Pieces to Get you into Classical Music

Hannah tells us how to get into the brilliant unappreciated genre that is classical music.

Ever fancied listening to some classical musical? Unsure whether it’s for you? Hannah discusses how classical music has far more to love than most believe and sets out some of her favourite tunes, suitable no matter your mood.

What do you think of when you hear the term ‘classical music’?

Your mind might take you to the bejewelled grandiose venues where works are often performed; or do you picture old, rich, white men with grey beards drooling over their next symphonic masterpiece? Are classical music listeners all high-brow narcissists with more money than sense?

Although this is sometimes the case, classical music is becoming more accessible than ever to people of all classes, particularly with the dominance of music streaming services and cheap concert tickets. (Many classical concerts in Nottingham for instance are just £5 with a Go Card!)

But how on Earth do you get ‘into’ classical music in the first place? Personally, I don’t think the works of Mozart, Bach, Haydn etc. are the most accessible pieces if you’re just starting to listen to classical music, mostly because I find a lot of this music rather boring. So here are some interesting, non-boring, virtuosic, mind-blowing (pushing it a bit now) pieces of classical music that you will hopefully enjoy (and some you may have heard of before!)

Lastly, before I list some great pieces, I should make it clear that there are many other composers and works that you may enjoy that I haven’t listed below. (Just a quick comment if you’re a classical fan and wondering why I haven’t included some big names!)


In the mood for something angry?

These pieces are great if you’re a fan of Black Sabbath, Rage Against the Machine, and the like. Proper angry bangers.

  • Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 4
  • Giuseppe Verdi: Dies Irae (from Requiem)
  • Carl Orff: O Fortuna (from Carmina Burana)
  • Modest Mussorgsky: Night on Bald Mountain


Want to feel empowered?

Worried about that exam you’ve got coming up? Listen to these pieces and you’ll feel like you can achieve anything.

  • Gustav Holst: Mars (from The Planets)
  • Franz Liszt: Liebestraum No. 3
  • Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture
  • George Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue


Need to have a laugh?

These pieces were composed with humour in mind. The last two suggestions are YouTube videos, the first satirising the works of Sergei Rachmaninov (who in the classical realm is notorious for writing piano music for ginormous hands) and the second mocking the difficulty of The Flight of the Bumblebee, a virtuosic piece written by Rimsky-Korsakov. I would also highly recommend listening to the first two pieces on YouTube too to get the full experience.

  • Leonard Bernstein: Glitter and Be Gay (from Candide)
  • Gilbert and Sullivan: The Modern Major General’s Song (from The Pirates of Penzance)
  • Rachmaninov had big hands (YT channel: byseb)
  • The Trombone Meets the Bumblebee (YT channel: The United States Army Field Band)


Maybe you need a cry?

I have had a good sob to all of these pieces at some point. They’re great fun. I would recommend listening to the Alexander Peskanov version of Bethena (available on Spotify); all the other versions I’ve heard are either too quick or not emotional enough.

  • Samuel Barber: Adagio for Strings
  • Edvard Grieg: Melodie (from Lyric Pieces)
  • Scott Joplin: Bethena: A Concert Waltz
  • Giacomo Puccini: Nessun Dorma (from Turandot)


Want to have a dance around the room?

I doubt these pieces will be played at Ocean any time soon. (And I don’t think Aaron Copland was referring to the dance moves you can witness on a Tuesday night in Pryzm with his piece suggested below.) But they’re great if you want to have a dance around your room; just make sure your housemates aren’t in when you do so!

  • Aaron Copland: Hoedown (from Rodeo)
  • Alexander Borodin: Polovtsian Dances (from Prince Igor; I would recommend the instrumental version.)
  • Tchaikovsky: Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy (from The Nutcracker)
  • Paul Dukas: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice


Need some time to relax?

These pieces are the ultimate peaceful classical tunes. Perfect after a hard day’s work, when you’re feeling a bit stressed, or just for the joy of the music!

  • Grieg: Morning Mood (from Peer Gynt Suite No. 1)
  • Camille Saint-Saëns: The Swan (from Carnival of the Animals)
  • Eric Whitacre: Alleluia
  • Claude Debussy: Clair de Lune


If you are new to classical music, it’s worth baring in mind that you’re not going to like everything you hear. This is the mistake I made when I first started listening. You’re going to find some pieces boring, bombastic, absurd, and uninspiring. That’s okay.

Take your time to find what you like, and you’re sure to find some music that you will (cliché incoming) fall in love with.

Hannah Pickard

Featured image courtesy of fushions-of-horizons via flickr.

Image use licence here.

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