I started listening to classical music in my late 20s. Violin pieces are my favorite. I started with classical because I needed music without words while I programmed. Nowadays I listen to it for the pure joy of listening.
I got started with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I thought that was the best piece of music ever conceived by humans. I used to argue with my wife (a music major) about how Vivaldi was better than Tchaikovsky. I was mostly naive and a little bit arrogant. She mostly shook her head in disbelief and let me ramble on. But since then I’ve changed some of my opinions and I’d like to think that I have a bit more nuanced taste.
If you’re interested in getting started with classical music here’s a quick list of awesome pieces to get you started.
Concerto, is a musical piece designed for one leading instrument accompanied by an orchestra. There are Violin Concertos, Cello Concertos, Viola Concertos, Piano Concertos etc. Concerto typically has three movements. The first and last movements are typically fast-paced and the second movement is usually slower.
Symphony, is a musical piece designed to be played by an entire orchestra. Symphonies typically have four movements. They are a lot more elaborate than concertos.
1. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons - Spotify
This is a collection of four violin concertos. My favorite is Summer. The third movement of the Summer concerto is just absolutely fantastic.
2. Beethoven’s Fur Elise - Spotify
This is a solo piano piece. This is a very popular piece that is easily recognizable. It is vivacious and soothing.
3. Mozart’s Symphony #40 - Spotify
This is a popular symphony by Mozart that is easy to follow and pleasant to listen.
4. Czardas - Spotify
This is a gypsy violin piece. I absolutely love this piece. It starts slow and methodical then bursts into this flame of rapid fire. It is fun to watch this being played. Try finding a video of a violinist on Youtube. It is worth a watch. :)
5. Carmen Fantasy by Sarasate - Spotify
Pablo Sarasate, the composer of this piece is a fantastic Violinist himself. He has many wonderful pieces that are an absolute joy to listen (such as zigeunerweisen, zapateado etc). Carmen Fantasy is one of those flashy pieces that is hard to play and wonderful to listen.
6. Elgar’s Cello Concerto - Spotify
Cello is the big brother of Violin with a deep soothing voice. There are many popular Cello pieces (such as Dvorak’s Cello Concerto) but Elgar’s cello concerto showcases the beauty and range of a cello. Especially this piece played by Jacquline Du Pre is just moving. Even though this is a concerto it has four movements instead of the typical three.
7. Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky - Spotify
Swan Lake is a very famous ballet piece composed by Tchaikovsky. Ballet pieces are quite long since they are telling you a story and they last for a couple of hours. I’ve linked only the Swan Lake Suite which is a select few pieces from the ballet that represents the character of the whole piece.
8. Hungarian Dances by Brahms - Spotify
I’m not doing justice to Brahms by choosing Hungarian Dances. It is a light hearted collection of dance pieces that are upbeat and jolly. But Brahms' usual style is very heavy. His violin concerto is a good example of the weight of his compositions. I chose Hungarian dances because it was one of those collections that got me hooked into classical music early on. The popular ones from this collection are Dance #1, #3, #5, #6. My absolute favorite is #5.
9. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony - Spotify
Beethoven has a lot of popular symphonies (3rd, 5th and 9th). But his ninth symphony is ground breaking. It is majestic and powerful. It starts out a bit soft and slow. But it builds up to this wonderful enormous piece. If you like this style, you should consider listening to his 5th Symphony which is also a powerful symphony and equally popular.
10. Carmina Burana - Spotify
You have already heard this piece, trust me. Whenever movies want to show something epic they always choose this piece to accompany the visual.
This is not a definitive list or a complete list by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve just chosen a few pieces that I like and that are easily accessible. There are more intricate and delightful composers that I have ommited (eg: Sibelius, Mendelssohn, Dvorak etc). Perhaps I’ll do this more often if there is interest.
I would love to hear your feedback or suggestions about pieces that I’ve missed or pieces that you enjoyed from the list. Feel free to tweet me @amjithr