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Masterworks -- A Comprehensive, Collaborative List

Discussion in 'Score Study Resources' started by Rohann van Rensburg, Jul 11, 2018.

  1. Interesting! Why do you find Wagner boring? I mean, the Ring Cyle is 17h long so I can understand why that would be less appealing.

    I do think there's equal criticism on the other side -- I adore Tchaikovsky's melodic writing, but Wagner wrote much more sophisticated and diverse harmony (as the story goes).

    True. All 17h?! Added it to the list.

    By the way, @Doug Gibson I'd love your take on Wagner's significance and contribution. You're much more familiar than I am.
    Dillon DeRosa likes this.
  2. I will preface it's my personal taste, and for those who love and cherish Wagner more power to you. And I do study some things of his because he has great moments... but that's all it is to me is great snippets and moments and the rest of it is so LONG, TEDIOUS, and BORING. It literally puts me to sleep or I keep asking Wagner get to the point. And you know I do like & enjoy long form, and am always preaching about stretching ideas; However, I think Wagner and I'll even throw in Mahler as well go too long and bore me.

    I can't recall the exact piece, but I think its from Tristan.. I believe the opening to one of the acts is 2 or 3 minutes on Eb major and just does nothing.

    I will say nothing bad about Wagner as an innovator. What he did for opera and bringing real horses and singers on wires... creating his own opera house and festival. The man was an innovator and also really cocky haha!

    Tchaikovsky was more of a traditionalist in harmony and form of course. (Although, Tchaikovsky has his moments of really cool chords but not as extreme or long as Wagner likes). However, my brain or heart just says, if I want to listen to Tchaikovsky with more sophisticated & diverse harmony I instantly just turn to Rachmaninoff which does exactly that for me haha!.
    Rohann van Rensburg likes this.
  3. That's totally fair. I'm honestly not familiar enough with his works to have any strong opinions, other than knowing the legacy he's left and obviously his "gem" moments.

    Can't disagree with you there. Rachmaninoff is high on my list.
    Dillon DeRosa likes this.
  4. I really think classical music is a "live music" phenomena. Listening to recordings is like eating dried fruits.

    Wagner's world is so far removed in relation to the media music of today.
    He is a great composer, no doubt about it in my mind.

    Aside from the "Kill the rabbit", then the next tune I would recommend would be Siegfried's Funeral music.
    Check out the interpretive dance here: (It's an awesome recording)

  5. #45 Marcel Schweder, Jun 7, 2019
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2019
    Very good list, it is exactly the same I made a decade ago for my own studies. And since then I hardly scratched the surface of this wonderful pieces.
    Well, learning from the masters - can't be bad, I think. :-D
    But on my list I have one BIG entry, that I would recommend to everyone:

    MAHLER: well, just about everything. ;-)

    Oh, and what about DEBUSSY ?
    - La Mer,
    - Images pour orchestre,
    - Nocturnes for Orchestra,
    One could spend a lifetime to study the richness, details and finesses of these masterpieces.

    This is my first post, so "Hi everybody"!
  6. Yep, all 17 hours. It was a 2-day thing with 2 intermissions each day. One of the most immersive artistic experiences I've ever had. If you ever get the chance to, get the tickets!
  7. #47 Rohann van Rensburg, Jun 10, 2019
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2019
    I can't argue with that, although I really don't find listening to recordings quite so severely worse. There are times I'd rather listen to a good recording with expensive headphones, watching the stars, but then we don't seem to have that many large scale works played here. I actually find much of Wagner's work to be more easily palatable and harmonically interesting than some of the other lauded 20th century works I've heard. The Parsifal Suite is beautiful, as is Tristan und Isolde. Do you have preference for the concert/suite versions vs the full symphony?

    Thanks for the post; the Ring Cycle is intimidating to delve into.
  8. Will add them. Not familiar enough with Debussy to pick the masterworks out of his catalogue, but it's certainly deserved.
  9. #49 Sam Reed, Jun 27, 2019
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2019
    To each their own, but personally, my experience of Wagner mirrors Dillon's 100%. (And Mahler; every time I try to like the guy, I walk away from his piece thinking "that woulda been pretty great ... if you'd trimmed about 60% of it.")

    And it certainly doesn't help that Wagner was such a rat-bastard as a human being. I guess it didn't bother Bernstein, who had more "skin in the game" so to speak than I do, but it's hard for me to get past things like that. For another (extreme) example, there's Gesualdo ... a lot of people love his music, his harmonies were so ahead of his time, etc. ... but the fact that he murdered his wife in cold blood (and got off scott-free because he was "nobility") is just such a non-starter for me. I'd like to believe that it's our "higher selves" that are at play when we compose, but that doesn't absolve our "lower selves" from the responsibility of not being a sociopath.
    Dillon DeRosa likes this.
  10. #50 Sam Reed, Jun 27, 2019
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2019
    (Oh, such lack of self-awareness, complaining about Mahler’s longwindedness, then immediately committing the same crime myself.)

    Okay, this is a subject near and dear to my heart, so I’d like to nominate some pieces for potential inclusion on the list.

    Not all of these are “objectively” masterworks, but many of them are … and I love and/or respect them all so much I can’t resist recommending to others who actually listen to music (i.e., give it their attention, not just have it around as background noise). One certainly couldn’t go wrong studying any of them (or simply listening for enjoyment/inspiration).

    I haven’t checked out all of Doug’s and Mike Worth’s lists yet so pardon me if some of these are repeats. In no particular order (certainly not alphabetical!) —


    Literally everything he did is worth studying more than once. Recommended interpreter for orchestral: Charles Dutoit and the OSM. At a minimum, I’d add these to the list:

    Mother Goose complete ballet
    (you’re missing some great stuff if you only hear the suite; check out both)

    Une Barque sur l’Ocean (sublime orchestration; play this for a friend who’s never heard of it and don’t tell them the title, then ask ‘em what the piece evokes for them. They will almost certainly respond “something to do with the ocean or the sea”. Ravel trades in on all sorts of associations, it almost becomes a synesthetic experience; you will almost literally smell the salty air and feel the motion of the waters. Personally, this one makes me wish Ravel had written “La Mer”)

    Rapsodie Espagnole
    Alborada del Gracioso
    String Quartet (recommended recording: Sequoia String Quartet. That album also contains a nice performance of the Bartok 3rd.)
    Piano Trio (do not pass this one up! it’s a keeper)
    Piano Concerto for the Left Hand


    Passacaglia from Peter Grimes (this is occasionally performed as if part of the Four Sea Interludes, sandwiched between the 3rd and 4th movements)

    Violin Concerto

    Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings (even if you don’t usually like the style of singing heard in concert halls, don’t pass this one up. Recommended recording: Peter Pears and Denis Brain with Hollingsworth conducting, live in 1953 (available on youtube). There’s an earlier recording by the same soloists, conducted by Britten himself; both have their merits, but it’s fascinating to hear how much Pears matured as a performer during the years between them. Far more nuanced, to my ear.)

    Simple Symphony

    Suite no. 1 for Solo Cello (particularly the 1st movement, and whenever that “Canto” theme recurs … yowza. It was written for Rostropovich, but so far I’ve only heard the recording by Truls Mork.)


    Symphony no. 6 (the most cohesive and tightly-knit of all his symphonies, to my ear)
    Piano Concerto no. 4


    Violin Concerto (quite captivating; you won’t even notice it’s “atonal”)


    Enigma Variations


    Suite from “The Red Pony”
    Appalachian Spring, original chamber version for 13 instruments (very interesting to compare with the full orchestral version)


    Mysterious Mountain (Symphony no. 2)
    (A lot of Hovhaness’ output suffers from sameness, but this one deserves its popularity.)

    Roy Harris

    Symphony no. 3
    (same criticism as Hovhaness; Symphony no. 3 will whet your appetite for more; then you’ll be disappointed to find his other stuff is just too similar.)

    Per Norgard

    Symphony no. 3 (particularly the 1st movement; took me awhile to warm up to the 2nd movement)

    Some of Norgard’s other stuff is interesting too; I liked Symphony no. 6 pretty much, though the 3rd is far and away his masterpiece. Norgard is interested in exploring some fairly far-out territory, and he doesn’t always follow the principles heard in Mike’s classes … but Symphony no. 3, 1st movement is both far-out and instantly accessible, and quite evocative/expressive. Norgard also embodies Mike’s dictum that if you’re gonna go far out, you better be able to write a pop tune … I once saw part of a Danish late-night talk show on youtube, where Norgard played a Broadway-ish tune he wrote for his sister when he was like 5, or 3, or something. Geez, whatta jerk.


    Lux Aeterna

    (Ligeti’s output is quite varied in both style and appeal … these are two of his very best. Both (especially Lux) will be very familiar to movie buffs.)


    Violin Concerto no. 2


    Music for 18 Musicians
    Different Trains

    Sibelius (surprised he hasn’t hit the list yet; he can be an oddball sometimes but his orchestrations are frequently refreshingly “darker” than many composers tend to favor. I can hear influences on quite a few cinema composers, too.)

    Symphony no. 2
    Symphony no. 5
    Violin Concerto
    En Saga


    Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments
    Scenes de Ballet
    Symphony of Psalms


    The Five Sacred Trees (bassoon concerto)
    Treesong for Violin and Orchestra
    Heartwood for Cello and Orchestra
    Horn Concerto
    Trumpet Concerto
    La Jolla Quartet (heard this one live; available on youtube)

    Vaughan Williams

    Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis


    Spem in Alium (40-part motet! Not a typo)


    Jupiter Symphony, 4th movement
    Dillon DeRosa likes this.
  11. Somewhat tangential to the list, but very important, completely unsolicited advice:

    You’ll often find a favorite recording of a given work which you return to time and again. But every now and then, be sure to check out other interpretations, to hear just how different a piece can be when different talents are handed the very same dots on paper. I recently listened to 5 renditions of Britten’s Passacaglia back-to-back, and … wow! All of them excellent for different reasons, with some very different choices of tempi, phrasing, emphasis, etc. Yet another thing you ain’t never gonna get with samples.)


    Feel free to delete this if it’s off-topic in a “masterworks” thread, but a few more random recommendations:

    If anyone’s curious to hear music that sounds surprisingly fresh considering it was written almost nine hundred years ago, check out the album “Perotin” by the Hilliard Ensemble. Not all of the tracks on it were composed by Perotin, but they’re all from roughly the same period.)

    Another album recommendation: Pandolfi: Complete Violin Sonatas performed by Andrew Manze. I doubt you’ll get bored listening to this music written almost 400 years ago. This album contains every surviving solo violin sonata by this composer. Contemporary accounts mention others … but historians can’t be certain whether he was “padding his resume” or if they were lost when a boat conveying a music library’s collection to Vienna sank to the bottom of the Danube. Fun to speculate what else we’re missing out on, lost to history! Bach almost disappeared from history at one point; I

    p.s. (Incidentally re: Rachmaninoff, he’s not my favorite, but I’d definitely rank Symphony no. 1 head and shoulders above his others. To my ear, it does all the establishing-and-delightfully-breaking-patterns stuff much better than 2 & 3. The first symphony is famously where Horner lifted that “Klingon” motif from.)
  12. For once on this forum, my reply disappeared when I refreshed. Long story short -- master list on the first page, and I'll add your recommendations there. Will re-type reply soon. Thanks for the list!

    Looking for more Bach, Mozart and pre-Romantic composers too, by the way. With film, influences are usually steeped in Romantic and Impressionist composers, so anything preceding that is usually a breath of fresh air.
  13. Hi people! (First post!) Thank you for the list! It made me discover (and start transcribing) Prokofiev’s Roméo and Juliet.

    Surely we need some Shostakovich on the list. (My favourite composer.)
    My first suggestion would be his 5th symphony. If we could add concerto material as well, I would suggest the first cello concerto and the violin concerto.
    Bradley Boone likes this.
  14. I'd like to suggest some Vaughan Williams pieces.

    Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
    Serenade to Music (orchestral)
    Symphony 2
    Symphony 6
    Concerto Grosso
    Dirge for Two Veterans
    Fantasia on Greensleeves
  15. Aaron,

    Why just orchestral fo Serenade to Music (I sang this this w/orchestra and its wonderful).
  16. It is, I agree.

    However, when I attempted transcribing, it was much, much easier to start with the orchestral version. Human voice really makes it hard for me to get a clean focus on everything else, especially when it's an orchestral piece. You mileage may vary. I just wanted to turn attention towards the fact that there is an orchestral version as well. The original is unmissable anyway.
  17. Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony has great orchestration and memorable melodies,
    Mahler's 1st Symphony is probably his most accessible for studying.
    I would also say for Mozart, his Wind Serenade, K.361 is a great resource for how to write for woodwinds.
    Debussy Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun is all-time great for harmony and climaxing to a well deserved cresendo

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