Symphony No. 6 – Tchaikovsky
Nicknamed, ‘Pathétique’, this was the composer’s final symphony, with its premiere performance given days before his death. Of all the iconic classic composers, Tchaikovsky was the most troubled of all. This symphony encompassed many of the issues that troubled him, in a sense. Many people even perceived it to be a suicide note, some cited his controversial homosexual side, and others saw it as an indulgent, glorious, sad, and tragic artistic expression. It will resonate with you because each of these contexts come to life without ever distracting from the power of the music itself. It’s a masterclass in using music to express emotion.
Grosse Fuge – Beethoven
One of Beethoven’s final pieces, it was rated by everyone when it was first composed. While interpretation is a factor, this is stunning evidence that both audiences and critics can sometimes be so, so wrong. You can hear the effort and the struggle Beethoven must have experienced in composing this masterpiece, which makes it hard to listen to in parts, because you can’t help but sympathise with him. History has rarely seen a piece that shows how a composer can throw everything he has into a single piece of work. It was a massive influence on 20th-century serialist composers, with Igor Stravinsky, no less, calling it a miracle of music.
Vespers – Monteverdi
It’s the defining work of Claudio Monteverdi and a piece of work that some have said bridged the gap between the Renaissance and the Baroque periods. Upon the very first listen, you soon realise that something very old isn’t an indicator that something will be very boring. Further, just because something was groundbreaking doesn’t mean that it should be automatically lauded. There’s no two ways about it, Vespers is enormously entertaining on its own terms. Firstly, it’s huge in scale. With all of its implied drama and the sound of the florid vocal lines, huge choruses, drums, and trumpets, it ranks among early Baroque’s greatest pieces of music.
The Ring Cycle – Wagner
It’s a wonderful feeling when you first realise that opera can be so immersive. Aficionados have dismissed The Ring Cycle as an opera that is too long and that no-one likes and, in a sense, it’s the perfect example of opera’s most faux-worthy, cerebral, and exclusive stereotypes. In another sense, however, that couldn’t be further from the truth. At its core, The Ring Cycle is a flawless piece of work composed by a true genius and absolutely shouldn’t be ignored.
Vivaldi: Recomposed – Max Richter
This reimagining of Four Seasons is like magic. What Richter does so extraordinarily well here is to add in some wonderful additions, reinventions, and tweaks to an iconic piece of music that you already know by heart, and give it a fresh rework, not only for a contemporary audience, but for generations to come. It’s like coming across an old sweater that you used to love, isn’t quite what you remembered it to be, and yet falling in love with it all over again.