Classical 91.5

Classical 91.5's 40 for 40

In celebration of the 40th anniversary of WXXI-FM Classical 91.5 (in 2014), we asked you to help us celebrate. Beginning Tuesday, April 15th, we played your top 40 favorite classical works on air throughout the day, and posted more information about your favorites right here on this page. Learn more about each work that you chose as your top 40 favorites on Classical 91.5.

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#8 Sergei Rachmaninoff

Aug 28, 2016

Piano Concerto No. 2 in c-minor, op 18

The 1996 Oscar-winning movie Shine introduced the public to "Rach 3" and made it part of our popular culture.  But long before the film made the third concerto, it was Sergei Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto, completed in 1901, that won the appeal of audiences and established Rachmaninoff as a concerto composer.  For several years, Rachmaninoff had been unable to compose. He was overwhelmed by doubt, depression and he had difficulty applying himself to his craft. It was Dr. Nikolai Dahl, an amateur musician himself, who began working with Rachmaninoff, taking him through sessions of hypnosis and discussions about music, that eventually brought him through this rough period.  The premiere of his Second, with the composer at the piano, was dedicated to Dr. Dahl.

#9 Gabriel Fauré

Aug 28, 2016

Requiem in D minor, Op. 48

Fauré's Requiem in D minor, Op. 48 stands out as the composer's most well known large scale work. Due to the Requiem's date of of composition, 1887-1890, it was believed that perhaps Fauré was writing the piece to commemorate his parents, who passed away in 1885 and 1887. However, Fauré was quick to deny this fact, saying in a letter to a fellow composer that "My Requiem wasn't written for anything – for pleasure, if I may call it that!" Unlike the requiems of many composers, Fauré chose to set the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead with music that is tranquil, serene, and gentle. His reasons for writing the music in this way is summed up best by the composer himself in an interview from 1902: “It has been said that my Requiem does not express the fear of death, and someone has called it a lullaby of death. But it is thus that I see death: a happy deliverance, an aspiration towards happiness above, rather than as a painful experience... As to my Requiem, perhaps I have also instinctively sought to escape from what is thought right and proper, after all the years of accompanying burial services on the organ! I know it all by heart. I wanted to write something different.”

#10 George Gershwin

Aug 28, 2016

Rhapsody in Blue  

Imagine hearing the premiere of Rhapsody in Blue!  It happened in the afternoon on February 12, 1924 in New York City. Gershwin was the pianist.  Rachmaninoff was in the crowd; so was John Philip Sousa.  (No pressure, right?)  The concert was billed as An Experiment in Modern Music, and it must have been electric.  The wild opening clarinet glissando sprouted as a musical joke from the orchestra’s playful clarinetist. Gershwin liked it during rehearsal, so he asked him to play it that way at the concert with “as much of a 'wail' as possible.” The first airing of this jazzy concerto established George Gershwin as a “serious” composer -- seriously fresh, bold, and American.

#11 Sir Edward Elgar

Aug 28, 2016

Variations on an Original Theme for Orchestra (Enigma), Op. 36

The story goes that, after a long and tiring day of teaching, Sir Edward Elgar sat down at the piano and began to noodle.  A little tune caught the ear of his wife, Alice, who asked that he repeat it.  And so he did, throwing in variations as he went along. And so began one of Elgar's most beloved works, the Enigma Variations, with the deeply moving Nimrod variation as the centerpiece. Each movement is a variation on an unstated theme, created as a portrait of the Elgars' nearest and dearest friends, including themselves. The piece gave listeners two mysteries: who each movement described, and what that unplayed theme might be. Over time, the musical portraits have been decyphered, but that theme remains one of classical music's biggest mysteries. It's even been suggested that the theme isn't musical--it's perhaps literary or symbolic. But Elgar himself never unveiled the mystery, taking it to his grave.

#12 Gustav Mahler

Aug 28, 2016

Symphony No. 2 in c-minor, Resurrection

Sometimes concertgoers just want spectacle, and Mahler certainly delivered that with his Symphony No. 2, the Resurrection. While several of his other offerings baffled the public and critics alike, this symphony would become one of Mahler's most popular in his lifetime. Mahler began it as a symphonic poem (Totenfeier), added two more movements 5 years later, and then was stymied.  He knew he wanted a choral finale, but what text?  What would work? A year later, when Mahler attended the funeral of the great conductor Hans von Bulow and heard Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock's hymn, Die Auferstehung (The Resurrection), he knew he had his answer. He took two of Klopstock's verses, added some of his own, dropped in an earlier song, Urlicht, and his masterpiece was complete. It is a work that has taken audiences on a journey from dark to light for over a century.

#13 Camille Saint-Saëns

Aug 28, 2016

Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78, Organ

Completed in 1886, the third symphony takes its nickname, Organ, from the pipe organ that appears in two of the work's four sections. The piece was commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society in England and is considered by many scholars and critics to represent the height of Saint-Saëns' artistry. This feeling was echoed by the composer who said that "I gave everything to it I was able to give. What I have here accomplished, I will never achieve again." With both critics and composer agreeing, it is no surprise that the symphony has found its way into WXXI's 40 for 40.

#14 Aaron Copland

Aug 28, 2016

Appalachian Spring

O Appalachian Spring! I gained the ledge;
Steep, inaccessible smile that eastward bends
And northward reaches in that violet wedge
Of Adirondacks!

#15 Erik Satie

Aug 28, 2016

Gymnopédies Nos. 1-3

Erik Satie's atmospheric piano pieces, Gymnopédies, mark an important moment in music history. By writing music that avoids generating either momentum or tension, Satie was rejecting many of the romantic ideas that were prominent in his day. Rather than try to excite the emotions of his audience, Satie chose instead to create music that does not demand to be followed closely, but allows the audience to sit back and enjoy each colorful moment as it happens. This idea would be picked up on by many young composers, including Debussy. This popularity among composers has lead to many differently orchestrated versions of the Gymnopédies, including the version heard in our 40 for 40.

#16 Igor Stravinsky

Aug 28, 2016

The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps)

First performed in Paris in 1913, Igor Stravinsky's ballet The Rite of Spring, is considered one of the most influential works of music written in the twentieth century. The ballet is meant to depict ancient Pagan rituals glorifying the arrival of spring and reaching its climax with the ritual selection of a young maiden who dances herself to death as a sacrifice to the gods of spring. At the ballet's premiere, the choreography of dancer Vaslav Nijinsky caused a riot as the audience objected to how Nijinsky choreographed this primitive scene.  Stravinsky gave two very different accounts of the inspiration for the piece. He first said that the nature of the music he had written dictated the pagan setting, but later said that it was the image of the pagan ritual that inspired the music. Audiences do not seem to care which came first. Instead, they remain fascinated by the same dynamic intensity, rhythmic drive, and angular melodies that helped cause the riot at the piece's premiere.