My Top 19 Favorite Classical Pieces
Posted by Mitch Mitchell on Oct 19, 2009
Now, it’s time for my top 19 favorite classical pieces ever. But it comes with a twist. Instead of just saying I like Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, which isn’t on the list so it’s a throwaway favorite, I’m indicating which movement is my favorite if it’s a long piece. That is, if there is a favorite within a long piece, which you’ll see what I mean as I go through some of these.
I’m betting this won’t be one of my more popular posts, as I’ve got a feeling most folks who stop by here probably aren’t into classical music as much as they might be into TV, but hey, I wanted to do something like this, with clips and such, and so here we go. By the way, these particular posts take a lot of time to put together, but I’m trying to show y’all that, when necessary, I will put in the time to bring you something special; whether you like it or not. By the way, Beethoven is my favorite composer, and you’ll see a lot of his stuff here.
In reverse order, here we go:
19. Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances – I have to say this up front; I hate ballet. I don’t like dance like this. I do, however, love the music of a bunch of ballets. This is one of my favorites, though I don’t have any stories saying why because I really don’t know why. I couldn’t get a video that just keyed in on the part I love the most, but it’s contained within here.
18. Orff’s Carmina Burana – I first heard this in college and was blown away by the power of the chorus. This was definitely something I wasn’t prepared for, and yet I loved it from the minute I heard it. I used to know all the lyrics to this bad boy; those days are gone. O Fortuna is the first song from Carmina Burana, and I decided to share a bit of my favorite artist of all time, Michael Jackson, with this song.
17. Gershwin’s An American In Paris – This is a very long piece, almost 24 minutes long, so the video I have of it will only give a short portion from the beginning. I grew to love this song when I saw Gene Kelly, one of my favorite old movie stars, in the movie of the same name. Now this guy was a man’s man when it came to dancing, and the dance sequence was something else. The music was perfect for what they did with it.
16. Puccini’s Turandot, Nessun Dorma – This is a classic opera piece, and within the last couple of years, it was made popular again by Paul Potts, who won Britian’s Got Talent with it. However, the guy who owns the song as his own is Luciano Pavarotti, who I have singing it here.
15. Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess, Summertime – One of the most famous opening songs in operatic history, Gershwin gets two places from me with this powerful song, here sung by Kathleen Battle, who I was going to marry in my past life so she would just sing to me every night. Later I heard she can sometimes be difficult to work with, so I guess I got lucky there.
14. Randall Thompson’s Alleluia – This is one of my favorite choral pieces, and I’m sure it has something to do with it also being one of the first choral pieces I sung when I was a freshman in college. I’ll own up to it; I had problem singing German lyrics, even though I learned how to speak a little German, as well as write it, when I was 10 years old. Those days were gone by the time I reached college, though. But this is one word throughout, crafted well by Thompson, and I always imagined that we sounded this good every time out.
13. Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, choral part – My first Beethoven piece on this list, the choral part could actually also be called the fourth movement. The reason it’s not is because it’s a fantasy, not a symphony or a concerto, even though the piano is prominent throughout the piece. I always want to play this piece; instead, I was one of the boys of the chorus, but not very good since it was German once again.
12. Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata, 2nd movement – I don’t know a piano player worth anything who hasn’t played this piece. It was one of the few classical pieces that I actually knew how to play without music, and I played it very well if you ask me. However, it’s also the piece I played for my first piano teacher in college, who absolutely cringed when he heard me play it the first time. He asked me where I heard it from, and I told him from a Glenn Gould record; seems Gould was considered a “hack” by “true” classical pianists; who knew? So, I played it his way sometimes, and the way others played it at other times. Kind of like this version here.
11. Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore, “My gallant crew, good morning” – Gilbert & Sullivan wrote some pretty funny stuff, and it was how political commentary was done back in their day. This particular song is one of the funniest, in my opinion, as it cites a captain who’s more interested in how he’s perceived by his men than in how the job gets done.
Top Ten Time!
10. Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, 1st movement – Also known as the Pastoral Symphony, Beethoven easily captured the free spirit and loveliness of being out in the wilderness. There’s a video montage to this song in Disney’s Fantasia that matches up to the music really well. When I need to calm down some evenings, this is one of the pieces I put on.
9. Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, overture – I love this entire piece, and actually had hoped to play it at my wedding one day, at least the recessional part. I have to say that the movies they’ve made for this are, well, weird, especially the one with Mickey Rooney in it as a young man; I’m not really sure how old he was. It’s actually another ballet where I love the music and the singing, but hate the dancing.
8. Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus, overture – Since there were so many Strauss’ who composed music, you get his first name here. Okay, I admit it; I grew to love this piece because of a Tom and Jerry cartoon. Many old cartoons were matched up with classical pieces, which is probably why I like them so much.
7. Bizet’s Carmen, Habanera – Who hasn’t heard Carmen, let alone this piece, which is Carmen’s signature song? What’s wild about this clip is that the first time I ever saw Carmen, this is the lady who was singing it, Agnes Baltsa, and that was back in the late 80’s. This guy at the hospital I was working at invited me to go, as he had box seats, and man, I’ve never gone to another opera if I couldn’t get box seats.
6. Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, 1st Movement – I love this entire piece, and it was my dad’s favorite piece of music ever. The first movement is spectacular, and there’s no build up to it.
5. Prokofiev’s 3rd Piano Concerto, 3rd Movement – I’d never heard this piece of music, though I knew of Prokofiev because he also wrote Peter and the Wolf, until I saw the movie The Competition with Richard Dreyfuss and Amy Irving; I had a major crush on Amy Irving at the time. They have her “playing” this song at the end of the movie, which wins her the competition. It’s one of those piano pieces that not only sounds great, but visually it’s a stunning performance piece. There are two ways of playing the ending on the piano; one has a lot more flash than the other one.
4. Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, 4th Movement – Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is also known as the Choral Symphony, and the 4th movement is also known as Ode To Joy. Imagine this; it was Beethoven’s last symphony, and he was deaf when he wrote it, then conducted it. And, while he was conducting it, he got the timing incorrect, but the orchestra played it the way it had been rehearsed by someone else. In total it’s a great piece, but this finale is, well, classic.
3. Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto, 2nd movement – Yup, another Beethoven piece. The 5th Piano Concerto is also known as the Emperor Concerto, as it was written for Napoleon. However, Beethoven realized what kind of man Napoleon actually was and stripped “emperor” from it. However, it was put back after his death, and people still call it that. By the way, in its entirety this is my favorite piano concerto of all time.
2. Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, 1st Movement – This is just spectacular, and once again it’s a very long piece of music. It was considered way out there in his time, so much so that it was actually hated and scorned for about 10 years, until he brought it to the United States and became a star. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the entire 1st movement without the whole concerto, but it’s all good.
1. Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto, 2nd Movement – This is the very first song I pull out when I need relaxing, and one that I practiced for two years, only to get very close but no cigar on. It sounds like it would be easy to play, but homeboy must have had big hands because my hands just couldn’t get it done. Many of you will recognize part of this from a song Eric Carmen did in the 70’s called All By Myself. And it’s this piece that I actually have on videotape from the 80’s of Andre Watts playing, which I’d hoped would be on YouTube; oh well… At least you get Yuga Wang again; hotness! 🙂
And there you are, my favorite classical pieces. Of course there are plenty more that I could have thrown in, but this post is long enough, even if most of it is video. Please, listen to some of them, and let me know what you think.