Arbitrary Countdowns: Top 10 Most Beautiful Pieces

Beautiful is a word that gets overused way too much in music for me. It gets used to describe almost any slow, generally tonal piece of music, which bothers me, mostly because I think there should be a special realm for beauty; that kind of heart wrenching passion, or full rich harmonies that always gets you. Of course it’s objective, but I don’t care, it’s my blog.

10) Nessun Dorma – Puccini

The melody is absolutely unforgettable. and the quiet chords behind it add to the feeling. It’s a song of victory (No one shall know my name, and I’ll then get to marry the hot princess). Man than high B at the climax. It’s good shit. It pretty much was Pavarotti’s signature song, although interestingly Calaf was never a signature role for him, so I’ll let him sing it.

9) Ombra mai fu – Handel 

I didn’t intend to start off with two arias, but that’s how it works. I don’t know why, but for whatever reason this one always gets me. The line is so simple and pure, and memorable, unlike most baroque music. The simplicity of the line and the harmony are what I think makes it so pretty. I’d always heard it sung my a woman, but sorry ladies, this guy gets the win. Falsetto!

8) 2nd Movement of Symphony 1 – Kalinnikov

Why did Kalinnikov have to die so young? He had written so little and what he had written was amazing! He lives on through the much to uncommon performances of his two symphonies. The second movement of the first symphony has perhaps the most gorgeous melody written. English horn + very melancholy theme + Russian composer is a win every time. The music is so Russian, much like the Mighty 5, but more classical, like Tchaikovsky. And when the tune (spoiler alert) shows up again in the last movement, that’s something special.

7) O Sacrum Convivium – Messiaen 

Vocal music is pretty well represented given my instrumental tastes. It’s not often we think of beautiful and Messiaen together, but this piece is an exception. The harmonies and not simple, and there is no time signature, but the whole effect of everything together is absolutely rapturous. I want to go to whatever sacred banquet Oliver is eating at.

6) 4th Movement of Symphony 5 – Mahler

We all knew this one would end up on the list. It isn’t the best movement in the symphony (the funeral march got that designation, for me at least), but it has the most passion of anything Mahler every wrote. Alma was such a lucky girl, but not really since the guy who wrote her this beautiful love music was also a controlling husband.  But still though, the adagietto is pretty great. Bernstein made it over 12 minutes long, so that’s to much for me. I linked the Solti reading.

5) Prelude to Tristan and Islode – Wagner

Seeing as I’ve recently written about this opera, it shouldn’t be surprising that this is on here. Along with being one of the turning points in western music, with the whole break up of the tonal system as was known, the music is pure and utter rapture. From the impassioned cello opening to the very end, it is all passion. Mahler took a page from Richie’s book here, and I can see why.

4) Adagio for Strings – Barber

If you’ve heard the piece I really don’t need to explain it. It’s been called the saddest piece of music ever written, and with good cause. (Side note: generally Bb minor isn’t a “sad key” or a “key most composers use” but it works.) It’s been played at funerals for public officials, it was used as a tribute to those who died in the 9/11 attacks, it’s been used in movies. Barber himself arranged it for chorus as a Agnus Dei setting. But it seems to be at it’s best when played by the full string orchestra.

3) Clair de Lune – Debussey

I’m not even sure how to go about explaining this one. The music is evocative of the night. I get the feeling of being at a cafe at night with someone you love looking at the moon over the Eiffel Tower. To specific? Yes. It is just so pretty. Piano gets represented on the list. Just listen to it and try not to cry. Classic major melancholy.

2) Lever du Jour from Daphnis and Chloe  – Ravel

I could’ve just as easily put down the whole ballet, but that’s overkill, plus there’s the part with the pirates which generally isn’t “beautiful” (I apologize to any pirates I may have offended). The ballet is perhaps the best orchestrated piece ever in my mind. Often there is a lot of ink on the page, but it is so perfectly put together. The main theme that shows up throughout the ballet is so ambiguous as to major or minor, it’s great, and full of passion. What’s up with love music? Why is it so pretty? Bass clarinet except with lots of notes! The whole daybreak section!

1) Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis – Vaughan Williams

I mentioned earlier the idea of full rich harmonies. This was the piece was what I was thinking of when I said that. I’ve been on a big RVW kick for the last, well I don’t know, three months. Maybe that bias is playing a part, but I’m pretty sure I’d say that any day from now until I die. The theme itself is gorgeous, and in the phrygian mode! The harmonies and so modal, and so Vaughan Williams. I keep saying the word rapture, but I really mean it here, and thusly it is the most beautiful piece of music on my list!

About Why must you use all the notes

So much to do, so little reason to do so much of it...
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3 Responses to Arbitrary Countdowns: Top 10 Most Beautiful Pieces

  1. pianolearner says:

    Great links, I also suggest Chopin: prelude in E minor and Yann Tiersens: Comptine d’un autre ete l’apres midi

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