The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Are they warhorses or masterpieces? Do you agree with the Top 100 classical music pieces as selected by listeners of WQXR? | January 7, 2017

By Jacob Stockinger

Are they warhorses?

Or are they simply great, surefire masterpieces of classical music that have meaning to many, many people even after repeated listening?

Can they be both?

Can one critic’s warhorse be another listener’s masterpiece? 

Think about it and then decide for yourself.

Here is some help.

Every year, WQXR-FM, the famed classical music radio station in New York City, asks its listeners to nominate the Top 100 pieces of classical music. From the holidays through New Years’ Day, Jan. 1, the radio station then airs those pieces in a countdown format. (You can also check out and stream much of WQXR’s regular and special programming by going to:!/

At the top of this year’s list, not surprisingly, is Ludwig van Beethoven (below). Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart are also well represented.

Beethoven big

Here is a link to this year’s selections:!/story/wqxr-2016-classical-music-countdown/

Many, if not most or even all, of the titles will seem quite familiar.

But before you dismiss them as too easy or too popular or overperformed, The Ear reminds  readers of what the famed American playwright Edward Albee, who died last year, once observed.

Albee said something to the effect: Great art should move you and make you feel different. If it doesn’t do that, then forget it. You’re wasting your time. Find art that does.

How many of these pieces would fit that criterion for you and how many would you also have named? For The Ear, an awful lot.

How many have you heard, live or on a recording?

How many do you look forward to hearing again – on the assumption that repeated listening brings repeated pleasure and deeper appreciation and understanding?

It is also useful to remember what the great and, at the same time, popular pianist-composer Sergei Rachmaninoff  (below) once said: “Classical music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for classical music.”

So much music!

So little time!


Enjoy the list and the music, and leave your thoughts about these selections or about what is missing in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. Not a warhorse and not for everyone’s ears—

    Hi Jake – This is a link to a BBC broadcast of Berg’s Lulu featuring Brenda Rae. She is the daughter of Joanne Fratcher Klinkert (LU 69) and Jim Klinkert (LU 6? – graduated from UWGB). Like me they have been Appleton residents for the last half century. Here is a copy of an e-mailI sent to broadcast the news.

    Hello Opera fans,

    We have the opportunity to hear Brenda Rae and a UK production of Lulu in the comfort of our own homes. There is a 30 day window on this. I’ll listen with a synopsis in hand.

    Also, “Following her recent role and ENO debut as Lulu in William Kentridge’s critically acclaimed production, Brenda Rae features in the ‘Breakthrough Artist in UK Opera’” from ENO website.

    Feel free to share this information with others, Karen


    Comment by Karen Bachhuber — January 8, 2017 @ 10:38 pm

  2. Almost all of these are familiar to me. As I go through the list I constantly think of others that are not on the list…like a branching tree where we only see a few that are nearby.
    As I think about my favorites, many of which are not on this list, there are only a handful which “changed me” on the first hearing as I remember anyway. One is the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 as a child. As I didn’t grow up in a musical family, I believe that that music heard on a white AM table radio introduced me to classical music.
    More recently about twenty years ago on hearing for the first time Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 4, it struck me with its passages of complex simultaneous melody lines. (None of his piano sonata’s are on the list as I remember it.)

    Comment by Louis Cannella — January 7, 2017 @ 6:31 pm

  3. Seeing this list reminds me of a comment by Nicolas Slonimsky during the Intermission of a long-ago radio broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera. He opined that Carmen was not “good because it was popular,” but “popular because it was good.”

    Comment by Johanna Fabke — January 7, 2017 @ 12:48 pm

  4. Link provided not working?

    Comment by Chuck Bauer — January 7, 2017 @ 12:26 pm

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