It’s impossible not to think of music when reading a book like Carolina de Robertis’s, The Gods of Tango, which revolves around music, specifically the tango. Now, while I grew up in a house that always had some kind of music going on, either on the radio or live while my sister was practicing the piano, flute, or whatever other musical instrument she was learning, tango was not something I heard often, unless NPR happened to be playing one.
But music inspires music, and because music has been on my mind this week, I decided to compile a list of some of my favorite works of classical music. Totally nerdy, right? But hey, we can’t all be cool.
So in no particular order, here are five of my favorite works of classical music:
- Scheherazade by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov- Through music alone and without lyrics, Rimsky-Korsakov tells the story of Scheherazade as she enchants the king with her 1,001 tales. The music moves from soft and compelling to grandiose and back and forth again as Scheherazade spins stories to save her life. It features a series of remarkable violin solos, as well as my favorite bassoon solo of all time (that’s probably a phrase you never thought you’d hear!).
- Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughan Williams- I first heard this piece when I was about fifteen or so, and was entranced by its rich strings. It’s not a very well-known piece, and because it doesn’t have parts for brass, woodwind, or percussion instruments, it lacks the bright, bold sound that more popular classical works have. It’s been one of my absolute favorites for most of my life, though, and it’s one that I can happily put on repeat and listen to over and over again.
- Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Opus 18 by Sergei Rachmaninoff- Who doesn’t like Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos? Well, rather a lot of you I’m sure, but only because you might not have heard them yet. Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor often gets more attention because it is notoriously difficult, but I prefer his second concerto. It is (slightly) more understated, and the adagio sostenuto is particularly beautiful.
Bonus! I found a performance featuring Yuja Wang, an amazing pianist I saw a couple of years ago when she was touring with the Russian National Orchestra, although they played one of Tchaikovsky’s piano concertos.
- The Planets Suite by Gustav Holst: We have all heard some part of The Planets Suite. It’s been featured or in the background of many works of television and film, though the most commonly heard movements are ‘Mars, The Bringer of War’ and ‘Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity’. My favorite part is, of course, one of the lesser-heard ones: ‘Neptune, The Mystic’.
- Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo- There are many myths surrounding the writing of this piece. Some say it was in honor of Rodrigo’s lavish honeymoon with his new wife, Victoria (though they were poor at the time, and couldn’t afford anything lavish). Others say (Joaquin and Victoria among them) that it was written for Victoria after her miscarriage in 1938, though the timing of the writing seems to be off, but who will ever know for sure? What is certain is that it’s a gorgeous piece of music and deserves to be listed among the greatest pieces of classical music of the 20th century.