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.


  1. […] Classical music: What is the greatest piece of classical music for you right now? ( Share this:ShareEmailLinkedInDiggFacebookPrintTwitterRedditStumbleUpon This entry was posted in Art and tagged Jimi Hendrix, Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Bookmark the permalink. ← Cousin Marriage – 70 % in Pakistan – Should it be prohibited ? […]

    Pingback by Mozart or Beethoven – who was da best ? | Transhumanisten — June 5, 2012 @ 5:53 pm

  2. aqui, your link should under no circumstances be CLICKED ON by anyone, as it semes like phishy-lookin’ spam to me. Jake, could you investigate this, and remove it if it turns out to be virus-laden or some other weirdness. Words like dinero internet, and infidelata femina, don’t seem to have much to do with music. Spanish speakers out there , help if you can, as I am not one, obviously…MBB

    Comment by Michael BB — May 13, 2012 @ 1:41 pm

    • Hi Michael,
      Don’t know how it got through. Probably when the Union Theater was shifting administration for the site to me.
      Anyway I removed it.
      You are right. Thank you for the heads up.
      It’s the first and only time, I think.
      And I hope it stays that way.

      Comment by welltemperedear — May 14, 2012 @ 8:13 am

      • As a music teacher and a first edition book collector/seller, with a strong online presence, I have gotten the warning signs of a scam or otherwise irrelevant posting or message down pretty clearly. Thanx for removing it. We will all post with confidence at the Ear.

        Comment by Michael BB — May 14, 2012 @ 8:44 am

  3. Ravel’s Daphis and Chloe Complete ballet, or if you prefer a shorter piece, his La Valse for piano solo. for Daphnis and for Glenn Gould playing his version of the Ravel piano solo score, which is subject to interpretations.
    Ravel is the most harmonically colourful music, the most rhythmically exciting and stimulating music, but not the most melodically fulfilling as his tunes are like Beethoven’s, just an excuse for the structures and “musical infrastructure”. But since the harmonic colours and rhythms are what attracts my ear most strongly, Ravel is, and has always been, my go-to composer for quality. More of his output is in the so-called standard repertoire as a percentage of their published works than almost any other composer. Lots of other writers had more output, but very few have a small but exquisite and impeccable ouvre as MR.

    Comment by Michael BB — April 22, 2012 @ 10:46 am

  4. Probably Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem, because, although it lacks the flash and drama of, say, the Verdi Requiem, it is a very comforting, gentle piece with beautiful harmonies. It’s like taking a wonderful warm bath. I liked the Robert Shaw recording on Amazon.

    Comment by westmelrose — April 22, 2012 @ 9:09 am

  5. Bach’s Mass in B minor never fails to move me, to lift me out of the rat race, to make me live in the moment. Pure genius.

    See link to Sanctus below:

    Comment by Betsy Hagens — April 22, 2012 @ 7:43 am

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