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You Know More Classical Music than You Think You Do: The Most Renowned Classical Music Works

Updated on December 12, 2009

If you think you don't know Classical Music, think again...

Everyone knows Classical Music! Read on and click on to find out just how much Classical Music you really do know!

Classical music has touched most every important occasion in history by being performed in most every genre of music. From rock music to pop music, from national celebrations to intimate weddings and funerals, from trivia questions to radio and tv commercials, classical music lives on and will undoubtedly live on forever…

Here are the 25 Most Renowned Classical works from the thousands that exist. Even non-classical music lovers will be amazed at how many classical works they know by ear though not by title or composer. Even though it may be just one brief passage of some of these, the masses know at least part of these classics. Though classical music aficionados may debate the order in which the selections are placed, there is no denying that each listing in this list is truly a classical classic.


1. Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, a Russian composer of the Romantic era in the late 1800s, wrote this magnificent overture. The 1812 Overture, his most famous symphony, lives on through performances by the greatest orchestras throughout the world. In the Western World, the work is a staple performance at Fourth of July celebrations coinciding the dramatic final moments of the symphony with firework displays. (The entire selection is presented in two videos.)

The Beginning of 1812 Overture:

The End of 1812 Overture:

2. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67: Ludwig van Beethoven, a German composer and pianist, spent four years creating his Fifth Symphony in the early 1800s. Since its first performance in 1808, it is most notably recognized by its first eight notes the First Movement (linked below) of four movements.

3. Mozart’s 12 Variations of “Ah vous dirai-je, Maman,” a French folk song: While the folk song first appeared in 1761, it was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s 12 Variations that made it the classic which currently has various lyrics to it, including “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and “The Alphabet (ABCs) Song.” This is likely his most recognizable since the late 1700s when he composed. In recent years, his works have been revisited with the popularity of the Oscar-winning movie about his life and music, “Amadeus.”

4. Wagner’s Treulich Gefuhrt from Lohengrin, the Opera, (Act 1, Scene 3): In the Western World, this musical piece, written by German opera composer and writer Richard Wagner, is traditionally used as a bride enters her wedding ceremony – also known as “Here Comes the Bride.”

5. Mendelssohn’s Wedding March: In the 1840s, when Felix Mendelssohn was commissioned to incorporate incidental music into productions of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a play by William Shakespeare, he included this piece which was inspired by the play some 15 years earlier in 1826. Today, in the Western World, the music is traditionally played as the recessional of a wedding ceremony.

6. Handel’s Messiah’s “Hallelujah” Chorus: German-born George Frideric Handel spent most of his life in England in the early 1800s. He was widely respected by the most-noted and respected composers of the day. His most recognizable work is the “Hallelujah” chorus from the Messiah.

7. Adam’s Cantique de Noel (O Holy Night): Parisian teacher and composer Adolphe Adam wrote this melody to a poem written by Placide Cappeau in 1847. It was broadcast on the first radio program on December 24, 1924 as a violin solo, and therefore likely the first song ever heard on radio airwaves.

8. Brahms’ Weigunlied, Guten Abend. Gute Nacht, Op. 49 No. 4: Johannes Brahms, a German composer who spent much time in Austria, wrote the most popular lullaby in the history of mankind. Originally accompanied by a German poem, there are now many versions of the lyric to the unchanged melody now simply referred to as “Brahms’ Lullaby” which was published in 1868.

9. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125: Besides Beethoven’s Fifth, his Ninth Symphony is renowned throughout the world. This symphony was Ludwig van Beethoven’s last completed symphony. It is known for being the first symphony with voices as vocalists perform “Ode to Joy” (a poem written by Friedrich Schiller) to Beethoven’s music within the symphony. The melody of “Ode to Joy” is the most famous portion of the work and is heard close to two minutes into it.

10. Rossini’s Guillaume Tell (William Tell) Overture: One of the most performed classical works performed throughout history is Gioachino Antonio Rossini’s last of 29 operas. The finale of this work, which was released in 1829, is recognized as the dynamic piece used as the theme for the Lone Ranger radio and television character. Some five minutes into the work, the popular musical passage occurs.

11. Pachelbel’s Canon and Gigue in D major: Johann Pachelbel wrote the infectious chord progression making the Canon, his most famous work, the widely used soothing piece it is today. Though written in the late 1600s, it was not discovered and published until the 1920s. Arthur Fielder recorded the Canon in D major around 1940 which made the classical piece a world-wide success. One will recognize the work from being heard at weddings, in commercials, on television, in movies (the Academy Award-winning ”Ordinary People” theme song performed by Marvin Hamlisch), and more. Besides composing during the Baroque period, Pachelbel was also a performer and educator.

12. Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance Military March No. 1: British composer Edward Elgar wrote, among other well-regarded classical pieces, the Pomp and Circumstance Marches of which one, Number 1 in D written in 1901 (commonly referred to as simply “Pomp and Circumstance” or “The Graduation March”) has been famed for its traditional performance at graduation ceremonies in the Western World. (The video is rare footage of Sir Edward Elgar conducting his most famous work in England.)

13. Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, BWV 147, Tenth Movement of “Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben”: German composer Johann Sebastian Bach, at first regarded more for his performances as an organist than for the compositions he wrote, was finally recognized in the early 1800s for writing excellent, challenging-to-perform, Baroque pieces. He wrote his music some 100 years before they were classically accepted by the masses. "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" is one of his most recognized and performed musical works. Bach wrote the ever-popular music as well as lyric to this classical piece.

14. Handel’s Allegro Maestoso (Water Music Suite 2): Besides “Hallelujah!” chorus, this is another of many great works by the German composer George Frideric Handel. As commissioned to do so, Handel wrote very majestic pieces such as this for royalty. King George I of England requested music when Handel wrote this well-known piece. It was first heard by King George and his family and friends when they were on a ship to view a fireworks display. To this day, the music is still performed for majestic entrances and celebrations.

15. Leo Arnaud’s Bugler’s Dream: This infectious classical piece became more famous than it was already when ABC television began using it as the theme for the Olympic Games. Besides this, his most renowned work, 20th Century French composer Leo Arnaud is known for writing orchestral works for early movies in Hollywood after he came to the United States.

16. Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spoke Zarathustra): German composer Richard Strauss’ most famous composition, by definition a tone poem, was written in 1896, and contemporarily became renowned as the theme from the motion picture “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

17. Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Flight of the Bumblebee from The Tale of Tsar Saltan: Russian-born Nikolai Rimsky-Korakov wrote this difficult-to-perform, catchy classical tune in 1899.

18. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor: German composer Johann Sebastian Bach, mentioned above, wrote this recognizable musical work.

19. Bach’s Minuet in G major from Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach: Johann Sebastian Bach wrote the Notebook for his second wife where the Minuet in G major and Minuet in G minor are found. (Note: Some scholars say the minuets were written in a handwriting other than Bach’s in an attempt to question the actual composer of these two minuets.) In 1965, The Toys had an international pop hit song called “A Lover’s Concerto,” the lyric of which was written by American songwriters Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell. This popularized the melody greatly.

20. Suppe’s Light Calvary Overture: Francesco Ezechiele Ermenegildo Cavaliere Suppe Demelli, of Belgian decent, wrote his most famous work in the mid-1800s.

21. Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik Allegro: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who wrote over 600 classical works during his short lifetime, has many recognizable pieces including this work.

22. Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 16 in C major: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote some simple, melodically-memorable pieces of which this is among his best known.

23. Panchielli’s Dance of the Hours (from Gioconda): In the mid-1800s, Italian-born composer Amilcare Panchielli wrote this light, airy composition as part of his La Gioconda opera in Four Acts based on a story written by Victor Hugo. Most notably in recent times, the classical piece was the melody of a popular song by Grammy-Award winning comedic singer/songwriter Allan Sherman.  His most popular song was the 1960s classic song entitled “Hello Muddah – Hello Faddah (A Letter from Camp).”

24. Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16, First Movement: Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg composed this, his most famous work, at the age of 24.

25. Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 Op. 35 Third Movement’s Funeral March: Polish composer Frederic Chopin wrote the well-known Funeral March in the early 1800s.


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    • teutophile profile image

      teutophile 5 years ago

      A very nice hub. You've certainly hit the big ones.

    • raneboy profile image

      raneboy 6 years ago

      Check out my hub. It is very much like this one. It is the TOP TEN SYMPHONIES:

    • Jimmy Evola profile image

      Jimmy Evola 6 years ago from Australia

      Great Hub, really well detailed

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Nice hub

    • Piano Street profile image

      Piano Street 7 years ago from Stockholm, Sweden

      Very nice collection indeed!

      And well done with all the background info and video examples!

      Perhaps I would have liked to see some of Beethoven's piano music here though, and a couple of Schubert's songs.

      But nevertheless, thumbs up for this Hub!

      (By the way, I spotted two spelling accidents in nos. 8 & 23: should be "Wiegenlied" and "Ponchielli)

    • Piano Street profile image

      Piano Street 7 years ago from Stockholm, Sweden

      Very nice collection indeed!

      And well done with all the background info and video examples!

      Perhaps I would have liked to see some of Beethoven's piano music here though, and a couple of Schubert's songs.

      But nevertheless, thumbs up for this Hub!

      (By the way, I spotted two spelling accidents in nos. 8 & 23: should be "Wiegenlied" and "Ponchielli)

    • profile image

      mike 7 years ago

      I have to check a lot of these out. Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 27, No.2 "Moonlight Sonata" is one of my favorite works of any composer.

    • Putz Ballard profile image

      Putz Ballard 8 years ago

      Great hub I can appreciate all music but love fiddle especially the waltzes and hymns.

    • maven101 profile image

      maven101 8 years ago from Northern Arizona

      Outstanding list and the accompanying video links were perfect..

      Personally, I would have liked to have seen the following somewhere in the top 15:

      Debussy's Claire de Lune

      Chopin's Polonaise and Etudes

      Brahms Sym # 1 in C minor

      Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata

      When will the next Mozart appear on the world stage of a classical music renaissance ?

      Thank you for sharing..Larry

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 8 years ago from Chicago

      These are outstanding selection. Thank you for providing these links to the music. This is a job well done.

    • allpurposeguru profile image

      David Guion 8 years ago from North Carolina

      Probably the most valuable part of this hub is all the links to Youtube. I hope lots of people give this music a listen.

    • profile image

      Feline Prophet 8 years ago

      What a wonderful list! Good to see you again English Teacher!

    • Hmrjmr1 profile image

      Hmrjmr1 8 years ago from Georgia, USA

      I like your list except that at around 21.5 you need Rossini's Barber of Seville and at 23.5 Wagner's Valkyrie. Great Hub! But tough choices.