• Vaughan Williams' beautiful work reaches No. 1 for the seventh time – and for the third year in a row.

    Written in 1914 at the start of a war that would change the world forever, Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending is a serene evocation of an innocent bird heading to lofty heights.

    Partly inspired by a poem written by English poet George Meredith, The Lark Ascending starts subtly with hushed strings which introduced the lark in the form of the solo violin.

    The soaring violin melody ascends so high into the instrument's upper register that, at times, it is barely audible; shimmering strings, meanwhile, provide much of the beautifully sensitive accompaniment in The Lark Ascending, evoking glorious images of the rolling British countryside. Midway through, Vaughan Williams treats us to an orchestral section that seems to borrow from his love of folk songs; it's not long, though, before the lark returns, with the melody entwining itself around the orchestra and then breaking free, rising to ever loftier heights.

    Just beautiful. No other words for it.

  • Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 is often described as the greatest ever written. The critics were enthralled when it was composed in 1900. Glorious melody after glorious melody flowed from the keyboard, the dialogue between orchestra and soloist was divine and Rachmaninov undoubtedly had a hit on his hands.

  • In 1908, Vaughan Williams travelled to Paris to study orchestration with Maurice Ravel. It proved to be an inspiring experience. When he returned home, he undertook one of his most fruitful periods of composition. The year 1910 saw the premiere of not just his mighty first symphony, A Sea Symphony, but of the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, too at the Gloucester Three choirs Festival.

  • Each one of Elgar's 14th Enigma Variations is dedicated to 'friends pictured within'.

    Nimrod, the most famous movement, was written for Elgar's close friend and mentor, the publisher August Jaeger. On closer inspection then, Nimrod reveals itself to be a typical Elgarian pun as both Jaegar and Nimrod are connected to the word 'hunter'. Jaeger is 'hunter' in German and the word 'nimrod' derives from the word 'hunter', as in, 'Nimrod the mighty hunter' from the book of Genesis.

    Yet despite the mighty imagery Nimrod conjures up, this is not a jovial piece. Its sweeping elegiac lines have made it a recurring choice at funerals and other solemn occasions including at the Cenotaph in London on Remembrance Sunday.

    Elgar said of Nimrod that the variation is not really a portrait, but 'the story of something that happened', and he suggested that the quiet opening of the piece is a nod to Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 8.

  • At the time of writing this concerto, Beethoven was very much straddling the divide between the classical and Romantic periods. The work itself seems to be breaking out of conventional boundaries almost as if a new kind of music is being born. The sheer length of the opening movement belies convention; the serene second movement flows directly and unusually into the finale; and the overt romance of the music looks ahead to a musical period that was at that time still in its infancy.

    Apparently, the work's nickname derived not from Beethoven but from a comment made by one of Napoleon's officers, who was stationed in Vienna at the time. It was, 'an emperor of a concerto,' the man supposedly exclaimed, and the name has stuck ever since.

  • This piece is the stuff of legends. Well, one particular legend, to be precise. Mozart, when he was a teenager, so the story goes, once heard Allegri's Miserere being performed in the Sistine Chapel. The precocious young composer apparently scurried home and wrote down the entire work from memory. Wonderful as the story sounds, it would have been highly likely that Mozart would have come across the Miserere before, given its already significant popularity in musical circles.

    The work itself is a sublime nine-voice setting of Psalm 51: Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misercordiuam tuam ('have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness'). As you listen to the heavenly sound of each interweaving voice, it's fascinating to think that Allegri composed the piece for two separate choirs: one of four voices, and the other of five.

  • The autumnal Clarinet Concerto was born out of respect and friendship. The man for whom Mozart wrote the music, Anton Stadler, was one of two clarinet players in his family.

    Mozart gave him one of his most enduring works, albeit creating some confusion in the process. Stadler was a big champion of the basset clarinet, an instrument possessing a few extra low notes than your average clarinet. Because of the publishers' general desire to print only a standard clarinet version and the fact that Stadler allegedly pawned the basset version, confusion over how Mozart originally intended it to be played was rife until recent times. The original version featuring the lower notes is now making something of a comeback.

  • Originally subtitled Recollections of Country Life, Beethoven's 6th Symphony paints a picture of peasants' merrymaking, a storm, and the ensuing calm that follows it.

    The 3rd movement begins with country dancing and a merry time generally being had by all but listen out for the end of the movement, when the music suddenly stops (this is the point when the peasants realise it's started to rain). From there, the thunderstorm begins. The music's initially quite light and sparse reflecting just the odd raindrop here and there but it rapidly grows and develops, as the rain falls more rapidly. The musical mood of the final section is unashamedly joyful: the rain has gone, the merrymaking can continue, and all is well!

  • First performed in Vienna in 1824, Beethoven's final symphony was actually commissioned by the London (now Royal) Philharmonic Society.

    In its famous last movement, Beethoven set to music Friedrich Schiller's Ode to Joy to create a choral masterpiece which is now the anthem of the European Union. An extraordinarily long piece of music for the time, it set a new standard for symphonic composition.

  • Somebody once said that the way Elgar chooses to open his Cello Concerto, with those tortured chords sounding as if they have to be excavated from the cello face, is as if Shakespeare had started Hamlet at: 'To be or not to be'. Most concertos take a little time to come to their main point. If they don't make you wait until the slow movement and many do for their crux, they at least keep the listener waiting through a short orchestral introduction. Elgar was having none of it.

    Elgar came around from the anaesthetic after an operation to remove an infected tonsil with this tune already in his head, so he wasn't going to let it go to waste. He didn't and it remains one of the most English of all pieces of English music.

  • Despite having once topped the Classic FM Hall of Fame, the Finale from Max Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 has fallen from grace a little in the last few years. However it still remains one of the most popular and most beautiful of all violin concertos.

    Often referred to as 'the Bruch Violin Concerto', it's easy to forget that the composer actually wrote three. The other two, though, have never equalled No. 1 in the popularity stakes; Bruch clearly set the bar a little too high for himself with this stunning debut with its dazzling, virtuosic passages and stomping tunes. Indeed, he remained frustrated about this for most of his life, feeling pigeon-holed as something of a one-hit wonder when he had, in fact, composed much more than this one piece alone.

  • For many, it was its use in the film Platoon. For others, it was William Orbit's Pieces in a Modern Style project. But very few of us can claim to have first experienced Barber's Adagio for Strings in its original form: as part of a string quartet.

    The American composer wrote his string Quartet Opus 11 in 1936 and considered himself happy with the result. But he had one of the twentieth-century's greatest conductors to thank for what became a new and far more profitable life for this relatively unknown piece. Arturo Toscanini spotted a hit when he heard its second movement, and urged Barber to arrange it for full string orchestra. The composer wisely took the advice on board and, in 1938, Toscanini premiered the new work with the NBC symphony Orchestra. Millions of Americans were listening as it was broadcast on the radio, and Adagio for Strings quickly became a huge success.

  • Tchaikovsky's highest entry reaches its highest ever position.

    Tchaikovsky was particularly scathing about the 1812 Overture before it premiered, saying it would be 'without artistic merit, because I wrote it without warmth or love'. Given the heartache in Tchaikovsky's life, it's sad to think he never realised how his 1812 Overture would go on to become one of the most adored creations in classical music.

    A musical portrayal of the Russian victory over Napoleon, the 1812 Overture weaves together a number of orginal and historically significant musical themes, including the French national anthem 'Marseillaise', the Russian National Anthem and an Orthodox hymn.

    The 1812 Overture is perhaps best known for its rousing climactic volley of cannon fire, ringing chimes and brass fanfare finale. Tchaikovsky originally intended the piece to be performed with a brass band to reinforce the orchestra, the bells of the cathedral and live cannon fire in accompaniment. Unfortunately logistics prevented this from happening, though the piece has since been performed and recorded with the level of noise and excitement Tchaikovsky envisioned.

  • It's probably an often made point, but it's worth making again: Holst's The Planets is not about the planets. That is, it's not about astronomy. Rather, it's about astrology. So we are not hearing a suite of tributes to, say, Saturn, the planet with rings around it. Instead Holst is writing about Mars, the bringer of war; Venus, the bringer of peace; Mercury, the winged messenger; Saturn the bringer of old age; Uranus, the magician; and Neptune, the mystic.

    'Jupiter', arguably the most famous and most popular movement of Holst's magnificent suite, is the bringer of jollity. Holst's piece then has no thunderbolts to hurtle down on us nor war to wage. Instead it is a joyous and stirring rump of great tunes. The vigorous and jovial opening melodies soon give way to a stately rendition of a tune that is better known as the hymn 'I vow to thee my country', a patriotic number that Elgar could have easily conjured up.

  • The Welsh composer Karl Jenkins is, quite simply, a phenomenon in contemporary music. And this, his Mass for Peace, is the primary explanation of his enduring popularity. It was, we're rather proud to say, given its premiere at a Classic FM Live concert in the autumn of 2000 at London's Royal Albert Hall.

    Many sections of the work are worthy of close examination not least the Agnus Dei and the Sanctus but it's the haunting 'Benedictus' that captivates listeners to the greatest extent, leaving them begging for more. Never one to define himself by one set of beliefs, Jenkins uses all sorts of inspirations for the text of The Armed Man, including the Muslim call to prayer, the sixteenth-century L'Homme Armé Mass tradition, and ancient religious texts.

  • Although not exactly embraced in its own time, Pachelbel's Canon in D is now one of the most popular classical pieces in the world.

    The Johann Pachelbel we know and love today principally for this work, originally called the Kanon und Gigue fur drei Violinen mit Generalbass ('Canon and Gigue for three violins and basso continuo') in his native Nerumberg German was not famous for this one jaunty work in his lifetime. Instead the Canon was rediscovered by the masses and raised onto a pedestal only in the 20th century, after being published by a German scholar in an article about Pachelbel.

    The Canon's huge popularity at weddings may originally stem from one unsupported theory that it was originally written for the nuptials of Johann Sebastian Bach's brother, Johann Cristoph.

  • The highest-placed videogame score slips down the chart to its lowest ever position.

    Sometimes referred to as the Beethoven of video games music, Japanese composer Nobuo Uematsu has made his career and reputation from his soundtracks to the enduring Final Fantasy video games. Now on the 14th instalment, the series is noted for its incredibly cinematic feel, and much of that is down to Uematsu. He's part John Williams, part Wagnerian leitmotif, part new-age soundscaper — and a legend in his own right.

    The level of interest in the scores to these games should not be underestimated. Concerts of Final Fantasy music sell out across the world, with Uematsu often in attendance and the kind of fanbase most pop stars would be envious of. One gets the impression, though, that none of it would be worth it if the tunes didn't stand up to scrutiny. They certainly do.

  • The subtitle of Dvořák's Symphony No. 9 is important: it's not 'to the New World'; it's 'from'. This is very much a symphony that looks back, from the USA, to Dvořák's native Bohemia. It is almost as if he were stood atop Lady Liberty herself, hand over his forehead to shield the sun, desperately looking to see if he can make out his faraway homeland.

    When he premiered this work in Carnegie Hall in 1893, critics disagreed over whether it was an all-American symphony or just more of Dvořák's usual fare. What is certain is that it has lived on its myriad merits ever since, remaining one of the most popular symphonies of all.

  • It's tempting to feel sorry for Beethoven's Symphony No. 7. Hidden away amid the fifth (the most famous opening four notes in the history of classical music), the sixth and the mighty colossus that is his ninth, you feel as if the seventh is a work that could easily get forgotten. That fate has arguably befallen Symphony No. 8 but not No. 7.

    There's a visceral quality to the music not least in the almost crazed finale when the musicians appear to be playing as if their lives depend on it. In the case of the premiere, those orchestral musicians included fellow composers Meyerbeer, Spohr and Moscheles, with Beethoven himself on the podium.

  • Bach's highest placed piece climbs to its highest ever position for the first time.

    While there is no doubt that J. S. Bach did write the Brandenburg Concertos, he would not have recognised them by that name. When he penned the six concertos, almost certainly during his time at Köthen the composer gave them the title Concertos for Several Instruments. It was only his decision to package them up as a present for Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg (a margrave is roughly on a par with a marquis) that gave them their title.

    Each of the six concertos appeals most to different listeners, from the galumphing First, the more 'stately-home' styling of the Second, the homely Third, the lofty Fourth and the galloping Fifth, right through to the joyous Sixth.

  • The love affair that British classical music audiences have with this oratorio is quite phenomenal. Since its Dublin premiere in 1742, it has been performed by choirs across the land every year since at least 1745. Handel continued to work on it after its initial performance, finally arriving at the version we know today in 1754.

    The rousing Hallelujah Chorus is by far the most widely known section of the work. Audiences used to tend to stand during performances a tradition that began when King George II stood up during the chorus at the Oratorio debut London performance.

  • Sibelius' celebrated nationalistic tone poem, Finlandia, was originally perceived as an attack on Russian censorship in Finland when it was first performed. Sensing that this wasn't ideal, Sibelius later reworked the central part of the piece into a Finlandia Hymn, with words by Finnish poet Koskenniemi; 'Oh, Finland, behold your day is dawning.' Those were apt words in 1941 and, despite having a slightly less catchy original title of Suomi Her ('Finland Awakens'), a diplomatic crisis was averted. Good thing too, as Finlandia remains incredibly popular to this day.

  • At the age of twenty-five, the young Norwegian composer was determined to make his mark on the world with this, his first work to employ an orchestra. From the thunderous roll of the timpani in the opening bars, Grieg sounds totally assured and in command of his orchestral writing throughout this concerto and yet, he was far from experienced in composing for such large forces.

    The work was an instant success and many expected Grieg to replicate it soon after with a second concerto for the instrument. Intriguingly, though, he never chose to write another.

  • Pietro Mascagni's Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana dates back to the real golden age of opera.

    The thing we tend to forget, in these days of iTunes and The X Factor is that the seemingly rarefied thing that is opera today was itself once a great money-making scheme. A successful opera, with rave reviews in one country, could immediately transfer opera houses around the globe, netting its composers and promoters massive financial rewards. This was how it was for Mascagni, who was 27 years old when his one-act opera Cavalleria Rusticana (which translates as 'Rustic Chivalry') won the Sonzogno publisher prize for the best opera of 1890.

    Today, his opera is still there, a fixed part of many opera companies' repertoires, and the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana is one of the single most attractive tunes in operatic history.

  • Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2 is a gloriously free, wistful creation particularly in the famous second movement, which guarantees the whole work's enduring popularity.

    The piece was written as a birthday present for Shostakovich's nineteen-year-old son Maxim. Shostakovich apparently hid all sorts of family references within the music jokes that only he and Maxim would truly understand.

  • With The Four Seasons rediscovered only in the twentieth century, we have not one, not two, but three sets of titles. There are the original twelve concertos called 'the contest between harmony and invention'. There's the first four of those, our heroes The Four Seasons; and then there are the occasional half-titles, spotted around the works. For even more colour, the second movement of Spring is part-labelled 'the barking dog'; while one section of autumn says 'the drunks have fallen asleep'.

  • When Count Von Walsegg's wife Anna died on Valentine's day 1791, it set in motion a series of events that, one could argue, has never stopped.

    Walsegg approached Mozart for a requiem, through a third party, totally spooking an already unstable Mozart in the process. Walsegg was probably intending to pass off the work as his own once Mozart had completed writing it — he had form in this area.

    The work was never delivered by Mozart, who died before he had finished composing it. It was brushed into some sort of shape by Mozart's only composition pupil, Sussmayr, but to the complete lack of satisfaction of scholars down the centuries. As a result, the world and his wife have tried to complete it after him. Regardless, the Requiem still sounds wonderful to most ears.

  • Canadian Howard Shore is one of those composers who writes great tunes and his work for The Lord of The Rings trilogy is no exception. Originally considered by some to have been a surprising choice of composer for this epic trilogy, Shore silenced his doubters by winning his first Oscar for this score which introduces Celtic music for the Hobbits with song contributions from Enya, and many powerful, mystical choral cues. Shore reworked his score into the wildly popular Lord of the Rings Symphony, which consists of six movements and is played and sung against a backdrop of on-screen images.

  • Symphony No. 3 by Saint-Saëns is probably best understood as a 'symphony with added organ', because only two of its four movements feature the instrument. It's a magnificent work, with the composer saying he was writing to his limits: 'I gave everything to it I was able to give.'

  • In his seven-section Requiem, the French composer Gabriel Fauré distilled some of the most beautiful melodies he ever composed. The creation was almost certainly a musical tribute to his father, who died in 1885, three years before work on the Requiem began.

    Of all seven sections, the 'Pie Jesu', 'Agnus Dei' and 'In Paradisum' emerge as the most glorious, filled with rich, soulful melodies. The work garnered the praise of many other composers not least Camille Saint-Saëns, who thought it divine. It was performed at Fauré's own funeral in 1924.

  • Yoko Shimomura is the world's most famous female video game music composer. Her Kingdom Hearts soundtrack accompanies the main character Sora on his search for friends in various virtual worlds. Shimomura's works have become a regular fixture in video game concerts and music from several of her games have been arranged for solo piano.

    Combining two seemingly disparate properties into one cohesive work might sound impossible, but Kingdom Hearts manages to blend the intricate stories of developer Square Enix with the beloved characters of Disney with ease. Although the main theme comes from Japanese singer Hikaru Utada, it is Yoko Shimomura's work on the score that has made an indelible mark on gamers worldwide. Creating music that sits alongside Disney classics from Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and The Nightmare Before Christmas, Shimomura's themes blend perfectly with the fun and surprising sights on offer.

  • When Swan Lake was premiered in 1877, the reception it garnered was lukewarm at best. Never mind what the audiences back then thought: it was the dancers who gave the composer a particularly hard time, declaring his music to be simply too difficult to dance to.

  • Despite its nickname, in Beethoven's mind this was never the Moonlight Sonata. Instead, the rather pedestrian title of Piano Sonata No. 14 was what the composer seemed perfectly content with. But when the German critic Ludwig Rellstab described the sonata's famous opening movement as being akin to moonlight flickering across lake lucerne, he created a description that would go on to outlive the composer.

    Today, the Moonlight (or the 'sonata in the style of a fantasia', as Beethoven preferred to subtitle it) stands as the composer's most famous and most loved solo piano piece.

  • One of the first examples of classical music meeting jazz, George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue is a hugely popular infusion of both musical styles.

    Rhapsody in Blue was masterminded by the producer Paul Whiteman whose concert band premiered the work in New York in 1924. Up until then jazz had an awkward place in the concert hall, if barely one at all. Whiteman, however, believed that Gershwin was the man to change this. The result was Rhapsody in Blue, which not only became an instant hit with the public but revolutionised the place of jazz amongst composers who liked to think of themselves as more 'serious'.

    In the piece, Gershwin daringly brings together all his musical influences; ragtime, the Romantic piano music of the likes of Ravel and Rachmaninov, improvised jazz, folk music and classical music to concoct this iconic masterpiece.

  • If you had to pick one musical phrase in the whole of classical music known by more people than any other, it would surely be the opening two bars of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. But what does it mean? As with many other classical works, critics have been all too keen to assign to this symphony the character of Fate knocking at the door. But, aside from an assertion to that effect by Beethoven's friend Schiller, there's very little evidence to suggest that it was the composer's intention. Instead, could it simply be the case that Beethoven's musical genius led him to write an outstanding, gripping melody? His creative juices were certainly flowing in the early 1800s: work on the Symphony No. 5 began shortly after the premiere of his mighty Eroica, a symphony similarly imbued with thrilling melodic lines from start to finish.

  • Rodrigo himself explained about this beautiful piece for guitar and orchestra: 'The Concierto de Aranjuez is named after the famous royal site on the shore of the River Tagus, not far from Madrid, along the road to Andalusia, and some perceive Goya's shadow in the notes of its music, full of melancholic emotion. Its music seems to bring to life the essence of an eighteenth-century court, where aristocratic distinction blends with popular culture. In its melody the perfume of magnolias lingers, the singing of birds and the gushing of fountains.'

  • A brilliantly orchestrated symphonic suite based on 'The Thousand and One Nights'. Rimsky-Korsakov prefaced the suite with a paragraph on the familiar story of how the tales came to be told, and based each of the four movements on one of Scheherazade's stories.

  • A magnificent work that helped re-establish the composer's self-confidence as a symphonist.

    After the disaster of the premiere of his First Symphony, Rachmaninov fell into a depression and became unconvinced of his abilities as a symphonist. He was very unhappy with the first draft of his Second Symphony but after months of revision he finished the work and conducted the premiere in 1908 to great acclaim. The triumph re-established his sense of self-worth.

    The Symphony is evidently not a simple or easy listen, not least because, at an hour in length, it requires considerable concentration — but it well repays the effort put in.

  • Many a TV advertisement (or, dare we say it, telephone on-hold service) has used the opening movement, Morning from Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 to create a musical mood. The fourth movement depicting life 'In the Hall of the Mountain King', meanwhile, will forever be remembered by thousands as the Alton Towers theme tune. Grieg, however, had very different ideas at the forefront of his mind when he composed this glorious music.

    He had been asked by the playwright Henrik Ibsen to set to music his quintessentially Scandinavian play Peer Gynt. The composer responded by creating a collection of tableaux, some of which were later formed into two separate suites. He didn't have much faith in them, feeling under pressure from Ibsen to come up with the melodies as quickly as possible, but they were received with huge enthusiasm by the Norwegian audiences of his day.

  • Rachmaninov's very large hands certainly came in useful when performing this, the most technically challenging of all the composer's four piano concertos. Rachmaninov composed the concerto in 1909 a full nine years after the premiere of his Piano Concerto No. 2. The Third is grander, fuller, and more expansive in tone and style with the soloist stretched to the very limits of his or her ability.

  • Even for someone with such a hit rate as Ennio Morricone Cinema Paradiso, Once Upon A Time In America, The Untouchables et al you can't help but feel he would have stood up from the piano after thinking up the tune 'Gabriel's Oboe' for The Mission and said to himself, 'Actually, that's a corker!' Or would that have been, 'Realmente, quello e un corker!'? Possibly.

    The Oscar winning 1986 film tells the story of a Spanish Jesuit priest who goes into the South American jungle to build a mission and convert a community of Guarani Indians whilst fighting off the dastardly Portuguese colonials, who are trying to enslave the community. Morricone's haunting soundtrack for the film is regarded as one of his best.

  • The highest of Wagner's six entries climbs to its highest ever position.

    At around five hours in duration, Wagner's opera Die Walküre is an epic work in its own right but it's only one of four installments of the composer's mighty Ring Cycle. And while the entire opera is packed full of thrilling music, one particular five-minute orchestral firework is the reason for its truly widespread popularity. 'The Ride of the Valkyries', which acts as the curtain-raiser to act III, has been included in countless television programmes, commercials and movies most notably Apocalypse Now, in which the music is put to gripping effect during the opening of helicopter fire on a village in Vietnam.

  • This piano concerto-like work was the 1934 equivalent of sampling a pop song. Rachmaninov had chosen his Caprice No. 24 for solo violin as the inspiration for an ingenious theme and variations for piano and orchestra. He moulds the main theme into all sorts of musical styles and formations. Rachmaninov was himself an outstanding pianist, as is borne out by his very own recording of the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, which is still available today.

  • The highest of John Williams' six entries is also his biggest climber, rising 38 places to its highest ever position.

    A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. This classic line was the introduction to what has become one of the biggest film phenomena in cinema history. John Williams provided the perfect soundtrack to George Lucas's sci-fi epic. His richly thematic and highly popular 1977 score to the first Star Wars film was selected by the American Film Institute as the greatest American movie score of all time.

  • When New Yorkers are thirsty, they can simply turn on a faucet and pour themselves a glass of Ashokan water.

    The Ashokan reservoir is a huge expanse of water some 150 miles north of the city, and not far from the spot where Jay Ungar and Molly Mason have run a 'fiddle and dance' camp annually for more than thirty years.

  • Much like The Lark Ascending and Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, the Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus contains superbly sumptuous string writing, with sweeping melodies stretching across the orchestra, underpinned by deep and resonant harmonies.

    It was first performed by the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra in June 1939, under the baton of Sir Adrian Boult. Later that year, Boult conducted the British premiere at Bristol's Colston Hall.

  • The thunderously triumphant opening chords of this mighty concerto are among the most famous in all classical music. At the time of composition, though, they were by no means universally loved. When Tchaikovsky played them to the pianist Nicolai Rubinstein, Rubinstein declared it to be 'bad, trivial and vulgar!'

  • Anyone aspiring to be a concert violinist simply has to have this one in his or her repertoire. Nearly 150 years after its composition, Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto remains one of the most regularly performed and most loved of all instrumental concertos. And ever since its birth, the work has had a rather strange affinity with very young soloists.

  • There are composers who can only dream of playing the music they write for their own instruments. Elgar and Sibelius come to mind: both would have cut off their bow hands to have been able to play their own violin concertos to a virtuosic standard. Mozart was a fiddler, too, but was also lucky enough to write pretty much all his piano concertos to play himself. The famous Piano Concerto No. 21 (a staggering figure in itself: 21 piano concertos!) is one such, written when he was only twenty-nine, just six years before his early death. It is sometimes referred to as the Elvira Madigan, after a now otherwise long-forgotten film that featured the work.

  • Mahler is famous for the way in which he stretched classical music to its limits. Principally, this happened through his huge symphonies, which nearly all require a very large orchestra and often last for over an hour. Indeed, in the case of this work, Mahler even adds a fifth movement, not content with any convention that dictated the fourth movement to be the finale. And yet, despite all this grandness of scale and depth, the main reason for the enduring popularity of his Symphony No. 5 is the exquisite, ten-minute 'Adagietto' that forms the fourth movement and which, more presciently, was put to such powerful use in the film Death in Venice.

  • Although Debussy's Suite Bergamasque comprises four movements, it is somehow fitting that the third, Clair de Lune, has become by far the most well known. It was within the inspirational poem Clair de Lune by Debussy's friend, Paul Verlaine, that the composer found the seeds of the complete work's title. Verlaine writes of 'your souls like landscapes, charming masks and bergamasks, playing the lute and dancing, almost sad in their fantastic disguises'.

    The bergamask, reputedly a clumsy dance performed originally by natives of Bergamo, becomes bergamasque in French.

  • For someone who claimed to pride himself on not being a part of the establishment, Elgar loved many of the trappings that came with it. A huge fan of chivalry in all its forms, the 'pomp and circumstance' of his marches' titles comes from Shakespeare's Othello (the 'pride pomp and circumstance of glorious war' from act III, scene 3).

    In his lifetime, there were five marches, with the first four, including the most famous first the 'Land of Hope and Glory' march coming between 1901 and 1907, long before the harsh realities of the First World War changed many British people's attitudes to the pomp of war. Nevertheless, a late straggler, the fifth, followed in 1930, and the composer Anthony Payne completed a sixth from Elgar's notes in 2006.

  • Smetana undoubtedly composed some of the finest symphonic poems with his set entitled Má vlast. At over an hour long, Má vlast is a mighty work, comprising six poems in total; but its popularity is due mainly to the second one, Vltava a beautiful, evocative musical painting of the rolling river that passes through the city of Prague.

  • One of John Williams' most moving scores, Schindler's List showcases the master film composer's staggering ability to turn a tune that captures the essence of its movie. It is yet another great example of Williams's ability to set a film in the most perfectly sympathetic landscape, producing, yet again, music that stands up on its own when the film is taken away.

  • You have to wonder how Bizet would feel about our response to The Pearl Fishers, were he alive today. This three-act opera lasts around eighty minutes and has an exotic plot, rich orchestral imagery and a number of arias to boot. And yet, it's almost solely remembered today for an extract that many think is a stand-alone piece of music: 'The Pearl Fishers' Duet'.

    Sung by the characters Zuria and Nadir, caught in a love triangle with the one girl they're both after, the duet has been performed thousands of times in its own right in the concert hall.

  • The Estonian composer Arvo Pärt is an extraordinarily reclusive yet successful musician. Worldwide, his music is among the most frequently performed of all contemporary composers and yet he rarely, if ever, seeks any kind of limelight or recognition. In many ways, Pärt's serene work for violin and piano Spiegel im Spiegel is a perfect musical reflection of the composer's own character.

    Translated as 'Mirror in the Mirror', Spiegel im Spiegel is enduringly popular for the calm, still environment it inhabits, in a world that is so often much more noisy and frantic.

  • Sibelius became passionate about the micro-nationalist importance of one particular area of Finland, said to be the home of the oldest and most respected aspects of Finnish culture. This area was the Karelia region. Much of Karelia lay in Russia, but the fact that part of it was in Finland's eastern tip (focused on Vyborg) was one of the reasons Sibelius accepted a commission to provide music for the students of Helsinki University, in Vyborg.

  • When Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her silver Jubilee, Britain celebrated with new coins, commemorative mugs and nostalgic street parties. When Alexander II of Russia held his silver Jubilee, in 1880, among other things he commissioned Borodin to compose a symphonic poem. It was intended to be the soundtrack to a tableau vivant a slightly curious and now largely forgotten art form in which actors pose, motionless, in a set, often lit to resemble a painting.

    Quite how they would have coped standing motionless for the full seven or eight minutes of Borodin's music, we'll never know. The 'production' was called off after an attempted assassination. Rimksy-Korsakov rescued it, though, for the 1880 season with his Russian Opera Orchestra and it has since become a concert favourite.

  • Composed in 1717, the Bach Double, as it is often called, came with Bach from his previous job in Köthen, but seven years after he had arrived in Leipzig, he made a transcription for two harpsichords. Many of Bach's orchestrations were for purely pragmatic reasons, so we might presume that none of the three fiddlers were up to playing it in its original form. However, when the Köthen version of the work was lost, Bach specialists were able to reconstruct it from the harpsichord version. The slow movement is surely one of Bach's most sublime creations.

  • The highest of two entries for Khachaturian climbs to its highest ever position, only reached once before in 2013.

    Khachaturian was just hitting his fiftieth birthday when he produced his music to the ballet Spartacus. The plot of the ballet had been around for some fifteen years and was suggested to him by a critic called Volkov. The composer finally got to work 'with a feeling of enormous creative excitement', but his preparation had been nothing if not extensive. He'd had a blast of a trip around Italy, visiting the very places at the centre of the famous story of a slave rebellion.

    Despite taking a fair few liberties with the plot, the ballet score won Khachaturian the Lenin Prize in 1954, and was premiered in what is now the Mariinsky Theatre, in St. Petersburg, just two years later.

  • Audiences in St. Petersburg were promised 'a fairy-tale ballet' in the winter of 1892 when, all around the city, posters began to appear advertising the much anticipated new project from Tchaikovsky.

    There is a wonderfully vivid, pictorial quality to Tchaikovsky's colourful music. From the elegant Waltz of the Flowers to the thrilling Russian Dance, the score is a feast of wonderful melodies. Other favourites include the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies and the Dance of the Reed Flutes. Tchaikovsky had several reservations about it — not surprising, given the less than ecstatic response to some of his earlier works — but the composer evidently had nothing to fear — it has become a perennial Christmas favourite on stage, and the music.

  • As a young man, Mendelssohn travelled extensively and Scotland was one of the places that made an impression on him. It was after his Scottish trip that he wrote one of his most popular pieces: the Hebrides Overture, Fingal's Cave.

    He travelled there with his friend Karl Klingemann in 1829 and during his stay in Edinburgh, he wrote to his parents: "I think that today I found the beginning of my 'Scottish' Symphony."

    It was the Island of Staffa — a huge cavern over 200 feet deep and filled with colourful pillars of basalt — that particularly inspired Mendelssohn to write his Hebrides Overture.

  • Wagner's second highest entry climbs to reach its highest ever position.

    Wagner didn't really do understated. His works were epic in scale, fantastically mythological in plot, and revolutionary in both length and orchestration. In the case of Tannhäuser, even the word 'opera' wasn't deemed to be sufficient: Wagner initially referred to it as a 'romantic grand opera' but then elevated the work to a 'consummate drama', as he described it to his wife Cosima in 1882.

  • If you're looking for controversy, you've come to the right place. Never mind the fact that Albinoni's Adagio is a breathtakingly beautiful piece of stately baroque brilliance — it might shock you to know that it's actually the work of an Albinoni biographer and musicologist, Remo Giazotto, who apparently used a snippet of manuscript written by Albinoni to complete the work. However, said manuscript was never actually produced at any point by Giazotto, so we'll never really know how much is Albinoni and how much isn't.

  • The reaction to the four-movement Symphony No. 5 was, at best, muted. Tchaikovsky felt incredibly dejected, even going so far as to distance himself from it for quite some time. After his death, however, the work grew in popularity, with audiences and critics alike acknowledging Tchaikovsky's great skill as an orchestrator and his powerful evocation of the idea of fate throughout the symphony. Today, it stands as one of his most loved large-scale creations.

  • Written initially for the organ — an instrument that Stravinsky called "the monster that never breathes" — Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is a piece of music that many would not want to meet down a dark alley.

    The transcription of Toccata and Fugue in D Minor for orchestra by 20th century musician Leopold Stokowski retains the frightening tone of Bach's originial version.

    A piece of such epic proportions and colossal twists and turns, some believe that the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor was too fiery to even be written by Bach himself. The lack of a surviving manuscript with Bach's scrawls on it and the complete originality of the work has lead many music historians to doubt its provenance; the one-off nature and the very un-Bach-like characteristics of the piece have been at the root, since the 1980s at least, of a growing body of opinion among musicologists that Toccata and Fugue can't be Bach's work. If he did write it, say the believers, it was probably when he was very young — possibly between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two.

    Still, the finest performances prove that, no matter who actually wrote it, it's a masterpiece of epic proportions.

  • Nigel Hess's main theme for this 2004 film starring Maggie Smith and Judi Dench is simple and beautiful. Performed by award-winning violinist Joshua Bell and the Royal Philharmonia Orchestra, it is one of the most enduring film scores of recent years.

  • Saint-Sans' second highest entry reaches its highest ever position in the history of the Hall of Fame.

    The Carnival of the Animals is a musical suite of fourteen animal-inspired movements by the French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns. Each suite sees the instruments representing the characteristics of a different animal, from the stately march of the violins in the first suite representing a lion, to the low rumblings from the double bass representing an elephant.

    Arguably the most famous of all the suites is No. 13 'The Swan', which features gliding cello lines and two pianos.

    Saint-Saëns premiered his 'grand zoological fantasy' privately. It was written as a bit of fun for friends, around carnival time, which was early in the year in 1880s Paris. It was another thirty-five years until it was heard again, receiving its first premiere just two months after he died.

  • Prokofiev originally wrote Romeo and Juliet for St. Petersburg's Kirov Ballet in 1935, and had initially wanted to change the ending of William Shakespeare's timeless love story to a happy one. In the end, he considered, almost certainly correctly that this would have been a step too far.

    The huge demands Romeo and Juliet placed on the dancers meant it wasn't performed for a few years, receiving its premiere in Brno in 1938. Prokofiev wrote new sections for a 1940 production and it was then that the music really took off, eventually forming the basis of three popular suites of which 'The Montagues and Capulets' (sometimes knows as The Dance of the Knights) was the centrepiece and is now the famous section of the ballet.

  • Most famous for containing the irresistibly uplifting 'Zadok The Priest', Handel's four Coronation Anthems were the perfect welcome to King George II on the occasion of, unsurprisingly, his coronation in 1727. 'Zadok' itself takes biblical inspiration from the anointing of Solomon by Zadok, but there's something so much more alive and affirming about it than a simple retelling of a bible story. Handel's music is inspirational, emotional and involving to the last. What King wouldn't be happy with that?

  • Of all the works in the history of classical music, this is the one that definitively closed the door on the classical period and ushered in fully the start of the Romantic era. Composed in 1803, the piece was very much written in the shadow of the two symphonic masters, Mozart and Haydn. Between them, they had defined the symphony for their era. Their music certainly contained passion and emotion, but it was always restrained within set structures. These structures were becoming tired, though, and a new music was ready to burst forth.

    Step forward Beethoven, prepared once again to break the rules, and his status as the most important composer of his time was pretty much confirmed in an instant with this one mighty work.

  • The highest of Brahms' nine entries climbs to its highest ever position.

    What is so 'German' about this requiem, then? For the answer, we need to consider the nature of religious faith in Germany at the time. Here was a country where luther had come to prominence, and where Catholicism was by no means the sole expression of Christian belief. By choosing luther as his inspiration, and describing this work overtly as A German Requiem, Brahms was expressing what it meant to be German.

    A German Requiem is not primarily a Mass for the dead. Instead, it is intended as comfort for those who mourn and who feel the pain of the death of others. By the time he began writing the work in 1865, Brahms had just experienced such loss extremely personally: his mother had died that very same year.

  • Addinsell's only Hall of Fame entry climbs 22 to its highest ever position

    The makers of the film Dangerous Moonlight really wanted Sergei Rachmaninoff to compose the soundtrack, but Maestro Rach wasn't interested in the project and recordings of his music couldn't be secured, so it was left up to Richard Addinsell to come up with the goods. The Warsaw Concerto — composed by Addinsell very much in the style of Rachmaninov — was the incredible result.

  • This chaotic comedy of deception ends up with a moral about forgiveness. Although the play by Beaumarchais on which The Marriage of Figaro is based was at first banned in Vienna because of its satire of the aristocracy, the opera became one of Mozart's most successful works. It features the aria 'Voi che sapete' and other timeless tunes.

  • This John Barry classic is at its highest ever position.

    Kevin Costner directed and starred in this 1990 Western, hoovering up seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. British film composer John Barry's sweeping string sounds suited the epic nature of the story's Sioux-soaked skylines perfectly. As well as the main John Dunbar Theme, the Love Theme is eloquent and haunting; while the music used to accompany Two Socks (the 'star' wolf) is both shifting and beautiful. Dances With Wolves earned Barry his fifth Academy Award.

  • Butterworth was a great English composer who never fulfilled his potential because his life was cut tragically short in the First World War. However, the prevailing view among music historians is that this was a young man who had much, much more to offer the world of classical music.

    The Banks of Green Willow was written in 1913, a short pastoral idyll. It is loosely based on the song that Vaughan Williams had lovingly recorded on one of his folk safaris in 1909. It has become almost a symbol of that long-lost halcyon Edwardian age, as if Butterworth were transcribing the disappearing world around him.

  • This is the highest of three entries by Binge, and it climbs to its highest ever position.

    Ronald Binge was a British composer and arranger of light music. His best known composition is probably Elizabethan Serenade, which was used by the British Broadcasting Corporation as the theme for the popular 1950s series Music Tapestry, and as the play-out for the British Forces Network radio station, for which he won an Ivor Novello Award, and Sailing By.

  • If you're a child of the 1970s, it may well have been the Old Spice advert. If you hail from a younger generation, it will almost certainly be The X Factor. Or maybe you remember its regular comical use in Only Fools and Horses. One thing's for sure, though: the vast majority of people who know and love the famous 'O Fortuna' that opens Carl Orff's Carmina Burana have first come across it not through a performance of the work, but via its use in countless television shows, commercials and films.

    At less than three minutes, O Fortuna is only one very small part of this mammoth, secular cantata. Composed in the 1930s and inspired by a set of medieval poems, Carmina Burana was first performed in Frankfurt in June 1937, to great acclaim. Orff knew he had a hit on his hands, and he was fortunate enough to see the work's rapid rise in popularity during the course of his own lifetime.

  • Hans Zimmer works in much the same way as Michelangelo. That's not to say on his back staring at the ceiling. It means he sometimes operates a type of collegiate system of writing music, whereby he will employ several composers to work in groups on certain movies, all the time retaining the overall control.

    Zimmer's score for Ridley Scott's epic Gladiator uses a simple but great tune throughout and, as a result, joins the ranks of those movies for which the music is a vital part of its success.

  • Tallis was no spring chicken when he set about finding the choral Holy Grail. Although it's hard to pin down, with no records of him at all before he was an adult, it would appear he was not far off seventy when he set the words of the Matins response, 'I have never put my hope in any other but you, O God of Israel'.

  • Rarely has a composer managed to pare his music down to its absolute essence as Bach did in his six Cello Suites. Perhaps there are three reasons for this: one, we're dealing with a genius composer; two, their solo nature forcing Bach to astound his listener with clever and sometimes fiendishly difficult ways of maximising the instrument; and three, the fact that the cello is often considered the nearest instrument to the human voice. It somehow captures the feeling of exposed honesty, of complete naturalness, as the greatest voices do.

  • Many great composers go through periods of significant self-doubt and introspection particularly when embarking on a major new work. For Chopin, though, there was a sense of abandonment naïvety, even in much of his writing. Here was a composer who was barely out of his teens, still within education still growing up, essentially. And yet, at the same time, he was able to tackle the form of the piano concerto for the first time and come up trumps in a quite astounding way.

    If we're being really picky, we could point out that this concerto does seem to be harking back to earlier composers more than No.1 (which was, in fact, composed after this one). The influence of the likes of Hummel and Mozart is apparent even in the politely structured opening bars of the first movement. But, overall, this is an astonishing work for a composer so young.

  • This delightful work reaches its highest ever Hall of Fame position.

    This iconic British tune was composed in 1963 by Ronald Binge. It's one of his many recognisable melodies, including the popular Elizabethan Serenade composed 12 years earlier in 1951, for which he won an Ivor Novello Award.

  • By the Beautiful Blue Danube demonstrates that Johann Strauss the younger deserved his nickname 'King of the Waltz'. Given its popularity today, it's surprising to consider that By the Beautiful Blue Danube was by no means an instant hit. This piece of music, so indelibly linked with the city of Vienna, first found favour in Paris after Viennese audiences had slightly turned their noses up at it.

  • Both of Shostakovich's Jazz Suites have a sort of end-of-the-pier quality to them. In truth, they bear the same relationship to authentic jazz as socks and sandals do to high fashion. This is deeply sugary music, created in direct response to the Soviet government's demand that more be done to reflect this emerging genre.

  • The premiere of this, his Symphony No.6, took place just over a week before the composer's death. Of all Tchaikovsky's works, this is arguably the one that spans both extremes of the emotional spectrum to the greatest extent.

  • Sibelius came to premiere his Symphony No. 5 on his birthday in 1915. He enjoyed near godlike status in his home country, his Symphony No. 5 was a direct response to not entirely favourable reviews of his Symphony No. 4. He even revised the later work saying, 'I wished to give my symphony another more human form. More down-to-earth, more vivid.'

  • The real title for this perennial favourite is Serenade No.13 in G, although it's the informal title that has stuck. The title Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is what he jotted next to the entry for this particular serenade written for a string quartet with an added double-bass. It's another piece from his great purple patch. He was thirty-one years old.

    Oddly enough, Mozart never published Eine Kleine Nachtmusik in his lifetime. It was left up to his widow, Contanze, to sell it in a job lot of his music to a publisher in 1799, presumably to raise much-needed cash. It saw public light of day only in 1827, some forty years after it was written.

  • Originally it was for voice and piano but, thankfully, Saint-Saëns reworked it a couple of years later, substituting a violin for the voice and adding the full orchestra. There is a complete programmatic story to the Danse Macabre, with the violin playing Death himself and the music starting at midnight hence the twelve opening notes.

  • Good Friday 1727 in Leipzig was a particularly good Friday. When Bach had first arrived, four years earlier, he had no doubt wowed his employers not to mention the congregation with that year's easter offering, the St. John Passion. Bach was ushered to Leipzig on the promise of a very large salary indeed, so the splendour of the work was probably timely. Given that he was responsible for providing weekly music at not one, but two, churches, for teaching singing to the school-children, for training the choir, for teaching Latin (although, in the end, he farmed this part out to a deputy), he could surely be forgiven for thinking he was doing enough.

    Four years into the job, though, he decided to compose another major choral piece. The St. Matthew Passion is a monster of a work for two orchestras with extra words by Bach's favourite poet, Picander.

  • The fiery dance reaches its highest ever position.

    Marquez might not be the best-known composer out there, but this is a brilliantly energetic one-off of a piece.

    The name Arturo Marquez might not mean much to the general classical music listener, but thanks to the might of this one piece, he's having something of a renaissance.

    It's permanently frantic, tense and joyful all at once — a unique and miraculous expression of outright joy. When it finally calms down around the 3-minute mark, though, it's tempting to think that all the hard work's been done... well, that's until Marquez unleashes one more furious conga.

  • Out Of Africa is a perfect example of a composer — John Barry — managing to capture a picture in music. It's music in the key of savannah. The film — the story of a rich, bored Danish woman who finds love with a free-spirited handsome hunter in turbulent East Africa — won seven Academy Awards in total, including one for Barry himself.

  • Satie would, without doubt, come top of any list of eccentric composers. His three dream-like, sparse Gymnopédies were composed in 1888 and named after an ancient Greek rite enacted by groups of naked youths. Consequently, the set's publication only served to cement Satie's status as the musical pin-up boy of Bohemian Paris in the late nineteenth century.

  • The French composer Charles-Marie Widor wrote a total of ten organ symphonies but sadly, it is only the Toccata from No.5 that retains any kind of popular appeal today. It's quite some popular appeal, though, being one of the most regularly requested wedding-day pieces in the world. Many a bride and groom have left the church to the sound of 'The Widor', as it's often called. It certainly provides something of a challenge for your average parish organist to pull off successfully!

  • Young bohemians in wintry Paris struggle with love, poverty and consumption in Puccini's evergreen masterpiece. Those who plan to see it should keep a box of tissues close to hand.

  • The second of Borodin's three entries climbs 15 places to its highest ever position.

    Many musical historians regard Prince Igor as Borodin's magnum opus. But, strictly speaking, it should really be considered as his 'magnum opus infectus' his great unfinished work. Despite spending some eighteen years working on it, by the time Borodin died, aged fifty-four, Prince Igor was still incomplete.

    So, in 1887, when Borodin died and Rimsky-Korsakov, with Glazunov, began the hugely unenviable task of sifting through his belongings, the score of Prince Igor loomed large. As Rimsky-Korsakov later wrote in his memoirs, 'Glazunov was to fill in all the gaps in act III and write down from memory the Overture played so often by the composer, while I was to orchestrate, finish composing, and systematise all the rest that had been left.'

    All things considered, they did a wonderful job.

  • Einaudi was inspired to compose I Giorni ('The Days') after hearing a twelfth-century folk song that originated in the country of Mali. The song describes the killing of a hippopotamus by a hunter, and the subsequent mourning in the local village. The entire album from which this song is taken (also called I Giorni) is one long lament, with each piece demonstrating Einaudi's ability to compose utterly simple yet beguiling melodies.

  • This videogame score is at its lowest position, since entering the chart in 2014.

    Yorkshire-born, BAFTA nominated composer Grant Kirkhope studied classical trumpet at the Royal Northern College of Music before playing in rock bands. He has created the music for several multi-million selling video games, including GoldenEye. The Banjo-Kazooie franchise began in 1998 but we feature music from the latest in the series, Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. With the game featuring the ability to build your own vehicles amidst the jumping and puzzle-solving, Kirkhope's score is as jaunty and quirky as the misshapen means of transport to be constructed. Surprising, upbeat and definitely tongue-in-cheek, the Banjo-Kazooie series remains many gamers introduction to Kirkhope — a fanbase that is as strong today as ever.

  • The third highest entry by Williams climbs one place to reach its highest ever position.

    John Williams came up with one of his most fitting scores when he set Spielberg's dinosaurs to music. The minute this theme was first aired in 1992, it sounded like it had been around for millions of years, instantly an old friend. It has majesty, somehow, written into the score and befits the wonderful, enormous creatures that Spielberg brought to life on the screen.

  • Just forty-six bars containing around three minutes of music. And yet they are capable of leaving the listener just as moved as might an entire five-day long cycle of Wagner's Ring Cycle. And certainly less tired.

    Ave verum corpus is another work that Mozart composed in the final year of his life. It was written almost as a payment to a friend in much the same way that Picasso would give away sketches. Anton Stoll was a chorus master at a small church in Baden, and had often helped Mozart by making travel arrangements for his wife, Constanze. Despite having his money worries, Mozart still liked to make sure his wife had her restorative periods at Baden.

  • Everyone should own a copy of this work, and not just so that they can say that they have the music of a composer whose first name was Gerald. It's a piece that Finzi started writing in the late 1920s, but never got round to finishing. At least, not finishing in the manner he had wanted. The idea originally was to write a grand piano concerto but, for some reason, it was never to be. This movement is based on an archaic form of poem that was originally meant to be a conversation between shepherds. In the end, probably knowing that other movements were never going to come, Finzi reworked it so that it could be played on its own. Even then, it didn't see the public light of day until the composer was dead and buried.

  • Fauré was a precociously brilliant composer. By his late teens, he had already developed his own unique and utterly assured musical voice. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in his Cantique de Jean Racine. Composed in 1865, when Fauré was just twenty, it's very much a precursor to the Requiem, with similarly lush, intense choral writing layered on top of sparse organ accompaniment. As with the Requiem, it takes a religious text as its inspiration in this case, words by the French playwright Jean Racine.

  • The year 1749 was a monster one for Handel. He had so many projects on the go, friends must surely have feared for his health. There must be nothing so demoralising for a composer as writing music that is not performed and Handel was no different. He wanted some of the music he had already written in the previous year to see the light of day. One work that fell into this category was his oratorio Solomon. He had spent precious time on it in 1748 and felt it should be out there in front of the listening public.

    Solomon consists of three acts, plus an overture sixty-two sections in all, with liberal mention for one of the lead characters, Zadok the Priest. But don't get confused. The anthem 'Zadok the Priest' doesn't feature. That had already been written, twenty-two years earlier, for a coronation.

  • The second of Mahler's entries falls 16 places to its lowest ever position.

    Not content with stretching the orchestra to its limit, Mahler clearly fancied a challenge when composing his Symphony No. 2 in the late 1800s. His triumphant symphonic debut, the Titan, had called for many more instruments than was the norm, so for his follow-up he decided to go one step further. The gargantuan symphony orchestra would remain, but alongside it was placed an organ, an offstage brass ensemble, and some church bells.

    And a choir. A very large choir.

    And, to round things off, some soloists. It's little wonder that, whenever the Resurrection Symphony is performed, it's the only work on the programme.

  • The highest of Verdi's entries this year falls to its lowest ever position.

    Nabucco is the opera that brought Verdi back from the brink. He had been ready to give up composing for good. It was by no means solely the critical failure of his previous opera, Un giorno di regno, that was responsible, either. After all, Verdi had endured the worst of times not long before. As well as the death of both his children, he had lost his wife.

  • This work, which is now so firmly accepted as one of the greats of the violin repertoire, was something of a slow burner. Unlike many other pieces by the great composer, it certainly didn't become an instant hit. The concerto was rattled off by Beethoven in a remarkably short space of time. He took just a few weeks to compose it in the winter of 1806, and it was premiered within days of its completion on 23rd December. This was a fairly rushed affair. The soloist hadn't had time to learn his part, so spent a good deal of the concert sight-reading. It's hard to imagine Beethoven being too pleased with such an approach.

  • Mozart is at his most Masonic and magical in this riot of life, lust and ludicrous plot in which a prince and a bird-catcher go on a journey to enlightenment and marital bliss.

    The Magic Flute is not so much an opera, but a Singspiel, a popular theatre form that mixed both singing and spoken dialogue. It came out of Mozart's friendship with the theatre troupe of actor and impresario, Johann Schickenader, who wrote the text and played the birdcatcher Papageno.

    Mozart wrote specifically for the skills of the singers which included both experienced voices and ordinary comic actors. You can hear how the vocal lines for some are often stated first by the strings so the performer can find his pitch, and are frequently doubled by instruments. Mozart's sister-in-law who played the Queen of the Night needed little help: her songs are famous for their difficulty, including an ear-busting top F.

  • It is to be hoped that you have never been caught out and turned up at a performance of Handel's Water Music, only to find it's the piece of the same name (but very different-sounding) of the twentieth-century American composer John Cage. This work does not consist of three pleasant suites, split into minuets, bourrées, airs and hornpipes, light and florid in nature, and with beguiling catchy tune after beguiling catchy tune. John Cage's Water Music is written for a pianist who is instructed to pour water into pots, play cards and blow whistles under water, while an assistant displays the score on a poster. Quite a different experience altogether from Handel's piece, which is now a household favourite, easy on the ear and jauntily life-affirming. Exactly the sort of music you would like to waft you down the River Thames if you were a king with the weight of government on your shoulders.

  • Armstrong composed much of the soundtrack to the 1996 film Romeo + Juliet. His setting of the famous balcony scene tells the story of a hidden Romeo overhearing Juliet on her balcony proclaiming her love to him. For this part of the story, Armstrong uses solo piano, quietly playing a slow, romantic tune. Listen out for the entry of the orchestra, used to depict the point at which Romeo comes out from hiding to declare that he, too, is in love.

    As the two agree to be married, the music grows, and several high violin passages can be heard, possibly representing romantic joy or the excitement of Romeo and Juliet overcoming the difficulties faced by the feuding Montagues and Capulets.

  • Danzon No. 2 is one of the most popular and significant frequently performed Mexican contemporary classical music compositions performed by orchestras. The work has gained worldwide popularity thanks to superstar Mexican conductor Gustavo Dudamel.

  • As a symphonic composer, Sibelius must be up there as one of the greenest; he was the biggest recycler in the business. Its three opening notes more or less appear to form the entire backbone of what was to become one of his most popular works. It was premiered in 1902, not long after Finlandia had its first outing and just before Sibelius's Violin Concerto made its debut.

  • Bizet's opera tells the story of a gypsy woman named Carmen who charms a hapless soldier, leading them both to their downfall. Since its premiere in 1875, Carmen has gone to become the most popular, most performed and most filmed opera ever.

  • This work owes its mass appeal to the powerfully evocative second movement: the setting of an eighteen-year-old girl's prayer, inscribed on the wall of a Gestapo prison in 1944.

    The Polish composer behind the hit, Henryk Górecki, holds a special place in the history of Classic FM. The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs was played in the very first week that the station began broadcasting in September 1992 and the audience response was so great that it quickly raced to the top of the classical music charts.

    Górecki was almost totally unknown outside classical music circles, so in that respect the symphony was a slightly unusual selection. But it captured the British public's imagination, remaining the country's most popular classical CD for months.

  • Between 1929 and 1970 Shostakovich wrote more than 30 movie soundtracks, but it's this score for a 1955 swashbuckling costume drama depicting the life of a Russian hero in 1830s that still remains a big hit. Shostakovich borrowed musical ideas from Italian Romantic composers such as Verdi and Bellini, but it's the Romance for violin and orchestra that is best loved today, revived for the 1980s TV series Reilly, Ace of Spies.

  • Heartbreaking Puccini magic combines tear-jerking romance with oriental touches in this touching opera about a teenage Geisha girl who marries a US naval officer who then dumps her. The masterpiece contains some of the composer's most inspired melodies, often tinged with an oriental flavour. It tells the tragic story of a jilted Japanese Geisha girl, awaiting the return of her U.S. Naval Officer husband. He does eventually return — but the consequences are predictably tragic.

  • Even among a group of classical music experts, you'd be hard pushed to find anyone who could instantly tell you the plot of French composer Jules Massenet's relatively unknown opera Thaïs. Instead, the work's popularity, longevity and wide appeal are down not to anything particularly operatic, but to a six-minute instrumental section that is heard during a scene change. in that sense, the beautiful Meditation for solo violin and orchestra is officially an intermezzo in opera-speak; but far from being filler music, it's a captivating and pure performance piece in its own right.

  • There is only one word to describe John Williams' soundtrack to Harry Potter and that is MAGIC! His brilliant score perfectly captures the wonder and adventure of J. K. Rowling's books about the young wizard, transporting the listener straight into that amazing fantasy world.

  • Stick with learning the piano long enough as a child, and it's only a matter of time before your teacher puts this one on your music stand. Beethoven's Bagatelle No.25 in A Minor is rarely referred to in such grandiose terms; instead, all who know and love it refer to it simply by its nickname, Für Elise.

    Nowadays, Für Elise is undoubtedly one of Beethoven's most famous works, despite Beethoven himself never being fully satisfied with the work, returning to it some years later and trying, unsuccessfully in his eyes, to revise and refine it. Ultimately, Für Elise wasn't even published until 1865, nearly forty years after Beethoven's death.

  • Along with the violin concertos of Bruch and Mendelssohn, this warhorse by Tchaikovsky is one of the most important works for the instrument in the history of Romantic music. It is also a piece that, like the 1812 Overture, is implicitly linked with Tchaikovsky's emotional turmoil and sham marriage.

  • He may be seen as John Williams of video game soundtracks by the gaming community, but composer Jeremy Soule actually takes his inspiration from quite a different style of music, basing his work on Debussy's exploration of harmony, Wagner's grand operas, and Mozart's form and composition. It's clearly worked out well for him — he's currently written the soundtracks for more than 60 gaming titles, with some of his best-known work being The Elder Scrolls series. The centrepiece of his work on Skyrim is undoubtedly the monumental 'Dragonborn', which features a 30-strong choir, but also features said choir singing in a specially conceived dragon language particular to the games themselves.

  • In 1995, Adiemus ensured that Karl Jenkins would burst forth into the mainstream. As with so many pieces of classical music, Adiemus's success in the late twentieth century was initially down to its use on a television advert in this case, a Delta Airlines commercial. Interestingly, the music was actually commissioned by the airline and then developed further by Jenkins into a full-blown classical work.

    To say it is scored for sopranos and orchestra is to already define Adiemus in conventional ways that the composer would arguably resist. The female soloist (on the original recording, Miriam Stockley) performs in a fusion of styles, with Western melodic structures, world music influences and free time signatures abounding. The second female singer (in this case, Mary Carewe) harmonises in a parallel manner, creating an equally new age feel and non-Western classical music sound-world.

  • Of all the composers to have ever entered the Classic FM Hall of Fame, Ludovico Einaudi is probably the most contentious. For every person who adores his minimalist melodies, there's someone else who likens them to an A-level composition project and simply cannot fathom their appeal. But, whatever your personal views on the contemporary Italian composer's piano music, there's no doubt that he has a unique ability to reach a large audience with his brand of laid-back, repetitive tunes.

    Le Onde ('The Waves') was Einaudi's first big hit, and it's also the title track from his first major album, released in 1996. It takes as its inspiration the Virginia Woolf novel The Waves, and the undulating, hypnotic melody evokes images of the rhythms and patterns of the ocean.

  • This is the biggest climber in the 2016 Hall of Fame.

    The Watermill was written in 1958 and originally composed for oboe and string orchestra — though it can also be played on clarinet. The undulating orchestral accompaniment evokes the gentle flow of water while the solo oboe paints a nostalgic view of a British landscape, echoing the work of the great pastoral composers including Elgar and Vaughan Williams.

    Binge (1910-1979) was a British composer known for his light music including Elizabethan Serenade and Sailing By. Like those two works, The Watermill is one of the most relaxing pieces of classical music and a firm favourite with Classic FM listeners and presenters alike. The Watermill was one of presenter Alan Titchmarsh's choices for the 2015 Classic FM Hall of Fame.

  • Jenkins's inspiration for this piece was Andrea Palladio, a sixteenth-century Italian architect commissioned by the wealthy families of his day to build beautiful villas, as well as a substantial number of churches. The existence of aesthetic beauty within a very defined architectural framework surely inspired Jenkins.

    Palladio harks back to Italian Baroque composers such as Albinoni, who, like Jenkins, could happily let a multiple-movement work last no more than a quarter of an hour. Whereas his other big hits mould different musical styles, Palladio stays well within an eighteenth-century comfort zone throughout.

  • Verdi's choral masterpiece and one of the most enduring of all Requiems. Composed in 1874, it is a huge, blockbuster of a work, often labelled an opera in all but name. A big hit from the outset, in performance it can be impressive simply to see the eight trumpets, often lined up round the stage. But when they play alongside a chorus marked ffff (that's four times as loud as 'loud') well, it's simply staggering.

  • The first of two entries by Uematsu falls to its lowest ever position.

    Nobuo Uematsu has rightly plonked himself at the very forefront of video game music composers thanks to his work on Final Fantasy, but this little gem is also worth mainstream attention.

    Blue Dragon was an innovator on its release in 2006, being the first to span multiple discs on the Xbox 360. Simply put, this means the scope of the game is huge, with vast open worlds for the player to explore as part of the meandering narrative.

    For Uematsu's part, he leaps upon the scope of the game. There are huge choral segments, Lisztian piano cascades and, memorably, some heavy metal riffs chucked in for good measure (Ian Gillan of British metal legends Deep Purple was drafted in to sing during one of the boss fight themes). Basically, Uematsu holds nothing back here, and the results are impressive.

  • For Mozart, Così fan tutte signalled an external expression of faith in him as a composer, at a time when he needed a boost. The one-time boy wonder had realised, from early on, that music generated further music. If he could have a piano concerto ready by the time he hit town, to play when he got there, he might very well impress enough people to get a commission for, perhaps, another piano concerto.

    So it proved with the opera The Marriage of Figaro. It was down to a revival of Figaro that Mozart was commissioned to write Così in 1789, ready for a 1790 premiere, on the day after his birthday.

  • Far from being Chopin's first piano concerto, this is actually his second. It was published before the real No. 1, though, and therefore became forever known as the composer's Piano Concerto No. 1.

    As you listen to this deeply expansive and expressive work, it has the mark of a composer who has reached full emotional and musical maturity, so it's astonishing to think that Chopin wrote it while in his late teens. At its premiere in 1830, he played the piano part himself, and the concert marked his final public appearance in Poland. Within weeks, Chopin had left for Vienna and then Paris, where he remained for the rest of his life.

  • This, the sole entry for Richard Strauss, falls to its lowest ever position.

    Richard Strauss had become steadily more unwell in the run-up to the writing of what we now call the Four Last Songs and death was very much on his mind. The melancholic, autumnal russets and browns infusing all four works for soprano (or tenor) and orchestra make for some of the most delicious moments in all music.

  • Vaughan Williams was a proudly British composer. He adored his homeland, having been born in the idyllic Gloucestershire village of Downampney. Alongside his fondness for native landscapes, Vaughan Williams was also rather sentimental about Britain's musical history. The existence of military bands was something he recognised as being crucially important to the UK's cultural and community life. So, in 1923, he composed his English Folk Songs Suite for them.

  • Ravel's orchestral work Boléro dates from 1928. Just before embarking on a tour of America, Ravel was commissioned by the Russian ballerina and dance impresario Ida Rubinstein to compose the music for a ballet, provisionally called Fandango.

    Ravel was absolutely insistent that the tempo of Boléro should remain constant throughout its fifteen minutes.

  • Puccini's short opera reaches its highest ever position

    In this comic Puccini miniature from 1918, a Florentine trickster cons a bereaved family into bequeathing all its inheritance to him. The opera is the third and final part of Puccini's Il trittico (The Triptych) three one-act operas with contrasting themes, and it includes the popular 'O mio babbino caro'.

  • Composed in 1887, Pavane is another perfect example of Fauré refining his musical ideas into miniature form, with the result that the it is done and dusted within six minutes. The work was written for orchestra, but the composer went on to pen an arrangement that included a choir, although only the original version remains in regular performance today. It's thought that Fauré probably added the chorus at the request of countess Greffulhe, a wealthy patron of the arts in Paris.

    The pavane began life as a sixteenth-century court dance, and is thought most likely to have originated in italy. Fauré's take on the genre is a beautiful example, flowing grace fully and freely in a thoroughly enchanting way.

  • The highest of Schubert's seven entries is also at its best ever chart position.

    It's a beautiful irony that the nation's favourite settings of the Ave Maria are composed by Bach and Schubert, yet neither of them actually wrote an Ave Maria. Schubert's music was actually written to the words of The Lady of the Lake, by Sir Walter Scott but translated into German and called Ellen's Third song. It was written as part of a set of Scott songs when the composer was twenty-eight and contains the words 'Ave Maria', but only in reference to the prayer itself.

  • The videogame score entered the chart in 2015 but falls 51 places this year.

    Koji Kondo has, along with Nobuo Uematsu, become one of the leading lights of Japan's video game soundtrack world — mostly thanks to his music for the Zelda games.

    The Legend Of Zelda constitutes many different games for different platforms, but they all have music at the heart of them. The main hero in the games, Link, often carries a flute, and in certain games players must help him to play the right musical motifs to progress.

    Aside from this more technical application, Kondo's music for the games takes on a gloriously pastoral character, taking no small influence from both John Williams and Ralph Vaughan Williams. That pastoral character is, for many, eternally bound up in nostalgia for the games themselves, but melodies this good work whether you've played them or not.

  • Marius Pepita was a phenomenon in the world of Russian ballet. By the time he choreographed The Sleeping Beauty, he had overseen more than fifty productions. It's therefore not surprising that the collaboration between Pepita, the country's most exciting choreographer, and Tchaikovsky, the superstar composer, was hotly anticipated.

  • The only piece of music that Mozart wrote that contains the harp, this is one of the most popular of all concertos — although since he never wrote another piece for the instrument, it can be assumed Mozart was not a big harp fan. He wasn't particularly a flute enthusiast either. In fact he generally disliked all French musical tastes, which he felt both instruments exemplified.

    The concerto was commissioned by an amateur flautist — the Duc de Guines — to play with his talented harpist daughter but Mozart, who thought them both excellent players, was reportedly never paid for his work and it's not certain whether the duo ever played the concerto.

    Written as it was for home performance, it remains unique as there are no other works for concert hall by any composer using this combination of instruments.

    It's a charming and ever-popular piece — although Mozart would not have been pleased with Alfred Einstein's description of it as an 'example of the finest French salon music'.

  • There are several reasons why many Bach-lovers regard the B minor Mass as the pinnacle of his work. Size, for one, singles it out, even when compared to his previous titans, the St. John Passion and the St. Matthew Passion. It also contains some of the most engaging passages of music that he ever wrote, such as the opening five-part 'Kyrie Eleison'. Composed around 1748 — 1749, it came at the end of Bach's life, when he had only one year left to live.

    When the work is heard in its entirety, the listener comes away with the impression that this is a piece of music the composer had been building up to writing for the whole of his life. it therefore seems ironic that much of this best-loved work was 'bottom-drawer' music music that Bach had either put by earlier or recycled. Despite being a motley disarray of homeless Mass sections on paper, it sounds completely wonderful.

  • One hopes that the people around and about Mozart realised just how remarkable a composer and performer he really was, although much of the evidence from the time suggests that many failed to spot it. While composers such as Sibelius or Grieg were honoured and supported by their own governments, Mozart was left to get by as a jobbing, freelance musician, constantly resorting to borrowing from friends.

    Hopefully though, Anton Stadler valued Mozart's work more than most. As the recipient both of this glorious work and of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, he was truly blessed. Mozart refers to this quintet in his letters as 'the Stadler quintet'. Written when the composer was thirty-three, it pairs Stadler's new basset clarinet with a standard string quartet. It was considered by many to be almost a dummy run for the great concerto.

  • During the first decade of the twenty-first century, one of the most exciting trends to emerge in classical music was the rediscovery of the relevance of choral music, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the glorious music of the American composer Morten Lauridsen.

    Although composed in 1994, O Magnum Mysterium took a good few years before garnering such widespread praise. And while it is performed all year round, the piece is, at its heart, all about Christmas. The text tells the story of the birth of Jesus, and Lauridsen's music is as sensitive and spiritual as you could possibly wish for.

  • After William Tell was premiered in 1829, Rossini decided to shut up shop. He didn't write any more opera for another thirty-nine years. Written as a part of his contract with the French government, William Tell went round the world. Just two months before Rossini died, he was able to be there when it celebrated its 500th performance at the Paris Opéra.

  • It's true to say that Sibelius never totally left his first love, the violin, behind though which explains why this concerto is the only one he wrote. How he would have loved to premiere it himself if only the performance technique had developed at the same pace as his compositional genius.

  • Verdi's evergreen opera premiered in 1853 — but the first night was a disaster, prompting jeers from the audience. The composer wrote to a friend, "La Traviata last night a failure. My fault or the singers? Time will tell!" Indeed it did.

    Today it is one of the world's most performed operas, most famous for its rousing drinking song. But despite all of that piece's gaiety, La Traviata is a tragic story of love and death.

    It was originally entitled Violetta, after the main character — a famed courtesan. The young nobleman Alfredo Germont is in love with Violetta and wants to settle down with her but she is unsure whether she could sacrifice her freedom. When they do move in together, Alfredo's father turns up to tell her to break off the relationship for the sake of his family's reputation. Violetta returns to Paris but is already seriously ill with tuberculosis. She dies in Alfredo's arms shortly after he arrives.

    Two words: take tissues.

  • This is one of the two most performed cello concertos in the world (the other being by Elgar). Like the New World Symphony, it is another work hailing from the composer's American period and is therefore infused with the same sense of homesick longing that pervades the symphony. Yet there is far more to the Cello Concerto than initially meets the ear. Homesickness tells only half the tale. With Dvořák in America was his wife, Anna, whom he had married only after courting and being turned down by her elder sister, Josefina. At that time, he had started but not finished an early cello concerto, an expression of his love. Now, in America, he learned that Josefina was seriously ill and began another cello concerto. Into it, he wove Josefina's favourite of his songs, called 'Leave Me Alone'. It is heard most achingly in the wonderful slow movement. Intended originally for his friend Hanus.

  • This exquisite four-minute orchestral miniature has far eclipsed the song it was inspired by: namely, Greensleeves, a traditional melody that was doing the rounds in the days of Henry VIII and which was put to masterful use here by Vaughan Williams. He didn't create it as a stand-alone piece, though; instead, it was initially used in the third act of the composer's Shakespeare-inspired opera Sir John in Love.

  • Brahms lived and worked under the shadow of Beethoven throughout his career. Brahms was very conscious of this and in the case of this violin concerto, there is an obvious parallel to be made between the two composers' works. Both wrote only one concerto for this most popular of instruments. Neither had any personal experience of playing the violin and therefore had to rely heavily on others to interpret their music and to guide its progress. And, despite all this, both composed a violin concerto that would end up in every great soloist's repertoire, and in every lover of the instrument's CD collection.

    In Brahms's case, the inspiration and guide for the piece was his great friend, the violinist Joseph Joachim. The raw and rugged sound of the outer movements is contrasted with an Adagio of exquisite, silky beauty, with an intimacy that very few composers have truly been able to create.

  • The story behind this work is one of music's best, with a cast of three. First, a count: Count Kaiserling, who suffered from insomnia. Second comes his much put upon musician, the eponymous Johann Goldberg. Finally, there is Bach. When Kaiserling was up all night, he would make Goldberg play in the adjacent antechamber. Bach's reputation as a fine composer reached the ears of Kaiserling, so Goldberg was sent to him to be well tutored. When Bach heard of the plight of Goldberg's boss, he penned the work.

    It was a genre of music into which he had never before ventured, thinking variations almost a form of musical 'sheep counting' (in the most respectful sense) and thus perfect for an insomniac. Luckily for Bach, and also for Goldberg, the new composition helped to ensure that Kaiserling was out for the count. For his troubles, Bach was said to have been paid a goblet full of gold Louis D'or.

  • First performed in 1865, Wagner's heavily influential opera is, in the composer's own words, a tale of 'the bliss and wretchedness of love', and one that could end only with 'one sole redemption — death'. So at the outset, we know this is not going to be a bundle of laughs.

    Most famous for its Prelude, in which we hear the much-analysed Tristan Chord — which was to confound and fascinate critics and musicologists in equal measure — this is opera on an epic scale and worth sitting through all five hours of it for Isolde's final Liebestod.

    Initial reaction varied. Mark Twain, who hated it at Bayreuth, said, 'Sometimes I feel like the one sane person in the community of the mad.' Clara Schumann said that Tristan was 'the most repugnant thing I have ever seen or heard in all my life'.

    Nevertheless it had a profound effect on later composers and directly inspired such giants as Mahler, Richard Strauss, Schoenberg and Britten. Others including Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky deliberately formulated their styles in direct contrast to Wagner's.

  • Rachmaninov is often lauded as the Romantic era's finest composer, principally for his ability to express a depth of emotion to which others can only dream of coming close. But no one who listens to Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet can be in any doubt that this other Russian composer certainly gives Rachmaninov a run for his money in the heart-on-your-sleeve stakes.

  • Premiered in Rome in 1900 and based on Victorien Sardou's 1887 French-language dramatic play La Tosca, Puccini's opera takes place across three acts set around the impending invasion of Napoleon in 1800. It took four years to write and despite an initial luke-warm reception from the critics, it was an instant hit with the public.

    Unlike many of Puccini's other operas in which there are occasional moments of jollity, or even farce, Tosca is an opera that is almost universally dark and brooding, with tragedy not just dealt with at its conclusion but running like a thread throughout.

    The wonderful tenor aria 'Recondita Armonia', sung by the painter Mario Cavaradossi at the beginning of the opera, offers a lightness to Puccini's relentlessly dark opera.

  • During 1809 and 1810, Beethoven composed both the overture and the incidental music to Goethe's play Egmont, depicting the life of the count of Egmont, a Flemish nobleman who was executed as part of a conspiracy in 1567.

    In a letter to Goethe, Beethoven's friend Bettina von Brentano explained the composer's fascination with Egmont, writing that he had told her, 'Goethe's poems exert a great power over me not only by virtue of their content but also their rhythm; I am put in the right mood and stimulated to compose by this language, which builds itself into a higher order as if through spiritual agencies, and bears within itself the secret of harmony.'

  • O caledonia! stern and wild,

    Meet nurse for a poetic child!

    Land of brown heath and shaggy wood,

    land of the mountain and the flood.'

    These words from Walter Scott's Lay of the Last Minstrel had been written for a full eighty-two years when they moved the Scottish composer Hamish Maccunn to music. Although the music critic George Bernard Shaw was withering in his review, The Land of the Mountain and the Flood has stood the test of time, remaining by far the composer's most popular work. Sadly, Maccunn, who lived in London, rather than the beloved Scottish countryside of his music, died from an illness at the tragically young age of 48.

  • This all-American work was written for ballet choreographer and dancer Martha Graham (indeed, the original name on the score is Ballet for Martha).

    The ballet told the story of pioneer settlers establishing a homestead and interacting with the landscape around them. Oddly enough, the title and the ballet are unconnected, with Martha Graham opting to choose part of a poem called 'The Bridge' by the American poet Hart Crane. She deliberately misconstrued the meaning as being related to the season, rather than to the stream, which the poet had originally intended. Regardless, the ballet was a hit and Copland expanded his score for a full orchestra. Copland himself recorded the music, with the London Symphony Orchestra.

  • This exotic opera from 1883 tells the story of Hooray Henrys in India, whose interfere with the country's tradition results in a Goddess' death. Written at a time when exoticism was fashionable, Lakmé employs Oriental colouring, and features the popular opera hits 'Bell Song' and 'The Flower Duet', famously used to great effect in a long-running British Airways advertising campaign.

  • One of Schubert's best-loved works, the material for the famous 4th movement of the Quintet is based on Schubert's earlier song, Die Forelle (The Trout).

    The poem on which the song is based mentions a 'capricious trout', perhaps reflected in the technically challenging and interweaving parts in the Quintet. Another line describes the 'clear little brook' and the rising and falling patterns in the piano part depict the water bubbling.

    The instrumentation of the Quintet is remarkable: piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass. Replacing the traditional second violin with a double bass adds extra depth and a rich sonority to the bass line.

  • By the time he reached the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in 1931, Eugene Goossens (not to be confused with his violinist father Eugene Goossens or his conductor grandfather Eugene Goossens) had already made his name as conductor of his own orchestra and, before that, as assistant conductor to Thomas Beecham at the Queen's Hall Orchestra.

    For the 1942 and 1943 seasons, Goossens commissioned several prominent composers to provide concert fanfares, to be played at various subscription concerts across the two years. The 15th fanfare, premiered on 12th March 1943, by Copland, is the only one still in the repertoire today. Scored originally for horns, trumpets, trombones, tuba and percussion, Copland used it just three years later as the theme for the last movement of his Symphony No.3.

  • A sarabande is a dance that originated in Central America back in the 16th Century. It became popular in the Spanish colonies before making its way to Europe. At first, it was regarded as being rather scandalous, even being banned in Spain for its obscenity. Baroque composers, such as Handel, adopted the sarabande as one of the movements for the suites they were writing at the time. It was left in obscurity since its composition in the early 1700s, until the director Stanley Kubrick took a shine to it for his 1970s film, Barry Lyndon. At that point, it was as if someone had lit a blue touch paper and retired as film and television directors the world over proclaimed themselves fans.

  • Many commentaries on this work tend to focus on the fact that Mendelssohn wrote his Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream when he was only seventeen, in contrast to the rest of the incidental music, composed many years after. And while that's certainly true, it's easy to marvel only at that one fact instead of focusing on how exquisite the rest of the work actually is.

    Aside from the Overture, A Midsummer Night's Dream was written in 1842. He was initially inspired to compose music for the play because it was a childhood favourite; to quote Mendelssohn's sister, Fanny, 'We were entwined with A Midsummer Night's Dream and Felix particularly made it his own. He identified with all of the characters. He re-created them, so to speak, every one of them whom Shakespeare produced in the immensity of his genius'.

  • Just after he wrote Fly Me to the Moon, Schubert wrote his Impromptu No. 3. Absolute nonsense, of course. Although if you listen to the chords of Schubert's Impromptu No. 2, you'll hear that they follow the same progression admittedly a fairly common one as those from the classic 1950s song. They were both part of a set of four Impromptus written just a year before Schubert died.

  • Few Schubert fiends will disagree with this symphony's nickname. Nevertheless, it was applied originally in order simply to distinguish it from another of his symphonies, which was also in the key of C major. Schubert's Symphony No. 9 was referred to in his own letters as 'a grand symphony', and concert goers tend to agree that it is almost an hour of pure musical majesty.

  • Coming just one year after the successful Enigma Variations, it would probably not have mattered which choral monster Elgar supplied for the Birmingham Festival. As it happened, he created a masterpiece, certainly his greatest choral work if not the greatest by any English composer.

    Elgar had planned this piece since his thirties, and possessed a copy of Cardinal Newman's original poem with annotations by General Gordon of Khartoum; Gordon's notes on the text were retrieved from his belongings after his demise and became a popular Victorian publication. Despite a near-disastrous premiere performance, the work thrived. Over here, what is less well remembered is that it was only grudgingly accepted because of its Roman Catholic themes, to the point that it was banned in some cathedrals.

  • The highest of Mussorgsky's two entries falls to its lowest ever position.

    For composers, the death of a close friend or family member tends to have one of two effects: they either retreat into their own world, devoid of inspiration and unable to compose, or this life experience results in a creative surge forwards. In the case of Mussorgsky, the latter was true.

    The Russian composer was good friends with a painter called Vladimir Hartmann. Tragically, Hartmann died at the peak of his career, aged just thirty-nine, and the loss of not just a close friend but an artistic inspiration had a deep effect on Mussorgsky. By way of a tribute to Hartmann, he decided to compose his set of piano pieces, Pictures at an Exhibition, inspired by an exhibition of the artist's work, which Mussorgsky had visited after his friend's death.

  • Saving Private Ryan was remarkable for many things, not least the way it was shot, but for its score which once again saw John Williams team up with Steven Spielberg. The score is mainly considered to be low-key except for its end title, 'Hymn to the Fallen', which beautifully conveys the feelings of fighting for your country: reverence, sorrow and pride.

  • Very little is known about the italian Baroque composer Domenico Zipoli, whose stately Elevazione became something of a classical music hit in the 1990s thanks to its exposure on Classic FM. Elevazione is scored for oboe, cello, organ and strings; its sedate pace and stately sound have guaranteed its use in both weddings and funerals in recent years. Since being championed by Classic FM, the piece has appeared on countless classical compilations over the last fifteen years although, still, Elevazione remains something of an enigma. Beyond its instrumentation, very little is known about the piece.

  • Both of Brahms's piano concertos are gargantuan works. At nearly 50 minutes in duration, this one lasts longer than any other major Romantic piano concerto by quite some stretch. And talking of stretch any soloist wanting to master the piano passages needs to have very wide hands and extremely nimble fingers. The composer begged to differ, however, wryly commenting to a friend that this was simply a 'tiny, tiny piano concerto'.

  • The first of two entries by Nigel Hess climbs to its highest ever position!

    As modern piano concertos go, Nigel Hess' has to be one of the most revered. Originally commissioned by the Prince of Wales as a tribute to the memory of the Queen Mother, it has since been recorded by the likes of Lang Lang — testament to its status as a performers' concerto.

  • Remarkably, this is the only piece of solo piano music by Chopin that has been a permanent fixture of the Classic FM Hall of Fame since its inception in 1996. Given the hundreds of not just nocturnes but polkas, mazurkas, waltzes, polonaises and plenty more besides that Chopin composed, you could arguably expect more of them to have found a place in the nation's heart. As with the concertos, this particular nocturne was composed around 1830, when Chopin was in his early twenties. The simple yet beguiling melody haunts from start to finish, inviting us into an intimate world where every note matters.

  • Tchaikovsky's fantasy for orchestra is a richly descriptive portrait of Italy, written when the composer spent three months in Rome in 1880.

    While in the Eternal City, he saw the Carnivale in full swing, and soaked up the Italian folk music and street songs. He incorporates them quite freely in the piece and even makes use of a bugle call that he overheard from his hotel played by an Italian cavalry regiment.

    Capriccio Italien opens in somber mood but high spirits soon kick in and the merrymaking begins. Although it's not one of Tchaikovsky's ballet scores, it's hard to resist moving to the piece's infectious rhythmic energy.

    By the end, you and all of Rome are dancing a tarantella in the streets.

  • The second of Sibelius's entries climbs to its highest ever position.

    Sibelius originally scored this rousing music for string quartet in 1922. Featuring the composer's impassioned string writing, the unmistakable hummable tune was made all the more luscious when he rescored the piece for string orchestra and timpani in 1938. It's a remarkable work, combining a rich sonority with a sense of poignance — not to mention majesty.

  • Debussy's beautiful work enters the top 200 for the first ever time.

    It's easy to look back on the career of Claude Debussy and say that he was perhaps the greatest impressionist composer of his time. But it's interesting to note that even his early works were brimming with the washes and romance of impressionism, and it's probably best showcased in his two Arabesques. He composed them when he was still in his twenties, somewhere between 1888 and 1891, and the works themselves follow the same principles as the impressionist visual art form. It's all about musical lines mirroring those of nature, something that Debussy was a keen student of.

  • Peter Maxwell Davies' solo piano work Farewell to Stromness isn't particularly indicative of his music overall, which is often noticeable both for its visceral sound-world and for its avant-garde structures. But Farewell to Stromness is certainly among his most immediately accessible and most enchantingly simple melodies. Its inspiration is unique in classical music: it was written as a protest against a proposed uranium mine on the remote Orkney islands where the composer lives.

    Its first performance was in the summer of 1980 at the St. Magnus Festival; the title of the piece refers to the town of Stromness, which would have been just a couple of miles from the centre of the mine should it have been constructed.

  • Mozart's work is at its lowest ever position.

    It is perfectly possible to hear the music of a composer and simply to take it on the musical merits it presents. Mozart's Solemn Vespers from 1780 sound simply divine, on a sheer musical level. Six movements of wonderful, religious music, culminating in, surely, one of Mozart's finest tunes in the 'Laudate Dominum'.

    Mozart himself, however, felt restricted in these works. They were written for performance in Salzburg where his employer, the archbishop Colleredo, insisted on a very conservative style in comparison with, say, the Italian manner of the day. No matter for Mozart, though: soon enough, he was to be booted out of the Salzburg court, enabling him to seek his fortune in Vienna.

  • The Pathétique hails from the early part of Beethoven's career: the late 1700s, a time when the traditions of the classical period were still dominant and Beethoven himself was largely content to compose within these constraints. For the best part of two hundred years, musicians have debated the true reason for its nickname. Some sources suggest Beethoven himself added the subtitle Pathétique, while others imply it was the work of his publisher, albeit with the composer's blessing.

    The key of C minor often a perfect vehicle for tragic, deeply emotive music is Beethoven's key of choice here, leading many to believe it was directly inspired by Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 14, composed in the same key less than two decades previously.

  • A climb of 66 places to its highest ever position.

    How do you normally say 'thank you' to people? Brahms said it to the University of Breslau with this scorching overture. Apparently he initially wrote them a simple thank you note, but he changed his mind and went for something a little more permanent. Oh, and it's also influenced by drinking songs, which seems appropriate given the inspiration.

  • Grieg's From Holberg's Time Suite in the Olden Style, now always referred to as the Holberg Suite, eschews the Romantic conventions of its day, instead harking back to the classical-era playwright Ludvig Holberg, who, like Grieg, was born in the city of Bergen.

    Composed to mark the 200th anniversary of Holberg's birth, the work opens with a sprightly, energetic 'Praeludium', followed by a more introspective 'Sarabande', a rather polite 'Gavotte', a stately 'Air' and, finally, a boisterous 'Rigaudon'. It was originally composed for piano an instrument in front of which Grieg was always at home but was later turned into an orchestral suite by the composer. It's this arrangement that is by far the most often heard today.

  • Arguably underrated composer Henry Liltoff makes his first and only appearance in this year's Hall of Fame with one of his few well-known compositions. During his lifetime, Liltoff made his mark on a fair number of his musical contemporaries including Franz Liszt, but it's really just his lively Scherzo that's still frequently performed. Shame.

  • Max Bruch's warm and richly evocative work for cello and orchestra was one of the first pieces he set about composing when he took up his post as principal conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. It was composed specifically for Liverpool's Jewish community, taking as its inspiration two traditional hebrew melodies. The first, heard at the outset, originates from the traditional Jewish service on the night of Yom Kippur; the second is an extract from a musical setting of the Byron poem Those that Wept on Babel's stream.

  • The Radetzky March was composed in 1848 and is so named because of its dedication to Field Marshal Radetzky, a senior member of the Austrian army who successfully led an assault in Italy that same year.

    Nowadays, the piece is rarely heard without incessant clapping over the top; it's always played to end the famous New Year's day concert in Vienna, with the audience encouraged to applaud the arrival of another year.

  • Although now far more widely known, William Blake's poem 'And Did Those Feet in Ancient Times' (he didn't call it 'Jerusalem') was originally included only in a short preface to a much longer one (called 'Milton, a Poem'). The text concerns the legend that Jesus might have travelled, with Joseph of Arimathea, to England in fact, to be precise, to Glastonbury. When it was included as a patriotic poem in a 1916 collection for a country at war, it immediately caught Parry's eye. Parry was more than happy, at the suggestion of the Poet Laureate, Robert Bridges, to set it to music, calling it simply 'Jerusalem'. And it's still there, rousing successive generations, usually in its 1922 re-orchestration by Elgar for the Leeds Festival.

  • When selections for the Classic FM Hall of Fame are made each year, we always subsume votes for particular sections of classical pieces into the larger work. So, opting for an individual aria means your vote counts towards the full opera, and if you were to choose a piano miniature that forms part of a larger set of pieces, your vote would be amalgamated into that set. In the case of Grieg's Lyric Pieces, while it's certainly true that we receive votes for a number of different compositions within the collection, the set's success is down to one particular tune: 'Wedding Day at Troldhaugen'. It's the sixth entry from Book 8 of Grieg's Lyric Pieces, and was written to commemorate the composer's own silver wedding anniversary. Grieg's summer villa, built just outside Bergen in 1885, was also called Troldhaugen, so this particular tune was evidently full of meaning for him.

  • Shostakovich was most definitely a light-and-shade composer. On the one hand, we have the intense, expansive orchestral works, full of grand political gestures and complex musical ideas. On the other, we find the many film scores and the light, jolly Jazz Suites, both composed in the 1930s.

  • Within a couple of months, of writing his String Quintet in C Major, Schubert was dead, so this work was posthumously published. As his entreaty revealed, Schubert had tinkered with the standard setting of a string quintet to include an extra cello. The addition of another cello along wit some of Schubert's most profound and restrained writing and it was a recipe for a sure-fire hit.

  • Of everything Beethoven composed, this is one of his most intriguing works. The unusual instrumentation he chose would certainly not have been something to which audiences of the time would have been accustomed. Indeed, you could easily believe the Choral Fantasia to be a piano sonata, given the expansive solo passage at the start.

    When the Choral Fantasia was first performed in 1808, Beethoven had a number of things on his mind. After all, this was the very same concert where, among other works, he was introducing two of his best-loved symphonies (Nos. 5 and 6) to the world for the first time. Far from being a slick affair, the Choral Fantasia's birth was a difficult one. The performance was clunky, the sense of ensemble between the musicians poor, and the reception decidedly lukewarm.

  • This is the composer's highest climber this year and the third highest climber of the entire chart.

    The piano concertos of Mozart are one of the greatest examples of the blending of practical musicianship with sheer musical genius. They run from mere childhood offerings, which are themselves still wonders to behold, via the great masterpieces of Mozart's Viennese years, right through to his final years, when his concertos were marked out as coming from the pen of a genius.

    Piano Concerto No.23 comes right smack-bang in that Viennese masterpiece period. It was probably written around the same time as his opera The Marriage of Figaro was premiered, and was almost certainly included in one of Mozart's numerous but necessary subscription concerts. As with many of his piano concertos, it is a very positive-sounding work, nearly always trying to look on the bright side.

  • Piazzolla is undoubtedly the master of the Tango, and his 'Libertango' (a portmanteau that incorporates 'Libertad' and 'Tango') is one of the most performed of his works. Spicy rhythms and a fiendish melody have kept this one at the forefront of modern Tango, with countless brilliant interpretations to explore.

  • Dvořák wrote Rusalka, his penultimate opera, at the age of sixty, with just three years left to live. He had lost none of his compositional powers, though; it proved his biggest operatic hit. It's based on the folk tale of Undine, the water nymph (from the latin unda, meaning wave) although, by the time Dvořák offered up his music, Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid was already sixty-five years old, so there is the odd doff of the cap to this version, too. The Song to the Moon remains the shining-hit aria of the whole work.

  • The first of Verdi's entries is his biggest faller, sliding to its lowest ever position.

    Aida is Verdi's most spectacular work, full of passion, pyramids, and processions. Contrary to popular belief, the opera was not written to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, for which Verdi had been invited to write an inaugural hymn. Rather it was commissioned for the opening of the Cairo Opera House in 1869, but the costumes and sets got stuck in Paris because of the Franco-Prussian War — so the theatre opened with Verdi's Rigoletto instead.

    Aida finally made it to Cairo two years later and met with great acclaim. Since then it has remained one of the world's favourite operas. In 1949, a complete concert version from New York became the first to be televised, conducted by the great Arturo Toscanini. The Metropolitan Opera alone has given more than a thousand performances of the opera, making it the second most frequently performed work by the company after Puccini's La bohéme.

  • If we translate the title of the most popular section of Bach's cantata a little more accurately than the now ubiquitous English version we know, it comes out something like 'Jesus remains my joy, my heart's comfort and essence', rather than 'Jesu, joy of man's desiring'.

    Indeed, the rest of the translation bears precious little relation to the actual German text, written by the lawyer and poet Salomo Franck. Accuracy of words aside, this exquisite movement choral interludes between that divine, undulating melody might be best seen as a mere key to unlocking the rest of the cantata, entitled 'Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben' (which translates as 'heart and mouth and deed and life').

  • Khachaturian was enjoying a good period in 1941, musically speaking at least. He had not long written his music for the ballet Happiness and his Violin Concerto. So when he was asked to provide incidental music for the revival of a play by Lermontov, he quickly agreed. Soon, however, he was beginning to regret his decision as the theme for a central waltz in the production eluded him.

    There is a section of the plot where Lermontov has the play's principal character, Nina, say, 'how beautiful the new waltz is!' She goes on to describe a work somewhere between sorrow and joy. Perhaps it was the pressure of so naked a line, the plaudit weighing heavily on his shoulders that caused him the sleepless nights. Soon, with a little help from a friendly teacher, he had his theme and its exuberant place at the heart of this suite is probably the biggest single reason for its success.

  • Just imagine that you are the most famous composer in the world. Your public adores you. You've had huge success already with all sorts of works. And now, you've written your fourth piano concerto. Deciding who should play the solo piano part could surely be considered an afterthought. Every pianist in Europe would jump at the chance wouldn't they?

    Apparently not. At least, not in the case of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4. After completing this concerto in 1806, the composer struggled to find anyone to perform it. So the work sat on a shelf, gathering dust, until its public premiere on 22nd December 1808. The eventual soloist? One Ludwig Van Beethoven. The man clearly had astonishing stamina. In the same concert, he conducted the premiere performances of his Symphony No. 5 and No. 6!

  • A short sortie into the plot of Xerxes brings home how little entertainment has changed over the centuries. Today, we can't get enough of our costume dramas replete with steamy characters, set against backdrops of ancient intrigues.

    Well, Xerxes follows pretty much the same formula. It focuses on a particular supposedly accurate point in the life of the Persian King Xerxes I (who lived from 485 BC to 465 BC). Indeed, it contains one or two other moments that are said to be true. But, beyond them, Handel allows his librettist to suspend time, and to engage in a largely invented gossipy plot. The music, though, is simply divine, especially if one is hearing a version using the original idea of Xerxes as a counter-tenor, rather than the female voice so often used today.

  • Tchaikovsky was on a roll. His Symphony No.1 had been a labour of love but at its premiere in 1868, it was warmly received. Symphony No. 2 followed five years later, and went down a storm. No.3, revealed to the world just a couple of years after that, received a universal thumbs-up at its first performance. Sadly for Tchaikovsky, the same could not be said about his Symphony No. 4, which received a muted reception when it was first performed!

  • The most soulful of all Beethoven's music is arguably found in his piano concertos. If you need any proof, listen to the middle movement of either his Piano Concerto No.1 or of this, his Piano Concerto No.3. There's a beauty and elegance here that truly confirms Beethoven's status as the one composer who quickened the pace of change in classical music by welcoming in the Romantic era that was to follow.

    When the piece was premiered alongside the oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives and the Symphony No.2, Beethoven performed most of the concerto from memory not through choice, but because he'd run out of time to transcribe the piano part!

  • In 1936, Stalin's authorities decreed Shostakovich's music for the opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk to be inappropriate. Fear gripped the composer: his next work, the Symphony No.5, would simply have to meet with approval. Thankfully, the new piece was a great success, both artistically and politically. Following its premiere in the autumn of 1937, the work's popularity grew rapidly. Today, it remains his best-known symphony.

  • Famous wars are usually followed by less famous 'peaces'. Occasionally, though, a particularly important treaty will give rise to a famous peace and it was one such for which Handel wrote his Music for the Royal Fireworks. The Treaty of Aix-La-Chapelle was signed to mark the ending of the War of the Austrian succession and Handel was commanded to provide the music for the state celebrations that were duly organised. The music was a roaring success, but the fireworks were something of a disaster, after they managed to set fire to the wooden staging built to house them, reeking havoc. The popularity of the new work was plain for all to see when the stampede to get tickets to watch its dress rehearsal almost brought central London to a standstill.

  • While the nicknames of many musical works were added after their creation (and often not even by the composers themselves), in the case of Mendelssohn the subtitles given to particular pieces of music were both wholly intentional and immediately revealing. Two of his earlier works the 'Scottish' Symphony and the Hebrides Overture were both directly inspired by scenes north of the border, and his Symphony No.4 is a musical postcard home from Italy.

    On one level, however, the 'Italian' Symphony is not particularly Italian. Not for Mendelssohn the continuous use of local folk songs or musical traditions; instead, the work is much more an expression of how Italy made him feel. Indeed, it's not until the final movement some twenty minutes into the symphony that we first hear a genuinely Italian music motif, in this case the sound of a national peasant dance.

  • Written just before the massive hit Piano Concerto No.21, this one was premiered in a casino of all places. It should be noted that casinos in Mozart's day were venues where one often heard concerts, so probably it would not have proved too much of a problem for the players to be heard above the blackjack.

    Correspondence from the time suggests that Mozart went up to the wire when it came to putting in the composition work on this piece. The ink was, literally, still wet on the page when he gave it his first public performance. His father Leopold wrote in a letter to Mozart's sister Nannerl: '…an excellent new piano concerto by Wolfgang, on which the copyist was still at work when we got there, and your brother didn't even have time to play through the rondo because he had to oversee the copying operation.'

  • Puccini and Italia 90 are forever subliminally linked in the minds of millions of football fans. It was in Rome that year that Luciano Pavarotti, José Carreras and Plácido Domingo gathered for what was to become one of the most influential classical music concerts of the twentieth century. All sorts of opera arias and Neapolitan songs were performed, but it was Puccini's Nessun dorma from his opera Turandot, sung by the terrific trio, that really captured people's hearts. The commercial success of The Three Tenors — and of Pavarotti in particular — paved the way for a resurgence of interest in classical music in the UK.

    Turandot was an absolutely serious opera, dealing with such themes as love, loss and tragedy. It's somewhat surprising that it was composed as late as 1926, given that the opera inhabits an altogether Romantic sound-world. The plot is bizarre, even by operatic standards, focusing on the compulsory execution of any potential husbands of Princess Turandot who fail to answer three riddles correctly. Nowadays, very few people remember the intricacies of Turandot's storyline. But ask pretty much any man or woman in the street, and they will be able to sing a few bars from Nessun dorma.

  • Debussy's Prélude a l'après-midi d'un faune was planned originally as merely the first part of a trilogy. The composer intended the final set of three pieces to have included an Interlude and a Paraphrase finale. In the end, for reasons best known to himself, Debussy decided to combine all his thoughts on Mallarmé's poem The Afternoon of a Faun to just one single movement. The composer was 32 years old when he wrote it and it was eighteen years later when Nijinsky danced to it in Diaghilev's Ballets Russes production in Paris.

  • It took Brahms nearly 15 years to compose his Symphony No. 1, with frequent revisions made to the score over that period. Even at its premiere, he remained sceptical about whether anyone would like it. So many versions had been torn up, edited and begun all over again.

    This great composer had nothing to fear, though. Hans von Bülow (himself a composer, conductor and pianist, just like Brahms) famously described this work as 'Beethoven's Tenth'. No greater compliment could have possibly been paid. At the age of 43, Brahms had finally produced a symphony that both he and his public were happy with. Thankfully, they didn't have to wait nearly as long for the arrival of another: he wrote the second the following year.

  • The Rite of Spring is arguably the most influential and important piece of music to have been composed in the twentieth century. The Parisian premiere of Stravinsky's ballet in 1913 was a momentous occasion not least because it caused the most famous riot in the history of classical music.

  • The Recuerdos de la Alhambra was apparently dedicated to a friend, with Tárrega writing on the original manuscript, "since I cannot offer you a present of any worth on your birthday, accept this humble poetic impression, made on my soul by the grandiose marvel of the Alhambra of Granada we both admire."

  • Elgar spent a full ten years ruminating on his Symphony No.1, but its arrival, on 3rd December 1908 in Manchester, was greeted with an unprecedented response and it soon went on to garner around a hundred performances over the following year.

    The composer had intended to make this a 'Gordon of Khartoum' tribute symphony but, on publication of the score, insisted this plan had gone by the wayside and that his Symphony No.1 had 'no programme beyond a wide experience of human life with a great charity (love) and a massive hope in the future'.

  • Beginning with a fragile minor key piano melody and trembling string accompaniment, this piece by Helen Jane Long gradually builds to a glorious climax. It's taken from her 2012 album, Intervention, and along with the Flower Duet by Delibes, it's another piece of music to have been thrust into the public eye after being featured on a British Airways advert. Making use of modern minimalist textures, and twinkling piano music, Helen Jane Long proves once again that music does not have to be complicated to be exciting.

  • When he was living in Paris, Canteloube founded his own offshoot of the Paris auvergne society which he called the Bourée a group of like-minded artists keen to keep the music and arts of the auvergne region alive. For Canteloube, however, there was the peasant's way of enjoying folk songs and then there was the artist's way. He felt that his Songs of the Auvergne fell very much into this latter category, with their rich orchestrations and sumptuous harmonies. They were in fact a million miles away from some of the simple 'melody and musette' settings he transcribed and published.

  • Poor Finzi. After publishing his Five Bagatelles in July 1945, they quickly became his most popular work — but their popularity vexed the composer who said: 'They are only trifles, not worth much, but got better notices than my decent stuff'.

  • This is Beethoven's highest climber in the chart, reaching its highest ever chart position.

    Beethoven's ability to create astonishing music can all too easily lead us to forget the cruel experience of his suffering from gradual deafness. At about the same time as writing the Romance in F, Beethoven was probably for the first time being forced to come to terms with his condition.

    The delicate, youthful phrasing of the violin line suggests a composer finding some brief respite through the escapism of writing music. Indeed, Beethoven seems to have continually found solace in this way throughout the early 1800s, when his awareness of his deteriorating hearing was at its most acute. The evergreen Moonlight Sonata and his Symphony No. 2 were just two of the other works he composed during this period.

    But here, all angst is absent from the page; in its place, we find music that suggests that all is well. As Beethoven knew all too clearly, though, this was far from the case.

  • Rossini's 1817 opera The Thieving Magpie was allegedly the quickest stage work Rossini had ever produced. He was already legendary for the speed at which he could write an opera, once saying, 'Give me a laundry list, and I will set it to music.'

  • Symphony No. 40 is arguably the most popular of Mozart's 41 symphonies, despite the fact that its first movement became one of the most annoying ringtones of the mobile phones of the 1990s.

    It was probably quite popular in Mozart's lifetime, too. Although scholars cant be absolutely certain, it would appear Mozart performed it more than once, going on to rescore it for slightly different musical forces. It has one of the catchiest opening movements of any symphony. The work was said to have soon come to the attention of Beethoven and as well as paying homage to its composition by writing out passages in his own hand, he is thought to have been inspired by the last movement when he wrote his own Symphony No.5.

  • Schubert began both a law degree and his Symphony No. 5 in the same year. In this instance at least, it was the degree rather than the music that would remain unfinished. At nineteen, this might well have been the piece that caused him to break off from his planned law degree. This symphony is a real product of its time it could almost be by Mozart, given its youthful exuberance.

  • Walton wrote this piece for the coronation of Edward VIII, but in the end used it for the coronation of George VI. Said to have been modelled on the Pomp and Circumstance Marches of Elgar, it was performed again at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. At the time, much was made of the absence of Elgar's music at the 1953 coronation, with Crown Imperial being called the old wine to go alongside his new, Orb and Sceptre.

  • The sole entry by Berlioz falls to its lowest ever position.

    Composed in 1828, Berlioz subtitled these five movements 'Episodes in the life of an artist'. Each movement describes a different scene e.g. the 2nd at the ball and the 3rd in the country. In the 4th movement ('March to the Scaffold'), you can clearly hear the footsteps as the condemned man approaches the scaffold, the roll of the snare drums just before the execution, the one last thought of his loved one played by the clarinet, the fall of the guillotine and, finally, the bounce of the severed head falling into the basket.

  • Composing at the end of the Romantic era, as Mahler found himself doing, must have been something of a challenge. Many classical conventions had not just been questioned, but had been completely overthrown. Composers' emotions had been expressed in music in the most heartfelt of ways and everyone from Beethoven to Berlioz, via Brahms and Bizet, had composed masterpieces. So, along comes Mahler, inevitably a product of his day, but also a composer who was determined to break new ground. How did he do it? By applying a whole new meaning to the word 'orchestra'.

    Composed when Mahler was 28, Titan exudes youthful exuberance and joy, though it then gives way to melancholy and introspection. The composer was ultimately to shape the history of the symphony and the clues to his long-term intentions were there for all to see in his first attempt at the genre.

  • Erik Satie was a French composer and pianist, who would, without doubt, come top of any list of eccentric composers. Satie's coining of the word 'gnossienne' was one of the rare occasions when a composer used a new term to indicate a new type of composition. The Six Gnossiennes served to cement Satie's status as the musical pin-up boy of Bohemian Paris in the late nineteenth century.

  • Gloria comes from a vintage Vivaldi year, 1725, when he would have been 47. Over the course of a year, he also produced The Four Seasons. Although they were written for the Ospedale Della Pietá, they were done so in a slightly unusual way. With his stock high, Vivaldi had embarked on a series of travels, overseeing old works and pitching for new ones. It was during this time that the Pietá commissioned him to supply a massive number of new pieces by post. Nice work, if you can get it.

  • A re-entry for this videogame score, which entered the chart at 289 in 2014 and dropped out of the top 300 in 2015.

    Austin Wintory's video game soundtrack broke the mould in the 55th annual Grammy Awards by bagging a nomination in the 'Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media' category, up against The Adventures of Tintin — The Secret of the Unicorn, The Artist, The Dark Knight Rises, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Hugo — soundtracks composed by musical titans such as John Williams, Hans Zimmer and Trent Reznor.

    Despite the fact the score eventually lost out to Reznor and Ross's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Wintory's nomination alone shows the seismic shift in attitude among film music-lovers. 'Obviously I didn't work on #JourneyPS3 hoping to win a Grammy,' Wintory later tweeted. 'The entire point was the game itself and that's gone beyond my wildest dreams.' Austin Wintory's shimmering score perfectly matches the beauty to be found in a game ripe with symbolism, views good enough to frame and, above all, emotion. Emotion that can be heard from the first quavering note of Tina Guo's cello to the swell of the orchestra — the perfect accompaniment to the journey ahead, amidst ochre-burnished sands and stormy mountain climbs.

    Wintory's nomination prompted him to describe video games as having evolved into 'a full-blown art genre that is right alongside literature and any other form of storytelling.'

  • It was thanks to Cambridge University that Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote the music for a satirical production of the Aristophanes comedy The Wasps. He was invited to compose it by the fabulously named Cambridge Greek Play Committee.

  • It was as a teenager that the Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky was first inspired to write his orchestral poem A Night on the Bare Mountain. He was an ambitious young man with dreams to compose a full-scale opera called St. John's Eve, which he said would include the scene of a witches' sabbath. Like so many of Mussorgsky's musical plans, though, this one never fully came to fruition.

    One work that did survive this particular grand plan, though, was A Night on the Bare Mountain. It wasn't completed until nine years after his initial inspiration for St. John's Eve and, despite its great popularity today, the work never gained any semblance of a following in Mussorgsky's lifetime. It was only when Rimsky-Korsakov produced his own re-orchestrated version (five years after Mussorgsky's death) that the piece began to receive an appreciative audience. It's this version that we enjoy today.

  • Shostakovich composed this soundtrack for the film The Unforgettable Year 1919, but it's often said that the only true unforgettable aspect of the film is its brilliant soundtrack — and even then, it's only The Assault on Beautiful Gorky that's still well-known today. This showy, decadent piano piece, composed to depict a battle scene, is highly reminiscent of Richard Addinsell's much loved Warsaw Concerto — another example of film music that has well and truly outlived the movie for which it was written.

  • The third of Brahms' entries climbs to its highest ever position.

    Once Brahms started writing symphonies in his 40s, there was evidently no stopping him. By 1883, when he reached the third, he had clearly found his own voice. Sweeping, lyrical string lines and beautifully autumnal woodwind passages make this a delight. Hans Richter, who conducted its premiere proclaimed it to be Brahms' 'Eroica'.

    There is a risk that this symphony could suffer from a sort of musical version of middle-child syndrome. The novelty of the Symphony No.1, coupled with the fire and joy of the No.4, can leave the No.3 being almost forgotten. The problem is compounded by the fact that it's the shortest of Brahms' four symphonies.

    But it's also the most lyrical and, arguably, the best crafted, which goes some way towards explaining its enduring popularity. The influential music critic Hanslick said, of all Brahms' symphonies, the third struck him 'as being artistically the most nearly perfect.'

  • Although nowadays Brahms is often remembered for his full-blooded, large-scale works, at the time of writing his Piano Concerto No.1, he was a very different composer. Brahms' comfort zone was music for solo piano. This particular work was his very first creation for the instrument on a more epic scale.

    Brahms no doubt feared accusations of an inability to transfer his chamber-music success into this altogether grander form. Sadly for Brahms, his worst fears were realised. The piece was dismissed by those in the know and, in its day, it was never held in such high esteem as other Romantic piano warhorses of the period. Now, however, it's a very different story: this is one of the best-loved and most frequently performed piano concertos in the world.

  • Schumann's only piano concerto was a very long time in the making. Its success was undoubtedly down to his passionate relationship with Clara Wieck, who was to become his wife. The work was premiered on 1st January 1846, with Clara at the keyboard.

  • Despite having his own highly virtuosic orchestra, Haydn wrote his Trumpet Concerto for an old friend called Anton Weidinger, who was a member of the imperial court Orchestra in Vienna. Weidinger was also something of an inventor and Haydn composed the concerto for a brand new trumpet, which could play more notes than ever before. The particular incarnation of the instrument has since died out, in favour of the valve version that we hear today.

  • The second of Bruch's entries falls to its lowest ever position. This first entered the chart in 2013 and has remained in there every year since.

    'It is one of my best works.' We'll allow Max Bruch a moment of immodesty in this case, as he describes his virtuosic violin showpiece.

    Solid orchestral textures provide the framework for this single movement piece, as the sweet violin melodies soar above, or plunge below, the textures. The gorgeous effects produced by the plucked string chords are echoed in his Scottish Fantasy, composed later in 1891. The similarities between the themes of this work and Bruch's Third Violin Concerto have led some to believe the Adagio Appasionata was intended to become the third movement of the work, but this is most likely untrue.

  • 'Minimalism' is a term that's frequently bandied about when it comes to describing a particular kind of music. But in the 1970s, it was an entirely new concept, and Philip Glass was at the forefront of its definition.

    Nowadays, Glass is less keen to be tied down by the m-word, preferring instead for his music to simply be described as having 'repetitive structures'. Commenting on his Violin Concerto, composed in 1987 and his first major orchestral work, Glass said, 'The search for the unique can lead to strange places. Taboos the things were not supposed to do are often more interesting.'

    The repetitive nature of the piece has its detractors, but there's no doubt that this is one of the most significant instrumental concertos to have been composed in the last thirty years.

  • Rutter is known for his beautiful simplistic choral miniatures and this is the finest example of them all. Commissioned by an American Methodist church, the lush string accompaniment perfectly matches the serene text Rutter chooses to set. Lasting under two minutes, A Gaelic Blessing is an enduring popular choice at weddings, christenings and funerals.

  • He's particularly famous for his pared-down piano tunes, but this piece by Einaudi expands his trademark soundscape to include a string orchestra. The melody may be simple, but the piece gradually builds from almost nothing into a busy hive of musical activity. It's the title track from Einaudi's 2006 album, with each piece demonstrating his ability to compose utterly simple yet beguiling melodies.

  • Although best known for 'Sheep May Safely Graze', this particular work is described as Bach's Hunting Cantata a reference to its secular subject matter.

    Its beacon aria is the ninth movement, 'Schafe konnen sicher weiden'. To explain that line, sheep may graze safely where there's a good shepherd who stays awake and where there's a good nobleman watching over a blissful nation. Why did Bach set such a line? Well, because he was writing this music for the birthday of Duke Christian in 1713 and he knew which side his bread was buttered. The commission also gives rise to its third name, the Birthday Cantata.

  • It might have taken Brahms quite some time to write a symphony but once he had premiered No. 1 in 1876, there really was no stopping him. By 1884, he was penning this, his final one.

    Worrying for a long time that the Symphony wasn't worthy of a full orchestra, Brahms originally had it performed in a setting for two pianos so he could get some feedback from a few trusted friends. Better that than to premiere it in its complete version, only for ridicule to ensue. Brahms needn't have worried, though; the work was warmly received at its premiere and has remained loved ever since.

  • The best known work by Scottish pianist and composer Stuart Mitchell was written in 2001.

    Each of its movements is based on the seven wonders of the ancient world — the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus; the Colossus of Rhodes; the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus; the Statue of Zeus at Olympia; the Lighthouse at Alexandria; and the Great Pyramid at Giza. Mitchell deploys all the power and colour of the orchestra to evoke a picture in music of each of these incredible structures.

    Combining rich melodies, expressive vocal parts, and a few great tunes thrown in for good measure, it's hard to believe this atmospheric suite wasn't written for a film; as it happens, Mitchell was inspired by his background in keyboard and synthesiser music before branching out into more orchestral pieces.

    The Seven Wonders Suite has placed Mitchell in the Classic FM Hall of Fame Top 300 every year since 2005, with the exception of 2013.

  • Delibes' charming comedy ballet takes inspiration from E. T. A. Hoffmann's story Der Sandman, a fantastical tale of a dancing doll being brought to life by her creator, the toymaker Dr Coppelius.

    It was premiered at the Paris Opera in 1870, and went down a treat thanks to its bright, saccharine tunes, influencing future ballet composers like Tchaikovsky.

  • The younger brother to the limelight-stealing 'New World' Symphony, its inclusion here represents an impressive moment in the sun for the Symphony No.8. The composer dedicated his Symphony No.8 to the music world: "To the Bohemian academy of emperor Franz Joseph for the encouragement of arts and literature, in thanks for my election." Debts duly paid, he produced a fun and lively symphony, replete with folk tunes that the aforementioned academy would no doubt have loved.

  • Igor Stravinsky was only 27 when he wrote the complex ballet music for The Firebird. The premiere in 1910 cemented Stravinsky's position as one of the period's most exciting and dynamic composers. Today, the ballet remains in repertoire across the world and the concert suite is regularly performed, too.

  • A jazzy saunter around Manhattan, with a swinging rhythm and a cheeky clarinet solo — it can only be Gershwin's lighthearted Walking the Dog. It was written for the 1937 film Shall We Dance, where it accompanies a sequence of walking a dog on a luxury liner.

  • Die Fledermaus, Johann Strauss' most famous operetta, is primarily loved for what happens before anyone sets foot on the stage: the eight-minute Overture. Translating literally as 'The Bat', Die Fledermaus was written over a two-year period from 1873 and is entirely frivolous in nature. Strauss himself was at the podium for the very first performance of Die Fledermaus.

  • Given the great success of the Adagio for strings, Samuel Barber could have been forgiven for resting on his musical laurels in the late 1930s. But the American composer was having none of it: he set about working on his only Violin Concerto in 1939, just a year after the Adagio's premiere.

    Initially, the composer's reasons for cracking on with a new work were primarily financial: he'd been commissioned to write a violin concerto by one Samuel Fels, father to one of Barber's classmates at the curtis institute of Music and a Philadelphia industrialist who gave Barber continued feedback on what he did and didn't like. At first, the work was too simplistic. Barber's solution? Add a fiendishly challenging finale. Fels' response? It had become too complex. Back and forth they went, the composer duly making changes against his wishes presumably because he knew that a worthwhile pay cheque awaited him at the end of his endeavours.

  • Humour and tragedy combine in Mozart's gripping cautionary tale of a sex-mad serial philanderer who descends into oblivion as his life of debauchery backfires. A staple of the operatic genre, it remains one of the most performed operas worldwide.

  • In the years before his first real success as a composer, Elgar relied on choral composition for much of his income. Unfortunately, these time-consuming, large-scale works were not always the most efficient of payers. Luckily for Elgar, he had been befriended by a senior figure at the music publishers Novello. August Jaeger was someone who genuinely appreciated his music and he was immortalised as 'Nimrod' in Elgar's Enigma Variations.

    In the 1880s Elgar retreated to Malvern, from where he wrote, bemoaning his fate to the ever-receptive Jaeger. Complaining of lean times, he sent Jaeger a violin piece called Evensong, suggesting the name could be changed to Vespers if needed. In the end, the publisher preferred to call the piece Chanson de Nuit.

    A couple of years later, Elgar wrote to Jaeger again, claiming to have recently rediscovered its companion piece. The two works provide a simple day-and-night contrast of styles, with Chanson de Nuit being very much the richer of the two. Chanson de Matin, as its name would suggest, is simpler and fresher.

  • Composed in 1905 for an all-Elgar performance by the newly formed London Symphony Orchestra, this is a wonderful example of Elgar's characteristically descriptive string writing. It was written after the Enigma Variations, after Sea Pictures, and after the Pomp and Circumstance Marches Nos. 1-3, but before his period of self-doubt following the composition of his Symphony No.2, a time of endless soul-searching about whether he was 'composed out'.

    Inspiration for the piece came from a rather bracing walk along the cardigan shire coast, when he had heard a distant choir, and he had stashed it away for a possible 'Welsh Rhapsody' of some sort. In the end, the Welsh piece never came, so he borrowed the tune for this work, which features both a string quartet and a string orchestra.

  • The English composer John Blow produced his opera Venus and Adonis, which was partly based on Ovid's Metamorphoses, with a text by Aphra Behn, at the court of Charles II. Henry Purcell was almost certainly sitting in the audience taking it all in and he was clearly inspired by the work. He substituted Virgil for Ovid and the Aeneid for Metamorphoses. Nahum Tate, rather than Aphra Behn, wrote the text. And over the court of Charles II, he favoured the unlikely venue of Josias Priest's Boarding School for Girls, in Chelsea.

    Despite its seemingly inauspicious start in life, Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas has come to be seen as the first great English opera, indeed arguably the greatest English opera of all time.

  • English composer and organists John Stanley's three volumes of organ voluntaries (including the tune featured here) are his most popular legacy. So, although we know this piece as the Trumpet Voluntary, it wasn't really initially intended to be played on a trumpet at all.

    Surviving pictures of the composer show clearly the effects of a childhood domestic accident that left him almost blind at the age of two. He became the youngest ever person to gain the Bachelor of Music degree from Oxford University, at the age of 17, before working as an organist at the Society of the Inner Temple. He died in 1786.

  • Packed with whistles and pipes galore, Horner's Celtic-inspired score contains some of his most haunting melodies. Horner, who tragically died in 2015, was best known for his clever integration of choral and electronic elements in many of his film scores, and for his frequent use of traditional Irish musical influences as heard in his multiple award-winning score for Titanic in 1997. However, Horner actually trained at the Royal College of Music in London before he moved to California and got his first big movie in 1982: Star Trek — The Wrath of Khan. Horner's music is about as authentically Scottish as Mel Gibson's take on the 13th-century patriot William Wallace. Despite this, the film's bestselling soundtrack is wonderfully uplifting.

  • Rather confusingly, Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.1 is actually the second piano concerto he composed. The first, however, was published after this one, hence the slight numerical anomaly. The two concertos were composed in very quick succession, right at the start of the young Beethoven's career and they display very similar approaches in terms of the harmonious relationship between piano and orchestra.

    This concerto certainly seems more polite than, say, the Fourth, or the Emperor. Beethoven hadn't yet decided to champion the idea of the piano and orchestra performing as one, in interweaving dialogue. Instead, there's a respectful distance between the two; they exist very much as separate voices. That's not to say the work is disappointing just that it's absolutely a product of its time.

  • Not content with mere rings to mark their engagement in 1888, Edward Elgar and his wife-to-be Alice exchanged artistic gifts too. She had given him a poem that she had written a few years earlier, entitled The Wind at Dawn. Elgar immediately set it to music, winning himself a rather useful £5 in the process when he entered it into a composing competition. (Using a measure of average earnings, that's the equivalent today of some £2,600 — not a bad day's work for a would-be composer and his fiancée). In return, Elgar gave Alice a musical love token, entitled Liebesgruss written in Settle, in Yorkshire.

    Never one to look a gift piece in the mouth, Elgar sent a few versions to Schott's publishers, who gave him just two guineas for it and promptly published it as Salut d'Amour, calling him mysteriously 'Ed. Elgar' the hope being that if he sounded less English, it would sell more. And it did. Sadly, Elgar received only his two guineas.

  • The second of Elgar's entries is a re-entry after two years' absence, and is at its lowest ever chart position.

    Despite the status that Elgar's Cello Concerto has acquired since its premiere, there is a case to be made for proposing that it was in fact the Violin Concerto that was truly the composer's favourite among his own works. Many accounts suggest that he was writing for his friend and muse, Alice Stuart-Wortley, whom some claim was the great true love of his life. It is also worth noting that Elgar was writing here for his own instrument. He prided himself on the way in which he had plied his trade as a player for many years, rising up through the practical ranks of real musicians. If the festival orchestras of Victorian England were his coalface, then the violin was his pickaxe.

  • As a man who espoused fifteen minutes of Bible-reading every day, Gounod's thoughts were never far away from the next big brimstone-and-treacle epic that might have them cowering in the aisles. Mors et Vita ('death and life' it doesn't get any more broad brush) was premiered in Birmingham in 1885, and featured a judge, who sits on a throne, intoning his judgments. That judge (Judex) owns possibly the most beautiful music in the whole piece. It has certainly become a firm favourite with Classic FM listeners and the Judex tends to eclipse the rest of the work.

  • Ravel mulled over his ideas for the concerto for a full three years. In 1928, the composer returned from his tour of America and visited Oxford, where he began to consider writing a piano concerto. The light-hearted nature of the concerto is confirmed from the first sound we hear in the opening movement: a playful, percussive whip crack.

  • Subtitled 'Leningrad', Shostakovich's seventh symphony has understandably become one of his best known. The intense sadness of its slow movement, the musical invoking of bloody conflicts, the surrounding context of encroaching Nazism none of it sounds like easy listening, exactly. "Neither savage raids, German planes, nor the grim atmosphere of the beleaguered city could hinder the flow," he recalled of the time he spent composing it. "I worked with an inhuman intensity I have never before reached." But the joy of this symphony is that it is, despite all this heaviness, absolutely delightful on the ear.

  • Franz Lehár's jovial operetta was first performed in 1905. It tells the story of the rich widow Hanna Glawari, who is reunited with a man from her past, and the twists and turns as their spark of love is re-ignited. The action takes place in the highest echelons of society in Pontevedro (a fictionalised version of Montenegro).

    Lehár's music recalls the style of other famous Austrian composers like Johann Strauss II in its lush orchestration, its wit and its memorable melodies. The best known sections of the work are the Merry Widow Waltz, You'll find me at Mxim's and the Vilja Song.

  • Schubert had some six years of his life remaining after he started working on the piece, but he never completed it. One theory, still argued over today, is that the missing fourth movement is alive and well known now as the Entr'acte from Schubert's incidental music to the play Rosamunde.

  • The first of Bruch's entries is the composer's biggest faller, sliding to its lowest ever position.

    Like many composers, Max Bruch was captivated by both the idea and the sound of folk music. Nowhere is this more evident than in his Scottish Fantasy for violin and orchestra.

    Despite the fact that Bruch was a virtual stranger to Scotland at the time he wrote his Scottish Fantasy, there is nothing to suggest that the work is based on anything other than wholly authentic Scottish melodies. Interestingly, Bruch uses a harp in the Scottish Fantasy strongly suggesting he thought the instrument was a central part of authentic Scottish folk music. Whether he had actually heard a Celtic harp played at the time he wrote the piece is still very much open to debate.

  • The first of two entries for Fiona Ann Bennett falls 106 places to its lowest position.

    Taking the open fields and chocolate-box villages of the British countryside as her starting point, Bennett weaves an attractive musical tapestry.

    The Landscape is the opening movement of a larger work entitled 'A Country Suite', all of which is inextricably linked to her life in the countryside. What's more, she's a massive fan of period drama — so there's an inevitable air of John Lunn's Downton Abbey music about much of the suite.

    But if you're able to look past the influences, there's a wealth of nagging melody to discover here — lilting, circulating tunes that Einaudi would be satisfied with, delicate accompaniments and evocative musical pictures all jostle for attention.

  • The sole entry for Delius climbs to its highest ever position. This first entered the chart in 2013 and has remained every year since.

    Despite the work's title, Delius actually composed this suite in Leipzig in 1887. It's inspired by the bright landscapes and warmer weather of Florida, after Delius spent time managing an orange grove in the Sunshine State.

  • Musically speaking, the time of the String Quartet No.2 was the beginning of the end for Borodin. It was written when he was in his late forties and at exactly the period when finding time for music was becoming nigh on impossible. As a successful chemist he felt compelled to devote more and more of his time to his important scientific work, at the expense of his music.

    Nevertheless, when he was forty-eight, and just one year after the composition of In the Steppes of Central Asia, he found himself with a free summer to compose his String Quartet No. 2. As with most things Borodin wrote, it is not short of tunes, something that proved a blessing when the writers of the musical Kismet came to use his music. The jaunty second movement provided them with 'Baubles, Bangles and Beads', while the third stumped up the show-stopping 'This is My Beloved'.

  • The title of this wonderful cantata translates into English as 'Yield now, troubling shadows', and it gives you a hint as to the tone Bach was aiming for. Separated into nine equally exquisite segments, it contains some of the Baroque master's most iconic vocal writing, especially in the gentle, warming 'Sich ben im Lieben'. Legend has it that Bach may have even composed the work for his own wedding to Anna Magdalena in 1721: if that's to be believed, then it's no wonder that he was on top form.

  • Klaus Badelt may not be a household name but, both in his own right and in collaboration with Hans 'Gladiator' Zimmer, he has worked on the music for dozens of movies, including The Thin Red Line, The Time Machine and even Gladiator itself. Intriguingly, Badelt was one of a stable of composers brought in at the last minute when Alan Silvestri decided to abandon his planned score due to musical differences.

    Pirates was German-born Badelt's first lead role on a big budget film; one that went on to be a major blockbuster, putting him firmly on the treasure map as a film composer.

  • Composer Saint-Saëns christened this work a 'Biblical opera', taking inspiration from the Old Testament story of Samson and Delilah. It's packed with great opera arias, including the great alto aria 'Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix', and a frenzied drinking song.

  • Whitacre's only entry in the chart slips to its lowest ever position.

    The Seal Lullaby is a setting in the form of a lullaby for mixed choir and accompaniment of Rudyard Kipling's story The White Seal. It's is a beautiful story and the opening poem in this story is entitled The Seal Lullaby. The work was commissioned by the Towne Singers and is dedicated to Whitacre's friend and tutor Stephen Schwartz.

  • Liszt's sole entry in the chart climbs 30 places after re-entering the Hall of Fame in 2015 following a 17-year absence.

    The quintessential Romantic piano miniature, Liszt's Liebestraum No.3 was actually originally published as one of a set of three works for piano and voice. Each piece depicted a separate facet of love — this, the third piece, set a poem by Ferdinand Freiligrath which begins 'O love so long as you can!'

    But by far the best known version of the piece is for solo piano. It's fiendishly difficult but listen to a performance of the work and you're more likely to feel calmed by the repeated arpeggios and shifting harmonies of the piece.

    Even Elvis Presley was a fan, using the piece as the inspiration for his song 'Today, Tomorrow and Forever' in the film Viva Las Vegas.

  • If anyone needed proof that video game music was every bit as subtle and inventive as any piece of 'mainstream' classical music (and by now you really shouldn't), then a quick listen to the main theme from 'Everybody's Gone To The Rapture' should put them straight. Jessica Curry's music has become as recognisable as the visuals for this innovative and influential game, and with good reason: it's simple, beautiful, emotional and, above all, sensitive to the needs of the game's narrative.

  • This stirring epic video game music, reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean scores, comes from the mind of Russell Brower. He brings to his compositions more than three decades of experience as an award-winning composer and music director — working in film, TV, theme parks and games.

    Asking any fan of Warcraft for their favourite soundtrack selection from the game is a tough question. First of all, with over seven million players there are an awful lot of differing opinions. Playing together online in a fantasy world filled with orcs, night elves and dwarves, World of Warcraft is as much a social gathering as a game for many gamers. Secondly, with five additional add-ons expanding the original game there are hours of music from which to choose. Perhaps Brower's Invincible, a track imbued with emotion and portent — taken from a pivotal moment in add-on Wrath of the Lich King — will strike a chord with those familiar with the epic story of Arthas, the fallen prince.

  • Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo can now sit comfortably alongside the likes of modern choral legends like Eric Whitacre, Morten Lauridsen and Paul Mealor — with his haunting, distinctly Scandinavian sound as his calling card. 'Tundra' represents a perfect snapshot of his strongest features: crunchy suspensions, ethereal chord constructions and an almost wordless vocal quality. There is meaning in there if you look for it, but it's almost equally as rewarding to merely let the sounds wash over you.

  • Opera doesnt get more iconic than Wagners Ring Cycle, and Das Rheingold is the one that kicks it all off. Nothing quite beats Wagners sense of indulgent, overblown drama, musical and theatrical, but even when you take in Das Rheingold outside the confines of the opera house, its arresting. Flamboyant, opulent melodies appear for mere seconds before skidding off again, only to be re-introduced hours later, the story itself veers from Norse mythology to familial melodrama, and the brass well, lets say that if youre a brass player, Wagner makes you earn your money.

  • This is biggest faller in the 2016 Hall of Fame.

    Games are usually synonymous with adrenaline-pumping action, thrilling spectacle and bombastic music but Viva Piñata is a different breed altogether. Tasking players with cultivating a garden to attract confectionary-based creatures, Viva Piñata might look cute as a (chocolate) button, but can be quite the challenge for even the most experienced gamer. Kirkhope's pastoral score, based on favourite composers Vaughan Williams and Elgar, covers bright mornings, hazy evenings and the tranquil hours of night in one rewardingly peaceful listen.

  • Settings of Psalm 122 have abounded in churches for hundreds of years. Purcell composed one. So did Boyce. Charles Hubert Hastings Parry's setting, known by the 'incipit' of the text as published in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, has become one of the most celebrated. Perhaps this is for the simple reason that it sets out to achieve musically exactly what the opening words say. From the moment it begins, it is throbbing with energy, and the first choral cloudburst of the words 'I was glad' still sends a tingle down the spine, even on the hundredth hearing.

  • The original piano version of the Pavane pour une infante defunte was composed in 1899 and dedicated to the Princess Edmond de Polignac, a French-American musical patron. The orchestral arrangement wasn't premiered for another eleven years.

    While it's literally true that the French should be translated as 'Pavane for a dead Princess', Ravel was at pains to point out that it 'is not a funeral lament for a dead child, but rather an evocation of the pavane that might have been danced by such a little princess as painted by Velàzquez'.

  • The second of Wagner's six entries is his only faller, slipping to its lowest ever position.

    First performed in 1850, Lohengrin's popularity was not particularly embraced by the composer. Wagner wrote after the premiere: "If I could have everything my way, Lohengrin — the libretto of which I wrote in 1845 — would be long forgotten in favour of new works that prove, even to me, that I have made progress". It's certainly packed full of drama: a noblewoman loves and loses a mysterious knight with no name who rides giant swans. Not to be forgotten is the famous Bridal Chorus, (better known as Here Comes the Bride), the soundtrack to nuptial celebrations across the globe.

  • The Dam Busters can now barely be thought of without immediately conjuring up Coates's famous melody, The Dam Busters March. Still a firm favourite military band number at flypasts, the popular theme to the classic British war movie from 1955 is a great example of a piece of music that has become just as famous as the film it comes from. Despite the piece's success, Coates had a profound disliking of composing for film, and in fact his son Austin claimed in a radio interview that The Dam Busters March was not actually written for the film and had in fact been completed a few days before he was contacted by the producers.

  • The opening of this cantata, Wachet auf, which translates as 'sleepers awake', contains a tune written by a Lutheran pastor called Philipp Nicolai. It caught Bach's attention during his golden Leipzig period. It wasn't unusual for Bach to transform original melodies by other chorale and hymn-tune composers into his own works of art. The first performance of this most beautiful of wake-up calls was on 25th November 1731, which was the 27th Sunday after Trinity the specific day for which the work was written to be performed. It is notable that there can be only 27 Sundays after Trinity in years when Easter falls early. As a result, this now famous cantata was, in fact, rarely heard in the years after it was written.

  • Sibelius' epic work slides to its lowest ever position.

    Written in the early 1890s, Sibelius' mythical suite was originally conceived as an opera, Veneen luominen. It's based on the legendary character Lemminkäinen, who travels to the island of the dead. Sibeliuss opulent string writing is a particular highlight in the second movement, The Swan of Tuonela — there are up to seventeen separate string parts, as well as a beautiful cor anglais solo.

  • The first of Mozart's entries falls to its lowest ever position. This has been in the Hall of Fame every year apart from in 2003.

    First of all, the nickname. Unlike the Eine Kleine Nachtmusik epithet, which stems from Mozart's own description in his personal notebook, the word 'Jupiter' probably has nothing to do with Mozart. Unfortunately, it appears to be marketing hype, coined by the same chap who promoted Haydn concerts in England, one Johann Peter Salomon. If true, then the name came from London, first used in a concert programme for the Philharmonic Society of London (now the Royal Philharmonic Society) and that was a full twenty-six years after Mozart died.

    Staggeringly, this very popular symphony was written within days of both Mozart's Symphony No.39 and Symphony No.40. It could be that Mozart had at least a couple of symphonies buzzing around in his head before committing them almost whole to paper. But to have three fully formed works committed to memory is truly astonishing. More proof, if it were needed, of the correct use of the word 'genius' when applied to Mozart.

  • The second of Haydn's entries re-enters the chart at its lowest ever position.

    Haydn's massive late oratorio The Creation is considered by more than a few to be his great masterpiece, despite the limitations of a rather dubious series of words; the retranslated texts are often either bizarre or forced or both.

    Haydn was inspired to create The Creation following his trips to the UK, where he heard the oratorios of Handel still being performed with massive forces. He is quoted as saying that, once in the flow, he begged God to let him be able to finish the work clearly knowing he was onto a corker.

  • An epic of the piano repertoire, and a beast of two characters. Chopin begins this range-y work with beautifully burbling chords and a typically deceptive Chopin melody, all gorgeous angles and cheeky sharp turns. Its a wonderful story of a piece, one that dares you to keep up with it — and if youre lucky enough to have it performed by a great pianist, youll wish it was twice as long as its already generous running time.

  • Helen Jane Long is one of the very few female composers to appear in the Classic FM Hall of Fame, meaning she's beat stiff competition from the likes of Clara Schumann and Hildegard Von Bingen — but musically she couldn't be further away from them.

    The title track from her second album, released in May 2010, Embers quickly became widely requested on classical radio stations around the world, in particular on Classic FM. It's hard not to be charmed by its hypnotic, soothing refrain.

  • On the warm evening of 24th June 1943, Vaughan Williams stood on the podium at the Royal Albert Hall in front of the London Philharmonic Orchestra to conduct the premiere performance of his Symphony No. 5. The work had been a relatively long time coming. It was eight years since his Symphony No.4 and, given the many periods of intense orchestral composition in Vaughan Williams's career, many were surprised that his follow-up hadn't come sooner.

  • This is only the third year Handel's piece has made it into the Hall of Fame, and is currently at its lowest position.

    Taken from his opera Tolomeo, Handel's exquisite little aria of longing has been given a new lease of life in the last century. It was retooled in 1928 by Arthur Summervill, who turned it into a song suitable for amateur musicians to sing at home. Since then its been a staple thanks to appearances in the 1996 film adaption of Jane Austen, and then again in Moulin Rouge. But at the heart of it, the reason for its longevity must be the simplicity of its message: "Though I am nothing to her, Though she must rarely look at me, And though I could never woo her, I love her till I die."

  • Rachmaninov wrote his Piano Concerto No.1 when he was still a teenager. The work begins with unabashed showmanship, as a vehicle for Rachmaninov's own accomplished skill at the piano. This is a relatively playful work, sowing the seeds of a passionate musical intensity that was to burst forth over the years to come. It may be a slightly immature work but it's still an astonishingly accomplished one at that.

  • Simple yet beautiful, this piece is taken from the Helen Jane Long's album of the same name, released in 2007. The reflective music takes on the delicate nature of its namesake, weaving undulating piano music with a cello and violin to create a dream-like sound world.

  • The first of Haydn's entries slips to its lowest ever position.

    In the first few years after he arrived at the Esterházy Palace, when he was still in his twenties, Haydn decided he needed to raise the standards of playing in the orchestra. While increasing the number of players in the band and hence competition to play the best bits of the music he wrote appetising concertos to ensure that the most essential members didnt consider walking away. So, in addition to brand new symphonies in which all the musicians played an important part, there were choice concertos for the chosen ones.

    One such player was the cellist Joseph Weigl. The Cello Concerto No.1 was his present from Haydn and one that was subsequently lost for two hundred years. It was not until 1961 that it was rediscovered, having been salvaged from Radenin castle in Prague. So, although it was written in the 1760s, it has become a firm favourite with audiences only in the last fifty years.

  • A lilting melody, and lush, intense accompaniment, Elgar's setting of the Hail Mary reflects the spectrum of emotions behind this prayer. It's reflective and passionate in equal measure.

    He composed the work in 1887, while he was working as organist at St George's Roman Catholic Church, Worcester. The music was dedicated to the choirmaster's wife, who said: "There must be many pieces among your 'archives' that would, if published, be hailed with delight by the Catholics." How right he was — Elgar revised his Pie Jesu to become the enduringly popular Ave Verum Corpus in 1907.

  • In the late nineteenth century, piano-duet sheet music was the iTunes download of its day. In almost every parlour in Europe, they were the party pieces of choice, so much so that publishers would outbid each other for the piano duets of the great composers. Dvořák's publisher, Simrock, had even threatened to call off publishing his Symphony No. 7 if the composer didn't stump up the piano-duet version ahead of the orchestral score. Simrock must have thought all his Christmases had come at once when Dvořák supplied him with eight Slavonic Dances in this format: perfect, folk-like tunes (although all original Dvořák compositions) in a beautifully saleable form.

  • Despite reports that Benjamin Britten paced nervously at the back of the Sadler's Wells theatre when Peter Grimes was first performed, this work is now regarded by many as the greatest English opera ever written.

    The seeds for Peter Grimes were sown not on these shores, but in Los Angeles. Having left war-struck Britain in 1939, he chanced on George Crabbe's poem The Borough in a second-hand bookshop, and started transforming it into what would become only his second opera, ready for its premiere in 1945.

  • This gorgeous work for solo piano was never published in Chopin's lifetime but it has become one of the composer's best-loved and most-performed works.

    It was written for the Baroness d'Este in 1834 and is similar to the final movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. Both pieces include melodies made up of furious semi-quavers and, like the Beethoven, Chopin's piece in C sharp minor.

    The term Impromptu first came about in the Romantic period and implies freedom, something which Chopin perfectly captures in his dizzying, joyful Fantaisie-Impromptu.

  • The first of Chopin's six entries is his biggest faller, crashing to its lowest ever position.

    This epic Chopin ballade takes its time to get going, but once it does you'll be completely swept along.

    Chopin initially composed his set of one-movement ballades between 1831 and 1842, and quickly amassed a reputation among jobbing pianists as some of the most difficult pieces out there. And, what's more, the format took hold. After Chopin's example was a success, the likes of Brahms and Liszt decided to write ballades of their own.

    But this first entry in the set might be one of the most deceptive pieces Chopin wrote. A doom-laden, intentionally dirge-like opening sets a rather sombre tone to begin with, but it's only temporary. If anything, having such a low-key opening passage makes the pianistic fireworks that follow it all the more impressive. So stick around — it gets better as it goes along.

  • Beethoven's only opera was last seen in the chart in 2012. This is its lowest ever position.

    Fidelio is so often referred to simply as 'Beethoven's only opera'. In truth, it's much more than just a single entry into the canon. It's a tale of cross-dressing, of love in prison, of political angst and — crucially — it's stuffed with brilliant tunes.

  • The 1st of John Williams' entries is at its lowest ever position.

    One of John Williams most triumphant movie themes, it's yet another example of his indelible influence on cinema.

    If anything, John Williams has become so synonymous with blockbuster film music that most of the major movie moments in history could be misremembered with one of his tunes playing over the top. But with Raiders of the Lost Ark, one of his most memorable works, the music means only one thing: Indiana Jones.

    The Raiders' March, especially, has that undimmed knack for brilliant, sprightly melody and an immediate nostalgia, that sense that you've always known how the tune goes. It's a neat trick that few do as well as Williams and, with this Spielberg classic, he absolutely nailed it. Cinematic music rarely makes as big a mark on culture as this.