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There's a reason these pieces are called "classics".
Charles-Valentin Alkan, a French contemporary of Chopin and Liszt, is renowned for composing some of the most technically taxing pieces ever written for piano. Awesomeness in his works is almost inevitable. (For that matter, it's an awesome moment for any pianist who can get through the average Alkan composition.)
The Grande sonate "Les quatre ages", a four-movement sonata in which each movement is half as fast as the last to depict the advancing years of the work's "protagonist". The gigantic second movement, "Quasi-Faust", is the work's high point (the high point within the high point is a fugal section three-quarters of the way through which eventually overlays six countersubjects onto the subject), although even the weighty finale, subtitled "Prometheus Bound" and marked "Extremely Slow", is awesome in its way.
Though overshadowed by the later minor key études, the Twelve Études in the Major Keys (starting with A major and descending by fifths) still have plenty of awesome moments for performer and listener. The most popular is the quadruple octave-led No.5 in F major, "Allegro barbaro", but the other eleven are also worth a listen.
The Twelve Études in the Minor Keys (starting with A minor and descending by fifths) are all awesome in their way, but some of the pieces stand out as particularly so.
The first étude, "Comme le vent", is a four-minute (if played at Alkan's prescribed tempo of 160 bars per minute) almost literal whirlwind of brilliance.
The fourth through seventh études collectively form the Symphonyforsolopiano. The unstoppably energetic finale, often described as "a ride through Hell", is particularly awesome.
The eighth through tenth études form the Concerto for solo piano, which includes an epic-length opening movement (nearly half an hour in most performances and recordings) and a relentless polonaise-like finale with a triumphant coda. Truly outstanding just to hear, even more so to see performed live.
The twelfth and most popular étude, "Le festin d'Ésope" ("Aesop's Feast"), is a massive theme and variations in which many of the variations are intended to evoke images of the sort of animals used in Aesop's fables. An extraordinary piece if the pianist is up to the challenge.
Alkan wrote five sets of six pieces entitled Recueil de chants;note All five follow a similar pattern: pieces in E major, A minor, two in A major, F-sharp minor, and a concluding Barcarolle in G minor. the most famous is the concluding barcarolle from the third set, Op.65, but all of them are well worth a listen.
Gregorio Allegri's Miserere. When the Pope heard it, he immediately declared that it could only be performed in the Sistine Chapel, and no sheet music ever sold, on pain of excommunication, so that people would pay to hear it. They did. That's right, this song was a tourist attraction.note At least, that is, until about 150 years later when a teenaged miscreant named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart listened to it once and then transcribed it, almost perfectly, from memory, and sold it to a passing Englishman - who, being Anglican, couldn't care less about the Pope excommunicating him, since from the Catholic point of view he was already excommunicated anyway. (Does that make bootlegging concert recordings Older Than Steam?) In any case, when the Pope got wind of what Mozart had done, he summoned him to Rome...and proceeded to shower him with praise for this act of sheer musical genius.
"Wayfarin' Stranger," an Appalachian folk hymn. When the piano kicks into high gear... just, WOW. Great choir, too.
It only just about counts as Classical, Emilie Autumn's instrumental song Dominant is beyond epic. If the world were ending, this would be the perfect soundtrack.
Additionally "Laced" is a great album with Revelry, Tambourin and La Folia particularly beautiful.
Johann Sebastian Bach is considered by many to be the greatest composer of all time. You can see why below.
Bach is by far the most celebrated composer of organ music, and his library of organ works is packed to overflowing with awesomeness.
Easily his most famous organ work is the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (shown here).note Although it is speculated that the piece is not actually by Bach, or is at best a transcription by Bach of a now lost piece by another composer, perhaps originally written for solo violin. It is used as the Warcraft 2 menu theme, and less than fifteen seconds of it, as performed on violin, is the core of this theme (typically used as "you underestimated by awesomeness" music) from Bleach.
The nickname of the "Little" Fugue is used to distinguish it from the Fantasia and "Great" Fugue in G minor, a masterpiece of counterpoint with a memorable fugal subject and two countersubjects constantly rotated among the four voices.
Other incredible organ works include the Prelude and Fugue in D major (the climax of the prelude is used to accompany the assassination/christening scenes in The Godfather, while the fugue stands out for its "spinning" subject and harmonic journey far away from and then back to D major), the Prelude and "St. Anne" Fugue in E-flat major (the massive five-voice fugue's three subjects are sometimes said to represent the three parts of the Trinity, and are expertly interwoven with each other), and the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor (the passacaglia is regarded as perhaps the best example of the form, and the melody of the ground bass making an almost seamless transition into its new role as the fugue subject is a masterstroke).
Bach's other organ music, including his prelude-and-fugue and toccata-and-fugue groups and his chorale preludes, are used today as the benchmark upon which all other organ music is compared. In fact, Bach improvised much of his work, including fugues; he just wrote down what he remembered later. Bach could probably have farted a four-part fugue and it would have been brilliant.
Along with his organ works, Bach is also revered for his harpsichord/other keyboard works. Some have suggested that these works may have contributed to the keyboard's rise from accompaniment instrument to solo instrument.
The Art of Fugue (Die Kunst der Fuge) was one of Bach's last works. It consists of 14 fugues and 4 canons. The last fugue, Contrapunctus XIV, was never finished due to Bach's deteriorating eyesight. The Art of Fugue is considered by some to be the pinnacle of Bach's contrapuntal style. One must listen to the work to fully appreciate its awesomeness.
Bach's keyboard toccatas and fugues are incredibly varied in tone and form. Many are just as wild as the harpsichord solo from the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 (see corresponding entry). Check out a compilation here.
Bach was also a master of the French-style dance suite. Try the six English Suitesnote which are stylistically more French than English (No.2 in A minor is perhaps the most popular, especially its spiky opening Prelude), the six French Suitesnote which are stylistically more Italian than French (the most popular by far is No.5 in G major; the Menuet from No.3 in B minor may be recognisable as Music C from the Game Boy verison of Tetris), the six Partitas for harpsichord (No.1 in B-flat major and No.2 in C minor are the most frequently performed, but the crown for awesome goes jointly to the extroverted No.4 in D major and the grandiose No.6 in E minor), and the Overture in the French Style.
The "Goldberg" Variations represent one of the greatest achievements for keyboard not just by Bach, but by any composer. A set of thirty variations bookended by the Aria on which they are based and organised into ten groups of three, the third of each group of three except the last is a two-voice canon over ever widening intervals, the second of each group of three except the first and last is a fluid arabesque, and the other variations include a lively Gigue, a four-voice Fughetta, a stately French Overture, a bright Alla breve, a sombre Adagio, and a Quodlibet on two folk melodies... all without losing sight of the structure of the theme. Truly one of Bach's masterworks.
Bach is also known for his stringed instrument works, many of which are well-known to even people unfamiliar with the rest of his work.
The Brandenburg Concertos are incredible. No.2 in F major, a real tour de force for the solo trumpet, is so awesome its first movement was sent into space as the opening track on the Voyager record. The first movement of No.5 in D major, especially the end, is harpsichord on... some kind of illegal drug.
Bach also wrote some outstanding concerti for one or more solo instruments, strings, and basso continuo. The violin concerti in A minor and E major and the Double Concertoin D minor all feature dazzling passages for the soloists (the slow movement of the Double Concerto is especially charming). Of the harpsichord concerti,note most, in fact probably all, of which were originally written as violin concerti - No.3 in D major is an arrangement of the E major violin concerto, No.6 in F major is an arrangement of the Brandenburg Concerto No.4 in G major, and No.7 in G minor is an arrangement of the A minor violin concertoNo.1 in D minor is perhaps the most spectacular, though No.2 in E major is also packed with displays of awesome by the soloist. And Bach didn't limit himself to a single soloist; the Concerto for two harpsichords in C minor is well worth a listen.
His works for unaccompanied solo stringed instruments are just as awesome. The Suite No.1 in G major for cello opens with an immediately recognisable and justly famous Prelude. The Partita No.2 in D minor for violin ends with a titanic Chaconne which taxes the violinist's skill to its limit and has inspired several even more difficult arrangements (Ferruccio Busoni's arrangement for piano being one of the most famous). And the Partita No.3 in E major for violin features another outstanding Prelude and a charming Gavotte en Rondeau.
Bach's vocal works, both religious and secular, are beloved by those who know about them. Many of Bach's cantatas are of very high quality despite the fact that there are literally hundreds of them. In fact, they are considered the finest examples of the genre. His motets are no less amazing.
We'll leave you with this: When someone suggested putting nothing but Bach on the Voyager Golden Record, Carl Sagan replied, "No, that would just be showing off."note Bach is, however, the most represented composer on the record, with three pieces: the first movement of the Brandenburg Concerto No.2, the Gavotte en Rondeau from the Partita No.3 for solo violin, and the first prelude and fugue from the second book of the Well-Tempered Clavier.
Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings may not fit the colloquial definition of "awesome", but it is one of the most emotionally powerful works ever written, whether in its original version as the slow movement of his String Quartet in B minor, its string orchestra arrangement, or especially the "Agnus Dei" choral arrangement. When "awesome" is taken to mean "inspiring awe", it fits the Adagio for Strings perfectly.
Bela Bartok is sometimes named alongside the more famous "three Bs" (Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms) to complete a quartet of great composers of every era from Baroque to early 20th century - and with good reason.
Bartók'shalf-dozenquartetsforstrings are collectively regarded as perhaps the greatest string quartets to come out of the 20th century (with the possible exception of the Ravel quartet (see corresponding entry)), and provide a compact picture of Bartók's development as a composer, particularly his lifelong fascination with Hungarian folk melodies.
All three of his piano concerti merit mention:
The jagged, percussive No. 1inEnote Though E is clearly the tonal centre of the concerto, whether it is major or minor is ambiguous until the major mode emerges triumphant in the final bars. is perhaps the least popular of the three, but its huge technical demands make it exhilarating to hear, and the eerie second movement for piano, woodwinds, and percussion shows Bartók's mastery of almost melodic, rather than purely rhythmic, use of drums, cymbals, and gongs.
The brash, upbeat No. 2inG major is even more technically demanding than No. 1,note Indeed, it is sometimes named as one of the most difficult concerti in the standard repertoire. The Hungarian pianist András Schiff claims that his keyboard is often covered in blood when he plays it, and the American pianist Stephen Kovacevich has said he nearly paralysed his hands learning it. but is thus even more exhilarating to listeners (the simpler melodic language also makes it more accessible), and once again shows Bartók's skill with orchestration. The energetic first movement features just woodwinds, brass, and percussion accompanying the piano, while the second movement places two ethereal chorale-like slow passages with muted strings and timpani either side of a frantic virtuoso whirlwind that also brings in the woodwinds and horns, and the third movement finally brings the entire orchestra together with the soloist for a brilliant summary of all that has gone before.
Perhaps the most popular of the three, the sunny, optimistic No. 3inE major may be the least technically difficultnote Bartók wrote the concerto for his wife as he was dying of leukaemia so that she would have a potential income stream after his death, but he died before completing the orchestration of the finale, a task that fell to his student Tibor Serly., but it is also the most accessible to listeners. A lyrical first movement with numerous memorable melodies is followed by an almost hymnlike second movement marked Adagio religioso (with another brilliantly fast episode at its core), which leads without a break into a bright finale with a triumphant coda.
The Concerto for Orchestra is one of 20th century classical music's masterworks, in which Bartók's flair for orchestration is on full display as each section gets time in the spotlight (hence the apparently contradictory title). The expansive first movement introduces themes which recur throughout the work; this is followed by the second movement, subtitled "Game of Pairs"note or "Presentation of Couples" depending on the source, in which the woodwind instruments pair off to play parallel melodies; then follows the slow, haunting third movement, subtitled "Elegy"; then comes the grotesquely comic fourth movement, subtitled "Intermezzo interrupted"note Though the "interruption" is sometimes claimed to parody the "Invading army" theme from Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No.7 (Leningrad), Bartók's friends insist that he was instead parodying one of the same tunes used by Shostakovich to fashion said theme, namely "Da geh' ich zu Maxim" from Franz Lehar's comic opera The Merry Widow.; and finally the triumphant finale brings the entire orchestra together.
The Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta is another showcase for Bartók's gift for orchestration, particularly for percussion.note Shostakovich is rumoured to have returned the "favour" of Bartók's alleged parody of the Leningrad symphony in the Concerto for Orchestra by parodying this work in his Symphony No.13 (Babi Yar).
Ludwig van Beethoven is regularly named as one of the greatest composers of all time, and often as the greatest. The reasons why are numerous:
The fourth movement of Beethoven's Symphony No.9 in D minor is one of many Standard Snippets popular throughout fiction, but it is one that truly conveys majesty. Not only through fiction, after all, it is the anthem of the European Union. It speaks volumes that this song managed to be chosen as the EU anthem even after having been used as a patriotic song by the Nazis. It's that good.note Albeit if Beethoven had been alive in the Nazi era, he would've yelled and screamed at Hitler and quite possibly devised a half-mad one-man plot to assassinate the Führer for misuse of the piece—Beethoven was a committed liberal and democrat, and the "Ode to Joy" is a setting of an emphatically liberal work of the Enlightenment's best poet, Schiller. On the other hand, Beethoven would've been delighted at the use of his Fifth Symphony by the Western Allies. Suffice it to say, if Beethoven had been born in 1870 and not 1770, he would've been one of the first Germans sent to the camps—and would have been proud to have been sent there, too. It has been said of the 9th Symphony that Beethoven, in his final symphonic work, showed a desire to reach beyond the music itself and draw upon something divine. To cap this off, on the night of the Symphony's premiere, the performance received five standing ovations. What's so special about this? The Emperor of Austria received three when attending performances and it was custom for no one to outdo this. Yes, that's right, Beethoven became greater than an Emperor for his music. (And the first three movements are pretty awesome as well - so much so that Beethoven quotes each of them briefly at the beginning of the finale.) Of particular note is the performance led by Leonard Bernstein at the Brandenburg Gate just after the opening of the Berlin Wall. He made just one slight change to the lyrics, replacing the word Freuden (Joy) with Freiheit(Freedom). (Beethoven, for all this Mad Artist tendencies, would almost certainly have cried with Freude had he been there.)
Several of Beethoven's other symphonies are regarded as timeless classics of the form:
Beethoven's personal favourite of his symphonies was No.3 in E-flat major, the "Eroica". With its stirring first movement, solemn funeral march of a slow movement, lightning fast scherzo third movement, and expansive set of variations in the finale, it's not hard to see why he was proud of it.note Going back to Beethoven's politics, it was originally dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte, when he was a committed republican revolutionary general, and got Beethoven in a lot of hot water in Vienna, considering that the Republic Napoleon fought for was Austria's Enemy No. 1 on many levels. When Napoleon became Emperor, Beethoven retracted his dedication.
The first movement of his Symphony No.5 in C minor has perhaps the most recognisable opening to any classical piece, ever, but the otherthreemovements also deserve mention here. In particular, although the third movement leading straight into the fourth and the quote of the main theme from the third movement in the middle of the finale may seem like small details, at the time no major symphony had used either device.
Symphony No.6 in F major, the "Pastoral", reflects Beethoven's love of the countryside of central Europe, and is one of his most beautiful and serene works (apart from the thunderstorm in the fourth movement). The last three movements are played without breaks, making it the second major symphony (after No.5) to use this device - and both symphonies premiered in the same concert in 1808 (albeit in reverse numerical order).note Unfortunately, a combination of a cold concert hall, an underrehearsed orchestra, and the sheer length of the programme, in which Beethoven premiered several other major works including his Piano Concerto No.4, meant the concert was not the huge success it should have been; the critical and audience adoration that has surrounded the symphonies and the piano concerto ever since only took root the following year.
The second movement of Beethoven's Symphony No.7 in A major is the very definition of "allegretto", with an insistent theme that sticks with the listener long afterward. The otherthreemovements aren't bad, either (the almost frantic energy of the finale is a particular highlight).
Beethoven was also a master of works for soloist and orchestra:
His Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor was inspired by Mozart's Piano Concerto No.24 in the same key, and lays the foundation for the sort of tragedy-to-triumph journey found in his Symphony No.5, also in C minor. The opening measures of the finale, which smooth over the transition from the E major of the slow movement to the C minor of the (first part of the) finale, are a particularly bold move.
Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.4 in G major has one of most hauntingly beautiful slow movements ever, and frames it with a sweeping opening movement (which makes the then-audacious move of opening with a passage for unaccompanied piano) and a rambunctious finale.
The most famous of Beethoven's piano concerti, and with good reason, is No.5 in E-flat major, the "Emperor", which goes from a vast first movement (like No.4 before it, this concerto introduces the piano almost immediately after a single chord from the orchestra) to an absolutely gorgeous slow movement which leads - without break - straight into a brilliant finale.
The technically demanding yet melodically memorable Violin Concerto in D major is one of the highlights of the violinist's repertoire, packed with ingenious moments from the four soft timpani beats that open the first movement to the victorious final measures of the third movement.
Beethoven's thirty-two sonatas for piano include many timeless masterpieces in a genre Beethoven helped to re-define. Just to name a few:
No.8 in C minor, the "Pathetique",note The only title Beethoven himself gave one of his piano sonatas is indelibly carved on the public consciousness, from its stormy first movement, through the placid, Standard Snippet-led slow movement, to the agitated finale.
No.14 in C-sharp minor, the "Moonlight". From its immediately recognisable slow opening movement to the almost non-stop storm of virtuosity in the finale, it stands as one of his greatest achievements for piano.
No.23 in F minor, the "Appassionata", has perhaps single-handedly created an association between the key of F minor and dark, deeply passionate music. The relentless energy of the finale is a highlight.
No.29 in B-flat major, the "Hammerklavier", is both the longest and the most technically difficult piece Beethoven ever wrote for piano. From the expansive opening sonata allegro, through the brilliant scherzo, the mammoth F-sharp minor Adagionote Beethoven's only composition in that key, and the epic three-voice fugue in the finale, it is a real rollercoaster for performer and listener.
Beethoven'slastfivestringquartets are perhaps the supreme achievements of his final years. Particular standouts include the delightful theme and variations in the slow movement of No.12 in E-flat major, the heart-rendingly beautiful Cavatina and titanic Grosse Fuge from No.13 in B-flat major (the latter, perhaps Beethoven's greatest contrapuntal work, is often played separately while a shorter finale is used in the quartet), the masterfully assembled seven-movements-in-one structure of No.14 in C-sharp minor, the almost impossibly serene Heiliger Dankgesang at the centre of No.15 in A minor, and the famous "Muss es sein? — Es muss sein"note "Must it be? — It must be" melodic motifs in the finale of No.16 in F major.
Awesome selection from 20th century classical music is Luciano Berio's Sinfonia, particularly the 3rd movement, which consists of a movement from a Mahler symphony with all manner of musical quotations layered, as well as more literal quotations from the works of Claude Levi-Strauss and others. A particularly mind-blowing moment is near the end, when half the vocalists shout "Stop!," while the other half shout "Keep going!"
Although the name "the three Bs" is generally taken to mean Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, when the phrase was originally coined in the mid-19th century (when Brahms was still a teenager) by the German composer and music critic Peter Cornelius, the "third B" was the French composer Hector Berlioz, one of the leading early Romantic composers and a master of awesome music.
Like many other composers on this page, he wrote a particularly awesome version of the "Dies irae" for his Requiem Mass.
By far Berlioz' most famous piece is the Symphonie Fantastique, one of the defining pieces of the Romantic era. It is one of the first major pieces of orchestral programme music to make significant use of a Leitmotif (or idée fixe to use the French term) in all five movements, and each movement is filled with other awesome moments, especially the last two, the weighty "March to the Scaffold" and the savage "Witches' Sabbath" (which uses the "Dies irae" theme prominently).
Even its fans would acknowledge that 20th century classical music is an acquired taste, but here is one 20th century piece made from purest awesome: Leonard Bernstein's 1st Movement of the Chichester Psalms.
Georges Bizet may have died young, but he left plenty of awesome music behind to secure his place in history.
His masterpiece, Carmen, is one of the most well-known operas in popular culture, and one of the most oft-performed operas in the world. Try the Big Chorus Number "Les Voici" (a.k.a. "Entry of the Toreadors") from Act IV, or the Habanera, or the Seguidilla, or the Toreador Song, which is possibly one of the most famous operatic songs for a man of all time! And there are all kinds of other gems sprinkled throughout the opera, from beginning (the famous Prelude to Act I combines instrumental versions of "Les voici" and the Toreador Song) to end.
His "L'Arlésienne"suites show that Bizet's talents extended beyond the operatic stage; the concluding Farandole from the second suite is a particular standout.
The Polovtsian Dances from Aleksandr Borodin's opera Prince Igor starts with a slow section that was ripped off as "Strangers in Paradise" for the 1953 Broadway musical Kismet, but then continues to a fast, bombastic, and very "O Fortuna"-ish section that has been used in a lot of movie trailers.
The ecstatic last episode of John Borstlap's symphonic poem Psyche.
Johannes Brahms was named alongside Bach and Beethoven by the German conductor Hans von Bülow as one of "the three Bs", three composers who helped to define western classical music whose names happened to begin with B. It's not hard to see why von Bülow felt Brahms was worthy to be ranked alongside Bach and Beethoven:
Brahms' four symphonies are all regarded as among the sublime achievements of the late Romantic symphony.
It took Brahms somewhere between fourteen and twenty-one years to go from the first sketches to the first performance of his Symphony No.1 in C minor. It was worth the wait; Hans von Bülow sometimes referred to the symphony as "Beethoven's Tenth", deeming it the first worthy successor to the symphonic tradition Beethoven had established half a century earlier. Indeed, part of the reason for the symphony's long gestation was because Brahms wanted to compose a symphony worthy of Beethoven, and it follows a similar "tragedy to triumph" journey to Beethoven's fifth and ninth symphonies.note Although Brahms viewed some of the more explicit comparisons between his symphony and Beethoven's two minor key symphonies as tantamount to accusations of plagiarism.
Once Brahms got the hang of writing a symphony, No.2 in D major took just a single summer to compose, and No.3 in F major followed a few years later. Both are masterfully assembled and packed end to end with gorgeous melodies; the plaintive third movement of No.3 is a particular highlight.
The final movement of Symphony No.4 in E minor is a great deal of awesome. He's got the whole powerful and tragic thing running on all four cylinders - and unlike most symphonies in minor keys (including his own C minor symphony), he doesn't shift into the major mode for the ending. The firstthreemovements have plenty of awesome moments of their own.note Yes fans will recognise the third movement as the source of Rick Wakeman's solo track "Cans and Brahms" on Fragile.
Though (and perhaps because) Brahms' twopiano concerti are both very demanding of the soloist - the B-flat major concerto in particular is one of the most difficult in the standard repertoire - they are each fifty minutes of pure awesome.
Brahms' violin concerto is one of the greatest of the late Romantic era, framing an impossibly gorgeous slow movement (led by an extended oboe solo) with an epic-length first movement and a lively, dance-like finale.
One of the greatest pieces of choral music ever written, Ein deutches Requiem. As opposed to the usual Latin Requiem text, he used quotations of the Luther Bible, starting with the Gospel of Matthew: "Blessed are those that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Those that sow with tears shall reap with joy". Just beautiful enough to be a Tear Jerker all by itself.
English composer Havergal Brian remained almost completely obscure until fairly late in his life; of his 32 symphonies, 21 were written after his 80th birthday, and seven after his 90th birthday. Many of his symphonies are rather ambitious in scale, but none more so than No.1 in D minor, the "Gothic", named in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest symphony ever performed, and the one calling for the largest orchestra. Although, at an hour and fifty minutes, it can easily overwhelm the listener, and the sheer orchestral forces involvednote The second part of the symphony calls for four vocal soloists (soprano, alto, tenor, bass), four full choirs, a children's choir, two piccolos, six flutes (one doubling alto flute), six oboes (one doubling oboe d'amore, one doubling bass oboe), two cors anglais, two E-flat clarinets, four B-flat clarinets, two basset horns, two bass clarinets, a contrabass clarinet, three bassoons, two contrabassoons, sixteen horns (eight offstage), two E-flat cornets, twelve trumpets (eight offstage), a bass trumpet, eleven tenor trombones (eight offstage), a bass trombone, a contrabass trombone, two euphoniums, two tubas, six sets of timpani (four offstage), a glockenspiel, a xylophone, two bass drums, three snare drums, a long drum, two tambourines, six sets of cymbals, a tam-tam, a thunder machine, a set of tubular bells, a set of chimes, a set of chains, two triangles, a bird scarer, a celesta, a pipe organ, two harps, twenty first violins, twenty second violins, sixteen violas, fourteen cellos, and twelve double basses. (The instrumental first part of the symphony "only" requires about two-thirds of the orchestra.) mean performances and recordings are few and far between,note Only around a half dozen performances of the uncut symphony have been successfully mounted, including at the BBC Proms in 1966 (with Brian, then aged 90, in attendance), 1980, and 2011; it has also been recorded just three times, in 1966, 1989, and a live recording at the 2011 Proms. it is a truly staggering work to both see and hear performed.
Richard Wagner sometimes named Anton Bruckner as the "third B" alongside Bach and Beethoven; while the idea never caught on, Bruckner certainly left his fair share of awesome music for future listeners.
We don't have much in the way of confirmation, but it is quite possible that Bruckner wrote the fourth movement of his Eighth Symphony, starting from a single bouncing note in the strings, then suddenly blossoming into a massive brass fanfare, specifically to knock you on your ass.
While the opening of his Fourth Symphony (The Romantic, the only one Bruckner himself named) was meant to make you shiver, string tremolo, horn solo echoed by woodwinds, building slowly, steadily, and suddenly low brasses and strings moving in unison to the Bruckner Rhythm.
David Brunner's All I Was Doing Was Breathing is seriously sexy. How? (1) According to the composer, it's written for "SSAA chorus with soprano soloist, cello, tabla, Tibetan finger cymbals, brass bowls, jangle stick, elephant bells and ankle bells". (2) The lyrics are by Mirabai, a 16th century Hindu mystic who spent her life writing passionate poetry to Krishna. (3) The last section (4:10 to the end), which builds and builds to an ecstatic climax only to drop to a solemn ending.
The Piano Concerto in C by Ferruccio Busoni. Nearly an hour long, in five movements, and the last movement calls for full-voiced men's choir. If you have a pianist that can manage it, it is a thing of amazement.
John Cage is certainly a polarising composer, but his fans find plenty of awesome in his music.
His prepared piano music. Regardless of how you feel about his later music, these earlier pieces are texturally fascinating, melodically innovative (and hummable!) and rhythmically exciting. For example, try listening to Totem ancestor.
Prelude from Marc-Antoine Charpentier's Te Deum, written near the end of the 17th century. It is often known as "the Eurovision theme" as it was adopted as the ident of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU)/Union européenne de radio-télévision (UER) and has played at the start of every Eurovision Song Contest. Also it's used as a first part of theme music for Jeux sans frontičres (Games without Frontiers or Games Without Borders), a Europe-wide television game show.
Frédéric Chopin is considered one of the undisputed masters of compositions for solo piano, and rightly so.
Though Chopin ordered the manuscript for the Fantaisie-Impromptu burned at his death, the executors of his estate fortunately defied him and had it published anyway, leaving us with one of his most blinding works.
Waltz in C# minor. (Too often played much too fast, but the linked video is an excellent recording.)
The posthumous nocturne in C# minor. It can be a very difficult piece to play, but it pretty much defines "heartbreakingly beautiful" as classical music goes.
Chopin's two piano concerti in E minor and F minor rank among the greatest in the standard repertoire. Although the orchestra has little to do in either concerto, the pianist's technique really takes flight in both, from their emotionally expansive opening movements to their heart-rendingly beautiful slow movements to their energetic finales.
Chopin's two sets of 12 études, Op.10 and Op.25, stand as some of the first pieces written as technical studies which are also suitable for concert performances. Highlights include the heart-rending Op.10 No.3 in E major (sometimes called "Tristesse"), the spiky Op.10 No.5 in G-flat major (known as the "Black Key" as the right hand plays only on the black keys), the stormy Op.10 No.12 in C minor ("Revolutionary"), and the even stormier Op.25 No.11 in A minor ("Winter Wind").
With the four Scherzi, Chopin explored what could be done with the basic structure of a fast piece with a slow, contrasting centre section. From the bittersweet melody framed on either side by furious storms of No.1 in B minor, to the alternating clouds and sunshine of the fast sections encircling a "trio" that almost sounds like a new piece has started in No.2 in B-flat minor, to the thundering quadruple octaves, shimmering slower section, and last-second triumph of No.3 in C-sharp minor, to the by turns enigmatic, lively, solemn, and ultimately joyful No.4 in E major, they add up to forty minutes of awesome.
Technically, it's Classical and something else, but Classical Crossover and Classical Fusion definitely deserve mention. Just start with "Explosive" from Bond and go from there.
Aaron Copland is one of the most highly regarded American composers of the 20th century, and there are plenty of reasons why.
In his Symphony No.3, the introduction of the main theme in the fourth movement. It's audibly a variation on the themes of the prior three movements - except it is also Copland's famous "Fanfare for the Common Man". It's like an Overly Preprepared Gag, except instead of a joke it has pure musical triumph. (ELP's rendition of "Fanfare for the Common Man" is pretty awesome too.)
A Copland medley with "Fanfare for the Common Man" and "Simple Gifts" has been a staple of the WVU marching band for a long time now - listen to it here.
Copland's Rodeo - especially the Hoedown - is often cited as uplifting souls and generating tears.
François Couperin is perhaps the most well-known French Baroque composer, and with good reason; his solo keyboard and chamber works are positively overflowing with inventive and beautiful pieces. Perhaps his most spectacular keyboard work is "Le Tic-Toc-Choc" from the 18th "ordre" in F, in which the performer's hands are intended to play on two different manuals as they are in the same range for most of the piece. However, when played on a piano with just one keyboard and the hands almost on top of each other, it becomes even more amazing to see and hear.
Henry Cowell's ThreeIrishLegends Suite. While modern pieces that rely heavily on dissonant clusters for their effects, they're ALL amazing pieces of work.
Antonin Dvorak picked up the Czech nationalism trend established by Bedrich Smetana (see corresponding entry) and carried it to new levels of awesome.
His Symphony No. 9 ("FromtheNewWorld"). All four movements are concentrated awesome. John Williams is a big fan of this work; the third movement Molto vivace was helpful in writing the score to Star Wars, while the concluding Allegro con fuoco was blatantly plagiarised into the Jaws theme, but is ten times more awesome. The latter also takes up the final half of episode 126 of One Piece (where Luffy finally defeats Sir Crocodile), and was remixed into one of Rhapsody of Fire's most epic songs, Wizard's Last Rhymes.
The Cello Concerto in B minor. The whole thing, especially the first movement, is an awesome moment for concertos in general.
Edward Elgar is perhaps England's most popular composer, and has plenty of awesome music to back up that title.
The theme from the Enigma Variations forms the basis of "Clubbed to Death" as featured in The Matrix.note The "enigma" of the title - the identity of the apparently familiar melody which Elgar imagined playing over the theme as he composed it, but which he politely declined to reveal - remains a mystery to this day.Nimrod, a movement from the Variations, is achingly beautiful and has been used in many moving moments in film and TV, as well as being played by British military bands at services on Remembrance Day.
Elgar's Cello Concerto also forms a solid block of awesomeness, but particularly the first movement as played by Jacqueline du Pre: a quiet beginning, rising to incredible heights, and back down again.
The Violin Concerto may be overshadowed by the Cello Concerto, but it is still 55 minutes of awesome. All three movements are positively overflowing with melodic goodness, and the violinist's extended time in the spotlight in the second half of the finale is an awesome moment for any soloist up to the challenge.
Elgar's First Symphony also deserves a mention. Its opening is superb. It begins with muted timpani, and then branches into a glorious, stately theme, played pianissimo at first, but it starts increasing in volume, and then it gets taken up by the full orchestra, played fortissimo. The effect is glorious.
Though French composer Gabriel Fauré has long been overshadowed by two of the next generation of French composers, Debussy and Ravel, he wrote many pieces of outstandingly beautiful music that are well worth hearing.
Fauré's Requiem deliberately departs from the usual trend for Requiem masses by sticking the "Dies Irae" passage in ridiculously awesome fashion in the 6th movement "Libera Me" instead of devoting an entire fire-and-brimstone movement to it. Both this and the 7th movement, "In Paradisum", were used to poignant effect in the final episode of British Detective Series Inspector Morse.
Fauré started early. When he was nineteen and still in college, he received a homework assignment to write a song for SATB choir and piano or organ. The resulting song, "Cantique de Jean Racine", is probably the only homework assignment to have its own Wikipedia article. It is sweet, deceptively simple, and beautiful beyond words—even the volunteer children's choir they have singing the song on The Other Wiki can't much ruin it.
César Franck's Le Chasseur Maudit, which tells how the titular "accursed hunter" is punished by God for hunting on the Sabbath. There are four sections, all of them epic. The hunter ignores the church bells and heads to the forest (section 1, a noble slow introduction). He relentlessly pursues his prey (section 2, containing the main "chase" theme). He reaches the heart of the forest (section 3, a slow interlude superficially reminiscent of section 1 but much more mysterious). Something stirs in the trees (a creepy transition that ends with a terrifying blast from the horns), and suddenly the hunter is himself being chased (section 4, which cleverly repeats the "chase" theme from section 2 but much faster and with creepier instrumentation). The hunter hears church bells as fate closes in on him. Basically, it's awesome.
Polish-American composer Leopold Godowsky, though he wrote some phenomenally difficult original music, is perhaps best known for taking 26 of Chopin's 27 étudesnote the omission being the sombre Op.25 No.7 in C-sharp minor (see corresponding entry) and cranking their technical demands Up to Eleven and beyond in a set of 54 studiesnote numbered 1-48 (skipping 37) with six extras, and usually referred to as "53 Studies" as there are two versions of No.28 which tax almost any pianist's skill to its absolute limit, and any performance of them in appropriately skilled hands is undiluted awesome. While many of the studies "simply" involve re-scoring the Chopin études for left hand alone or reversing the melodic and harmonic roles of the right and left hands, some studies go further:
No.32 in F minor ("Polonaise"), the second study adapted from Chopin's Op.25 No.4 in A minor, preserves the melodic outline of the original, but otherwise completely re-shapes it, casting aside the left-hand leap focus of the original and changing the key, the time signature, and the character to fit the model of a polonaisenote a Polish dance of which Chopin wrote several examples - and, as if one complete restructuring isn't enough, Godowsky includes a major key re-imagining of the same étude (with the melody from the original now in the left hand) as a contrasting trio section. The original étude can still be heard within it, but it is almost an entirely new piece, three times as long as the original and at least three times as awesome.
No.34 in C-sharp minor ("Mazurka"), the second study based on Chopin's Op.25 No.5 in E minor, does something similar to No.32 by preserving the melodic outline of the original but changing the key and the atmosphere to fit the model of a mazurka (like the polonaise, a Polish dance of which Chopin wrote many examples), creating something almost entirely new.
From Charles Gounod's opera Faust, there is the Soldiers' Chorus, which is basically War Is Glorious in musical form. From the same opera, the Church Scene (where Mephistopheles finally reveals his true identity to Marguerite) is terrifying when done well, while the final trio and chorus ("CHRIST EST RESUSITE!"), backed by pipe organ and brass fanfares, is absolutely majestic.
Edvard Grieg has more than earned his place as Norway's greatest ever composer.
In the Hall of the Mountain King. After the inexorable buildup, when the music finally swells and crashes, you can almost feel every cymbal crashing in your face. For a slightly different taste - but no less awesome by any means - the cover by the band Apocalyptica deserves a standing ovation every time.
Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor is perhaps one of the most familiar concerti ever written, filled with Grieg's hallmark memorable melodies (the second movement is especially lovely). Rachmaninoff liked this piece so much he based his own first piano concerto on it (see corresponding entry).
Norwegian composer Eivind Groven's awesome works begin with his piano concerto.
Canadian pianist-composer Marc-André Hamelin, one of the foremost interpreters of Leopold Godowsky's Studies After Chopin (see corresponding entry), decided to answer the question of how Godowsky's planned but unwritten study combining Chopin's three A minor études might have sounded by writing such an etude himself. Rather than following the structure of one etude and working the other two into it,note as Scottish composer and musicologist Alistair Hinton did in his (so far unrecorded) 1977 interpretation of the "triple étude" (working the other two études - and snippets of fourteen other Chopin études and the F minor Fantaisie, Op.49 - into the structure of Op.25 No.11), which he later dedicated to Hamelin Hamelin shifts back and forth between the overall structures of the three études so that each dominates at different times while the other two follow in its path,note Specifically, the first third follows Op.25 No.11, the middle third follows Op.10 No.2, and the final third follows Op.25 No.4. and the results are pure awesome from start to finish.
George Frederic Handel was born in the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach, and wrote music that is every bit as awesome.
The Messiah. All three beautiful hours, but especially the "Hallelujah" chorus. "Hallelujah! Hallelujah! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth. Hallelujah!" For added awesome, try it in flash mob form!
Israel in Egypt, particularly the second half.
Zadok the Priest, which also doubles as Awesome Music of Crowning - it was written for the coronation of King George II of Great Britain, Ireland, and Hannover in 1727, and has been played at every coronation of a British monarch since.note In fact, the Bible verses which provide the libretto for the anthem have been recited at the coronation of every English monarch since King Edgar back in the year 973!
Joseph Haydn stands alongside Mozart and Beethoven as one of the three greatest composers of the Classical era, and left plenty of awesome music to cement his reputation.
The Creation. The oratorio begins with a musical representation of chaos, followed by a bass recitative, and then the choir singing, pianissimo: "Und Gott spracht: Es werde Licht" (And God said: Let there be light), "und es ward" — and then a sudden fortissimo — "LICHT!" Words can't describe it properly — listen to it here.
There are also Haydn's masses, including his Creation Mass, which is very unusual, in that is contains probably the sweetest rendition of the Agnus Dei you will ever hear. Apparently, Haydn wanted to make the Lyrical Dissonance trope Older Than Steam.
Michael Haydn has never enjoyed the same reputation as his older brother Joseph, but his Requiem Mass is well worth a listen. Mozart liked it so much, he took inspiration from it when writing his own Requiem Mass.
Samuel R. Hazo's Ride is an energetic piece with an epic alto sax solo at 1:04. Sevens, the piece that starts out alternating between 11/16 and 7/16 time and in the key of G-flat. Arabesque, starting out with three epic flute solos and then getting much more epic as it goes on. Finally, Fantasy on a Japanese Folk Song, a beautiful piece.
Gustav Holst is one of the more popular British composers of the 20th century, and with good reason.
By far Holst's most familiar work is The Planets, a suite of seven pieces dedicated to each of the seven planets besides Earthnote The suite was composed about fifteen years before Pluto's discovery in 1930; though Holst died in 1934, he never considered writing a piece for Pluto, partly because of his Magnum Opus Dissonance regarding the work. An extra movement called "Pluto, the Renewer" was commissioned from composer Colin Matthews in 2000 and, even following Pluto's re-classification as a dwarf planet in 2006, is still occasionally, if rarely, included in performances and recordings., many of them outstanding classics.
"Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity" is the suite's most famous movement; some would say that the string solo practically qualifies as a Heartwarming Moment. Holst recomposed that part to create "I Vow To Thee My Country", one of England's many unofficial anthems.
"Uranus, the Magician". Starts out bombastic, gets quiet, then epic, then quiet again, then finally revs up to Fucking MEGA EPIC for the finale.
"Neptune the Mystic". Pure mystery, with a gorgeous Ethereal Choir. It's also the first piece in music to be written with an intentional fadeout ending, even in a live performance setting. Holst nailed it. (Holst specified that the chorus is to be placed in an offstage room, and at the end, while the chorus is repeating the last bar over and over, the door to the room is to be closed slowly...)
Holst's symphonic tone poem Egdon Heath, written to evoke the setting of Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native, is both harmonically and emotionally mysterious. Holst actually considered it his best work, but it never became popular.
Leo Janáček's String Concerto No. 2, called "Intimate Letters" by the composer. He wrote it for Kamila Stösslová, a married woman 40 years his junior who may have never loved him back. The third movement has been interpreted as a lullaby for the son she never bore him.
Scott Joplin is by far the most famous ragtime composer, and is responsible for many familiar rags:
"The Entertainer". Yes, it's become a standard jingle (usually played much too fast) but the actual piece remains great, and the third section is a moment of ethereal beauty that catches you completely by surprise.
Aram Khachaturian stands with Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich as one of the three titans of Soviet music. There are plenty of reasons why:
The Sabre Dance from Gayane is one of the most instantly recognisable tracks in all of classical music. Or, boosting the awesome quotient, Vanessa Mae's remix. And to further up the awesome quotient, there's dancers too.
"По́люшко-по́ле" (Polyushko-polye, or Song of the Plains) by Lev Knipper, with lyrics by Viktor Gusev. As stirring as Soviet patriotic songs get.
Zoltán Kodály's Vainamoinen makes music for women's choir and piano. The choir gets memorable melodies, playful counterpoint, and tricky rhythms. The piano part is beautiful, epic, and fun to play (which can't be said for a lot of choral literature). To elaborate, the piano isn't doubling the melody (which would be boring), but playing either huge rolled chords that span most of the instrument, jumpy staccato figures, or really fast trills. The huge chords are the most fun, though, so Kodály wisely puts them in the introduction and the dramatic ending.
"Vesti la giubba" from I Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo is one of the most recognisable tenor arias ever composed, and was used to great effect in The Untouchables. Enrico Caruso, widely regarded as the greatest tenor of the first half of the 20th century, made it a staple of his repertoire, the emotion of a man who has just discovered his wife loves another and now has to put on a literal clown's face to perform a comic version of that very scenario coming through in every note.
Franz Liszt is widely regarded as one of the greatest piano virtuosi of all time, even to this day. As he also composed extensively (and arranged many other composers' works for piano) with an eye to showcasing his skill at the piano, awesomeness in his compositions is a natural result.
Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No.15 in A minor, the "Rakoczy March", is a technically demanding piece even by Liszt's usual standards. In the hands of Russian virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz, however, it becomes almost an entirely new piece... and reaches entirely new levels of awesome in the process.
Niccolo Paganini (see corresponding entry) is widely regarded as one of the greatest violin virtuosi of all time. It's only natural that Liszt, one of the greatest piano virtuosi of all time, should turn his attention to adapting some of Paganini's music for piano, with awesome results. Liszt adapted five of Paganini's 24 Caprices for solo violin and the finale of one of his violin concerti for piano as the "Grandes Études de Paganini"; most famous is No.3, La Campanella, adapted from the finale to Paganini's Violin Concerto No.2 in B minor, but No.6 in A minor, adapted from Caprice No.24 in A minor, is also well worth a listen.note This same caprice has furnished the theme for sets of variations from numerous other composers, such as Brahms and Rachmaninoff, but Liszt's variations are adaptations of those by Paganini rather than purely original.
Then there's Funérailles, Totentanz, the Symphonic Poems, the first Mephisto Waltz... the only tragedy is that Liszt himself retired from performing before the advent of recorded music, so we have only contemporary accounts to tell us how these colossi of the piano's repertoire sounded in the hands of the man who wrote them to perform himself.
Liszt was also a master of arranging other composers' orchestral works for solo piano without losing any of the awesome. His arrangement of Berlioz' Symphonie fantastique helped to popularise the symphony in Berlioz' lifetime, while his arrangements of all nine of Beethoven's symphonies must be heard to be believed.note As a teenager, Liszt studied composition under the Austrian composer Carl Czerny, who had himself studied composition under Beethoven and through whom Liszt met Beethoven at least once.
Gustav Mahler was not a very prolific composer (his "day job" was conducting; he composed in his leisure time), having written nine symphonies (and leaving a tenth half-finished) and a similar number of song cycles for voice and orchestra, but the music he did write is packed with awesome.
The last 7-8 minutes of his 2nd Symphony, the "Resurrection", will take your breath away every time. This is a literal example of the phrase "pull out all the stops"; the organist is, in fact, instructed to play with all stops open, and the moment when it plays its first chords, with the full choir belting out "Aufersteh'n, ja aufersteh'n wirst du, mein Herz, in einem Nu!", is one of the most transcendent moments in classical music. The hour and twenty minutes leading up to the grand finale - the vast darkness of the opening movement, the idyllic slow movement, the sarcastic scherzo movement, the "Urlicht" mezzo-soprano aria, and the by turns mysterious and turbulent first half of the finale followed by the choir's sublime first two verses - are outstanding music as well. And, as is typical of Mahler, the early movementsnote except for the second introduce themes that figure prominently in the finale to create a sense of musical unity.note Which is doubly impressive when one notes that the first movement was originally composed as a standalone symphonic poem called Todtenfeier [sic] ("Funeral Rites"), while the third and fourth movements were adapted from movements of his song cycle Des Knaben Wunderhorn, composed at the same time as the "Resurrection" (the third movement is "Des Antonius Padua Fischpredigt" ("St Anthony of Padua's Sermon to the Fish") minus its vocal line and with a new centre section and coda, while "Urlicht" ("Primaeval Light") had its orchestration expanded for the fourth movement).
Any live (professional) performance of the mammoth 8th Symphony, "The Symphony of a Thousand", is almost guaranteed to be an awesome experience for both performers and audience.note The score calls for eight vocal soloists (three soprano, two alto, one each tenor, baritone, bass), two full choirs, a children's choir, two piccolos, four flutes, four oboes, a cor anglais, three B-flat clarinets, (at least) two E-flat clarinets, a bass clarinet, four bassoons, a contrabassoon, eight horns, four trumpets, four trombones, a tuba, a separate brass ensemble of four (or five) trumpets and three trombones, timpani (with two players), cymbals, bass drum, tam-tam, triangle, low pitched bells, glockenspiel, piano, harmonium, celesta, pipe organ, (at least) two to four harps, a mandolin (preferably several), and an enlarged string section. Though the nickname "Symphony of a Thousand" was intentional hyperbole on the part of music critics, most performances involve at least five hundred musicians. Particular highlights in a live performance include the very opening bars of the first movement, the full choir bellowing "Accende, accende lumen sensibus!" and the ensuing double fugue, the Pater Ecstaticus' first solo in the second movement, and the buildup to the triumphant orchestral coda in the symphony's final minutes.
Mexican music is underappreciated so here's Danzon no.2 by Arturo Márquez.
Pietro Mascagni may only be known today for his one-act opera Cavalleria Rusticana (a case of First Installment Wins, as it was his first opera), but it packs an incredible amount of awesome into its short runtime.
It takes a tenor of Olympian fortitude to get through the "Siciliana" serenade without rushing through it or cracking. It requires blasting off from a standing start, at top volume, at the very top of the tenor range, from backstage or sometimes under the stage. And it occurs in the middle of the overture to the opera.
The rich vocal harmonies of "Regina coeli" (the "Easter hymn") are an utter delight for the ears.
The soprano aria "Voi lo sapete" is a real tour de force for the singer playing the role of Santuzza, as she explains the opera's tangled romantic plot to her former lover's mother.
William Mathias's Salvator Mundi, a 7-part Christmas cycle for women's choir, piano, and percussion. Particularly recommended are the creepy Mirabile Mysterium, the beautiful Lullay, and the joyous Welcome, Yule.
Nikolai Medtner lives in the shadow of his compatriot and friend Rachmaninoff; both composers were talented pianists who continued to write in the Romantic idiom when it was widely seen as outdated, and both lived their final years in voluntary exile from post-Revolutionary Russia (Rachmaninoff in Beverly Hills, Medtner in London). Medtner's music is generally less accessible than Rachmaninoff's, but there is still much awesome to be found in it.
Among his three piano concerti, the most spectacular are No.2 in C minor,note Medtner dedicated the work to Rachmaninoff, who returned the favour by dedicating his fourth piano concerto to Medtner. with its sweeping, technically brutal opening movement and its charming second movement which leads straight into the sprightly finale, and No.3 in E minor, a "concerto-ballade" whose first half is based on a poem about the love of water spirits for a drowned knight and whose second half is an expansion of the story by Medtner showing the knight's eventual redemption, the music vast in scope and ingenious in construction from start to finish.
The last of his three violin sonatas, No.3 in E minor ("Sonata epica"), is every bit as epic as its subtitle suggests. The massive first movement is almost an entire musical journey on its own, by turns mysterious, agitated, jaunty, triumphant, sombre, anguished, with many chances for the violinist to show off technical brilliance and emotional sensitivity, and it contains many musical ideas which recur in the later movements. The tense scherzo, heart-rending slow movement, and tragedy-to-triumph journey of the finale round off 40 very exhilarating minutes.
Felix Mendelssohn is rightly regarded as one of the greatest composers of the early Romantic Era.
The incidental music to A Midsummer Night's Dream is a masterpiece from start to finish. The Overture was originally written when Mendelssohn was just 17, and includes themes for the fairies, the royal court of Athens, the four lovers, and the tradesmen (including a "braying" motif for when Bottom is given a donkey's head). Fifteen years later, he wove the content of the overture into a full set of musical cues for Shakespeare's play, of which the two most famous are the flighty Scherzo between Acts I and II and the Wedding March between Acts IV and V, awesomeness of epic proportions (especially in its original version for full orchestra). There's a reason it has become a standard wedding recessional in many countries.
His Violin Concerto in E minor is concentrated awesome from start to finish. The surprise transition between movements in which the dramatic final chord of the first movement dissipates, only for a single bassoon to hold its note and lead straight into the second movement, is a particular highlight.
His "Hebrides" Overture (AKA "Fingal's Cave") is a brilliant piece of thematic music, perfectly portraying the turbulent seas and mysterious caves of its namesake island group on the Atlantic coast of Scotland. The opening few phrases came into Mendelssohn's head almost as soon as he saw the colourful basalt pillars of Fingal's Cave, so powerful were their effect on him, and this power comes through in every note in the music itself.
"To this we've come" from The Consul by Gian Carlo Menotti. Passionate, desperate, and incredibly powerful.
He wrote a song titled "Leck mich im Arsch" which, in German, means "Kiss my ass". We need a Funny Music section for that.
Mozart's Symphonies No.39 in E-flat major, No.40 in G minor (the opening of which was a popular ringtone in the early 2000s), and No.41 in C major (nicknamed the "Jupiter" symphony), are some of the best symphonies to come out of the Classical era (the finale of the "Jupiter", in which Mozart rotates all five main themes among the various string sections, is especially brilliant), and are all the more remarkable as Mozart wrote them all in the space of two months.
Mozart was a prolific composer of piano concerti, credited with either 23 or 27 (his first four were arrangements of works by other composers), twelve of them (Nos.14-25) written in the space of just two years, and while they may not have the virtuosic fireworks of the piano concerti of the Romantic era, they are packed with memorable and delightful melodies and harmonies.
No.9 in E-flat major made the then-audacious move of introducing the solo pianist in only the second measure rather than after an extended orchestral ritornello (which instead comes after the piano's first flourishes). The concerto also manages to fit a four-movement structure into just three movements with a minuet interlude in the sparkling finale. Truly one of Mozart's early gems.
No.10 in E-flat major is scored for two pianos and orchestra, and the ingenious back-and-forth between the two soloists makes for one of the most exhilarating Mozart pieces both to hear and to play, from the quadruple octave trill with which the pianos make their dramatic entrance through a charming slow movement and a buoyant finale.
No.17 in G major is packed with delightful melodies from start to finish; the theme to the third movement set of variations is so catchy that Mozart's pet starling started singing it after listening to the composer playing it while writing the concerto.
No.20 in D minor is the first Mozart piano concerto in a minor key, and the first movement is appropriately tense and dramatic, while the fiery third movement eventually gives way to a triumphant, edge-of-the-seat coda.
No.21 in C major has at its centre one of the most outstandingly beautiful slow movements Mozart ever composed; it was used to great effect in the 1967 Swedish film Elvira Madigan. The outer movements are just as rewarding to hear.
Although No.22 in E-flat major is somewhat overshadowed by the two pairs of concerti just before and after it, it still follows the lead of No.9 by packing four movements of awesome into just three movements with another minuet interlude in the finale, and the extroverted opening movement is an utter delight.
No.23 in A major features a heart-rending slow movement in F-sharp minornote Mozart's only composition in that key bracketed by a charming opening movement and a finale overflowing with life and energy.
No.24 in C minor is the second and last Mozart piano concerto in a minor key, and while the first movement is once again overshadowed by the darkness of the tonality, this time the clouds do not break for the end of the theme and variations in the finale, for a conclusion that really sticks in the memory.
And Mozart didn't stop with the piano when it came to writing concerti.
Of his five violin concerti, No.5 in A major, the "Turkish", is rightly the most famous for both its gorgeous melodies and technical difficulty for the soloist, although the ever-shifting tempi of the finale of No.4 in D major make for a memorable conclusion.
Mozart's four concerti for French horn are still cornerstones of the instrument's repertoire. By far the most famous is No.4 in E-flat major, especially its boisterous finale, but there's a lot to like about the other three as well (there are early hints of the famous finale of No.4 in the the finales of No.2 in E-flat major and No.3 in E-flat major).
Each of the major woodwind instruments - flute,oboe,clarinet, and bassoon - gets a concerto from the master, every one a winner. The clarinet concerto, written near the end of Mozart's life, is perhaps the most famous of the four, with a wealth of melodic brilliance in all three movements.
The Requiem Mass was the last piece Mozart began composing; left unfinished at his deathnote his student, Franz Xaver Sussmayr, sketched it to completion, but the quality (and quantity) of Sussmayr's contributions is a subject of considerable debate., it is still packed with awesome in every measure. The "Dies irae" is a shining example, and "Confutatis, maledictis" will leave you breathless. (This was the one that Mozart was doing additive composition on with Salieri near the end of Amadeus.)
Mozart's Requiem is also notable for being one of the first headbang-able pieces of music ever written. Seriously. Mozart invented heavy metal. And Punk, according to some pundits.
The Requiem was also used to great effect in X2: X-Men United during Nightcrawler's attack on the White House, and in World at War, when you, as the Russian, sack Berlin.
Modest Mussorgsky may only be remembered for two pieces, but what pieces they are:
Conlon Nancarrow was a modern composer who liked to write pieces that no human could possibly play. These pieces might be impossibly fast or precise, contrapuntal lines at different tempi (and strange tempo ratios), and some very thick counterpoint. Obviously, if nobody could play these pieces, there could be a problem in finding performers. His solution? He wrote them for player piano, a piano that plays itself. The results are startling and rather spectacular. He did this partially as an extension of the harmonic theories of Henry Cowell, previously mentioned on this page.
Carl Nielsen is the most widely known composer to come out of Denmark, and while he may not enjoy the same fame as his counterparts in Norway and Finland, Edvard Grieg and Jean Sibelius, he still wrote a great deal of awesome music. Foremost is his Symphony No.4, subtitled Inextinguishable, especially in the latter half of the finale when he calls for the thunder of Dramatic Timpani from both sides of the stage, the timpanists almost duelling with each other.
Tarik O'Reagan needs a page of her own for her awesome Latin chant revamps. For example, Columba Aspexit.
Carl Orff may only be remembered for his song cycle Carmina Burana, but it has still given us enough awesome music to ensure that his memory will endure.
The opening "O Fortuna" is one of the most instantly recognisable pieces in all of classical music, and with good reason.
Johann Pachelbel'sCanon in D, another of the most instantly recognisable works in all of classical music. It is sometimes joked that if a classical enthusiast is asked to identify a piece of classical music used in film or television, 90% of the time the answer is either Pachelbel's Canon or Orff's "O Fortuna".
Paganini's fiendishly tough caprice #24 as played by Jascha Heifetz. There's a reason why no one is allowed to surpass Paganini in sheer awesomeness of all that he could do with a violin. As for Heifetz, his playing of this piece is something very unique. To make it more awesome, this is likely the most widely viewed classical video on Youtube, and Heifetz himself runs into several millions of views overall which further cements his place as one of the greatest violinists ever.
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina lived during the Renaissance and is considered basically the best composer of the styles contained therein. Specifically he mastered Renaissance polyphony, the art of setting the same melody into multiple voices, letting them start at different times and letting them lock together, in chord and syllable, almost by accident. There is almost nothing under his name that isn't beautiful.
Sergei Prokofiev is perhaps the most famous composer from Soviet Russia, and left many awesome pieces for future generations to enjoy.
His underrated 6th symphony in E-flat minor. The first movement builds to an especially dark climax. Seldom has a major-key resolution sounded so menacing.
Prokofiev's five piano concerti are all awesome in their own way, but a few stand out.
The intensely emotional No.2 in G minor is a masterwork, if also one of the most brutally difficult concerti in the standard repertoirenote Many otherwise technically gifted pianists either refuse to touch it (such as the Argentinian pianist Martha Argerich) or put off learning it (such as the Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin); even Prokofiev himself had trouble playing it during a 1930s performance with the BBC Symphony Orchestra.; aside from the opening of the first movement and the slow interlude in the finale, the savage technical demands on the soloist never let up for a moment, and must be seen, not just heard, to be believed. To add to the awesome, Prokofiev wrote it when he was just 22 years old.
The Symphony-Concerto in E minor is one of the most blisteringly difficult cello concerti ever written; any cellist who can pull off a successful rendition is almost guaranteed to send your jaw crashing to the floor.
The works of Giacomo Puccini include many of the most awesome operas ever written.
Sergei Rachmaninoff, though regarded as behind the times while he was alive, is now one of the most celebrated and beloved composers of the early 20th century.
"Vocalise", Op.34 No.14, is his most well-known vocal work, and has been arranged for almost every conceivable collection of instruments. Its haunting beauty definitely earns it a place on this page.
All four of Rachmaninoff's piano concerti embody awesomeness to varying degrees. Though No.2 in C minor and No.3 in D minor are the most popular and frequently performed, there's a lot to like about No.1 in F-sharp minornote inspired, as mentioned under Grieg's entries, by the Grieg concerto, which was in turn inspired by the Schumann concerto, but for a "copy of a copy" it still manages to be a sharply-defined and brilliant piece! and No.4 in G minor, as well as the Paganini Rhapsody. Rachmaninoff wrote them to perform himself, and as he was one of the greatest piano virtuosi of his day, they are all very difficult to play (No.3 stands alongside the second concerti of Bartók, Prokofiev, and especially Brahms as a candidate for the most difficult concerto in the standard repertoirenote As to which is most difficult of all, that topic regularly spawns long Internet discussion threads. The Rachmaninoff, however, is the most frequently performed and recorded of the four.), but amid the fireworks are some of the most outstanding melodies written for piano and orchestra.
Of Rachmaninoff's three symphonies, the most often performed and recorded is No.2 in E minor, and with good reason - from the ever-shifting emotional expanse of the first movement, to the fiery energy of the second, to the serene, clarinet solo-led third, to the unbridled triumph of the finale, the symphony is pure awesome from start to finish.
Rachmaninoff, though he did not originally plan to do so, wrote a full set of 24 preludes in the major and minor keys, every one a winner.
The first to be composed, the weighty Op.3 No.2 in C-sharp minor, is by far the most famous (though Rachmaninoff grew to detest it). It may be one of the simplest preludes from a structural (and technical) standpoint, but that doesn't detract from its awesomeness. Its three-note opening figure dominates the rest of the work, and the agitated alternating chords that cap off the centre section and the big block chords in both hands when the opening section is repeated at the end are exhilarating to hear and play.
The 10 Preludes, Op.23, were some of the first pieces Rachmaninoff wrote after snapping out of a several-year creative funk. The brilliant No.2 in B-flat major starts with an alternately soaring and swooping accompanying figure under a syncopated melody, and just gets better from there; the buildup to the return of the opening melody is a particular highlight. The stately No.3 in D minor is the most richly contrapuntal of Rachmaninoff's preludes, the opening five-note figure providing the thread for an elaborate tapestry of melodies weaving around each other. The marchlike No.5 in G minor is the most famous of the set, its crashing chords and descending parallel octaves framing a slower centre section of harmonic tension. And the non-stop whirlwind trifecta of No.7 in C minor, No.8 in A-flat major, and No.9 in E-flat minor (the last noted for its extremely difficult double-note figures in the right hand) will leave any pianist or listener breathless.
The 13 Preludes, Op.32, open with the rousing No.1 in C major, a finger-loosener that prepares artist and audience alike for the rollercoaster to come. The uneasy No.2 in B-flat minor doesn't properly resolve into its home key until the final bars; the accelerando into the centre section in which the right hand gallops back and forth over an octave and a half is a high point. The flamboyant No.3 in E major starts with a thundering quadruple-octave figure which provides the foundation for a triumphant climax. The expansive No.4 in E minor goes through a vast spectrum of emotions, alternating gradual journeys up and down the register until building to a furious chordal passage. The intense No.6 in F minor features lightning quick passagework passed across both hands. The frenzied No.8 in A minor opens with a simple descending interval over a fast accompaniment, and builds on these ideas in ingenious ways. The buoyant No.9 in A major is another masterpiece of counterpoint, sounding at times as though there must be three hands playing at once. The plaintive No.12 in G-sharp minor, the most famous of the set, is both scintillating and heartrending. And the titanic concluding No.13 in D-flat major not only provides still more fast passagework, heavy chords, and dense counterpoint between the melody and accompanying figures, but also ties up the set neatly with many quotes of the three-note figure from the C-sharp minor prelude and a reference to the chords from its final measures, its atmosphere transformed from solemnity to victory.
The two sets of Etudes-Tableaux, Op.33 and Op.39, have plenty of awesome pieces, each with a story to tell (though usually a story Rachmaninoff preferred to leave to the imagination of the performer or listener).
The first set opens with the martial No.1 in F minor, its alternating fire and ice creating a gloriously dark atmosphere. The florid No.6 in E-flat minor spins its way up and down the piano's register, providing a Moment Of Awesome for any pianist who can get through it without stumbling. The flashy No.7 in E-flat major is by far the happiest of the first set (and among the few for which Rachmaninoff disclosed a story: a day at a carnival), ending with an extroverted statement of Rachmaninoff's rhythmic monogram (which also ends the second and third piano concerti). The tempestuous No.9 in C-sharp minor may not be harmonically adventurous, but the storm of chords and double octaves provide a perfect conclusion to the set.
The second set, in which all but the last piece quotes the "Dies irae" melody at some point, starts with the unsettled No.1 in C minor, the stormclouds finally unleashing their fury in the final measures. The jittery No.3 in F-sharp minor stumbles and tumbles its way through its uneven rhythms and minor-key gloom. The sober No.4 in B minor is filled with rapid block chords that can vex the performer but fascinate the listener. The grandiose No.5 in E-flat minor is perhaps the most famous of the set, sweeping through a wide emotional landscape before settling into its tranquil conclusion. The triumphant No.9 in D major is sometimes regarded as the most difficult of either set, its block chords and acrobatic leaps up and down the piano providing an outstanding and memorable finale.
Rachmaninoff's two piano sonatas are seldom performed or recorded (the first one especially), but they rank alongside the very best of his compositions. No.1 in D minornote said by some to be a depiction of the Faust legend, but this is disputed frames a slow movement of outstanding serenity with a dramatic opening movement and a non-stop fireworks display of a finale. No.2inB-flat minor has a similarly fiery first movement, but moves into a beautiful yet solemn slow movement followed by a major-key finale of pure joy.
Ravel's F major String Quartet is widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest - and most difficult - string quartets ever written. The fourth movement is absolutely spectacular.
Le tombeau de Couperin, a six-movement suite in which each movement is dedicated to a friend of Ravel's (in one case, two brothers) who died in the trenches during World War One, stands as one of his masterworks for solo piano, but for pure awesome, the concluding Toccata, a pure adrenaline rush with a triumphant major key coda, takes the crown.
Often overlooked is his exquisite and varied Mother Goose Suite (Ma Mčre l'Oye), which ends with one of the most beautiful pieces of all time, Le Jardin Féerique.
The Piano Concerto in G major brackets one of the most gorgeous slow movements ever composed with two jazz-inspired wild rides to give us one of the early 20th century's masterpieces. His Concerto for the Left Handnote composed at the request of pianist Paul Wittgenstein (brother of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein), whose right arm had been amputated during World War I is another masterwork, the beauty and drama of the music rising high above the "novelty factor" of only being written for one hand.
The "Dies Irae" part of the Requiem Mass has inspired awesomeness in composers for centuries, as a number of entries on this page attest. "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" is an example of a popular song inspired by the Dies Irae.
Misty dawn: a legion advances along the Via Appia in the brilliance of the newly-risen sun. Respighi wanted the ground to tremble under the footsteps of his army and he instructs the organ to play bottom B flat on 8', 16' and 32' organ pedal. The score calls for buccine - ancient trumpets that are usually represented by flugelhorns. Trumpets peal and the consular army rises in triumph to the Capitoline Hill.
The entirety of Liliane Riboni's "Jeanne d'Arc" album, a Concept Album retelling the story of Joan of Arc, Liliane herself in the role of Joan. For anyone lucky enough to own or track down a copy of this obscure record/CD/cassette, every second is epic. From "Ouverture" which gives us a taste of everything to come, "Lettre Aux Anglais (Un Grand Hahay)", a song that could only be described as 15th century Stadium Rock, the villain song "Pierre Cauchon", and the epic tear jerker finale "Rouén, Seras-Tu Mon Tombeau?", this album has everything that makes a classical album epic.
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov is one of the more well regarded of the "Mighty Handful" of five Russian nationalist composers of the late 19th century, much of his music transcending Russian borders to have universal appeal.
By far Rimsky-Korsakov's most famous composition is "Flight of the Bumblebee", an orchestral interlude from his opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan that is almost synonymous with music that hurtles along at breakneck speed and has been arranged as a solo for almost every instrument in the orchestra (and some outside it).
The Russian Easter Festival Overture. Part beautiful, part powerful and energetic, part takes your breath away... It's quite possibly one of the most epic overtures ever written.
Also "Story of the Calendar Prince".
El Condor Pasa, by the Peruvian composer Daniel Alomia Robles. So epic that Paul Simon ripped it off. The Twelve Girls Band arrangement is arguably the most awesome, especially from 2.56 to the end.
Gioachino Rossini is one of the most regularly-performed opera composers, and his overtures are particular standouts - The Thieving Magpie, The Barber of Seville, and quintessentially Wilhelm Tell.
Camille Saint-Saëns may be most well-remembered for Carnival of the Animals (a work so different to the rest of his output that he withheld it from publication until after his death), but the awesomeness in his music goes far deeper.
Where Carnival of the Animals itself is concerned, there's Fossils. And Aquarium, almost the perfect accompaniment for scuba diving or spacewalk scenes. And then there's the vibrant, humorous Finale.
Symphony #3, commonly referred to as the "Organ" symphony because it uses that instrument. The most awesome moment is the entrance of the organ in the second half of the second movement, going from near silence in the orchestra to the full organ in an instant. Also marks the shift from C Minor to C Major. Herearethelinks for the entire symphony in all its glory.
"Mon coeur s'ouvre ŕ ta voix", from his opera Samson et Dalila. Seductive and perfect. Also the wild Bacchanal from Act III.
Saint-Saëns composed five piano concerti, of which the most popular, with good reason, is No.2 in G minor, moving from an expansive, slow opening movement to a playful scherzo and a frenzied, tarantella-like finale that offers a real showcase for the pianist's skill. No.5 in F major, the "Egyptian", is also a half-hour of awesome from the sweeping grandeur of the first movement to the by turns mysterious and genial slow movement (which uses the overtones produced by the piano strings to remarkable effect in two passages) to the bouncy, virtuosic finale.
Franz Schubert may have died tragically young, with many more pieces to write, but he wrote so much incredibly accessible and just plain awesome music that it's hard not to feel anything but gratitude for what we have.
Erlkonig. Dark, whimsical, and completely menacing.
The "Unfinished" symphony is almost more famous for only having two of its planned four movements completed by Schubert's deathnote It is speculated that the original fourth movement was repurposed for his incidental music to the play Rosamunde, but the third movement was definitely never more than half-finished. than for its musical merits, but both movements are incredibly awesome in different ways. The mammoth "Great" C major symphonynote number not included, as it is numbered anywhere from 7 to 9 depending on the source is just as awesome if not more so, packing countless memorable melodies and clever harmonies into nearly an hour of music.
Schubert was a master of Lieder, songs for voice and piano. There are so many to choose from to find awesomeness that even listing the cream of the crop could furnish an entire page of examples.
The "Trout" Quintet for piano and strings is packed with awesome moments for all of the performers; the wild scherzo and the two slower movements that frame it (including the variations on Schubert's Lied "The Trout" which give the quintet its nickname) are especially delightful.
In the last four years of his life, Schubert wrote a truly staggering number of awesome pieces for various chamber groups:
The Octet in F major for clarinet, bassoon, horn, and string quintet (with double bass) is six movements of concentrated brilliance that manages to outshine the piece it imitates (Beethoven's Septet in E-flat major for the same instruments, less one violin).
His lastfourstringquartets very nearly rival Beethoven's last five quartets as supreme examples of the form. No.14 in D minor, "Death and the Maiden", is the most popular (the coda of the finale, an adrenaline rush in which a triumphant major key conclusion is subverted at the last minute, is a particular highlight), but all four are awesome in many ways.
The almost hourlong String Quintet in C major is often named the greatest string quintet ever composed, and one of the greatest chamber works ever composed.note It was also the last major piece Schubert completed before his death in 1828. The Adagio contains some of Schubert's loveliest writing, as well as a surprisingly stormy centre section.
Schubert's last three piano sonatas in C minor, A major, and B-flat major are often pointed to as examples of how Schubert was fast catching up with Beethoven as a master of the piano sonata, and may have overtaken him had he not died aged 31. The B-flat major sonata is especially awesome, but all three are must-hears.
The Ave Maria, memorably used as the concluding piece in the original Fantasia, is one of the loveliest vocal pieces ever composed.
Robert Schumann is another master of the early Romantic Era, and more than delivers on the awesome front.
His Piano Concerto in A minor stands as one of the masterpieces of the genre. From the piano's opening flourish to the triumphant final chords, it is 35 minutes of pure awesome. Edvard Grieg liked it so much, he based his own piano concerto on it (using the same home key, an opening flourish in the piano, and even similar main themes).
Schumann's music for solo piano also contains many gems; for example, the Toccata in C, Op.7 is a huge adrenaline rush for both pianist and listener, the three-movement Fantasy in C, Op.17 has many moments of lyricism and drama (the buoyant yet technically demanding coda of the second movement is a particular highlightnote The work's dedicatee, Franz Liszt, was among the few pianists of his day who wasn't utterly defeated by the acrobatic contrary motion leaps in both hands.), and the Arabesque in C, Op.18 contains some of Schumann's most charming melodies.
Dmitri Shostakovich, the third titan of Soviet music along with Khachaturian and Prokofiev, has many, many moments of awesome music.
The Op. 87 set of 24 Preludes and Fugues for the piano are full of awesome moments for both composer and performer. Particular highlights include No.4 in E minor (one of two in which the fugue is built on two subjects; in the climax, both subjects enter in stretto (overlapping) simultaneously), No.12 in G-sharp minor (the furious first half of the fugue, written in 5/4 time, is especially exhilarating), No.15 in D-flat major (especially the sheer, unending energy of the fugue), No.21 in B-flat major (from a moto perpetuo prelude to a fugue of ever-building energy), and No.24 in D minor (an epic journey from tragedy to triumph).
The finale of Symphony #5 is brilliant and exciting, always climbing up by semitones and pushing the tension up further with each step, along with judicious use of Dramatic Timpani. And Symphony #9, written at the behest of Josef Stalin who commissioned it as a celebration of victory in World War II, which completely mocks the idea of a grandiose celebratory symphony in favour of a more "folksy" style.
Shostakovich's concerti for various soloists and orchestra include some of his most accessible and awesome works.
The Piano Concerto No.1 is scored for an orchestra comprising a solo trumpet and a string section; while the piano gets its fair share of fireworks, the solo trumpet really takes off in the finale, to great effect.
Although his Piano Concerto No.2 is by far the less technically demanding of his piano concerti,note He wrote it as a 19th birthday gift for his son Maxim. it is one of the few Shostakovich pieces to feature an atmosphere approaching pure joy in the first and especially third movements. The haunting second movement is also six minutes of outstanding beauty.
His Violin Concerto No.1 taxes the soloist's skill to its very limit, especially in the turbulent scherzo, the weighty passacaglia, the massive cadenza for unaccompanied violin, and the boisterous finale.
The Cello Concerto No.1 includes a gleeful parody of one of Stalin's favourite songs in its sardonic finale. The three movements leading up to it (a tense Allegro dominated by the soloist, an eerie, sparsely-scored slow movement, and a virtuoso cadenza for unaccompanied cello) are also packed with awesome.
These moments, however, all come with the caveat that many of Shostakovich's ostensible moments of awesome are often alternatively interpreted as hollow triumphs, the music wearing a big fake plastic smile to hide inner grief and torment (much like Shostakovich himself for much of his life). Moments frequently interpreted in this way include the aforementioned finale of Symphony No.5 and the concluding prelude and fugue in D minor from Op.87. This does not detract from their quality, but it does add a rather sinister edge to many supposed triumphant conclusions in his works.
Jean Sibelius is Finland's most famous composer, and his music became an integral part of the country's search for its national identity in the early 20th century, but even non-Finns can find plenty to love about his music.
Finlandia, one of many tone poems doubling as a love letter to Sibelius' homeland.
Sibelius's Symphony No. 7 is a formal masterpiece and has quite possibly the greatest (and most enigmatic) ending of any piece of classical music. The finale of the second symphony is also worth mention.
Bedrich Smetana was the first major Bohemian/Czech nationalist composer, and remains one of the most beloved. Ma vlast (My Country/Homeland) is a set of six symphonic poems, each poem depicting some aspect of the countryside, history, or legends of Bohemia. "Vltava" depicts the river that runs through Bohemia towards its junction with the Elbe is Smetana's best-known and most internationally popular orchestral composition, and rightly so. Listen to it here.
Although Dmitri Shostakovich frequently worked his "musical monogram" of "D E-flat C B"note in German note notation, "D Es C H" = "D. Sch." = "Д.Ш." into his music, Scottish composer Ronald Stevenson outdid him many times over with his gigantic Passacaglia on DSCH, dedicated to Shostakovich himself.note Stevenson presented Shostakovich with a copy of the score at the 1962 Edinburgh Festival. Over 70 minutes long, the piece repeats a seven-bar version of the "DSCH" theme throughout as it moves through a huge variety of musical forms including a sonata allegro, a Baroque-style dance suite, several sets of variations on other themes, a percussive tribute "to emergent Africa", and a concluding triple fugue on the DSCH theme, Bach's musical monogram (B-flat A C B-natural), and the "Dies irae" plainchant theme. It is truly a thing of wonder when performed live or recorded.
Richard Strauss may not have been related to Johann Strauss father and son, but his music is just as instantly familiar, and just as awesome.
The tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra is Strauss' masterwork. While the score for 2001: A Space Odyssey was still being composed, Stanley Kubrick played this among other pieces to provide atmosphere during filming, and liked the effect so much he made it the centrepiece of the film's official score (along with the "Blue Danube" Waltz by the other Strauss); the opening "Sunrise", one of the musical embodiments of the word "epic", still conjures majestic images of planets and stars.
His "Four Last Songs", for soprano and orchestra, written towards the end of his life, when Germany was devastated after World War II, are among the most beautiful and grandest sad music ever written: "At Sunset" (Turn up your speakers!)
Igor Stravinsky grabbed classical music by the collar and dragged it - kicking and screaming at first, but eventually more willingly - into the twentieth century.
The majestic Symphony of Psalms was named by Time magazine as the outstanding classical composition of the twentieth century, its settings of verses from Psalms 38, 40, and 150 carrying the listener on a wave of glorious music to realms usually unreachable by mere mortals.
The operettas of librettist W.S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan may be viewed as lightweight fluff, and when they're not, they're generally parodying heavy-handed drama through exaggeration, but the duo still sprinkled a wealth of outstanding tunes throughout their work.
Sullivan's overture to The Yeomen of the Guard weaves fragments of six songs and/or instrumental cues from the rest of the operetta to create a triumphant introduction to one of their most popular collaborations.
Speaking about being carried off to heaven, Sir John Tavener's amazing "Song for Athene" was probably unfamiliar to most Americans until it was played the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Though Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was considered out of place at a time when his fellow Russian composers were writing staunchly nationalist music, his work has proven more enduringly popular.
The "1812 Overture" literally leads the charge for Tchaikovsky: a work that is played with a triumphant Russian chorus, numerous thundering chimes, fireworks, and freaking cannons. To quote Calvin, "And they perform this in crowded concert halls? Gee, I thought classical music was boring!"
Perhaps the only piece of music that REQUIRES cannons, carillon, and an organ to perform properly. Since there are perhaps only a dozen places where these three instruments can be used, live performances will use at best two out the three, with the third instrument being pre-recorded, or ignoring the organ orchestration altogether. (It's possible to fake the cannons by giving members in the audience...paper bags. Which does greatly diminish the effect, but it's better than nothing. Also, the carillon are very frequently replaced with a set of tubular bells and local church bells.)
Being able to play this beast of a musical piece properly is a Moment Of Awesome in and of itself, regardless of what type of band you're in. Anyone who has participated in a performance can tell you just how hard it really is.
The final minute or so is a Moment Of Awesome (to the point that most listeners only know that part of the piece; in the United States in particular, it often accompanies Fourth of July fireworks displays), but one has to hear the whole piece (over fifteen minutes in most performances and recordings) to truly appreciate it for what it is. The rest is just haunting and Gothic awesome. There's a particularly nice section where the Marseillaise is given a grand stirring reprise, rising towards an apparent climax of epic proportions - only to get drowned out by a volley of cannons right at the very moment when it reaches the peak.
Tchaikovsky is also perhaps the most celebrated composer of ballet music:
Piano Concerto No.1 in B-flat minor - and not just the famous first three minutes. The first movement is all kinds of large scale awesome, with many moments of drama and high emotion, while the second movement is an oasis of calm (interrupted in the middle by a virtuosic whirlwind) before the tempestuous yet ultimately triumphant finale. A real tour de force for any pianist.
Symphonies No.4 in F minor and No.5 in E minor. Both have ambitious opening movements spanning wide ranges of emotions, from pathos to fury to triumph and back to pathos. The F minor follows this with a solemn slow movement and a playful scherzo in which the strings play pizzicato throughout, while the inner movements of the E minor include a beautiful French horn solo-led slow movement and a graceful waltz. Both then turn up the energy to full to go out in a blaze of major-key glory in their finales. Exhilarating stuff from start to finish.
Ophelia's Mad Scene from Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas. Thirteen minutes long, incredibly difficult, and incredibly haunting.
Modern classical, but classical still: composer Christopher Tin of the Video Games example Baba Yetu, released an album called "Calling All Dawns." This album can basically be described as more than an hour of Awesome Music. A song cycle depicting day, night, and dawn, it is made up of 12 songs (including an epic reorchestration of Baba Yetu itself). Each song is sung in a different language, each segues smoothly into the next, sometimes with no break, and the album ends on the same sequence of notes with which it began. And it is stirringly, tear-jerkingly beautiful.
Special Awesome Music mention goes to "Rassemblons-Nous" (Let Us Gather), which from the title sounds like it would be some type of Kumbaya song, but in French. Instead, it's a techno-backed anthem about giving destiny the finger, building a La Résistance against death itself, and pure, unmitigated AWESOME.
"Kia Hora Te Marino" needs a mention too. Sung in Maori, it would make for a great anthem for peace. More or less, it's a powerful ending to an incredible album.
Ralph Vaughan Williams has more than earned his place as one of the most beloved English composers.
The Lark Ascending. It is often presented in concert or recorded programs along with Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis, which is heart-stirring and emotionally rending without ever being sappy.
Fantasia on Christmas Carols, especially once the "Come All You Worthy Gentlemen" part starts at roughly 4:25 (depending on the recording). Near the end, the choir is alternating verses of "Come All You Worthy Gentlemen" and "The Sussex Carol".
Vaughan Williams' symphonies: No.7, known as Sinfonia Antarctica (adapted from his score for the 1948 film Scott of the Antarctic), and No.5 in D major, especially the second movement. And his Norfolk suite. It is said that Vaughan Williams more than anyone matched the epic mode of Tolkien.
Giuseppe Verdi stands with Wagner and Puccini as one of the three most celebrated operatic composers, having written a number of the most frequently performed operas.
The "Dies irae" from Verdi's Requiem Mass brings new meaning to the phrase "Day of wrath". It was used to great effect in the opening cinema of Quidditch World Cup.
Louis Vierne is often held up as Exhibit A in the argument that in the late 19th and early 20th century, the greatest organists and organ composers were based in France.
Vierne wrote two sets of 24 pieces in all the major and minor keys for organ, reminiscent of Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier. One of the most stunning pieces from the earlier set, entitled "Pieces en style libre" ("Pieces in free style"), is No.21 in B-flat major, Carillon de Longpont. The motoric ostinato which dominates the piece is based on the melody of the chapel bells from the Chateau de Longpont, and Vierne's treatment of it oozes grandeur and splendour from every note.
Vierne's second set of 24 pieces in all the major and minor keys for organ, "Pieces de fantaisie", is so vast he had to publish it as four separate sets of six. Just to name a few highlights:
By far the most well-known piece in the collection is the last of the third set, Carillon de Westminster. Vierne starts with the full set of melodies played by the famous "Big Ben" chimesnote well, nearly; he gets the "half hour" chime slightly wrong, reversing the second and third notes of the first phrase and starting the second phrase on the dominant, not the tonic, but the difference, whether an honest mistake or a deliberate choice by Vierne (the fact that in the four appearances of the first three "quarters", he does get the two "half hour" phrases correct once each, seems to point to the latter), almost doesn't matter and constructs a spectacular virtuoso toccata around it that builds to a conclusion every bit as monumental as the clock tower to which it pays homage, especially as the "hour chimes" are condensed into a twelve-note figure that booms forth from the pedal in the coda.
Though somewhat overshadowed by the other tribute to English bells, the concluding piece in the fourth set, Les Cloches de Hinckley, is still a worthy finale to the massive "Pieces de fantaisie" collection. It takes its cue from the descending scale played by the church bells in the village of Hinckley and sculpts a whirlwind of organ brilliance around it, culminating with 28 consecutive descending scales in the right hand that somehow never seem to get old.
Among his organ symphonies, the first movement of his Third, with the opening motif popping up again and again throughout, is brilliantly written to show off the instrument's range (and the organist's talent), making Ominous Pipe Organ a thing of beauty in and of itself.
Antonio Vivaldi ranks behind only Bach and Handel among famous composers of the Baroque era, with good reason.
Singing the concluding "Cum Sancto Spiritu" from Vivaldi's Gloria in D major makes you feel ten feet tall.
Richard Wagner may be the main focus of satires of operatic excess, but that's only because there's so much awesome to satirise.
Ride of the Valkyries. Sure, it's Music of Note, but it's still CMOA. Unfortunately, this one's picked up a few nasty connotations due to the Nazis' usage of it. But then, it could be argued that more people associate Ride of the Valkyries with Apocalypse Now than with Those Wacky Nazis. Or with Bugs Bunny - "Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit!" Or the tank driver in StarCraft.
In 1988, a kid named Eric Whitacre entered the University of Nevada with plans to become a rock star. But somehow he ended up in the choir instead, and since then has been turning out piece after piece of dramatic, breathtaking music in the classical style. He wrote his first piece, "Go, Lovely Rose", at 20, and his dream came true: amongst the choral-music community, he is a rock star, equaled only by the work of Morten Lauridsen. "The Seal Lullabye" (commissioned for the movie that becameKung Fu Panda), "Water Night", Pirates of the Caribbean's "Mermaid Song" (co-written with Hans Zimmer)... this guy's done it all. Perhaps his most surreal piece is "Godzilla Eats Las Vegas!", an affectionate pastiche of every cliche Las Vegas music act out there. For best results, watch the slideshow behind the ensemble and/or read Whitacre's program notes while listening.
Charles-Marie Widor, one of the teachers of Louis Vierne (see corresponding entry), was one of the undisputed masters of music for organ.