20 Hours of the Best Music from the Romantic Era
Let the historians and musicologists argue over the exact start and end dates of the Romantic Era. What's important is that it was a looooooooong stretch of time full of amazing artistic output – including some of the best music in the Western canon.As such, the Romantic Period deserves an equally long (almost) playlist of some of its greatest hits. We've put together a Spotify list here so you can enjoy some of the era's best whenever you'd like.
Kicking things off with the great influencers of the era:
- Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (66 minutes): Herbert von Karajan conducts the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
- Paganini's Violin Concerto No. 2 in B Minor, Op. 7 (28 minutes): Contains his La Campanella (third movement).
- Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries (5 minutes), which opens the third act of his opera The Valkyrie.
Transitioning to some pure Romantic works - symphonic poems and program music:
- Liszt's A Symphony to Dante's Divine Comedy (aka the Dante Symphony), which includes both Inferno and Purgatorio. (42 minutes)
- Bedřich Smetna's Má vlast ("My Homeland") is a collection of six symphonic poems as homage to Smetna's homeland, Czechchia, which makes them also a fine example of nationalist-inspired music from the era. (79 minutes)
- Richard Strauss's An Alpine Symphony is his 50-minute trek up and down the mountains, with Herbert von Karajan conducting David Bell and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.
- Camille Saint-Saëns did a series of four symphonic poems based on Greek mythology. Here are two of them: Le Rouet d'Omphale and Danse Macabre (15 minutes)
- Tchaikovsky's The Tempest, is based on Shakespeare's play of the same name. (22 minutes)
- One more from Strauss, since he was such a tone poem genius: Don Juan performed live by the Vienna Philharmonic. (19 minutes)
Time for the symphonies!
- Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy's Symphony No. 4 in A, Op. 90 (Italian Symphony) with Leonard Bernstein conducting. (30 minutes)
- Brahm's Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68 (44 minutes)
- One of the most popularly performed symphonies: Dvorák's Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 (From the New World, aka New World Symphony) (41 minutes)
- Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, which also falls under the heading of "program music;" according to Berlioz's program notes, the work represents an artist's pain from unrequited love. (57 minutes)
- Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 (Pathetique), Sir Georg Solti conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. (42 minutes)
- Schubert's Symphony No. 8 in B Minor (Unfinished), only two movements as its nickname portends. Learn more about this famous work here. (24 minutes)
- Schumann's Symphony No. 2 in C Major, Op. 61; a classic recording with Dame Myra Hess playing the piano. (32 minutes)
- Bizet's Symphony No. 1 in C Major (Symphony in C) (27 minutes).
- Time for more Brahms with his Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98 (38 minutes).
- Now for a piece that slips between Romantic and Post-Romantic periods: Mahler's Symphony No. 2, which was too much for four movements to hold, so Mahler added a fifth. (80 minutes)
Let's focus on the strings now with some concertos and sonatas
- Paganini's Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 6, as performed by Itzhak Perlman
- Hilary Hahn performs Felix Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E Minor (26 minutes).
- Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26, as performed by Josh Bell. (25 minutes)
- Saint-Saëns's Cello Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 33, as performed by Mstislav Rostropovich. (18 minutes)
- Sibelius's Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47 with Itzhak Perlman conducted by Andre Previn. (32 minutes)
- Going to mix it up a little bit with a great piano solo – Chopin's Waltz in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 64 No. 2 (4 minutes)
- Ready for more Brahms? Sure you are. Here's his Viola Sonata No. 1, Op. 120 (23 minutes)
- Elgar's Cello Concerto in E Minor, Op. 85, as performed by Jacqueline du Pre (38 minutes)
- Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35, as performed by Yehudi Menuhin (33 minutes)
On to a little chamber music
- Schubert's String Quartet No. 14 in D Minor (Death and the Maiden) (37 minutes)
- Fanny Mendelssohn's String Quartet in E-Flat Major (19 minutes)
- Dvorák's String Quintet in G Major, Op. 77 (34 minutes)
- Grieg's String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 27 (36 minutes)
Finally, we finish strong with the operas and ballets
- William Tell Overture from Rossini's William Tell, as performed by Boston Pops, Arthur Fiedler conducting (3 minutes) (learn more about this opera and its music here)
- Prelude from Wagner's Das Rheingold (4 minutes)
- Act 1: Libiamo ne' lieti calici (aka The Drinking Song), from Verdi's La Traviata (3 minutes)
- Act 1: Ich sah das Kind an seiner Mutter Brust, from Wagner's Parsifal
- Act 2: Un Bel Di Vedremo, from Puccini's Madame Butterfly, sung by Maria Callas
- Act 2: Danse des petits cygnes, from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake (3 minutes); the music beautiful, but don't overlook the choreography!
- Act 3: Va, pensiero (aka The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves), from Verdi's Nabucco (4 minutes)
- Act 3: Nessun Dorma, from Puccini's Turandot, sung by Luciano Pavarotti (7 minutes)