Polonaise and Double, features an extended flute solo. More information on BWV 1067. On the whole, I like the Overtures better than the Brandenberg Concertos.
Beethoven, Ludwig van (1770-1827), Missa Solemnis in D Major, Op. 123 (Toscanini). A-. Nobody can deny Beethoven’s flourish, intensity, technical complexity, emotional range. But is it holy? To me the spiritual dimension of this Mass, pointing one’s attention upward to God, is somehow lacking; maybe I am merely distracted by the power of the music itself. The fact I question the spiritual value of this work leads me to believe I have much more to learn than I thought, about this work and sacred music in general. It certainly is exhilarating, as is so much of Beethoven’s music. But I don’t know; there’s a certain franticness to the piece that seems out of place in the setting of a Mass.
Beethoven, The Late String Quartets, Emerson String Quartet. (Suggestion: I wouldn’t jump into these if you’re brand new to classical music. These pieces are technically complex and not as accessible as, for instance, Beethoven’s 5th and 7th symphonies.)
(1) No. 12 in E-Flat Major, Op. 127. B. Subdued and delicate, with smooth transitions from one theme to another. A quiet, beautiful and reflective piece, but still with a lot going on beneath the surface. Detailed analysis here.
(2) String Quartet No. 14 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 131. B+. This was innovative musically and Beethoven was very proud of it. Analysis here. The first movement is poignant and haunting. So many great ideas in this piece – why don’t I like it more? All the shifting ideas and themes seem to be so unanchored. Hard to get accustomed to the less structured music.
(3) String Quartet No. 15 in A Minor, Op. 132. B+. Movement II., Allegro ma non tanto, struck me as the prettiest and most accessible movement so far in this set. Movement III is beautifully sad from start to finish, and over 17 minutes long. Very enjoyable all the way through.
(4) String Quartet No. 16 in F Major, Op. 135. A-. I thought I caught a few strains from the fourth movement of his 9th Symphony in II. Presto. The harsh, abrupt transitions that don’t seem connected or anchored to anything continue to bother me, but overall this piece is unquestionably beautiful. III., Lento assai, is profoundly sad — do not trot it out for your Christmas party. This was his last composition. Analysis here.
(5) String Quartet No. 13 in B-Flat Major, Op. 130. B+. V., Cavatina is sorrowful and perhaps my favorite movement of the entire set.
(6) Grosse Fuge (Grand Fugue or Great Fugue.) in B-Flat Major, Op. 33. A-. This piece breaks a lot of rules and was not well received at the time. Detailed analysis here. All the technical oddities went right over my head. For me it was the most enjoyable of the group.
Berlioz, Hector (1803-1869), Requiem Grande Messe des Morts, op 5. Wow. C. Florid, moments of power and drama, but overdone? Read all about it.
Bomtempo, Joao Domingos, Requiem in C Minor, Op. 23, Requiem to the memory of Luis Vaz de Camoes. A+. Long Dies Irae movement is great. Opening Introit-Kyrie also great – both without going over the top, dramatic and solemn. Offertorium is one of the most beautiful compositions I’ve ever heard (around 10 minutes). Short Sanctus powerful. Benedictus slow, brief, solemn. Agnus Dei (12 minutes) is solemn, understated beauty. Love this.
Bomtempo, Kyrie e Gloria B+. His Requiem Mass is far stronger.
Bomtempo, Symphony No. 1, Op. 11. A. Absence of brass enjoyable to my ear. Soothing. Third movement, Andante, powerful. Very good throughout. About Bomtempo and his Symphonies 1 and 2.
Bomtempo, Symphony No. 2. A+. No Op. number I can find. First movement, Sostenuto-Allegro moderato, outstanding. Peppy. Solid, energizing throughout. Somewhat reminiscent of Beethoven, only softer, less rage.
Bruckner, Anton (1824-1896), Requiem in D Minor WAB 39. A. Powerful. 37-minute run time. V. Quam Olim excellent. Good tempo, melodic, intense, as it is throughout. Bruckner knows how to make violins weep.
Charpentier, Marc-Antoine (1643-1704). B. Sacred music, including Messe de Minuit poor Noel, H. 9 (Christmas Mass), and Te Deum. Well structured, choir, organ. Christmas Mass is joyous, a mix of dramatic melody and periods of almost Gregorian solemnity. Find more music by Charpentier.
Charpentier, Noels and Christmas Motets. B. Good listening for the Christmas season – bells, soft melodies.
Cherubini, Luigi (1760-1842), Chant sur la mort Haydn. B. Written as a tribute to Joseph Haydn based on a false report of his death in 1804 (he died in 1809).
Cherubini, Mass in A Major, Coronation Mass. A+. Perhaps the Kyrie is not as tight as his other Masses, he still reaches heights as with the rousing conclusion of the Gloria and haunting moments in the Credo. In fact, the Credo is a tremendous 10-minute ride from spiritual depths to heights. Offertorium is beautiful start to finish. Brief Sanctus packs a punch. Complex, dramatic throughout.
Cherubini, Missa solemnis in E Major. A. Powerful, intense Gloria. One of the gentlest, most moving Agnus Dei movements I’ve heard (about 6 minutes). A beautiful, heavenly blend of intensity and reflection.
Cherubini, Requiem in C Minor (Toscanini). A+. Toscanini coaxes the maximum beauty out of every note of this exquisite Requiem.
Cherubini, Requiem in C Minor A+. Terrific in every respect. Dramatic, devout. Beethoven-like. Berlioz said the decrescendo in the Agnus Dei was the best of its kind ever written. Haunting, unforgettable. Toscanini recording superior.
Cherubini, Symphony in D Major, and Overtures (Ali-Baba, Anacreaon, Medea, Il matrimonio segreto, il matrionion pr raggiro) by Toscanini. A+ (symphony). I detect an operatic flavor not found in Haydn symphonies though the structure is basically the same. 4th movement is shortest and strongest. Emphatic. Ali Baba overture reminds me of Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust, with a little William Tell Overture thrown in. Anacreon strongest so far, lots of swings in tempo and mood. Medea is great, a solid A. Last two tracks are by Domenico Cimarosa. And they are fabulous. Here is the recording.
Cimarosa, Domenico (1749-1801), Requiem in G Minor. A. VI, Lacrymosa, is outstanding, combining the operatic vocals, strong melodies, fast tempo and gentle overall tone that characterizes much of the piece. Very powerful and yet gentle from start to finish. Cimarosa was known for operas, but this piece does not feel overly operatic; just enough and just enough great operatic overtones to give it a special “easy listening” flavor. Last Sonata, in C-Flat, is probably my favorite. About Domenico Cimarosa.
de Victoria, Tomas Luis (1548-1611), Officium Defunctorum. A-. Almost Gregorian with stronger melodies. Excellent blending of choir and soloists. An air of sadness throughout. Slow tempo throughout. Sounds more modern to me than it is.
du Caurroy, Francois Eustache (1549-1609), Requiem Mass & Motets. B-. Renaissance Period, played at funerals for many French kings (five in all, between 1589 and 1774). Double choir counterpoint is haunting. Lack of melodic catchiness versus Baroque and Classical very apparent, as well as a spiritual depth lacking in concert music from those latter periods. If the tempo changes at all outside of a very narrow range throughout the work, I can’t tell. Beautiful and spiritually stabilizing despite the relative lack of musical variety.
Durufle, Maurice Gustav (1902-1986), Requiem – (Expressionism Period), 1947. 42 minutes. Op. 9. B+. Very different sound, somewhat like a futuristic Gregorian chant. Strange rhythms and unexpected turns, but the overall effect is one of seriousness and tranquility. Pleasant to listen to, though to me somewhat discordant at times. Haunting combination of old and new treatment of melody and harmony. I keep thinking about it. More about the Durufle Requiem.
Dvorak, Antonin (1841-1904), Requiem in B-Flat Minor, Op. 89. C+. First movement, Requiem aeternam (eternal rest prayer), slow, profound. Gradual is slower. Dies Irae – short, powerful. Tuba mirum (part of Dies Irae; The trumpet, casting a wondrous sound/In tombs, /Summons all before the throne.) Rather slow, tedious, with dramatic flareups. 5. Quid sum miser (part of Dies Irae; What shall I, frail man, be pleading?) Sad, slow. Not particularly interesting at first, then picks up. 6. Recordare Jesu pie (part of Dies Irae, Remember, merciful Jesus) Operatic. 7. Confutatis maledictis (part of Dies Irae, When the wicked are confounded). Dramatic, also operatic. 8. Lacrimosa (part of Dies Irae, Ah, that day of tears and mourning.) Also, operatic. Slow and repetitive, but the “Amen” at the end is the best part so far. 9. Offertorium. The most interesting entire movement so far – lots of musical variety and interesting ideas. Still operatic, but incredibly holy and humble as well as dramatic. 10. Hostias. Starts slow, rather ponderous, and then picks up. Glorious last few minutes. 11. Sanctus. 12. Pie Jesu. 13. Agnus Dei.
Faure, Gabriel (1845-1924), Requiem in D Minor. written late 1800s. B. Sounds like an opera at times, sounds like a movie score at times. Some very good moments as well. Slow tempo, fairly melodic.
Gluck, Cristoph Willibald (1714-1787), Orfeo ed Euridice. A+. IF YOU’RE OUTTA GLUCK, YOU’RE OUTTA LUCK. This guy had game. An incredibly engaging opera that doesn’t sound much like an opera (probably the same reason I like The Magic Flute so much). Libretto by Raniero de Calzabigi. (Karl Richter conducting, 1968 recording.) First act is outstanding good: strong melodies and relatively little singing for an opera. A lot of chorus and a somewhat limited amount of solos. It has the definite feel of Mozart. Second and third acts bog down a bit, but picks up at the end. About Gluck, the rule breaker.
Gluck, Paride ed Elena (Paris and Helen). A. 2005 recording with Madgalena Kozena as Paridem Susan Gritton as Elena. First 30 tracks or so are astonishingly good – melodic, exciting, beautiful arias. Paris is a “soprano castrato”, which threw me – he is played by Kozena, a mezzo-soprano. This article about Kozena explains it. Very melodic and musically interesting throughout, and highly dramatic without the over-the-top emotionalism of so many Romantic period operas. Read a summary and analysis of Paride ed Elena.
Guerrero, Francisco (1528-1599), Requiem. B. Composed in 1559. Lots of plainchant. Beautiful harmonies. Offertory is exceptional, full of sound and piety. Very little accompaniment.
Handel, George Frideric (1685-1759), Messiah. B+. Nice to hear singing in English. Gives me a sense of what it would be like to be able to understand the vocals of other compositions. Perhaps this is the most popular vocal composition of all time; it certainly keeps moving despite its length. Something about Handel just leaves me feeling a little empty: beautiful styling, but maybe not enough under the hood?
Haydn, Joseph (1732-1809), Missa in Tempore A. Even, peppy throughout. I like J. Haydn’s concert music a tad better than his sacred music; with his brother Michael, it’s the other way around.
Haydn, J., Missi in Angustiis “Nelson Mass” in D minor, Hob. XXII:11 . A-. The Hoboken Catalog (Hob) is a catalog of J. Haydn compositions compiled by Anthony van Hoboken. The minus in the A- is only there because other Haydn works listed above are even better. Exuberant, peppy tempo.
Haydn, J., Symphony No. 49 in F Minor (la passione). A. Described as a sadder, more solemn work than is representative of his symphonies. Written in 1768 during the Sturm und Drang period, where it was the style to let emotions run stronger – a predecessor of the Romantic movement. I Adagio, is haunting. 2, Allegro di molto, moves fast as promised. To me it’s enthralling throughout, exciting without being somber in any respect. III Menuet e Trio, elegant, with a formal trio in major key sandwiched between two equally elegant minor key movements. 4. Presto, frenetic string parts.
Haydn, J., Symphony No. 68 in B-Flat Major. A. Pretty melodies, characteristic of the Classical Period. There’s an air of playfulness about it naturally quite different from his sacred music. Menuetto & Trio is excellent: two fully orchestrated sections with a trio (smaller) arrangement in between. An intense but altogether jolly work that must have entertained the nouveau riche audience for which it was intended (the new middle class being the target audience of Classical music, unlike its predecessor, Baroque, which was for the elites, as there was no middle class).
Haydn, J., Symphony No. 93 in D Major. A. There are moments in the first movement, Adagio – Allegro assai, where JH builds to a climax and it feels like he’s about to go into a Beethoven-like fit of rage … but then he backs off. JH taught Beethoven; I wonder if Beethoven’s style was influenced by this, wanting to take JH a step further emotionally. He goes from the intense first movement to a rather sad and slow II Largo cantabile (cantabile means songlike in Italian). All notes are connected (songlike), a few bits of humor like a one-note tuba or trombone interjection.
Haydn, J., Symphony No. 94 in G Major (The Surprise Symphony). A. Nicknamed for a “joke” Haydn inserted in the second movement, an abrupt fortissimo chord out of nowhere. Haydn did things like this regularly. Several of J. Haydn symphonies have nicknames.
Haydn, J., Symphony No. 95 in C Minor. A. I like how the first movement, Allegro, wanders a bit (though intensely), and then at the last minute or two builds to a rousing and focused conclusion. The minuet in the third, Menuetto & Trio, is quite intense, though danceable, whereas the contrasting trio is rather formal, stately. The fourth, Vivace, strong violin melody lines.
Haydn, J., Symphony No. 96 in D Major (Miracle). B. First movement, Allegro is exciting, but perhaps not as melodic as 63, 93 and 95. This was the first of his London Symphonies to be written. Two groups of them: 93-98 during his first trip and 99-104 during his second. More about this symphony and the strange story of how it got its name.
Haydn, Michael (1737-1806), Requiem in C Minor, MH 559. A. Profound. One of my favorite Requiems. It is said that this work influenced Mozart’s famed Requiem. About Michael Haydn, the less well-known but very talented brother of Joseph.
Haydn, M., Symphony No. 21 in D Major, MH 272. B+. 3 movements; no minuet. Nothing great; nothing bad. Second movement seemed slow and wandering to me.
Haydn, M., Symphony No. 24 in A Major, MH 302. B+. Stately Minuet & Trio.
Haydn, M., Symphony No. 25 in G Major, MH 344. B. Third movement (of three) my favorite. Overall, exuberant.
Haydn, M., Symphony No. 26 in E-Flat Major, MH 340. A+. This one influenced Mozart’s Symphony No. 39. Grand first movement, more changes in tempo and involved phrases than typical of his other symphonies. Beautiful. Third movement is a rousing Presto. Intense.
Haydn, M., Symphony No. 27 in B-Flat Major, MH 358. A. First movement intense and full of life. Second, Andante, has beautiful melodies. The third and final Presto has the catchiest melody and rapidly ascending and descending strings that sound awesome.
Haydn, M., Symphony No. 28 in C Major, MH 384. A+. First movement more complex and intense than anything in the previous two. Very strong throughout, and more melodic than the previous two. MH was on fire with this one!
Haydn, M., Symphony No. 30 in D Major, MH 399. B+. More harpsichord than I’ve hear in other symphonies by either Haydn. Wider range of tempo and mood than in No. 25. Third of three movement again great – a snappy recapitulation and coda (I think) follows a shot transitional harpsichord solo.
Haydn, M., Symphony No. 31 in F Major, MH 405. A. Strong 1st, Iongish for this batch of MH symphonies at 11 minutes. Punchy melodies, somewhat staccato, German. Expressive violin parts highlight the 2nd. Terrific Presto finale. Sad, beautiful.
Kozlovsky, Osip (1757-1831), Requiem. C-. Operatic, structurally repetitive, not very melodic, slow pace, long: 1 hour, 20 min, tortuously long and drawn out movements. The funeral march is good, though.
Kraus, Joseph Martin (1756-1792), Requiem B-. Drags in places. Not especially inspiring.
Lotti, Antonio (1667-1740), Requiem in F Major. B+. Lots of changes in tempo and mood. Lots of strong violin. I wish I could understand the words. Predominantly solemn, favorite was the last Offertorio movements.
Lotti, Credo in F Major. A. More melodic than his Requiem in F Major or Miserere in D Minor.
Lotti, Miserere in D Minor. B+. Tender.
Mendelssohn, Felix (1809-1847), Playlist, Felix Mendelssohn Essentials (Apple Classical Music). First time listening to FM., so I thought I’d go with a playlist to sample various types of his music. Overall, a very good blend of melody, transitions, changes in mood and tempo that are smoother and less violent than Beethoven’s. His music sounds like he looks: gentle, scholarly, controlled but with depth. A bit more emotional depth than Mozart, and certainly more than J. S. Bach.
(1) A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Op. 21, Overture: A+. He composed this at age 16. Unbelievable.
(2) Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 63, I. Allegro molto appassianato. A. Tells a great musical story; I can follow the logic of the shifts in mood better than Beethoven.
(3) Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64, II. Andante. A. Sorrowful and hopeful somehow at the same time.
(4) Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64, III. Allegretto non troppo – Allegro moto Vivace. A. Triumphant, bold; much more jolly than the preceding two melancholy movements.
(5) The Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave), Op. 26, Overture. A+. The opening is haunting, unlike any I’ve heard. Grand melodies rising out of a fog. Small waves taking form in the ocean, building and then crashing into a rocky shore. (Turns out this is exactly what he had in mind.) A highly original piece that evokes strong images for me.
(6) Symphony #3 in A Minor, Op. 56 “Scottish.” A. So many wonderful themes and changes in mood.
(7) Songs Without Words, Op. 19b: No. 6 in G Minor. A. Simple and sweet.
(8) Songs Without Words, Op. 30: No. 6 in F-Sharp Minor. A. Sadder than the previous.
(9) Sonata for Violin and Piano in F Major: Adagio. B. Good, but not as captivating melodically as most of the previous selections.
(10) String Quartet No. 6 in F Minor, Op. 80: II. Allegro assai. B+.Intense. Similar short themes to Beethoven, but I find FM easier on the ear. FM’s transitions in tempo and intensity seem smooth and natural, whereas Beethoven’s seem forced.
(11) Piano Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 25: II. Andante. A-. Another quietly dramatic opening. Sounds like counterpoint between piano and orchestra. Beautiful ending as well.
(12) Paulus, Op. 36, I. Teil. No. 17 Aria B, “Gott, Sei Mir Gnadig.” A. Moving, spiritual feel markedly different from previous selections.
(13) Elias, Op. 70, Zweiter Teil: No. 26 Arie and No. 27 Rezitativ. A. Lulls you into a dreamy state of relaxation and then snaps you back with a rousing shift – well played.
(14) Elias, Op. 70, Zweiter Teil: Quartett. A. I’ll probably make Elijah my next FM listen based on these two selections.
(15) Lieder ohne Worte, Op. 19: No. 1, Andante con moto. A. At once firm and delicate.
(16) Lieder ohne Worte, Op. 38: No. 6, Andante con moto “Duetto.” A. Sounds like rain coming gently down on a roof.
(17) Symphony No. 4 in A, Op. 90, “Italian.” I, Allegro. A+. FM really knew how to open and close a composition. Rousing: like a socially well-adjusted Beethoven.
(18) Symphony No. 5, Op. 107, “The Reformation, I. Andante. A+. More regal, deliberate than I in Op. 90, but equally emphatic, dramatic and uplifting.
Monteverdi, Claudio (1567-1643), Sacred Music. B+.
Monteverdi, L’Orfeo. B. The first blockbuster opera, from the Baroque era. I liked it a lot better than I thought I would. The melodies are exceptional – beautiful, rousing. A mix of madrigal and operatic styles – an outgrowth of the intermezzo form, a vocal-musical interlude put on between acts of a play that was very popular. Many of the solo passages strike me as monotonous but many of the musical interludes are outstanding. Overall it is much more appealing than other operas I’ve heard/attended; not sure if it is the quality of the music or the refinement of my ear.
Mozart, Wolfgang (1756-1791), Don Giovanni. B. Good Lord, I’m starting to like opera. Started listening to the second act. Very long, not as fast-paced or melodically pleasant as The Magic Flute. Perhaps more dramatic.
Mozart, The Magic Flute. A+. By far the most enjoyable opera I’ve ever listened to. Melodic, dramatic, fast tempo that keeps it interesting. Even the recitative sections are interesting.
Mozart, Mass in C Minor, K. 427, Grosse Messe. (Leonard Bernstein & Bavarian Radio Symphony.) A+. Beautiful, very operatic. Pope Francis says Credo: Et Incarnatus Est lifts you to God, and indeed it does, with a tender and sweeping soprano solo.
Mozart, Symphony No 39 in E-Flat Major, K. 543. B+. Toscanini, conductor. Composed in 1788, toward the end of his life (along with K. 550 and K. 551), this is more intense and gloomy than usual, but full of abrupt changes in tempo, melody and volume. Sounds Beethoven-like overall, and especially in IV., Finale, Allegro.
Mozart, Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550. A. Toscanini, conductor. Famous melody to open I. Allegro molto. Continues the intensity of K. 543, possibly with more frenzy and swings in mood. After the slow and vaguly foreboding II. Andante comes an emphatic III. Menuetto, and then an even more emphatic and intense IV. Finale, Allegro assai. Overall creates a sense of tension, unease, and at times, impending doom. Also a sense of urgency, a feeling that something undefined but important needs to be done. Covers a wide range of emotions; again reminiscent of Beethoven.
Mozart, Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551 (Jupiter). A+. Toscanini, conductor. I. Allegro vivace starts with a more positive tone than the preceding two. Magnificent; rousing. II,, Andante cantabile, is quiet with just a touch of the unease that characterizes the earlier two symphonies in the set. IV., Molto allegro, the famous and technically complex finale, starts with a bang and Mozart never lets up on the gas. Five intertwined themes play off each other brilliantly, with a conclusion that brings the house down. Detailed analysis of the last movement here.
Ockeghem, Johannes (c. 1420-Feb. 6, 1497), Requiem. C. Composed c. 1491. Too flat, monotonous for my taste.
Praetorius, Michael (1571-1621), Advent and Christmas Music. C+. About as far from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer as you can get. What’s immediately striking is the solemnity, humility of the texture of this music. Read about this recording here.
Rheinberger, Josef (1839-1901), Sacred Music, including Mass in E-flat major, Op. 109. C. Stately, slow tempo, full choir, somewhat repetitive, lacking in melody.
Saint-Saens, Camille (1835-1921), Requiem. D. Weird. No like.
Salieri, Antonio (1750-1825), Requiem in C minor. A-. Solemn, beautiful chorale. Short. Devout.
Sammartini, Giovanni Battista (c. 1700-1775) From this recording:
(1) Symphony in A Major, JC 62. A. First movement has lots of notes packed in, almost no pauses; third movement, Presto assai (very), is truly frenetic but wonderful.
(2) Symphony in C Minor, JC 9, B+. More contained than the A Major, stately.
(3) Symphony in D Major, JC 16, B+. 2nd movement, Andante sempre piano, mournful, in sharp contast to what’s come before, and beautiful.
(4) Symphony in F Major, JC 36, B+. Third movement, Allegr assai, strongest.
(5) Symphony in D Minor, JC 23, B+. Third movement, Grave (very slow, solemn), is just that. Strong and a little different flavor from what’s been heard so far.
(6) Symphony in C Major, JC 4, B+. First movement, Allegrissimo, very exuberant. 2nd movement slow and stately. Third movement also stately and controlled. All six of these are highly listenable, just not quite as dynamic as J. Haydn or melodic as Bach; as if Bach was warming up after listening to Haydn. Sammartini has been called the Father of the Symphony.
Schubert, Franz (1797-1828), Mass in G, Mass No. 2, D167. B+, Short, not as dramatic or ornate as No. 6, but pious and still beautiful. Tantum Ergo in E-flat D962, and Der 23 Psalm D706. B+. These two short pieces are beautiful, holy, understated (for Schubert).
Schubert, Mass No. 6 in E-flat major, D950. A+. Intense, dramatic, emphatic, elevating, Beethoven-like, melodic, beautiful, almost like a symphony rather than a Mass. Nobody would fall asleep if this music was playing!
Schumann, Robert Alexander (1810-1856), Requiem Fuer Mignon, Op. 98b. B. Libretto in German, by Goethe. Here is the libretto in German and English translation (PDF). Not sure what this is about – here is an explanation. Apparently Schumann was developing a new concept; critical reception appears to be negative. The libretto is from a novel by Goethe, so not sure why this is classified a Requiem. Sounds OK to me, but not like a Requiem at all.
Suppe, Franz von (1819-1895), Requiem A-. Somewhat operatic but very deep and solemn.
Vogler, Georg Joseph (1749-1814), Requiem in E flat major. A. unique style, short movements, dramatic.
Zelenka, Jan Dismas (1679-1745), Magnificat, Missa Nativitatis Domini in D Major, Dixit Dominus 68 – A. beautiful start to finish, fast tempo, melodic, intricate.
Zelenka, Miserere in C Minor Psalm 50 ZWV 57. A+.
Zelenka, Missa Sancti Josephi, ZMV 14. A. Pure, slow and sad movements as well as exuberant ones. Beautiful choir.
Zelenka, Missa Sanctissimae Trinitatis in A Minor, ZWV 17. A+. Completed in 1736, a later work. Operatic flavor with many soli, but I like it anyway. Beautiful melodies. short movements, breaking down Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei into short sub-movements. No brass in the arrangement.
Zelenka, Psalm 130, in D Minor, De Profundis. ZWV 50. A-. Text of Psalm 130: http://www.usccb.org/bible/psalms/130. Slower tempo than ZWV 57 above, sadder in tone.
Zelenka, Psalmi Vespertini II. B. Good, but I like his Masses better. More energetic.
Zelenka, Requiem in C Minor, ZWV 48. A. Composed in c1737. Composed for Kaiser Joseph 1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_I,_Holy_Roman_Emperor. Not as consistently powerful and beautiful as other works of Zelenka I’ve heard, but still many moments of inexpressible beauty and piety.
Zelenka, Capriccio No. 2 in G Major, ZWV 183. A. Light, airy, melodic, with sharp rhythms. Final movement of seven, Minuet & Trio, stands out melodically.
Zelenka, Hiponcondrie in 7 in A Major, ZWV 187. B+. Title seems to mean “melencholoy.” https://goo.gl/ej1dc9 He is trying to capture the mood of melancholy in this piece. Abrupt shifts in key, tempo, along with somewhat choppy rhythms, give the piece a slightly edgier feel than usual.
Zelenka, Concerto in 8 in G Major, ZWV 186. A. First movement sprightly with long melody lines. Second movement, Largo, sad and slow; strong contrast; starts out with a brief oboe (?) solo, which is unusual. Solid throughout.
Zelenka, Capriccio No. 3 in F Major, ZWV 184. A. Triumphant second movement, Allegro, followed by contrasting sad, slow, deliberate Allemande (a Baroque and Renaissance dance style, French, rooted in German folk dance).
Zelenka, Overture in F Major, ZWV 188. B. Sprightly first dominated by brass and reed followed by a mournful second featuring violin. Overall rather tedious thematically and texturally. But still listenable!
Zelenka, Melodrama de Sancto Wenceslas, ZWV 175. B+. An epic opus, with many memorable moments but long periods that aren’t that interesting (compared to other, more compact Zelenka works).
Zelenka, Capriccio in A Major, ZWV 185. B+. Not bad, not his best. Very listenable, sprightly.
Zelenka, Trio Sonata, ZWV 181, No. 1 in F, No. 2 in G Flat, No. 3 in B Flat, No. 4 in G Flat, No. 5 in F, No. 6 in C flat. B+. Composed c. 1721. Excellent counterpoint, almost JP Bach quality.
(Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons)
2 Replies to “Classical Music Recommendations for Fellow Beginners”
Wow! This is thorough (and helpful, and hilarious). Thanks for putting this together. I can’t wait to try a few.
Thank you! I hope you enjoy listening to them. I’ll be curious to know which ones you pick and what you think of them. The list isn’t terribly thorough, though, at least in terms of periods covered. Very little from the Romantic period, and almost nothing from modern composers. That music is still beyond me, but I’m finding that as I listen to music I like, music and composers I never used to like are starting to grow on me. Opera in particular. It’s a process.