Exploring Music's Complexities

An Opinionated Guide to Building a Classical Music Library

If you are new to classical music you may find a good way to develop a love for Western music is by creating a Starter Kit for each of the “greats”.   Pick an artist and take a listen. If you enjoyed it then go back and explore more.  Start with the greats.  For me, the list begins with Bach.

Johann Sebastian Bach

It has been suggested that no composer was more committed to the struggle of mankind than Bach.  Bach wrote music for the Glory of God.  Samples of Bach’s works may be found in a number of categories.  Start with his Violin Concerto in D Minor. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZFOhkGGr8A.  Experts agree this is one of the best examples of counterpoint in music. Both movements are fugue-like, with each of two violins doing their own thing as an independent voice.

Other good starters are the Mass in B Minor and St. Mathew Passion   Peruse his catalog.  The list is endless.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart is considered to be a genius. Experts note that Mozart was music’s brightest single shining moment.  Despite the volume of compositions Mozart was miserably poor and was reported not to pay his taxes.  He wrote for the theatre and was not a self-asserted fellow like Handel. However, his music is incomparable for sheer listening pleasure.

As with Bach, the list of Mozart’s compositions is endless. To assist in discovering Mozart, begin with two of his three famous last symphonies.  No. 40 (K.550) and No.41, Jupiter (K.551) and one piano concerto No. 21 (K. 551). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6EOb86YdIs.


Ludwig van Beethoven

Unlike the two previously noted “greats” Beethoven represents “power”.  He made his own rules of life and compositions. He has been credited with the mightiest body of music ever created by a single composer.

These Starter Kit compositions represent the best of him.  They include Symphony No. 5 in C Minor  ,   Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp Minor (Moonlight). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Tr0otuiQuU.  https://youtu.be/4591dCHe_sE

The first movement,[15] in C♯ minor,   is written in modified sonata-allegro form.[16]      The movement opens with an octave in the left hand and a triplet figuration in the right. A melody mostly by the left hand, is played against an accompanying ostinato triplet rhythm, simultaneously played by the right hand. The movement is played pianissimo or “very quietly”, and the loudest it gets is piano or “quietly”.

The adagio sostenuto has made a powerful impression on many listeners.  “Berlioz said of it that it is one of those poems that human language does not know how to qualify”.[17] Beethoven’s student Carl Czerny called it “a nocturnal scene, in which a mournful ghostly voice sounds from the distance”.[1] The movement was very popular in Beethoven’s day, to the point of exasperating the composer himself, who remarked to Czerny, “Surely I’ve written better things.”[18][19]

Franz Joseph Haydn


Things not going well?  It’s time for Haydn.  Why?  Haydn created happy, cheerful, and buoyant symphonic music. Despite being lonely most of his life he wrote upbeat music. He noted  “Since God has given me a cheerful heart, he will forgive me for serving him cheerfully.”

While writing 104 symphonies earned Haydn the title of the father of the symphony, his quartets are outstanding for their “perfection of form.”  They are transparent, neat and clear.  It is thought that Mozart learned a great deal about string quartets from Haydn.

The Quartet No. 62 in C major, Op. 76, No. 3, boasts the nickname Emperor (or Kaiser), because in the second movement is a set of variations on “Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser” (“God Save Emperor Francis”), an anthem he wrote for Emperor Francis II. This same melody is known to modern listeners for its later use in the German national anthem, the Deutschlandlied. The quartet consists of four movements.  The first movement of the quartet is in the home key of C major, in common time, and is written in sonata form. The second movement, in G major cut time, is in strophic variation form, with the “Emperor’s Hymn” as the theme. The third movement, in C major and A minor, is a standard minuet and trio. The fourth movement, in C minor and C major, is in sonata form.


A symphony choice might be No. 94 in G (Surprise) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tF5kr251BRs.


Richard Wagner


Describing himself he said “I am not made like other people,” I must have brilliance and beauty and light.  The world owes me what I need.  I cannot live on a miserable organist’s pittance like your master, Bach.  Wagner was one of a kind.  He was described as a dreadful human being.

Where to start?  Go for “Siegfried Idyll written for orchestra in 1870 and an Opera Selection from Tristan and Isolde.  The score of Tristan und Isolde has often been cited as a landmark in the development of Western music.[15] Throughout the opera, Wagner uses a remarkable range of orchestral color, harmony, and polyphony, doing so with a freedom rarely found in his earlier operas. The very first chord in the piece, the Tristan chord, is of great significance in the move away from traditional tonal harmony as it resolves to another dissonant chord:[16)https://youtu.be/ShNmF8-DLL0.

This link will provide a treat for piano lovers.   


Five more to come.  The next post will continue the list.






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