Classical Favorites

According to research — whose, I don’t know — blog readers love lists. This is why you see so many “top 10” posts, and variations on the theme of “5 things I can’t live without.”

I’ll admit I love lists, too. Lists appeal to that logical, orderly part of my brain that needs structure. Without that part of my brain, I’d be off in some creative, imaginative world, floating around, spinning in circles, and never touching earth again.

Recently I visited Living Free and Making a Difference, an art, travel, and nature blog I enjoy reading. There, Mrs. Wayfarer had shared a “New Wave” playlist, songs she enjoyed listening to while painting. I knew at once that I would have to do the same. My playlist, however, isn’t New Wave, but classical.

A lot of folks are hesitant about classical music. It sounds stuffy. It’s boring. It’s intellectual. Right? Well, some of it can be, I’ll admit. But much of it is lush and lovely, rich with inspirations, and teeming with emotions.

I often turn on one of my Pandora stations or a Sirius classical station while I’m painting. At other times, especially if I’m seeking a specific emotion, I’ll choose a work from my CD collection.

Here, in no particular order, are a few classical favorites from my Painting Playlist.

The Lark Ascending – Ralph Vaughn Williams

Cello Concerto in B Minor – Antonin Dvorak

Symphony No. 1 in D Minor – Ernst van Dohnanyi

Cantus Articus – Einojuhani Rautavaara

Gymnopedies and Gnoissienes- Erik Satie

May Night – Selim Palmgren

Piano Concerto 1 and 2 – Anton Rubinstein

Carmina Burana – Carl Orff

Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte – Maurice Ravel

Perhaps you are familiar with many of these. If so, I hope you’ll take this opportunity to enjoy listening. Or, maybe you’ve never become acquainted with classical music or aren’t familiar with these composers. In that case, I truly hope you’ll click a few links and give this music a chance to introduce itself to you and your life.







    1. I like music of all sorts. When I’m drawing or painting I find words distracting though, so classical is usually my first choice. I also like listening to “nature sounds” — like the sounds of birds or rainstorms.

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  1. Thank you for sharing this list, I love listening to classical music, especially when painting! I’m always looking for new music so I will explore your suggestions! I recently discovered the piano music of Gabríel Ólafs, it’s very relaxing!

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    1. Are you familiar with Philip Glass? If you like Olafs, you might enjoy Glass, as well. I hope you’ll find a few pieces you like on my list. 🙂


    1. Satie is so soothing. I love to play the Gymnopedies and just drift off into a dream-like state. Did you listen to Cantus Arcticus yet? It’s different… and ideal to listen to on a miserably hot day! It always makes me feel cool! We heard it performed live with the KC Symphony last season. It’s always been a favorite of mine, so that was a real treat.

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  2. I’m not a big music person–way more visually attuned than to what I hear! But my husband is a great fan and very knowledgeable about classical music, and I have always loved Vaughn William’s Lark Ascending. It is so beautiful making you yearn to follow it up into the sky!

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  3. I’ve just another different list of my classical favorites: Johannes Brahms Klarinetten-Quintet b moll op.115; Franz Schubert Grande Marche b moll piano duo; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Konzertarie Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio; Mikhail Glinka Valze – fantazia Vyacheslav Gryaznov); Joseph Haydn Sinfonia D-dur (104); Chopin Notturno c-moll op. 48; Pyotr Tchaikowsky The Swan Lake (complete!); Nino Rota music to Amarcord; Dmitry Shostakovich Romanze (from The Gladfly); Johann Sebastian Bach Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ… It’s always interesting to compare the different likings.

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      1. Thanks! I’ve, of course, dozens and dozens of such [different] lists. As I suppose, You, too. It’s interesting to look the changes over the years: what disappears, what – never.

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      2. We used to have a classical station that did a “count-down” each year of listeners’ favorites. Of course the winners were always the popular pieces — The New World Symphony, Beethoven’s Fifth, Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, but it was always fun to make my list and submit it for the voting. It changed from year to year, but some pieces were always on the list, like Dvorak’s cello concerto. It’s always fun, too, to discover new music by contemporary composers. Our symphony often performs new works, and often the composer is there to talk about it. I really enjoy those programs.


  4. Just another (contra)list: Shostakovich 10th Symphony, Bach Second Partita clav., Paganini Caprice No 17 Es-dur, Beethoven Coriolan, Mozart Klarinettenquintet , second movement, Verdi Sextet from Lucia di L., Prokofiev Piano Concerto No 2, Gounod Balletmusic Faust, Glier Hymn to the mighty city (Leningrad). Can You find 10 examples from XX / XXI centuries?!

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    1. I believe I can find 20th and 21st century favorites… Off the top of my head, I’ll start with Eric Whitacre’s “Ghost Train” and Conni Elisor “Blackberry Winter” — those two are definitely high on my favorites list. I’ve already used “Cantus Arcticus” by Rautavaara… now let me think a bit on other favorites. This will be fun!


    2. Adding to my list here… Olivier Messian “Quatour pour la fin du Temps”, Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloe”, Suk’s “Fairy Tale”, The “Yellow River” Piano Concerto (can’t remember the composer’s name!) Stabat Mater by Sir James McMillan, and definitely Edgar Myer’s Violin Concerto.


      1. Oh, my, I do. The problem would be trying to narrow the list down. It’s kind of like walking into a huge art museum, where you never know what’s going to jump out at you. Lately I’ve been big on overlooked American composers. As a sampler, let me suggest piano music by the virtuoso Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869), Edward MacDowell’s 2nd piano concerto (the Van Cliburn recording is a knockout), the four symphonies of Charles Ives (start with the 2nd … and the 4th has some rough sledding, but hey, you’re a painter), Amy Beach’s big romantic piano concerto and then the youthful symphony, just about anything by John Adams, the two symphonies by John Knowles Paine, Samuel Barber’s violin concerto, George Gershwin’s Cuban Overture and jazzy piano concerto, and Keith Jarrett’s solo improvisational concerts (not exactly classical, but close enough — besides, he is an excellent classical performer, which leads to another favorite, the preludes and fugues by Russian Dmitri Shostokovich).
        Let me know your reactions. And stay inspired!


      2. Oh, yes, yes, yes on the Barber violin concerto. We heard it performed live by the KC Symphony a couple years ago. It’s always been a favorite. I have a Hilary Hahn recording of it that I love. And Keith Jarrett! The Koln Concert is also on my favorite listening list, as is “Spirits” — a 2-CD set of improvisational music. Are you familiar with it? I’m actually much more of a musician than I am an artist. I’ve been “an artist” for only a few years, but a classical pianist for most of my life. I began playing at age 4. I’ll be celebrating my 71st birthday next month. Of course I have my personal piano favorites, but surprisingly my classical music collection focuses more on violin and cello. I think in some respects that’s because I am so personally familiar with so much of the usual piano repertoire that I don’t feel the desire to listen to it as much as other works. I love symphony performances, I love chamber music, and I’m especially fond of medieval music. I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of Gottschalk, but his music can be fun to listen to. I love MacDowell. It’s interesting, too, to see how my appreciation for certain pieces has changed over the years. As a child I detested “To a Wild Rose”. I absolutely hated playing that piece. I took it out again a couple years ago and began playing it, and I really came to love it. In case you’re curious, my all-time favorite piano piece to listen to or to perform is “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen.” There’s an online recording by Mogens Dalsgaard that brings tears to my eyes any time I hear it. That piece is so much fun to play. It has everything a pianist could want. My opinion, anyway. But then again, I’m partial to Grieg. There is certainly a wide world of music to enjoy. I especially like learning more about contemporary composers such as Eric Whitacre and Connie Ellisor. Our symphony, under the direction of Michael Stern, sometimes premieres works, and that’s always fun. I love the pre-symphony chats where we can hear directly from the composer. So glad to make the acquaintance here of another classical music aficionado!


      3. Michael Stern is a student of my favorite conductor, and I listen to a lot of contemporary music, especially on WQXR’s New Sounds stream, though that can be a struggle for some listeners.
        Since you mention chamber and choral, I’ll add Chadwick’s quartets and anything by William Billings to my list.
        By chance, I came across a review of Jarrett’s Spirits yesterday, but the Koln and La Scala concert CDs are stacked on a shelf above me as I type.
        As a choral singer in my advancing years, I could create yet another list, but Palestrina would definitely be on it.

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      4. So much fun to talk music with you. Another of my favorites is Carmina Burana. My grand-daughter and I attended a symphony performance last year. It was her first introduction to the work. I collect performances of the work and happened to have 2 Herbert Blomstedt CDs so I gave one to her. Later in the year we were able to catch the KC Ballet production of it. Beautifully staged! I think if either of us tried to compile a “favorites list” it would be endless. 🙂 Thank you for sharing your favorites with me.


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