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)