From Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, these are the greatest classical music hits of all time!
Classical music is art music produced or rooted in the traditions of Western culture, including both liturgical (religious) and secular music. While a more precise term is also used to refer to the period from 1750 to 1820 (the Classical period), this article is about the broad span of time from before the 6th century AD to the present day, which includes the Classical period and various other periods. The central norms of this tradition became codified between 1550 and 1900, which is known as the common-practice period.
The Greatest Classical Music Hits of All Time
Classical music is timeless. Whether you’re driving in your car or taking a break at work, these classical hits will keep you company. From Bach to Beethoven, these are the greatest hits of all time.
Beethoven – Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125
Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, is a choral symphony, the final complete symphony by the composer. It was first performed in 1824 in Vienna and published that year. The forces required include a soprano and a bass soloist (each having two roles), four part mixed choir, and orchestra. The work is in four movements and runs approximately 80 minutes:
I. Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso – 17:00
II. Molto vivace – Presto – 13:00
III. Adagio molto e cantabile – 11:30
IV. Presto – Allegro assai – 17:30
The Ninth Symphony was the last symphony composed by Beethoven and when it premiered on May 7, 1824, to an overwhelmingly positive response, it placed him once again at the forefront of the Western musical canon; indeed its first public performance “sealed his fame as an equal of Haydn and Mozart”. As with all of his works published since 1810, Beethoven informally designated it as his “Opus 125”.
Nicknamed the “Choral Symphony”, the Ninth has been described as not only Beethoven’s greatest work but one of the supreme achievements in all of music; indeed some critics have gone so far as to call it “the greatest work ever written”. This view has been challenged more recently; musicologist Tim Carter describes it as “arguably not Beethoven’s greatest composition”, while music critic Roger Scruton calls it “the greatest single recent achievement in Western music”.
Mozart – Requiem in D minor, K. 626
One of the most popular pieces of classical music ever written, Mozart’s Requiem in D minor, K. 626, is a must-have for any classical music fan. Completed just days before the composer’s death in 1791, the work is a hauntingly beautiful masterpiece that has captivated audiences for centuries.
Bach – Mass in B minor, BWV 232
One of the most popular and well-known pieces of classical music, Bach’s Mass in B minor is a must-have for any fan of the genre. First performed in 1749, the work is a compilation of various sacred works that Bach had composed over the course of his career. The Mass was not intended to be performed as a whole, but rather as a collection of individual pieces that could be used in different liturgical settings. Nevertheless, the work has become one of the most beloved classical pieces, and is often performed in its entirety.
Tchaikovsky – Swan Lake, Op. 20
Swan Lake, Op. 20, is a ballet composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1875–76. Despite its initial failure, it is now one of the most popular of all ballets. The scenario, initially in two acts, was fashioned from Russian folk tales and tells the story of Odette, a princess turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer’s curse. The choreographer of the original production was Julius Reisinger.
The ballet was premiered by the Bolshoi Ballet on 20 February 1877 at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Although it is presented in many different versions, most ballet companies base their productions both choreographically and musically on the revisions that Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov made for the Imperial Russian Ballet in 1895 (for which Tchaikovsky approved before his death), with additional instructions from Riccardo Drigo.
Swan Lake has had a considerable impact on choreography and has been praised as one of Tchaikovsky’s finest works. It is considered to be one of the most technically challenging ballets for a female dancer because of the stamina required for 32 fouetté turns in Act III (although this number can vary depending on choreography).
Brahms – Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68
Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68, was completed in 1876 and first performed on 4 November 1876 in Karcher’s Hall in Prague. It is dedicated to the memory of his teacher, Eduard Marxsen. First publishe in 1878, the symphony is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (in C minor), 2 bassoons, 4 horns (in F), 2 trumpets (in C minor), 3 trombones, tuba, timpani (3 drums) and strings.
Approximately 50 minutes in duration, Brahms’ First Symphony is one of the composer’s longest works. The work is in four large movements:
I. Un poco sostenuto – Allegro
The first movement is initiated with a slow introduction marked by a sorrowful melody played by the cellos and double basses over muted upper strings. The mood lightens when the principle theme is introduced by the full orchestra, but Brahms efficiently sustains a sense of yearning and nostalgia throughout much of the movement. A coda based on the opening cello melody brings the first movement to a quiet close.
II. Andante sostenuto e grazioso
In sharp contrast to the almost funereal opening of the first movement, the second movement is delicate and elegiac with a lilting waltz-like feel throughout. The middle section features some beautifulscoring for solo horn over gentle upper strings before returns to theme ofthe opening. The movement ends peacefully with solo violin and cello work over sustained chords fromthe lower strings.
III. Un poco allegretto e grazioso
The third movement begins with lighthearted woodwind playing over pizzicato strings before transitioning into a more stately theme which recurs several times throughoutthe movement.. A lively central section for full orchestra gives way to a reprise ofthe opening music which leads directly into fourthand final movement withouta break..
IV. Allegro con spirito
The final Symphonyopens witha triumphant blastfromthe full orchestra which quickly dies awayto make wayfor a lyrical violin soloagainsta simple accompanimentfromthe lower strings.. Several other adventuresome themes are introducedbefore everythingbuilds to a massivecrescendowhich leads directlyinto acoda thatfinally brings this remarkable workto its conclusion..
To review, there are many great classical music hits of all time. The list presented in this article is by no means exhaustive, but it does represent some of the most popular and enduring pieces of classical music. We hope you enjoyed learning about these pieces and that you’ll take the time to listen to them yourself. Thanks for reading!
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