Every year, the radio station Classic.FM does a “Classical Hall of Fame”, which is a gigantic poll on people’s favorite Classical music. This year, over 120,000 people participated in the polls.

With that information in hand, Classic.FM comes up with a list of the 300 most popular Classical pieces of the year and does a radio broadcast on it. While we don’t have the time to go through all 300 pieces, we are going to look at the top 10 – 8 of which you’ll be able to listen to audio examples of.

Let’s get started!

A few notes

A few notes about this list before we get started. The most popular composer is Mozart (surprise, surprise), with a whopping 23 entries on the list of 300.

The most popular movie soundtrack this year is Schindler’s List by John Williams, beating out Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings for the first time.

John Williams also has the most entries on the list out of any living composer, coming in with 12 compositions.

Now let’s move on to the countdown!

10. Misereri – Gregorio Allegri

Number 10 is from the Renaissance (1600s) – Misereri by Allegri. It’s a religious composition, and one that Mozart allegedly was able to write down from memory after hearing only once.

It’s a vocal work with nine voices, and runs about 12 minutes long.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IA88AS6Wy_4[/embedyt]

9. Clarinet Concerto in A major K622 (used in ‘Out of Africa’) -Mozart

Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto comes in at number 9, and was used in the movie ‘Out of Africa’. It was one of the last things Mozart wrote before he died, and is relatively immodest. Many concertos are designed to show off the virtuosity of the performer, but this concerto is free of elaborate cadenzas.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YT_63UntRJE[/embedyt]

Video credits:

Performer: Bruce Edwards

Copyright: creative commons

8. Symphony no. 9 in D minor op. 125 ‘Choral ‘ – Beethoven

And now we get into some Beethoven – starting with his 9th symphony, which debuted in 824 and was dubbed “Choral” because of the vocals used in the final movement. It’s a huge composition and runs about 70 minutes long, which was unprecedented at the time (as was the use of vocals).

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOjHhS5MtvA[/embedyt]

Video credits:

performer: European archive

copyright: Public domain mark 1.0

7. Symphony no. 6 in F major op. 68 ‘Pastoral’ – Beethoven

Another Beethoven symphony, no. 6 “Pastoral” comes in at number 7. This one is dubbed “Pastoral” because the soundscape created by Beethoven really makes you think of peasants in the country, complete with a musical thunderstorm in the middle. It’s a very lovely and overall joyous symphony.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2VY33VXnrQ[/embedyt]

Video credits:

Performer: Skidmore college orchestra

copyright: Public domain mark 1.0

6. Piano Concerto no. 5 in E flat major op. 73 ‘Emperor’ – Beethoven

Our third and final Beethoven piece on this list is his Piano Concerto no. 5, ‘Emperor”. This was written in a time of musical transition, as Classical styles were starting to morph into early Romantic styles.

This work is unconventional and forward-looking for its time. The nickname “Emperor” comes from one of Napoleon’s officers who commented that it was an “emperor of a concerto”.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEYajsa8NeM[/embedyt]

Video credits:

performer: Ursula Oppens and DuPage Symphony Orchestra

copyright: Public domain mark 1.0

5. Enigma Variations – Elgar

Elgar composed his 14 Enigma Variations at the end of the 19th Century. The variation titled ‘Nimrod’ is the most famous movement, and the word ‘Nimrod’ is derived from the word ‘hunter’. It’s a serious piece that’s often used for funerals or other solemn events.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUgoBb8m1eE[/embedyt]

Video credits

Performer: Skidmore college orchestra

copyright: Public domain mark 1.0

4. Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis – Vaughan Williams

And now for a couple entries by Ralph Vaughan Williams, we have Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. Vaughan Williams was an early 20th century composer who studied with Ravel, an experience he found very inspiring. This fantasia was born from that inspiration, and premiered in 1910.

This is a 15 minute performance for string orchestra, and it’s inspired from a melody by Thomas Tallis, a Renaissance-era piece. Vaughan Williams was inspired by old music, and this work is one example.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihx5LCF1yJY[/embedyt]

Video credit

performer: US Army strings

copyright: Public domain mark 1.0

3. The Lark Ascending – Vaughan Williams

Number 3 is also by Vaughan Williams, and it’s titled “The Lark Ascending”. This is another one I couldn’t manage to get a recording of, so be sure to hop over to the blog to find a video link.

This was Classic.FM’s number one choice last year, so it’s fallen a couple points. It was written in 1914 and depicts a bird, partly inspired by a poem of the same names.

In this composition we can practically hear the countryside, and the strings depict the bird’s flight high in the sky. It’s lovely!

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4NMf2PO_mQ[/embedyt]

2. Piano Concerto no. 2 in C minor – Rachmaninoff

Holding the number 2 spot again is Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no. 2. This is a composition that consistently ranks in the top spots on Classic.FM polls, and is widely considered one of the best concertos ever written.

Composed at the beginning of the 20th century, this concerto was dedicated to a physician of Rachmaninoff’s, who helped him through depression and personal problems. Rachmaninoff himself was the star piano performer for this composition when it was played in concerts.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEGOihjqO9w[/embedyt]


Performer: Skidmore college orchestra

copyright: Public domain mark 1.0

1.      1812 Overture op. 49 – Tchaikovsky

And the number one popular choice award goes to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Tchaikovsky has 14 other pieces in the top 300, and all of them have risen in prominence – people are into Tchaikovsky this year.

Tchaikovsky claimed he wrote this overture “without warmth or love”, but then it went on to become one of the most popular Classical compositions ever. It’s completely bombastic – a big choir, huge orchestra, and – I’m not joking – cannonball firing, though you’d never know it from the serene introduction.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KzF1KgaREo[/embedyt]

Performer: Skidmore college orchestra

copyright: Public domain mark 1.0

You can check out the entire list here.