The votes are in for our annual Classical Countdown, and as you'll hear during the on-air playback of the Top 100 favorite pieces this week, there were some surprises this year.
But not many. The list has a remarkable consistency from year to year, particularly in the top ten. Familiar titles like Scheherazade, Rhapsody in Blue, Pictures at an Exhibition, Appalachian Spring, and The Four Seasons are usually just behind the perennial winners of the top slot -- either Beethoven’s or Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony.
You might recall that last year’s Classical Countdown broke with convention thanks to a clever campaign organized by some local music students and their teacher, pushing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons into the number one position. You can read about their successful endeavor here.
It was quite an accomplishment to gather enough votes to move Vivaldi up seven slots to the top of the Countdown last year. But the students’ feat this year is, in some ways, even more impressive. Their “get out the vote” efforts moved two pieces into the top ten from much further down the list. You'll need to tune into the on-air playback of the Classical Countdown to learn which pieces kicked out longstanding top-tenners and whether either one of them will claim the number one slot.
But aside from the occasional upset, the basic makeup of the top 100 pieces remains remarkably stable year to year. These truly are the perennial favorites of classical music, and they make a particularly enjoyable playlist for Thanksgiving week.
However, they're not the only favorites. Astute listeners will note how relatively few works before Beethoven are in the Top 100. Only a handful of Mozart and Bach. And no Haydn! Most of those that make the list have distinctive titles, which disadvantages baroque and classical pieces with their generic and sometimes cumbersome titles.
Take Vivaldi, for example. I imagine that this piece is a favorite for many people. Or this one. Perhaps they're even better loved than The Four Seasons. But “Concerto in D Major, RV 93” or “Concerto in C Major, RV 443” are not particularly memorable titles, are they?
What about Mozart? Which is the piano concerto with that beautiful slow movement? It's #21, but many people only recall it as the Elvira Madigan concerto, thanks to the Swedish film that used this (and The Four Seasons) in its soundtrack. That's probably why one of the few Mozart pieces that made the Countdown list since we included that nickname on the ballot.
On the other hand, some pieces make it onto the Classical Countdown that we seldom play on the air. Here, I'm thinking of Mahler, particularly those long symphonies that are difficult to fit into the standard radio playlist. But also works like the Sibelius Violin Concerto or The Planets by Holst, both of which we might consider playing more frequently based on their rankings on the Countdown list. There are also the (re)discoveries, such as the music of Florence Price. We've been happy to see her symphonies in the Countdown over the past few years now that we have excellent recordings by the Philadelphia Orchestra.
With hundreds of years of classical music to choose from, assembling any list of favorites can be challenging. The Classical Countdown might not be the definitive gauge of what's popular, but it's an instructive snapshot of what our listeners value. We hope you enjoy it this week and get to hear some of your favorites along the way.
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