The Survey Says
Sometimes when you say the words “classical music”—a student will roll their eyes. But maybe that’s just because they haven’t been properly introduced to the wonders, richness, complexities and passion of these monuments of music.
So where should a teacher begin? We asked that question to hundreds of teachers in our ThinkFives-ESGI survey: What classical pieces of music would they recommend every student should hear?
Without further ado, maestro…
Requiem – Mozart
A Requiem is a Roman Catholic mass for the dead: while it includes movements that are part of the daily mass (Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei), there are several other movements with texts of mourning and remembrance. (Wikipedia).
According to classicfm.com, “Mozart was not in the best state of mind when he received an anonymous commission to compose a Requiem Mass. His health was deteriorating and he believed he had been cursed to write a requiem as a ‘swansong’ for himself, because he was sure he was about to die.”
It was in early July 1791 that an ‘unknown, gray stranger’ turned up at the composer’s door, saying he represented someone who wanted a Requiem from Mozart on the understanding that he did not seek to learn the identity of his patron.
Spooked by the commission, Mozart threw himself obsessively into the work. But it was all too much. He was only able to complete the Requiem and Kyrie movements, and managed to sketch the voice parts and bass lines for the Dies Irae through to the Hostias.
Mozart died aged 35 on December 5, 1791, before he could complete the work.
Canon in D – Pachelbel
If you are not familiar with the name of this piece, just listen to the recording or YouTube video and you will instantly recognize it.
Often heard in churches at funerals and weddings, Canon in D was written by Johann Pachelbel. Pachelbel was renowned for his organ and other keyboard music, whereas today he is also recognized as an important composer of church and chamber music. According to Wikipedia, “Little of his chamber music survives, however. Only Musikalische Ergötzung—a collection of partitas published during Pachelbel’s lifetime—is known, apart from a few isolated pieces in manuscripts. The Canon and Gigue in D major is one such piece. A single 19th-century manuscript copy of them survives,”
Pachelbel’s Canon combines the techniques of canon and ground bass. Canon is a polyphonic device in which several voices play the same music, entering in sequence. In Pachelbel’s piece, there are three voices engaged in canon but there is also a fourth voice, the basso continuo, which plays an independent part.
The circumstances of the piece’s composition are not known. Writer Hans-Joachim Schulze believes that the piece may have been composed for Johann Christoph Bach’s wedding, on 23 October 1694, which Pachelbel attended. Johann Ambrosius Bach, Pachelbel, and other friends and family provided music for the occasion.
Whatever the purpose, Pachelbel Canon in D stands today as one of the finer pieces of Baroque music in the world.
A River Flows In You – Yiruma
So how did Yiruma’s River Flows In You make our top 5? In addition, being a great piano piece, it found fame when it was featured in the Twilight saga movies. According to classicfm.com, “River Flows in You has morphed into the ‘Clair de lune’ of the 21st century and if you’re an aspiring pianist or just enjoy the sound of a simple, beautiful melody, you will have likely come across Yiruma’s lyrical piano piece.”
The piece, written in A major, is the South Korean-British composer’s best-selling song to-date. Structured more like a pop song than a classical piano composition, ‘River Flows in You’ is hugely popular among both pop and classical listeners.
Consisting of recurring patterns and repetition, it is generally classed as ‘new-age’ or ‘contemporary classical’ music and has been compared to modern film and TV music.
Yiruma, whose real name is Lee Ru-ma, is a South Korean-British composer and pianist. Born in 1978, he started playing piano at the age of five, and moved to London when he was 10 to study at the Purcell School of Music.
What does ‘River Flows in You’ mean? Classicfm.com answers the question. “The phrase ‘River Flows in You’ is quite enigmatic in English. So, whether it’s about finding your inner music, falling in love (or the feeling of desperately needing to find a bathroom), the meaning behind the piece is all in the ears of the listener.”
Four Seasons – Antonio Vivaldi
Believe it or not, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was considered a radical violin concerto in its time.
According to the String Ovations team, “during the Baroque period, the idea of radical music was anything that veered from the traditional way of doing things. Other “radical” classical composers of their time periods include Mozart and Stravinsky. Unlike those composers, however, historians cannot claim that Vivialid’s “The Four Seasons” caused any riots. That said, the first performances in Italy, France, and throughout the European continent had frequent concert-attendees.”
The Four Seasons is a group of four violin concertos by Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi, each of which gives musical expression to a season of the year. These were composed around 1718−1720, when Vivaldi was the court chapel master in Mantua. They were published in 1725 in Amsterdam, together with eight additional concerti, as The Contest Between Harmony and Invention.
The Four Seasons is the best known of Vivaldi’s works. One of the reasons Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was so unique is that it was one of the first classical compositions to implement and follow a dynamic music program. “The Four Seasons” was a musical score created to honor four descriptive sonnets about each season (four sonnets in all).
The work is so masterfully created it’s not hard to sit back and feel the breezes and changing of the seasons throughout the piece.
The Fifth Symphony – Beethoven
The classic of classics and the #1 piece of classical music that teachers recommended every student should know is Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.
The symphony was written between 1804 and 1808 and is one of the most frequently played symphonies in the world. It is widely considered one of the cornerstones of western music.
Da-Da-Da-DUM. Can anyone think of a piece of work that starts so emphatically and powerfully?
The work began to achieve its prodigious reputation in 1813 soon after music critic, E. T. A. Hoffmann declared the symphony as “one of the most important works of the time.” As is typical of symphonies during the Classical period, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony has four movements but there was nothing typical of the piece. Said Hoffman, “it is a brilliant shaft of blinding sunlight suddenly penetrating the darkness of night.”
Beethoven began the piece in 1804, and it had a long development process as he worked out the musical ideas for the piece. Beethoven was in his mid-thirties during this time and his personal life was troubled by increasing deafness.
The Fifth Symphony was premiered on 22 December 1808 at a packed concert at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna. Directed by Beethoven himself on the conductor’s podium, the concert lasted for more than four hours and included his Sixth Symphony as well. While Beethoven was not one of those famous artists who died poor and unappreciated, imagine the royalties he could have collected today in this world of Spotify, Pandora, ringtones and merchandise.
- Tchaikovsky – Swan Lake
- Beethoven – Für Elise
- Strauss – The Beautiful Blue Danube
- Bizet – Overture to Carmen
- Tchaikovsky – The Nutcracker
Great for Youngsters
- Gioachino Rossini – William Tell Overture,
- Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov – The Flight of the Bumblebee,
- Aaron Copland – Hoe-Down,
- Ravel – Bolero
- Prokofiev – Peter and the Wolf
What Classical Music do you appreciate the most?