Our Classical Bucket List

98 Pieces Everyone Should Hear in Their Lifetime
Edited by Geoffrey Larson

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The idea of compiling a “Bucket List” of things to see and do before you “kick the bucket” is nothing new. But what are the must-hear works of classical music? We asked some Seattle music personalities in the classical field, along with Classical KING FM announcers and staff, which pieces you absolutely need to check out, and compiled a list of 98 incredible works. Have you experienced them all? Listen to Classical KING FM as we share legendary recordings of these great works all through October – check the Music Schedule here.

1. Allegri, Gregorio: Miserere mei, Deus
>>Learn more: How Mozart Brought Allegri’s Miserere to the Masses

2. Bach, Johann Sebastian: Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G major (Adam Stern)

3. Bach, Johann Sebastian: Goldberg Variations

4. Bach, Johann Sebastian: Mass in B minor (Karen P. Thomas)
>>Karen says: “Some people call this ‘the best piece ever written by the best composer who ever lived.’ I agree! This amazing work was compiled by Bach near the end of his life, possibly as a testimony to his life’s work. Comprised of arias for all voice types (often with instrumental solos) and complex choral movements, this is an absolute tour de force for the singers and instrumentalists – like ascending to the highest mountaintop!”

5. Bach, Johann Sebastian: St. Matthew Passion (Karen P. Thomas) (Ludovic Morlot)
>>Karen says: “Bach wrote his St. Matthew Passion to present the Passion story in music at Good Friday vesper services in Leipzig. Considered one of the pillars of Western sacred music, it is at once monumental and intimate, deeply sorrowful and powerful. Bach’s Passion tells the compelling story of the events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus, with gripping drama. The chorus sings three large movements which frame the story, and they also function as “the crowd” – telling the story along with the narrator, known as The Evangelist. The soloists turn the story to its internal context, providing personal meditations on the elements of the story.”

6. Bartók, Béla: Bluebeard’s Castle

7. Beethoven, Ludwig van: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major (Adam Stern)

8. Beethoven, Ludwig van: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat “Emperor”

9. Beethoven, Ludwig van: Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor “Quasi una fantasia” (“Moonlight” Sonata)

10. Beethoven, Ludwig van: Symphony No. 3 in E flat “Eroica” (Emil de Cou) (Ludovic Morlot)

11. Beethoven, Ludwig van: Symphony No. 6 in F major “Pastoral” (Bryan Lowe)
>>Bryan says: “I’ve included a few very heavy pieces in my list, but this is anything but. I defy you to be in a bad mood listening to this, especially the first movement.”

12. Beethoven, Ludwig van: Symphony No. 9 in C minor “Choral” (“Ode to Joy”) (Christophe Chagnard)
>>Christophe says: “The greatest symphony ever composed! Its universal message of brotherly love seems more relevant than ever. We need to listen better…”

13. Berlioz, Hector: Symphonie fantastique

14. Bernstein, Leonard: Overture to Candide

15. Biber, Heinrich Ignaz von: Passacaglia for unaccompanied violin (from “Mystery Sonatas”) (Byron Schenkman)
>>Byron says: “Biber’s Passacaglia is a model for Bach’s unaccompanied violin music and one of the most beautiful instrumental works of the 17th century.”

16. Bizet, Georges: Carmen

17. Brahms, Johannes: German Requiem (Karen P. Thomas)
>>Karen says: “Many composers have written their most expressive and touching music for settings of the Requiem. Brahms’ setting is a masterwork of great humanity with melting moments of compassion, written to a text which the composer chose himself. Rather than using the traditional Latin Requiem mass, Brahms chose scriptural texts which provide comfort to those who have lost loved ones, and set the text in German so that it would be immediately meaningful for his German audiences. After completing his monumental work Brahms wrote: ‘Now I have surmounted obstacles I thought I could never overcome, and I feel like an eagle, soaring ever higher and higher.'”

18. Brahms, Johannes: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor (Adam Stern)

19. Brahms, Johannes: Piano Quartet in G minor

20. Brahms, Johannes: Symphony No. 3 in F major

21. Britten, Benjamin: The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Op. 34

22. Britten, Benjamin: War Requiem (Karen P. Thomas)
>>Karen says: “This gripping 90-minute work is one of the most searing anti-war pieces ever written. Britten composed it in 1961 for the re-consecration of Coventry Cathedral, which had been destroyed by bombing in WWII. The composer chose to juxtapose the traditional Latin Requiem text with poems written by Wilfrid Owen, a soldier who was killed in WWI. In so doing, he allows the sacred and the secular to co-exist in unresolved tension. The Latin Requiem text is sung by a large chorus and soprano soloist, representing society mourning for the fallen soldiers, as well as a children’s choir performing from a distance, as if a chorus of angels. Tenor and baritone soloists sing the Wilfrid Owen poetry (in English), portraying common soldiers who face death every day. Britten intended for the first performance to be sung by soloists from three different countries that had fought in WWII – England, Germany and Russia – making a strong statement for reconciliation and peace.”

23. Chopin, Frederic: Etude Op. 10/3 in E major “Tristesse” (Bryan Lowe)

24. Chopin, Frederic: Nocturne, Op. 27/2 (Christophe Chagnard)
>>Christophe says: “Until Chopin, the piano was still a percussive instrument. Chopin gave it its sustained cantabile voice like no other pianist before him. And then, the piano sang…”

25. Chopin: Prelude Op. 28/15 “Raindrop”

26. Copland, Aaron: Appalachian Spring (Emil de Cou)
>>Emil says: “Along with Rodeo, Billy the Kid, and Lincoln Portrait these are my favorite works of American music. Copland, the son of Russian emigrants growing up in Brooklyn gave voice to a new sort of American music. The end of Appalachian Spring is particularly touching as the new couple walk into their new home to being their lives together (the Graham ballet is one of the most beautiful and least known ballets in the repertoire). The music hearkens back to a sound that resonates with all Americans – an archetype of Americana that only really exists in our collective imagination of how we imagine our past and the future of our country.”

27. Copland, Aaron: Rodeo

28. Couperin, Francois: Les Nations

29. de Falla, Manuel: Ritual Fire Dance from El Amor, Brujo (Bryan Lowe)
>>Bryan says: “There’s something about this piece that I love. Maybe it’s how effectively it paints a picture, or the cool pizzicato section and the contrasts. Great piece.”

30. Debussy, Claude: Clair de lune (orch. Caplet or Stokowski) (Emil de Cou)
>>Emil says: “I have performed this work a number of times and also played on piano as well. It is an early piece by Debussy from his Suite Bergamasque and a piece that he kept in his desk drawer his entire life. It is one of those perfectly composed pieces with great simplicity and almost a hymn-like purity. The hardest sort of music to write, in my mind.”

31. Debussy, Claude: La Mer

32. Debussy, Claude: Pelléas and Mélisande (Ludovic Morlot)

33. Debussy, Claude: Prelude to the Afternoon of the Faun
>>Christophe says: “A completely new concept of orchestration and rhythm that created and blended tonal colors in a way that produced a sonic universe heralding the revolutionary “impressionist” movement in painting. It’s music liberated from the German dominance in the 18th and 19th Centuries. A new musical language was born…”

34. Debussy, Claude: Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp

35. Dukas, Paul: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

36. Dvořák, Antonín: Bagatelles, Op. 47 (Bryan Lowe)

37. Dvořák, Antonín: Piano Quintet No. 2 (Byron Schenkman)
>>Byron says: “A perfect mix of Classical form, Romantic expression, and irresistible folk-like melodies make this justifiably one of the most popular chamber works of all time.”

38. Dvořák, Antonín: Symphony No. 9 “From the New World” (Emil de Cou)
>>Emil says: “Dvořák was able to see in our country that the true source of a national musical voice was to come first from the native songs of the African American. This pronouncement was met with fierce outrage by the musical establishment of the time in the US and abroad. His symphony not only encompasses the sights and sounds his time here in the United States (including a sections of his unfinished opera The Song of Hiawatha – native drumming in the scherzo and the funeral of Minnehaha in the slow movement) but is also a love letter to our country – I always thought that the title really was ‘To the New World.’ Not 40 years later we have the first important symphony composed by an American – William Grant Still. Based, as Dvorak said our music would be, on the music of African Americans.”

39. Elgar, Edward: Cello Concerto

40. Fauré, Gabriel: Requiem (Bryan Lowe)
>>Bryan says: “Fauré didn’t write of a god to be feared, and it shows.”

41. Gershwin, George: Rhapsody in Blue

42. Griffes, Charles: Sonata for Piano (Emil de Cou)
>>Emil says: “Our first great American impressionist was cut down in his prime in the Spanish flu epidemic of 1919. This piano sonata is the first great work by an American in a totally original and new style. I feel very close to this piece having known and worked with his biographer Edward Maizel who knew Griffes’s mother, family and friends (he has since passed away). At his recommendation I finished the orchestration that Griffes began to make a new symphony from the sonata – Symphony 1919. I hope to perform it here sometime.”

43. Handel, George Frederick: The Messiah

44. Haydn, Franz Joseph: Symphony No. 103 in E flat major “Drumroll” (Adam Stern)

45. Hildegard von Bingen: Caritas habundat No. 25 from Canticles of Ecstasy

46. Holst, Gustav: First Suite in Eb major

47. Holst, Gustav: The Planets, Op. 32

48. Janáček, Leoš: String Quartet No. 1 “Kreutzer Sonata”

49. Lawes, William: Royal Consort Suite No. 3 in D major

50. Mahler, Gustav: Adagietto from Symphony No. 5
>>Christophe says: “Mahler is a complex genius who can elicit the most extreme reactions within a single movement in his compositions. I find him at his finest when he is at his most intimate and humble such as in this deeply personal love letter to Alma.”

51. Mahler, Gustav: Symphony No. 1 “Titan”

52. Mahler, Gustav: Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”

53. Mahler, Gustav: Symphony No. 8 (“Symphony of a Thousand”)

54. Messaien, Olivier: Praise to the Eternity of Jesus from Quartet for the End of Time (Bryan Lowe)
>>Bryan says: “Honestly, I am quite the fan of Messiaen, though this is one of his few works that would find its way to any “top” list. By way of background it is a part of his Quartet for the End of Time, a work first performed in a German prisoner-of-war camp. Transcendent.”

55. Messaien, Olivier: Turangalîla-Symphony

56. Monteverdi, Claudio: Magnificat from Vespers of 1610 (Byron Schenkman)
>>Byron says: “A gorgeous marriage of sacred and secular beauty.”

57. Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus: Clarinet Concerto (Byron Schenkman)
>>Byron says: “Mozart’s concertos are like instrumental operas. There are many masterpieces among them and the clarinet concerto is one of the finest.”

58. Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus: Concerto for Flute and Harp

59. Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus: Don Giovanni (Christophe Chagnard)
>>Christophe says: “My favorite opera! It’s perfect and has EVERYTHING going for it: a great plot, drama, humor, intelligence, a deep understanding of the human condition, timeless melodies, exquisite orchestration and genius invention through and through.”

60. Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus: Le nozze di Figaro (Karen P. Thomas)
>>Karen says: “Any bucket list should include Mozart – here represented by one of his most perfect comic operas. The complicated plot tells how the servants Figaro and Susanna succeed in getting married, foiling the efforts of their philandering employer Count Almaviva to seduce Susanna. The music is sparkling and tender by turns, the comic timing is perfection, and the characters finely drawn and completely engaging.”

61. Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus: Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major (Christophe Chagnard)
>>Christophe says: “I consider the second movement (Andante) to be the most perfect music ever composed, the absolute height of refinement, grace and beauty, a miracle of melodic inspiration and the piece I want to hear while I depart this earth.”

62. Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus: Queen of the Night’s Aria from The Magic Flute (Byron Schenkman)
>>Byron says: “What could be more fabulous?”

63. Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus: Requiem

64. Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus: Symphony No. 36 “Linz” (Adam Stern)

65. Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus: Symphony No. 40 (Christophe Chagnard)
>>Christophe says: “There are not enough superlatives to describe the astonishing quality and quantity of Mozart’s creative output. Whatever the genre, he always excels and seems to rise even higher when composing in minor such as in the stunning opening movement of this penultimate symphony.”

66. Mussorgsky, Modest: Pictures at an Exhibition

67. Prokofiev, Sergei: Romeo and Juliet

68. Purcell, Henry: Dido and Aeneas (Byron Schenkman)
>>Byron says: “One of the few great operas in English and a perfect miniature of all the best characteristics of Baroque opera.”

69. Rachmaninoff, Sergei: Symphony No. 2 in E minor

70. Ravel, Maurice: Daphnis and Chloe (Adam Stern)

71. Ravel, Maurice: Pavane for a Dead Princess

72. Ravel, Maurice: Piano Concerto for the Left Hand (Bryan Lowe)
>>Bryan says: “I’ve loved this piece for decades, but what really sealed the deal for me was an episode of MASH where a pianist loses an arm in battle, and this piece comes to the rescue. There’s a real Phoenix rising from the ashes feel here… such hope and strength.”

73. Ravel, Maurice: String Quartet

74. Ravel, Maurice: The Fairy Garden from Mother Goose (Bryan Lowe)
>>Bryan says: “It just doesn’t get any more beautiful than this… really.”

75. Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3 in C minor “Organ”

76. Schoenberg, Arnold: Transfigured Night

77. Schubert, Franz: “Trout” Quintet

78. Schubert, Franz: Ave Maria

79. Schubert, Franz: Du bist die Ruh (Byron Schenkman)
>>Byron says: “One could pick from dozens of his wonderful songs but this is a good example of his sublime simplicity.”

80. Schubert, Franz: Winterreise (Adam Stern)

81. Schumann, Clara: Piano Trio (Byron Schenkman)
>>Byron says: “A major work by one of the greatest musicians of the 19th century.”

82. Schumann, Robert: Fantasy for piano in C major (Byron Schenkman)
>>Byron says: “A good summary of everything you could want from 19th-century Romantic piano music.”

83. Schumann, Robert: Piano Quintet in E flat major (Adam Stern)

84. Sibelius, Jean: Finlandia

85. Sousa, John Philip: The Stars and Stripes Forever (Emil de Cou)
>>Emil says: “Because it is such fun music!”

86. Still, William Grant: Afro-American Symphony (Emil de Cou)

87. Strauss, Richard: Alpine Symphony

88. Strauss, Richard: Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30

89. Strauss, Richard: Im Abendrot from Four Last Songs (Bryan Lowe)
>>Bryan says: “Well, Strauss never called them “Four Last Songs,” as he didn’t know they would be, but he certainly was aware of his mortality as he wrote this song, especially. The lyrics and music tell a tale of a couple, together in love for many decades, holding hands and looking out over the sea, perhaps, pondering what’s to come. The tone has hints of melancholy and even foreboding, but for the most part this is a work built upon a sense of a life of happiness, of acceptance, of calm. Honestly, it is rare for me not to tear up as I listen, in part for the stunning beauty of the music, and at least in some small way from my own sense of happiness for a beautiful life I’ve lived and the love for those that mean so much to me. Melancholy at times, yes, but there is so much love and hope here, as well. The older I get, the more this piece means to me.”

90. Stravinsky, Igor: The Rite of Spring (Emil de Cou) (Christophe Chagnard)
>>Christophe says: “Still unmatched today for its astonishing rhythmic audacity and inventiveness. For three decades, I’ve studied this wondrous score and to this day, still feel bewildered by its supreme mastery and complete originality. It’s powerful music from the earth to our most primal core!”

91. Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilyich: Orchestral Suite No. 3 in G major (Adam Stern)
>>Adam says: “While not as famous as some of his other works, this is the Tchaikovsky piece that has it all: flawless orchestration, burning and yearning melodies that no-one else could write, exuberant spirits, emotional intimacy, and a theme-and-variations finale that is a testament to Tchaikovsky’s limitless inventiveness. A must.”

92. Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilyich: Piano Trio (Byron Schenkman)
>>Byron says: “There are a lot of pieces by Tchaikovsky that I would want people to know; this one is a particular favorite which I find devastatingly beautiful!”

93. Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilyich: Swan Lake Ballet Suite

94. Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilyich: Symphony No. 5 (Emil de Cou)
>>Emil says: “I put this at the top of my list being one of my absolute favorite pieces by my absolute favorite composer. I think that listening to Tchaikovsky’s music when I was young is what made me want to conduct for dance. It is also the only symphony that does not have percussion of any sort. He was criticized in Germany about his music being not at all like Brahms (who he did not like at all) so this was his response.”

95. Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilyich: Symphony No. 6 in B minor “Pathetique” (Ludovic Morlot)

96. Vaughan Williams, Ralph: Symphony No. 6 in E minor (Adam Stern)

97. Verdi, Giuseppe: Requiem

98. Wagner, Richard: Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde (Christophe Chagnard) (Ludovic Morlot)
>>Christophe says: “Music was never the same after this famous prelude which explored the boundaries of tonality to its zenith. No one but Wagner could push chromaticism to such degree while creating a tribute to love that stands among the most poignant ever rendered.”

Emil de Cou 75x75Emil de Cou
Music Director, Pacific Northwest Ballet


Bryan Lowe 75x75Bryan Lowe
Station Manager, 98.1 Classical KING FM


Karen P Thomas 75x75Karen P. Thomas
Composer and Music Director, Seattle Pro Musica


Christophe Chagnard 75x75Christophe Chagnard
Composer and Music Director, Lake Union Civic Orchestra


Ludovic Morlot 75x75Ludovic Morlot
Music Director, Seattle Symphony


Byron Schenkman2 75x75Byron Schenkman
Concert Pianist/Harpsichordist and Chamber Musician, Director Byron Schenkman and Friends


Adam Stern 75x75Adam Stern
Music Director, Seattle Philharmonic

Additional selections from Classical KING FM Staff.


  1. Saundra White

    I am in shock that you compiled a “Greatest of All Time” list and didn’t include any Vivaldi! That alone is a crime! And what about Ravel’s Bolero? I think your list is lacking.

  2. F T Kettering

    Always fun to read a list like this. Unfortunately too many of these pieces fall into the “often heard” category rather than the “must hear.” Kudos to Karen P. Thomas, every one of whose choices would fit comfortably into a tiny bucket of just ten essential works. Also to Byron Schenkman, whose picks show some real imagination. Here are a few you might have added: 1) virtually anything by William Byrd; Schuetz, “Psalms of David”; Schumann, “Dichterliebe”; Beethoven’s greatest symphony, the 7th; Schubert’s C Major Quintet; Sibelius, 5th Symphony; Mahler, Rueckert Lieder; and especially Handel’s astonishing “Dixit Dominus.”

    1. F T Kettering

      You are welcome to delete my snarky first reply. Good word, “moderation.” Please allow me to show some, before the “moderator” gets his chance:

      Always fun to read a list like this. Kudos to Karen P. Thomas, every one of whose choices would fit comfortably into a tiny bucket of just ten essential works. Also to Byron Schenkman, whose picks show such range and imagination. Here are a few “must hears” you might have added: 1) virtually anything by William Byrd; Schuetz, “Psalms of David”; Schumann, “Dichterliebe”; Beethoven’s greatest symphony, the 7th; Schubert’s C Major Quintet; Sibelius, 5th Symphony; Mahler, “Rueckert Lieder”; and especially Handel’s astonishing “Dixit Dominus.”

  3. Barbara Wollman

    An excellent list. Had it been called “98 Greatest …” I would add a lot more Haydn, Verdi and Wagner, and also some Shostakovich. And while you’re at it, Boris Godunov, Peter Grimes, Albert Herring, Reimann’s Lear, and the Beethoven string quartets. There: perfect.

  4. Dick Russell

    Is there an offer that I contribute $100 to your station, and you make all of these pieces available on DVD recording? What is the specific offer?

  5. Art Segal

    Thank you. Of course, to make this kind of list is quite a challenge! I think we need more Beethoven Piano Sonatas (“Waldstein,” “Appassionata” and “Les Adieux”) and Rachmaninoff Piano Concertos No. 2 & 3. How about Prokofiev’s “Love for Three Oranges”? And it would be easy to fill up the 98 with Chopin only. How about The 498 Pieces…

  6. Gayle Charlesworth

    Well you all came up with an impressive list. Mine would include Shostakovich Peano Concerto No. 2 played by Leonard Bernstein, and Wagners “Farewell to Brunhilde” aria from The Ring. Loved the Season spotlight by the way. Thanks for being there Brad, Lisa, Dave, Sean and all of you who make my days special.

  7. Kate

    Couldn’t help noticing only one woman included in your list of personalities. Also, clearly one hundred isn’t enough (though there are some I’ve not heard) if you have missed Ernest Bloch’s Concerti Grossi, Beethoven’s 5th and 7th, Chopin’s Piano Concerto, and so on. Nonetheless, it will be fun to hear your list.


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