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Most Famous Classical Music: Discover the Most Famous Pieces

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Most Famous Classical Pieces - iMusician

According to CMS research from 2013, there might be approximately 3 to 100 million classical music compositions. That’s truly an extensive amount of music to listen to! As listening to all known existing pieces of classical music is just impossible, we’ve decided to make things easier for you and create a list of the 10 classical music pieces that you must hear.

We understand that selecting only 10 out of the vast repertoire of 100 or even 3 million compositions is a daunting task. However, we assure you that these ten compositions represent the best of traditional classical music.

1. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — Eine kleine Nachtmusik

Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik, which translates to ‘a little night music,’ is a composition for a chamber ensemble – a serenade, to be more clear — composed in 1787. The work has four movements and is written for an ensemble of two violins, viola, cello, and double bass. It is also frequently performed by string orchestras.

Not much is known about the serenade. While completed before Mozart's passing in 1791, the work was only published around 1827. It is also unknown what drove Mozart to compose this work, with many suggesting that it was written on commission.

What is clear, however, is that Eine kleine Nachtmusik is one of Mozart’s greatest and most famous works.

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2. Ludwig van Beethoven – Symphony No.5 in C minor

You are likely familiar with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, particularly its famous ‘da da da duuum.’ Did you know that this motif should represent "fate knocking at the door?"

The four famous chords that Beethoven used throughout the entire piece, in modifications and various pitches, are now known worldwide. However, when the Symphony was composed between 1804 and 1808, the motif and the piece itself had an even more important role — they changed what people thought music could do and could be.

Symphony No. 9 perfectly mirrored what Beethoven’s music was known for—"sheer variety and extreme range of color, texture, and sound." This is why today, the piece is one of the best-known compositions in classical music and one of the most frequently recorded symphonies in the world. Let’s also highlight that Beethoven composed the piece when his hearing was already significantly deteriorating.

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3. Johann Sebastian Bach – Toccata and Fugue in D minor

While many have expressed their doubts over the authenticity and Bach’s authorship of the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, the composition remains one of the most widely recognizable works in the organ repertoire.

Scholars assume that it was composed between 1704 and 1750, representing the North German organ school of the Baroque era. To this day, the piece is shadowed by a mystery — not only over its authorship but also its meaning. Some describe it as program music depicting a storm, while others call it absolute music, thus a piece that’s not explicitly about anything.

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4. Antonio Vivaldi – The Four Seasons

The name of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is pretty straightforward. It represents a group of four violin concerti, each dedicated to one season of the year. Just like Beethoven’s work was revolutionary in the time of Viennese Classicism, The Four Seasons had the same impact in the Baroque era.

Unlike anything seen or experienced before, Vivaldi used music to describe the very details of every season — from flowing creeks and singing birds through storms and drunken dancers to frozen landscapes and warm winter fires. Trust us when we say this composition will take you places in your mind.

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5. Johann Strauss I – Radetzky-Marsch

Johann Strauss I, also known as Johann Strauss, The Father, was the ‘founder’ of the highly talented family of Austrian composers. The Radetzky Marsch is probably his most famous composition and deserves its utmost respect.

The piece was first performed in 1848 in Vienna to commemorate the victory of the Austrian Empire under Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz over Italian forces. Since then, it has become, alongside The Blue Danube, composed by his son Johann Strauss II, an unofficial Austrian national anthem.

Nowadays, it is mainly associated with the New Year's Concert of the Viennese Philharmonics. Ever since it was first introduced as part of the concert in 1946, it has always been played as a jubilant encore — a cherry on top of an always beautiful performance.

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6. Johann Strauss II – The Blue Danube

We mentioned Johann Strauss, The Father, and we must also talk about his son Johann Strauss II. As the most famous of the Strauss sons, Johann was known as ‘The Waltz King’ and played an essential role in the rise of popularity of the waltz in Vienna during the 19th century.

Surprisingly, though, the initial performance of his most-known waltz, The Blue Danube, or "An der schönen blauen Donau," was considered a relatively mild success in early 1967. However, only a few months later, at the Paris World’s Fair, the newly adapted version of the piece gained universal acclaim.

As mentioned above, the Waltz is also considered an Austrian unofficial national anthem. Just like Radetzky Marsch, it has been performed as the jubilant encore at the New Year's Concert of the Viennese Philharmonics, preceding his father’s hit.

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7. Edward Grieg – ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ from Peer Gynt Suite

Edward Grieg wrote In the Hall of the Mountain King as incidental music for the sixth scene of Act 2 in Henrik Ibsen's 1867 play Peer Gynt. The piece's Norwegian title, ‘I Dovregubbens hall,’ translates literally as 'In the Dovre man's hall,' and the music is played as the title character, Peer Gynt, enters the troll Mountain King’s hall in a dream-like fantasy.

It is truly impossible not to hear the great crowd of trolls, gnomes, and goblins walking all over the hall of the great troll king. Its highly recognizable theme has quickly become iconic in pop culture, with many artists, including the American band The Who, recording their own version of the composition or integrating the theme into their works.

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8. Ludwig van Beethoven - Für Elise

Ludwig van Beethoven has a whole repertoire of tremendous and iconic compositions, and we certainly felt that Für Elise should be on our list. Similarly to Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik, Beethoven’s bagatelle for solo piano was released long after the composer passed away (it was actually 40 years after his death).

To this day, who Elise was and whether that was really her name remain unknown. Whoever Für Elise was written for, it cannot be denied that it is one of the most mesmerizing pieces for piano ever composed.

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9. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Overture from The Marriage of Figaro

Mozart wrote his four-act opera buffa, The Marriage of Figaro, in 1876. The composition tells the story of Figaro and Susanna and their success in getting married and is considered one of the greatest operas ever written.

Its overture itself – a music instrumental introduction — has gained wide popularity, too, and is therefore often performed as an independent concert piece. It’s no surprise as its melody abounds with unique vibrant energy and dancing spirit. It is for that reason that the overture has been commonly used in films, TV series, advertisements, or even pop music.

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10. Sergei Prokofiev – ‘Dance of the Knights’ from Romeo and Juliet

Choosing the last piece of music on our list was difficult — there are truly so many wonderful compositions. Eventually, we decided to go with Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights from his ballet Romeo and Juliet.

As it may be assumed, the composition tells the tragic story of the lovers from rival families, the Montagues and the Capulets, written by Shakespeare. The hatred and wars between the families eventually lead to the deaths of both main protagonists.

The Dance of the Knights, together with The Prince Gives His Order, makes the first part of the second suite and has become known as one of the most dramatic pieces ever written. Just take a listen for yourself.

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Do you agree with our selection? Or do other compositions deserve to make the list? Let us know in our iMusician Community or on our social media!

If you’re looking for more content on classical music, check out the classical music section on our blog!

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