An Interactive Site to Identify the Most Beautiful Musical Compositions of Each Country

Welcome music lovers! Please join the discussion, vote, and offer suggestions for what you think are the most beautiful musical compositions of each country in the world. See my initial posting for the rules of the game. Then click on the country label (on the right side) and use "Comment" to offer your thoughts, votes or suggestions about the music of that country. To suggest candidate compositions, please provide the title and composer of the piece and, if possible, a link to an audio or video sample of the music. Once a number of nominations are received for a country, I will create a "poll" for people to vote on their favorite

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Therapeutic Music, and the Best Recordings

A reader of this blog recently sent me this email, which he said I could post here.

I was recently in the hospital for a pretty serious problem and found the music on my iPhone about as life saving and therapeutic as any treatment I received. OK a bit over stated and certainly unfair to the professionals who served me so well.

But the 9th (9 versions of it!), Ravel’s Mussorgsky, Scheherazade, the Firebird, Copland, and not the least a Philips Best of Tchikovsky 2 CD set (that was nothing short of magnificent at least to me - you see I do not have good ears). The music may not have aided my recovery, but it did allow me to retain my sanity and not to sink to too terribly into the abyss of overwhelming depression. 

And at times the music was simply transcendent.

This brings me to your site. I realize that my tastes and exposure are limited. I want to experience the rich veins that better ears have mined and I was delighted to run into you work.

Though one thing concerns me (after so many 9ths) I realize that it not just the composition, but ALSO the performance that matters. I lack the technical acumen to tell why, but darned if I can just things hear anyway.

I am hoping you might recommend some of the better recordings. I know this might open you to a hornets nest or simply be outside of you area of interest. Perhaps you work with people who’s ears are better trained (I actually have something of a physical impairment, BUT I can hear good, bad, and sometimes even great!)

So any help, encouragement, suggested sites, … really anything WILL be most appreciated.


Joe Campbell

My reply to Joe's email:
Hi Joe,

Thanks for your note.  I'm glad you like my blog, and even more glad that you like classical music and that it helps you!  Just last night, I heard the Indianapolis Symphony play Beethoven's 7th at an outdoor concert, under beautiful skies and a full moon, and it was transcendent!

You asked about particular recordings of the great music.  I have several books that I use to help me select particular performances, but you can also use the user ratings on websites like, which often have very in-depth and helpful analyses and suggestions.

For me the most useful book is the Penguin Guide to Compact Discs, and the newer version which is called the Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music.  It is comprehensive, having almost all recordings available, and a "professional" rating of the various recordings.    I also like "The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection" which has the "300 essential works" and recommended recordings of each (though this is a little out of date by now).  Another is Phil Goulding's "Classical Music: the 50 Greatest Composers and Thier 1000 Greatest Works."

And his response:

I can’t help but think there are others with impaired hearing or simply uneducated ears who know when something is good but don’t know why or who must listen over and again before they can sort it out.

Your suggestions should go a long way to helping me and others similarly disposed. (Without going into some of the horrors I witnessed from other patients, I’ll just say again that I was NOT stretching the case when I claimed that the music kept the awful abyss of depression at bay. And no, it was not a mental ward, but the pain and suffering there might as well have made it one. BTW I hope you will not publish this last parenthetical!)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Joshua Bell Wows Indianapolis with Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto

Last weekend, Joshua Bell brought an Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra audience to its feet--even after the first movement!--with a magnificent rendition of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto. As I mentioned in my posting on Russia's Most Beautiful Music, I consider this concerto the most beautiful music ever composed by a Russian, and maybe by any composer. The first movement is especially mesmerizing, and when the ISO completed the exciting, pulse-pounding end of that movement, the audience burst into applause. Not the proper behavior, of course, for a multi-movement symphony, but the Indianapolis crowd could be excused for several reasons.

Joshua Bell is a local boy, raised on a farm in Bloomington, just down the road. Despite his international superstar status, he regularly appears with the ISO, and when he does so, the hall is packed. As ISO President Simon Crookall said before the start of the performance, he was gratified to see such a large crowd, but observed that "we play here just about every weekend," and appealed for people to turn up more often! So there were a lot of non-regulars in the audience there to see Bell. Some of them, no doubt, were not familiar with classical music etiquette.

And who can blame them for their exuberance? The first movement--about 20 minutes long--is a masterpiece all by itself, and Bell's performance, on his Stradivarius, was exuberant, passionate, and exciting.

Bravo to the ISO, and Grazie/Spasibo/Thank You to Bell and Tchaikovsky!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Beauty, the Brain, and Goosebumps

What constitutes beauty, in music or anything else? My friend Joe, in response to this website, suggested that "beauty" applied only to things we perceive visually, and doubted that music could be "beautiful." Obviously, I disagree--thus this blog!

A recent article in the New York Times, in the science section no less, addresses the connection between science and music: how scientists are "trying to understand and quantify what makes music expressive--what specific aspects make one version of, say, a Beethoven sonata convey more emotion than another." The article is entitled "To Tug At the Heart, Music First Must Tickle the Neurons.".

The focus of this article is on how particular performances of a musical piece can affect the emotional appeal of it. It demonstrates, for example, that a piece of music is often enhanced by the particular interpretation given to it by the artist.

Some of the emotional impact of a piece, however, is based on the way it is composed, including the duration of notes and rhythms, and "the element of surprise." Daniel Levitin, a professor at McGill University in Montreal, suggests that "the more surprising moments in a piece, the more emotion listeners perceive--if those moments seem logical in context."

The cellist Yo-Yo Ma elaborates on this theme of surprise. Let's say he is playing a 12-minute sonata featuring a four-note melody that recurs several times. On the final repetition, the melody expands, to six notes."
If I set it up right," he says, "that is when the sun comes out. It's like you've been under a cloud and then you are looking once again at the vista and then the light is shining on the whole valley."

He cites Schubert's E-Flat trio as an example, when it goes from "a march theme that's in minor and it breaks our into major, and it's one of those goose-bump moments."

For me, the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto has one of those goose-bump moments, when the melody sung by the violin is suddenly interrupted by another, different, melody, on the flute.

So maybe this is the essence of beauty: something, whether visual, aural, or experiential, that gives you goosebumps. Something that touches you emotionally.

(p.s. Joe, the doubter of aural beauty, admits that Dvorak's New World Symphony gives him goosebumps!)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Russia's Most Beautiful Music

Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov? Russia poses as many challenges as Germany (Beethoven, Mozart, Bach?) in that there is so much gorgeous classical music from that country. Simply trying to pick a single "best" piece from Tchaikovsky's repertoire is impossible. Plus, we've got beautiful music from Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinksy, Prokofiev, Borodin, Shostakovich, etc. etc.

I would pick one of several pieces by Tchaikovsky as the most beautiful music from Russia, including his Piano Concerto No. 1, his Symphony No. 6 (Pathetique), and his ballet music from Swan Lake or Nutcracker.

But for me, the most beautiful piece of music from Russia is Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D, especially the first movement. In that movement, about two-thirds of the way in, there is an achingly beautiful moment where the violin gives way to the flute. You have to hear it!

I will embed a version of the first movement here, and then Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade (Symphonic suite, op. 35)which been nominated as the most beautiful piece of Russian music by Joan Ballard in San Diego.

Feel free to add further nominations (using the "Comment" button below), and to vote on your favorites.

Monday, April 4, 2011

South Africa's Most Beautiful Music

Fredeline (from South Africa) recommends three songs for South Africa's most beautiful music:

1) Nkosi Sikeleli'i Afrika (God Bless Africa) "which is the National Anthem of Africa sung at an event in Zimbabwe in the 80's.

2) Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika--"the new national anthem of South Africa where they linked together Nkosi Sikeli'i together with the Afrikaans and English version of the previous national anthem under white regime. The original version is beautiful because it is sung in a slow rhythm like the prayer it is."

3)Kinders van die Wind (Children of the Wind). "One of the best known and best loved Afrikaans songs ever. Sung by Laurika Rauch."

4)Tussen Treine(Between Trains). "A Personal favourite."

DSM note: These are all beautiful songs. More nominations for South African music are welcome.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Germany's Most Beautiful Music

We started on Germany with 18-month old Lizzy's nomination of Beethoven's Ode to Joy, with an accompanying link to her favorite rendition of that beautiful piece, which you absolutely must watch!

Daughter Dana called my attention to another incredible video of a three-year old conducting the final movement of Beethoven's 5th Symphony, which is totally joyful, beautiful and awe-inspiring. You can see it at this link. Watch it!

It is darned difficult trying to pick the most beautiful music from Germany, but I have to say, in my mind it comes down to all Beethoven. It is hard for me even to decide among his symphonies, with the 9th, the 5th and the 7th all being amazingly beautiful. And which movements from each of those is the most beautiful?

In any case, here are my initial nominations for Germany's most beautiful music, in no particular order. New nominations, Beethoven or not, are welcome! (Click on links to hear versions posted on Youtube).

Beethoven's Symphony No.9 (especially the last movement with the "Ode to Joy")
Beethoven's Symphony No. 7
Beethoven's Symphony No. 5
Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 (Emperor)--especially the first movement
Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D--especially the third movement.
Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 23 (Appassionata)
Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 14 (Moonlight)

See "Comments" below for additional nominations.


France's Most Beautiful Music

For the most beautiful music from France, my father Richard Mason has nominated Jules Massenet's "Meditations" (from his opera "Thais") which he says he listens to almost every day! It is indeed a meltingly beautiful melody. You can listen to a version played by Itzhak Perlman at this link.