Classical Works One Should Know


By Daniel McAdam.

The title of this page is deliberate.  What follows is not a list of the world’s most popular classical works, although many are very popular.  It is also not a list of classical works you should like, because I am in no position to tell you that, and neither is anyone else.  (Although it would be the rare listener who would not find most of the works presented here enjoyable.)  No, these are, simply, classical works that you should be familiar with.

Why?  There are two reasons.  The first reason, the more important one, is that familiarity with these works will provide you, the classical music enthusiast, with a foundation of knowledge upon which you can build, and which can be used in developing your own personal taste and judgment.  The second reason – trivial, I grant you, but nonetheless valid – is that others will expect you to have some familiarity with these works.  If you’re in a conversation where you’re rhapsodizing about Scriabin’s Mystic Chord one minute, and then saying you’ve never heard Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata the next, you’ll find yourself in an awkward situation; at least, people will give you funny looks. 

The list serves another purpose, as well, for those new to classical music, as it represents a reasonably worthwhile “checklist” of sorts if one is just setting out to build a collection of classical recordings.

So, for worthwhile and trivial reasons alike, and without further ado, I present my list for your perusal.  Feel free to agree, or disagree, and bear in mind that tastes change over time. Right now, some would say there's too little Bartók and too much Tchaikovsky; in the 1950s, few would have raised that argument. Geography plays a part as well, and one could argue that Copland only appears on the list because I am an American.

 

Albinoni

Adagio in G minor for strings and organ

 

Allegri

Miserere

 

Bach

Brandenburg Concertos

Cantata No. 140 “Wachet Auf”

Cantata No. 147 “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”

Cantata No. 208 “Sheep May Safely Graze”

Cello Suites

Double Violin Concerto

Mass in B Minor

Toccata and Fugue in D minor

 

Bartók

Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta

 

Beethoven (but really, almost all of Beethoven)

Für Elise

Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor”

Piano Sonata No. 14 “Moonlight”

Symphony No. 3 “Eroica”

Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral”

Symphony No. 7

Symphony No. 9 “Choral”

Violin Concerto in D Major, op. 61

 

Berlioz

Symphonie Fantastique

 

Boccherini

String Quintet in E Major

 

Borodin

In the Steppes of Central Asia

 

Brahms

Symphony No. 1

Symphony No. 2

Violin Concerto

 

Bruch

Scottish Fantasy

Violin Concerto No. 1

 

Bruckner

Symphony No. 9

 

Chopin

Nocturnes

Piano Concerto No. 1

 

Copland

Appalachian Spring

 

Debussy

Clair de Lune

Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune

 

Delibes

Lakmé

 

Dukas

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

 

Dvořák

Cello Concerto

Symphony No. 9 “From the New World”

 

Elgar

Cello Concerto

Enigma Variations

 

Grieg

Peer Gynt

 

Handel

Messiah

Music for the Royal Fireworks

Water Music

 

Haydn

Trumpet Concerto

Symphony No. 94 “Surprise”

 

Holst

Planets Suite

 

Liszt

Hungarian Rhapsodies

 

Mahler

Lied von der Erde

Symphony No. 1 “The Titan”

Symphony No. 5

 

Massenet

Thais

 

Mendelssohn

Midsummer Night’s Dream

Symphony No. 3 “Scottish”

Symphony No. 4 “Italian”

 

Mozart

Clarinet Concerto

Flute and Harp Concerto

Piano Concerto No. 21 “Elvira Madigan”

Piano Concerto No. 23

Requiem Mass 19

Serenade 13 “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”

Symphony No. 40

Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter”

 

Mussorgsky

“Night on Bald Mountain” aka “Night on a Bare Mountain”

Pictures at an Exhibition

 

Orff

Carmina Burana (There's a reason they play excerpts from this work in so many high-drama film scenes)

 

Pachelbel

Canon in D

 

Paganini

Violin Concerto No. 1

 

Christian Petzold

Minuet in G Major

 

Prokofiev

Romeo and Juliet

 

Rachmaninoff

Piano Concerto No. 2

Piano Concerto No. 3

 

Ravel

Bolero

String Quartet in F Major

 

Respighi

Fountains of Rome

 

Rimsky-Korsakov

Scheherazade

 

Rodrigo

Concierto de Aranjuez

 

Saint-Saens

Carnival of the Animals

Symphony No. 3 “Organ”

 

Satie

Gymnopédie No. 1

 

Schubert

Piano Quintet “Trout”

Symphony No 8 “Unfinished”

Symphony No. 9 “The Great”

 

Shostakovich

The Gadfly

 

Sibelius

Finlandia

 

Smetana

Ma Vlast

 

Stravinsky

Rite of Spring

 

Strauss

Also Spake Zarathustra

 

Tchaikovsky

1812 Overture (Tchaikovsky himself wasn't overly thrilled with this work, but one does hear it quite a bit - who doesn't love cannons?)

Capriccio Italien

Nutcracker Suite

Piano Concerto No. 1

Romeo and Juliet

Swan Lake

Symphony No. 6 “Pathetique”

 

Vaughan Williams

Fantasia on a Theme by Tallis

Lark Ascending

 

Vivaldi

Chamber Concertos (all)

Four Seasons

Gloria

 

Having completed the list (although it may be revised from time to time), I realize there may have been simpler ways to go about this; for example, I might have just simply written, “all of Beethoven’s symphonies,” instead of listing some of them individually. 

A chronological list might have been interesting, but more to the experienced classical music listener than to someone in the early stages of appreciation. 

That the list contains immortal works side-by-side with works that one could possibly live without is inarguable; Dukas and Massenet may seem to sit uneasily alongside the likes of Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart.  But if the entries on this list get you thinking – or, better yet, listening – it will have served its purpose. 

 

 



 

 

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