My musical tastes

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Also see my collection of MIDI files.

Classical music

My favorite composers are: Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn, Richard Wagner, Peter Tchaikovski, Antonín Dvořák, Edward Elgar, Anton Bruckner and Ludwig van Beethoven.

One may wonder that Johann Sebastian Bach does not appear in this list; actually, I very much like Bach's music. But I do not listen to it at all in the same way as I listen to romantic music. When I do mathematics, I love listening to the Well-Tempered Clavier, or the Art of the Fugue (both by J. S. Bach). On the other hand, when I am having less intellectual activities, I prefer listening to romantic music, and when I am writing a novel, that becomes an absolute necessity. Note also that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart does not appear in the above list: though I do not really dislike Mozart, I have always thought that he is not at all up to his reputation. In any case, my favorite composer is definitely Brahms; the truly wonderful thing about Brahms is not so much that he wrote so beautiful things, but that everything he wrote is really first-class.

Strangely, there is one element of music (of all times) that I do not like, and that is the human voice. Whether in the hands of Bach, Brahms, Wagner or Verdi, I do not like the human voice. One reason is that it distracts me: I like listening to music as a background, and the words of a sung piece will always distract me (and besides, I speak so many languages that they will always be in a tongue that I understand :-). Besides, the words are nearly always corny (In My Humble Opinion) and repetitive (for example, one can have a whole choir repeating alleluiah a good dozen times, and that will simply get on my nerves; and Wagner was simply not a good writer). About the only exception I can think of is Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream, and that is probably because the words are Shakespeare's. Anyway, it is most unfortunate for me that Wagner and Verdi almost exclusively wrote operas, because I really like the orchestral passages in these operas (such as the overtures) but the singing I can't abide.

Anyway, here are my favorite pieces, with the exception of those by Bach, for reasons explained above:

  1. D-dur Kanon by Johann Pachelbel. Probably the single best-known piece of music on earth.
  2. Pomp and Circumstance by Edward Elgar. Especially number 1 (of course), but I love the other ones, too.
  3. First Symphony by Johannes Brahms. Especially the third and fourth movements. The fourth movement has this theme in it... simply divine.
  4. Piano Concerto by Robert Schumann. Simply brilliant!
  5. Musik zu Shakespeares Sommernachtstraum (aka “Midsummer Night's Dream”) by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. Especially the Notturno and the Hochzeitsmarsch (Wedding March). Just what wouldn't I give to listen to Shakespeare's play with Mendelssohn's music...
  6. Tannhäuser Overture by Richard Wagner. Truly moving, and in a strange way similar to the Notturno mentioned above.
  7. String Serenade n.2 by Johannes Brahms. Especially the last movement. Listen to it and all your troubles will go away.
  8. Third Symphony (Rhenish) by Robert Schumann. And above all the first few bars, one of the simply Grand themes in the history of music (I'm sure it inspired the music of the movie Willow by the way).
  9. Fifth Symphony (Fate) by Peter Tchaikovski. With this mighty “Fate Theme” that grabs you in the first movement, and gets transformed in a wonderful way in the last movement.
  10. Fourth Symphony (Romantic) by Anton Bruckner. A work of genius.
  11. Violin Concerto by Peter Tchaikovski. Dazzling.
  12. Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms. The counterpart of Tchaikovski's violin concerto.
  13. String Serenade by Antonín Dvořák. With a few magnificent themes.
  14. Third Symphony (Scottish) by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, wished to personally congratulate the composer for this magnificent work, and I agree with her.
  15. Russian Easter Overture by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The heart of Russia is in this work, so profound and mysterious.
  16. String Serenade by Peter Tchaikovski. The heart of Russia also, but in a better mood :-)
  17. Eighth Symphony by Antonín Dvořák. Each movement contains a glorious theme. This symphony ought to be better known.
  18. The Planets by Gustav Holst. Especially Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune. Cosmic, in verity.
  19. Sixth Symphony (Pathetic) by Peter Tchaikovski. Only I find the name rather inadequate.
  20. Der Einzug der Götter in Walhall by Richard Wagner (from the opera Das Rheingold). The romantic counterpoint of Bach's works.
  21. Third Symphony by Johannes Brahms. With that extraordinary second movement.
  22. Ninth Symphony (From the New World) by Antonín DvoŸák. Very beautiful themes.
  23. Fifth Symphony (Reformation) by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. The solemnity and grandness of the last movement had me seduced.
  24. Kinderszenen & Waldszenen (Scenes from Childhood and Forest Scenes) by Robert Schumann. These truly conjure an image in the mind.
  25. Overture of La Forza del Destino by Giuseppe Verdi. Another of these almost divine themes.
  26. Piano Sonata n.17 (The Tempest) by Ludwig van Beethoven. A magical piece of music.
  27. First Piano Concerto by Johannes Brahms. Dark and brooding but truly impressive.
  28. Fifth Symphony (Fate) by Ludwig van Beethoven. With the possible exception of the opening bars :-)
  29. Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz. Especially the fourth movement — you might really believe to be walking to the scaffold!
  30. First Symphony (Spring) by Robert Schumann. Very lively and pleasant.
  31. Ninth Symphony (Unfinished) by Anton Bruckner. Grand with a capital G.
  32. Dead March by Frédéric Chopin. Sober and sorrowful.
  33. Overture of Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi. All the glory of Nabucodonozor is there.
  34. Second Symphony by Johannes Brahms. Just great.
  35. Seventh Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven. Especially the so sorrowful second movement.
  36. In the Steppes of Central Asia by Alexander Borodin. Truly fantastic themes.
  37. Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber. A rarity among contemporary music.
  38. Fourth Symphony (Souvenir of Beethoven's Fifth) by Peter Tchaikovski. A very mighty piece of music.
  39. Sixth Symphony (Italian) by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. All the beauty of Italy is there.
  40. Sixth Symphony (Pastoral) by Ludwig van Beethoven. Pastoral, indeed.
  41. Prelude in D minor by Frédéric Chopin. Very short, but deeply moving.
  42. Second Piano Concerto by Johannes Brahms. Luminous; an interesting counterpoint to Schumann's piano concerto and Brahms' own first piano concerto.
  43. Fourth Symphony by Robert Schumann. Especially the Romance.
  44. Violin Concerto by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. Justly famous.
  45. Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgski. Especially The Great Gate of Kiev. Pictures of a great value...
  46. Fourth Symphony by Johannes Brahms. Just Brahms.
  47. Second Symphony by Robert Schumann. Just Schumann.
  48. Te Deum by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. Especially the Prélude (of course).
  49. Hungarian Rhapsody n.2 by Franz Liszt. A very interesting piece of music, with some parts that are almost mediocre and others of astounding beauty.

Johann Sebastian Bach

J.S.Bach certainly merits a separate classification. My favorite works by him are the Art of the Fugue and the Musical Offering (especially the final six-part ricercar). Next come the Well-Tempered Clavier, the Violin Sonate and the Goldberg variations.

Other kinds of music

For one thing, I do not at all like “classical contemporary music”, that is the works of such composers as Schönberg, Berg, Messiaen, Stravinsky (except in his “neo-classical” mood), Boulez, Ligeti, Stockhausen and so on. It is my humble opinion that what these composers attempted, namely redefining the Canons of Beauty, is of an unbelievable conceit. It took the classical form of art twenty-five centuries to reach an acceptable definition of beauty and suddenly the twentieth century wanted to go against that. Only that does not work. The notion of beauty and harmony in music is not arbitrary (a proof of that being that music from other and independent civilizations such as the China is not so different from western music), it is based on physical phenomena such as resonance; attempting to go against the “major third chord” pillar of music is stupid and fruitless (still in my (not so) humble opinion). Besides, art should never “go against” anything...

There are, luckily, some composers in the twentieth century who are still capable of composing music of the kind that I like. They get snobbed by self-proclaimed connoisseurs, of course, and that is most unfortunate. The kind of contemporary music I like is exemplified by the soundtrack of the Star Wars movies, composed by John Williams, which is not at all a minor work of art but truly first-class, and very much in the spirit of Wagner. Some computer games also come with very good soundtracks (at least, as good as the poor quality of the MIDI format will admit), in particular Origin's Ultima series, the game Betrayal at Krondor, or the King's Quest series. I can also recommend the music of this composer (MP3 format on

On the other hand, I dislike music with songs in it, as I already explained, and I also very much dislike music that gets too loud or too rythmic (I think music should conjure feelings such as happiness, sorrow, thoughtfulness, hope, jollity, exaltation, but certainly not anger or excitation), nor do I like the tendency for some popular singers to “forget” that there are other human emotions than Love and Anger.

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David Madore
Last modified: $Date: 2003/08/10 22:00:20 $