The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What is the greatest piece of classical music for you right now?

April 22, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday I posted a story about Rob Kapilow (below, in a Stephanie Berger), a composer and conductor who now travels around the country explaining to sold-out audience what makes a piece of classical music great.

Here is  link to that posting:

But today I want to ask the logical follow-up question:

For you right now, what is the great piece of classical music and why?

It isn’t an easy question to answer. It could be small or big, old or new, a song or a symphony.

For me, and for a very long time, a never-fail piece is the Ballade No. 4 in F Minor by Chopin (below). It is an incredible work. I find it his answer to Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata, which, by the way is written in the same key and uses some of the same structure.

I know, I know.

Chopin (below) is famous – or infamous – for not liking or playing Beethoven except for maybe the Piano Sonata Op. 26 “Funeral March,” which Chopin used as a model for his own famous Piano Sonata No.2 “Funeral March.”

But such a cosmopolitan, sophisticated and fastidious pianist composer like Chopin, who knew and admired and imitated Bach and Mozart, must have more known Beethoven than he let on. (I also think you can make a case that his Scherzo No. 3 in C-Sharp minor is a response to Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata.) And I think the same goes for Schubert. After all, Chopin was also a great pianist, performer and teacher as well as composer who assigned his students Scarlatti sonatas at a time when very few pianists or musicians paid attention to Scarlatti.

Anyway, the Ballade No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 52 for me is an unfailingly great piece of music that features beautiful melodies, including a “valse triste” or sad waltz, that lingers long after you hear it; great poignant and haunting harmonies; and astonishing natural counterpoint – all tied up in a formally flawless Romantic package. (A performance by Krystian Zimerman is below. I also like Artur Rubinstein, Emanuel Ax, Maurizio Pollini  and Murray Perahia playing the same piece.)

So what work of classical music would you call The Greatest right now? Which one work of classical music speaks to you the deepest and the most often? And why do you think it does?

The Ear wants to hear, so include a link to a performance eon YouTube if you can.

Let’s see if we can form our own “canon” of great pieces and composers.

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