One of the best ways to attract traffic on the internet seems to be by doing lists. Of course if you are doing lists of classical music you do limit your audience! Much better to do lists of the best cat videos or the stupidest things politicians said this week or best recipes for pasta sauces. Still, my list of the top ten pieces for classical guitar remains a perennial favorite, the most-viewed post on the blog. So here goes, my pick of the ten best compositions of the 20th century. I suspect you know what number one will be. In traditional internet style, we begin with number 10. The links will undoubtedly decay over time, but for now I will put in clips of each piece.
10. Charles Ives, Three Places in New England
9. Alban Berg, Wozzeck
8. Sergei Prokofiev, Piano Concerto No. 2
7. Olivier Messiaen, Turangalîla-Symphonie
6. Igor Stravinsky, Symphony of Psalms
5. Jean Sibelius, Symphony No. 5
4. Bela Bartók, Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta
3. Dmitri Shostakovich, Symphony No. 5
2. Steve Reich, Music for 18 Musicians
1. Igor Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring
(I don't know why, but this clip insists on starting a few seconds in. Just put it back to the beginning!)
Enjoy! And explain to me how I'm all wrong in the comments. I wasn't too analytical with this. I just went with my gut for most of it. These are pieces that continue to fascinate me and that I always enjoy listening to. For some of them I could have swapped in others: instead of Wozzeck I could have listed the Schoenberg Violin Concerto. Instead of the Prokofiev Piano Concerto I could have listed the Sibelius Violin Concerto and so on. The only ones on the list that are really indispensable are The Rite, Steve Reich's Music, and the Turangalîla-Symphonie because they really don't have any equivalents! But I could have replaced the Shostakovich symphony with a couple of other pieces by him and the same with the Bartók. Anyway, these are my choices! If I had one more space I would have included the Symphony No. 3 by Gorecki or something by Arvo Pärt.
Just a final note: I do in fact think that The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky is the finest composition of the 20th century and there is a lot of evidence to back that up. But for the rest of the list, the order is somewhat arbitrary. If you want to say that the Sibelius symphony should come before the Bartók, then I won't argue. These pieces are in such different styles that they are rather incommensurable. Which is better, Wozzeck or the Symphony of Psalms? Or the Music for 18 Musicians? Tell me about it in the comments.