Top 10 Iconic Pieces of Classical Music

They’re the definition of classic. For this list, we’re choosing compositions based on their quality, overall recognition and lasting impact. We’re focusing on instrumental passages and/or sections, as those whose main focus are vocals will be explored in another list. We’re also excluding those pieces that have become synonymous with specific ceremonies, like “Here Comes the Bride,” “Pomp and Circumstance” and the “Hallelujah” chorus. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 iconic pieces of classical music. Special thanks to our users capsricious79, 2000g, jkellis, dagwood525, mozart7, PatrickCervantez, davmgil and angelofdark for submitting the idea on our Suggest Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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They’re the definition of classic. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 iconic pieces of classical music.

For this list, we’re choosing compositions based on their quality, overall recognition and lasting impact. We’re focusing on instrumental passages and/or sections, as those whose main focus are vocals will be explored in another list. We’re also excluding those pieces that have become synonymous with specific ceremonies, like “Here Comes the Bride,” “Pomp and Circumstance” and the “Hallelujah” chorus.

#10: “William Tell Overture” from “William Tell” (1829)
Gioachino Rossini

This instrumental intro to the opera “William Tell” is most famous in recent times for the use of its finale as “The Lone Ranger” theme. But the Gioachino Rossini-composed overture is actually a 12-minute long piece divided into 4 parts, including the Prelude “Dawn,” “Storm,” “Ranz des Vaches” and the already-mentioned “March of the Swiss Soldiers.” With each part written for specific instruments, the overture sets the stage for the opera in the Swiss Alps by seamlessly transitioning between slow and dynamic and then pastoral and lively.

#9: “The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a” (1892)

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Accompanied by a score crafted by Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky, “The Nutcracker” did not find immediate success upon its premiere in the late 1800s. But that didn’t discourage the Russian composer from choosing 8 numbers from the two-act ballet to form what’s known as “The Nutcracker Suite” for live performance. Luckily for him, and for us, it was a hit – and today, we can enjoy the magic and beauty of this Romantic composition, which is filled with unforgettable melodies, complex harmonies and instruments like oboes, French horns, a celesta, harps and more.

#8: “Eine kleine Nachtmusik (Serenade No. 13 for strings in G major), K. 525” (1787)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

The reason why Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote this “little serenade” may be unknown, but that doesn’t take anything away from the chamber ensemble composition’s beauty and popularity. Originally composed for violins, viola, cello and double bass, “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” has found a home among string orchestras these days, and is notable for its grace, energy and overall gentle atmosphere.

#7: “Einleitung, oder Sonnenaufgang (Introduction, or Sunrise)” from “Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30 (Thus Spake Zarathustra)” (1896)
Richard Strauss

It may’ve become ingrained in modern public consciousness after Stanley Kubrick immortalized it in his movie “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but the Richard Strauss tone poem has been a classical music staple ever since it was first performed in the late 19th century. While the majority of people are probably most familiar with its introduction, also known as “Sunrise” in English, “Thus Spake Zarathustra” actually contains 9 sections in total, each of which was given a title from chapters of the Friedrich Nietzsche novel.

#6: “The Barber of Seville, or The Futile Precaution” (1816)
Gioachino Rossini

This is arguably the be all and end all of opera buffa. For when it comes to comedy within music, there are few compositions that have stood the test of time as well as Rossini’s two-act work of art. By combining an Italian libretto by Cesare Sterbini that was in turn based on a Pierre Beaumarchais play, Rossini created a versatile and light-hearted piece that’s worthy of being called a masterpiece. On top of this, “The Barber of Seville” continues to be performed today and its overture was even immortalized in pop culture in a Looney Tunes cartoon short.

#5: “Bagatelle No. 25 in A Minor” or “Für Elise” (1810)
Ludwig van Beethoven

Written for solo piano, this Ludwig van Beethoven composition finds itself at the halfway point of our list. Not only is “Für Elise” one of the German composer’s most popular pieces ever, but it’s also mellow and pleasant – not to mention memorable and playable. The “Elise” of its title may still be unconfirmed, but does that really matter when the posthumously published score is so widely recognized around the world?

#4: “Ride of the Valkyries” from “Die Walküre” (1856)
Richard Wagner

This is the now-famous prelude to “Die Walküre,” which is the second of four operas collectively known as “Der Ring des Nibelungen.” Penned by Richard Wagner, this ensemble piece is a highly appropriate introduction to an opera about Norse female figures with the power to choose the fate of fighting soldiers. Thanks to its tension-building nature and climactic ending, the “Ride of the Valkyries” is the perfect accompaniment to the battle cry, and as such, has appeared in multiple movie and TV productions.

#3: “Symphony No. 9” (1824)

Ludwig van Beethoven
As Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9 in D minor” is considered one of his greatest musical works, it’s not surprising that it's ranked so highly on our list. And even though its final movement, "Ode to Joy," contains one of the earliest cases in which a major composer includes vocals in a symphony, the fact that the extended musical composition in its entirety is the closest as we're likely to ever get to ever get to a literal interpretation of joy in musical form lands it here. Not only is the Ninth Symphony one of the planet's most performed symphonies, but it has influenced countless other composers thereafter.

#2: “The Four Seasons” (1723)
Antonio Vivaldi

Undoubtedly the Italian composer’s most famous composition, this collection of four violin concertos has found a permanent place in the hearts of classical music lovers and artists alike in the centuries since its completion. As each concerto was written with one of the four seasons in mind, each musical work contains unique notes, intricate moments and varied textures intended to evoke the time of year it was named after. In short, “The Four Seasons” isn’t only multifaceted and beautiful, but it was also instrumental in the evolution of the concerto as a classical music style.

Before we unveil our number one pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from “Peer Gynt” (1867)
Edvard Grieg
- “Flight of the Bumblebee” from “The Tale of Tsar Saltan” (1899-1900)
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
- “Sabre Dance” from “Gayane” (1942)
Aram Khachaturian
- “Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565” (1833)
Johann Sebastian Bach
- “Pachelbel’s Canon” from “Canon and Gigue for 3 violins and basso continuo” (1680)
Johann Pachelbel

#1: “Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67” (1804-08)
Ludwig van Beethoven

Reaching the summit of our list is the Beethoven composition frequently called “The Victory Symphony.” Not only is it one of the composer’s most famous pieces, but it’s also one of the most famous symphonies in all of classical music. Especially notable for its now-familiar opening motif that appears throughout the entire symphony to bring together each of the four movements, “Symphony No. 5” is innovative, technically complex and emotionally affecting. All you have to do is give it a listen to see why it has such a major influence on others and has a deep and far-reaching legacy.

Do you agree with our list? What’s your favorite piece of classical music? For more entertaining top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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