Classic 100 – Showing Us Our Conservative Ears

The Hottest 100 Classical has finished and has left us with a list as conservative, bizarre, infuriating and glorious as JJJ’s Hottest 100 Of All Time. There were some parallel trends. In terms of Australian music, the Hilltop Hoods came in No. 17 as the highest placed Australian band in the JJJ – in the Classic 100, it was Nigel Westlake coming 29th. Sentimental favourite Jeff Buckley popped in several times down the list – his musical equivalent – even if not in his type of death – Rachmaninov, featured heavily.

There were differences, however. Musical experimentation of the type Radiohead use in popular music was rewarded in the JJJ list, whilst experimentation in the Classic FM list was shunned to an extent, instead more structured, tonal music was favoured by voters. There was also a deliberate effort by JJJ voters to not support more “commercial” music, such as that performed by U2 – with the result of their songs missing out on the list. In Classic FM land, the most apt equivalent would be Elgar (conservative, some innovations, a bit melancholic) whose music features throughout.

The Classic FM list also favoured the more conservative, tonal music written before 1950 – 80 works feature from that period.  The works composed after that time seemed to attract most of the negative feedback on the phone lines – with one exception – the Messiaen Turangalila Symphonie was composed in the first half of the century.

I have, for the purposes of debate and discussion, divided the list into a range of categories, which will reveal to an extent what I think this list from the 20th Century has produced and told us about the listeners. Those categories are: The Screamers – works that scream and confront the ears of listeners; The Challengers – works that force listeners to concentrate and bend their perceptions of music (though without the confrontation of the screamers); Throwbacks – works that sound like they belong to the 19th Century or earlier; The Impressionists and Nationalists; Late Romantics – Works that contain the excesses of the Europe hurtling towards the First World War or fan the flames of the romantics with a bit of a twist; The Australians; The Americans; The Melancholic – Works that are often unrelentingly sad and filled with pain; The Minimalists – Composers who repeat phrases, showing us the repetitiveness of life in the 20th Century (yes, they are American, but quite different from the others in the list). Soundtracks – Music that is deliberately for films, ballets or plays, or music that gained their position because they featured in one.

You will notice that the “screamers” and “challengers” are pretty low in number, compared to the throwbacks and late romantic. I can’t say that I was very surprised with the lineup – except to say that I thought symphonies by Mahler and Shostakovich would have made a stronger showing. Plus, I’d forgotten completely about “Orange Juice”. It certainly made for a great week, really – the difference in programming from the usual fare was welcome, if disappointing for many.  The dominance of English music wasn’t a surprise, considering our historical status as a musical colony of England until relatively recently. One of the other interesting features was the popularity of American music over that of Australia. I would imagine the top 10 of a Classic 100 20th Century in the US would probably feature most, if not all, American works (including the overly pompous Lincoln Portrait). It would also feature a lot less of the music of England.  Here’s my list. And later this week – my Salon Des Refuses – music that should have appeared in the Classic 100. Instead of the Lloyd Webber, Shore, Ramirez and Jenkins.


96, SHOSTAKOVICH – Symphony No.10 in E minor Op.93

81, MESSIAEN – Turangalila-Symphonie

41, MESSIAEN – Quatuor Pour Le Fin Du Temps

9, STRAVINSKY – Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring)

Not many. And not a note of 12 Tone Music, which would have been in this list.



92, BRITTEN – Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings

85, WEILL – The Threepenny Opera: Prologue and Act 1

63, SCHOENBERG – Verklarte Nacht (Transfigured Night) for string sextet Op.4

60, SHOSTAKOVICH – Symphony No.7 in C Op.60, ‘Leningrad’

59, BRITTEN – War Requiem

50, BRITTEN – Peter Grimes

47, STRAVINSKY – Petrushka

42, BARTOK – Concerto for Orchestra

35, STRAVINSKY – L’Oiseau de feu (The Firebird)

31, SHOSTAKOVICH – Symphony No.5 in d minor Op.47



99, RAMIREZ – Misa Criolla

97, ADDINSELL – Warsaw Concerto

95, TAVENER – Song for Athene

93, ELGAR – Violin Concerto in B minor, Op.61

91, LLOYD WEBBER – A Requiem: Pie Jesu

90, SHORE – Lord of the Rings

89, LEHAR – The Merry Widow

86, VAUGHAN WILLIAMS – Fantasia on Greensleeves

80, GRAINGER – Irish Tune from County Derry

78, ELGAR – Symphony No.1 in A-flat Op.55

70, BRITTEN – A Ceremony of Carols

69, RACHMANINOFF – Vespers Op. 37 (All Night Vigil)

68, JENKINS – The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace

65, PARRY – Jerusalem

57, PROKOFIEV – Symphony No.1 in D Op.25, ‘Classical’ (really throwing back)

53, RESPIGHI – Ancient Airs and Dances (ditto)

52, PUCCINI – Turandot

44, RACHMANINOFF – Symphony No.2 in e minor Op.27

38, PROKOFIEV – Peter and the Wolf, Op. 67

28, PUCCINI – Tosca

22, RACHMANINOFF – Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Op.43

19, RACHMANINOFF – Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor Op.30

17, PUCCINI – Madama Butterfly

12, VAUGHAN WILLIAMS – Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis

6, RODRIGO – Concierto de Aranjuez

5, RACHMANINOV – Piano Concerto No. 2

4, VAUGHAN WILLIAMS – The Lark Ascending



94, SIBELIUS – Symphony No. 7 in C major, Op. 105

84, VILLA LOBOS – Bachianas Brazileiras No.5

83, RAVEL – Daphnis and Chloe

67, DEBUSSY – Preludes

55, CANTELOUBE – Chants d’Auvergne (Songs of the Auvergne)

54, RAVEL – Pavane pour une infante defunte (Pavane for a Dead Princess)

37, RAVEL – String Quartet in F

34, DEBUSSY – La Mer

32, COPLAND – Fanfare for the Common Man

30, SIBELIUS – Symphony No. 5

27, SIBELIUS – Symphony No. 2 in D Major Op. 43

23, SIBELIUS – Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47

21, ELGAR – Pomp and Circumstance March No 1 in D Op.39

20, RAVEL – Bolero

15, SIBELIUS – Finlandia



88, ELGAR – Dream of Gerontius

75, STRAUSS – An Alpine Symphony Op 64

74, KORNGOLD – Violin Concerto in D, Op35

73, MAHLER – Symphony No 6 in A Minor

66, MAHLER – Symphony No.9 in D

64, RESPIGHI – Pini di Roma (Pines of Rome)

61, MAHLER – Symphony No.4 in G

58, MAHLER – Symphony No.8 in E-flat, ‘Symphony of a Thousand’

40, STRAUSS – Der Rosenkavalier, Op. 59

33, MAHLER – Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth)

25, MAHLER – Symphony No.5 in c-sharp minor

11, STRAUSS – Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs)

8, ORFF – Carmina Burana

2, HOLST – The Planets



87, O’BOYLE – Concerto for Didgeridoo

51, SCULTHORPE – Kakadu

49, EDWARDS – Dawn Mantras

46, SCULTHORPE – Small Town

45, EDWARDS – Violin Concerto ‘Maninyas’

39, KATS-CHERNIN – Wild Swans

29, WESTLAKE – Antarctica Suite



79, BARBER – Violin Concerto Op.14

76, BERNSTEIN – Candide

72, GERSHWIN – An American in Paris

32, COPLAND – Fanfare for the Common Man

24, GERSHWIN – Porgy and Bess

18, COPLAND – Appalachian Spring

13, BERNSTEIN – West Side Story

7, BARBER – Adagio For Strings

3, GERSHWIN – Rhapsody in Blue



56, PART – Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten

16, PART – Spiegel Im Spiegel

14, GORECKI – Symphony No.3 Op.36, ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’

7, BARBER – Adagio For Strings

1, ELGAR – Cello Concerto in E minor Op.85



100, ADAMS – Nixon in China

82, GLASS – Akhnaten

43, GLASS – Violin Concerto No.1



98, PROKOFIEV – Lieutenant Kije Suite

97, ADDINSELL – Warsaw Concerto

90, SHORE – Lord of the Rings

48, SHOSTAKOVICH – Gadfly Suite

29, WESTLAKE – Antarctica Suite

26, KHACHATURIAN – Spartacus

20, RAVEL – Bolero

10, PROKOFIEV – Romeo and Juliet Op.64

8, ORFF – Carmina Burana

7, BARBER – Adagio For Strings

6, RODRIGO – Concierto de Aranjuez


8 thoughts on “Classic 100 – Showing Us Our Conservative Ears

  1. rosemour says:

    really the 2 Messiaen pieces were pretty much the only pieces which could be considered ‘modern’ or ‘difficult’ for want of better terms, everything else was comfort zone….you should visit the Metropolis Ensemble site and listen to some of the hot off the press stuff….PBS radio in America does a much better job of airing new music than Aunty

  2. Jay says:

    Rosemour, I’d be interested to see which PBS stations or programs you mean. Aunty airs many hours of new music every week, in New Music Up Late, Quiet Space, Sound Lab and many other shows.

    1. prestontowers says:

      It’s good that Classic FM have shows with new music, though having them at 10.30 and afterwards makes them a bit difficult to access for people – makes them a little bit of a specialist ghetto – like what the commercial networks did to the fans of the West Wing, The Sopranos and Six Feet Under – having to stay up late to follow the show. I actually didn’t know those shows existed until you mentioned them, Julian – now I’m going to make a point of looking for them. Thanks for reading and replying.

  3. Gaye Norgren says:

    What did you really expect? The majority of people vote for what is familiar and accessible. Even live concerts stick to the old faithfuls, far too much of the 18th and 19th century – so how do people get to know the music of their own time?

  4. Chris N says:

    “And not a note of 12 Tone Music”

    Says it all for me. Why we waste time with this appalling music I have NO idea. Some would agree that I have “no idea” but I say to them: “The people have voted – the Emperor has NO clothes”

  5. YMC says:

    Why did Shore’s Lord of the Rings get in and nothing by John Williams who composed some of the most epic soundtracks of the late 20th century?

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