Classical music is so called for a reason. If a musical piece has attained such fame and status that it's admitted, by experts and music lovers alike, into the canon, it is truly classical. Of course, there are literally thousands of pieces that are part of this canon. But which are the creme de la creme? We've put together a list of 10 classical compositions (plus five extra bonuses) that stand out above the rest for their fame. Which will be the number 1?
10. William Tell Overture - Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)
Rossini's 1829 opera William Tell was his last (of 39) composed before retirement. The opera is actually four hours long and not often played. When someone told Rossini they had seen it the night before, he replied, "What? The whole of it?" But this exciting little overture has been frequently used on American television during the 20th century (Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, and The Lone Ranger).
9. The Nutcracker Suite - Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Intended for concert performance before the premiere of the ballet The Nutcracker in 1892, Tchaikovsky selected eight numbers to be included in this suite. Originally the ballet flopped, but the suite was a complete success. Since the 1960s the original ballet has achieved lasting fame. 40% of major American ballet companies ticket revenues are drawn from performances of The Nutcracker.
8. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
This 1787 work actually means 'a little serenade' in English. No one knows why and for whom it was written, as Mozart usually composed for commission. Amazingly, the piece was not performed until 1827, long after Mozart had died. The sheet music was found amidst a bundle of papers collected and sold by his widow Constanze. Everyone in the world now knows this exquisite tune.
7. Einleitung oder Sonnenaufgang - Richard Strauss (1864–1949)
Entitled 'Sunrise' the opening fanfare to Strauss's 1896 Also Sprach Zarathustra tone poem is based on a philosophical novel by Nietzsche. Perhaps best known for its use in the 1968 movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the theme was also consistently used by Elvis Presley at the start of his performances in the six years before his death.
6. The Barber of Seville Overture - Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)
The 1816 opera buffa, The Barber of Seville remains famous partly for this enchanting overture. Yet, few realize that the prolific Rossini, who composed the opera in just three weeks, actually used this music in two earlier operas. Did you know that The Barber is based on a novel series, part of which was turned by Mozart into the opera The Marriage of Figaro?
5. Für Elise - Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Although probably composed in 1810, this world-famous tune was not published until 1867, 40 years after Beethoven had passed away. It's still unknown who the intended recipient of the beautiful composition, Elise, really was. In any case, she was a very lucky lady!
4. The Ride of the Valkyries - Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
For years, even though it was popular, Wagner refused to let anyone so much as publish the Ride apart from the opera as a whole, though he eventually saw sense and relented, conducting it himself in 1877 as an encore. The music was famously used in the 1979 movie Apocalypse Now.
3. Symphony No. 9 - Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Also known as the 'choral symphony', in 1824 Beethoven wrote this magisterial interpretation of Schiller's Ode to Joy poem. Though the final movement is considered the most memorable part of this most famous symphony, some detested it. Verdi claimed that No. 9 was 'marvelous in its first three movements, very badly set in the last.' Did you know that in Japan there is a tradition of performing the symphony on December 31st?
2. The Four Seasons - Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1841)
Written around the year 1723, The Four Seasons is a group of four concertos, each representing a season. The complete opus is considered Vivaldi's greatest and most popular work. Did you know that Vivaldi also published Italian poems that match the concertos? He had to express each line of the poem musically, which was a great labor.
1. Symphony No. 5 - Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Written in 1808, Symphony No. 5 is arguably the greatest and most famous pieces of classical music. It's distinctive four-note short-short-short long motif has been used by countless musicians since its premiere. Did you know that it's also referred to as the 'Victory Symphony', since V is the Roman numeral for 5? Also the dit-dit-dit-dah motif is used for the letter V in Morse code.
Here are five bonus musical pieces that didn't make our list, but we love anyway. Enjoy!
BONUS 1: In the Hall of the Mountain King - Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)
Set to the Ibsen drama Peer Gynt, this slowly rising tune has captured the heart of people for over a century. It was composed in the year 1876.
BONUS 2: The Flight of the Bumblebee - Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)
Written to express the chaotic and quick movements of a bumble bee, this famous composition was written during the period 1899-1900.
BONUS 3: The Sabre Dance - Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978)
This beautiful and exciting piece was written in 1942 for the ballet Gayane. It is partly based on an Armenian folk song.
BONUS 4: Toccata and Fugue in D Minor - J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
It's anyone's guess when this organ fugue was actually composed (1704-1750). Yet, its dramatic sound has been heard by every generation since.
BONUS 5: Pachelbel's Canon - Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706)
Composed in obscure circumstances during the period 1680-1706, Canon was quickly forgotten. It was only a 1968 performance that made it popular. Now its chord progressions are world renowned.