Does your classical music knowledge consist of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, the opening of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and, er, that opera thing Pavarotti sang for the World Cup? If so, you're far from being alone. The forbidding seriousness of some classical music buffs and the overwhelming volume of music out there make many people wary of wading too deeply into the classical repertoire. While this is completely understandable, it would be a huge pity to leave the whole thing only to seasoned connoisseurs. After all, the western orchestral tradition has produced some of the most exciting, passionate, lyrical works of art we have. Setting aside some time to appreciate it fully is a great idea - much classical music only reveals its best if you sit and listen carefully, letting yourself anticipate, then be surprised by the course it takes. Luckily, now that the summer season is lessening the appeal of outdoor pursuits, more time is something many of us have. To spare you some of the legwork of sifting through mounds of CDs (fun though that can be), we've got together five top musicians to choose the five classical pieces they think everyone should get to know before they die.
The internationally acclaimed -Serbian pianist has played with many of Europe's leading orchestras, is a former prize winner at the Leeds -Piano Competition, and is professor of music at Brussels' Royal Flemish Conservatory. 1) Ludwig van Beethoven, String Quartet Opus 130: "This vast piece carries all the power and lyricism Beethoven generally stands for, but also a great deal of grace and -elegance." 2) Richard Strauss, Vier Letzte -Lieder (Four Last Songs): "These songs are the last great piece of -romanticism." 3) Giuseppe Verdi, Act 1 of Otello: "Germanic complexities served with Italian efficiency equal perfection." 4) Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, String Quintet in C K515: "This piece is -simply monumental, statuesque and breathtaking." 5) Maurice Ravel, Gaspard de la Nuit: "One of the greatest piano pieces, a challenge to all the abilities of a good pianist. Performing it has rid me of several minor medical conditions - what a shame this therapy isn't available to all."
The winner of a clutch of international prizes, the German cellist has performed as a soloist with many European orchestras, including the Orchestre de Paris. 1) Franz Schubert, String Quintet: "This is the most touching view of the life of Schubert's soul, running like mad into a final catastrophe. The Alban Berg Quartet with Heinrich Schiff did a particularly good recording." 2) Johann Sebastian Bach, Goldberg Variations: "An eternal and seemingly never-ending musical journey. Try to get Murray Perahia's recording." 3) Beethoven, Symphony No 3: "The most revolutionary human statement in music. Get Nikolaus -Harnon court's version with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe." 4) Antonin Dvorák, Cello Concerto: "The most beautiful and heroic -romantic concerto ever written. The Vienna Philharmonic's recording with André Previn and Heinrich Schiff is my personal favourite." 5) Igor Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring: "What a scandalous piece of music! Get Pierre Boulez's version with the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra if you can."
The Finnish conductor and violinist has led a number of international orchestras, including the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Soon to head the WDR Symphony Orchestra -Cologne, Saraste will also participate in the 2010 Abu Dhabi Classics season. 1) Mozart, Symphony No 39: "This is by far the most passionate and dramatic of Mozart's music." 2) Beethoven, Choral Symphony No 9: "The unique simplicity and concentration of the first movement make this essential listening." 3) Anton Bruckner, Symphony No 7: "The romantic long lines of this work have the most incredible beauty." 4) Richard Wagner, Tristan and Isolde: "For me this is one of the most perfect operas you can find." 5) Gustav Mahler, Symphony No 6: "This piece reveals how powerfully Mahler can express the tragedy of life and destiny."
The French violinist and chamber music specialist has performed as a soloist with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and is a member of the acclaimed Elias String Quartet. 1) Schubert, 2nd Cello Quintet in C major, D 956: "This piece is a monument. It makes me feel as if time has stopped. It creates an atmosphere that is almost magical at times and carries within it a grace that can be hardly imagined. One of my favourite recordings is the Amadeus Quartet with William Pleeth." 2) Mozart, Don Giovanni: "This opera has just about everything in it. It takes the listener through a huge range of emotions and it has one of the most dramatic endings. The way the haunting music from the opening comes back at the end in the penultimate scene is unbelievably powerful, sends shivers down my spine every time I hear it." 3) Beethoven, String Quartet Opus 132 in A minor: "Hearing this is -always in some way a life-changing experience. It has some of the most moving and intimate music ever written. Again, the Amadeus Quartet's recording is a personal favourite." 4) Johannes Brahms, Symphony No 4 in E minor: "There is an exuberance and energy in the 3rd movement that is irresistible and life affirming. The incredible last movement variations are like a force of nature. I particularly love the Vienna Philharmonic recording with Carlos Kleiber." 5) Schumann, Kreisleriana: "For me, Schumann is the most human of composers. The tenderness and imagination in his music are endless and always completely honest. He shows his heart in all its fragility. Jonathan Biss's version of this is my favourite."
The prize-winning singer is the -director of the City of London -Festival, a special adviser to Britain's Art Council and a board member of -Musicians Without Frontiers. He also works pro bono for Bosnia's Mostar Sinfonietta. 1) Bach, Chaconne from the -Partita No 2 for solo violin: "If only one composer was to survive into permanent posterity, then it has to be Bach. This great Chaconne demonstrates an amazing harmonic range and unfathomable depths of human and spiritual expression. It is a work of great beauty and demands much of the unaccompanied performer - technically and intellectually." 2) Joseph Haydn, The Creation: "The opening section of this 90-minute work alone is immensely rewarding - representing chaos and moving through to the dramatic creation of light 10 minutes in. Haydn is an underrated genius, inventing the string quartet and never being surpassed in the medium. The Creation is probably his masterwork - the way he paints with music so that you get the picture is remarkable." 3) Robert Schumann, Dichterliebe (Poet's Love): "When sung by one of the greats, like Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, this 25-minute cycle takes you through the whole set of emotions attached to romantic love. The seventh song, Ich grolle nicht (I bear no grudge), is an especially magnificent stormy emotional outburst. And the piano solo postlude is Schumann's way of saying that music is more important than the text and that the piano - his and his wife Clara's beloved instrument - should have the last word." 4) Arnold Schoenberg, Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night): "This is the summit of romanticism from a composer normally associated with all the complexities and some of the incomprehension of 20th century music. Verklärte Nacht was a 19th century piece (just - it was composed in 1899) and expresses the extraordinary conversation between two lovers, embracing forgiveness and unconditional acceptance. A -really beautiful, romantic 25 minutes of music." 5) Strauss, Vier Letzte -Lieder (Four Last Songs): "This composer's farewell to the world was a set of four deeply moving songs (lasting 20 minutes, all told). The voice and the orchestra are woven together into a lovely tapestry and the lines unfold and roll on like waves building up and breaking on the surface of the sea. The music is reflective and nostalgic. No composer understood better how to use the orchestra for colour and expression.