I’m afraid this is going to be an insufferably sniffy and snobbish post.
A list has recently been compiled of the most played classical music over the past 75 years.
The top ten is
- Orff – O Fortuna (Kurt Eichhorn)
- Vaughan Williams – Fantasia On A Theme By Thomas Tallis (Bernard Haitink)
- Rimsky-Korsakov – Scheherazade (Charles Mackerras)
- Tchaikovsky – The Sleeping Beauty (Mikhail Pletnev)
- Schumann – Romance In F Sharp Major Op 28/2 (Joseph Cooper)
- Delibes – Sylvia (Richard Bonynge)
- Rachmaninov – Symphony No 2 (Vladimir Ashkenazy)
- Holst – The Planets (James Loughran)
- Tchaikovsky – The Sleeping Beauty (Valery Gergiev)
- Schubert – Symphony No 5 (Neville Marriner)
The list was compiled for BBC Radio 2 based on music played on TV, radio, online streaming and public places such as shops.
Now, there’s some very decent music in this list. And, in any case, people have a right to listen to pretty much whatever music they want to, and good luck to them if they happen to enjoy it.
But it has little to do with ‘classical’ music.
In almost every case, the music being played would not have been the work itself, but a small bit of it. Not, say, Rachmaninov’s Symphony No 2, but probably the big tune from the 3rd movement. Moroever, in most cases the music would have been played as a background to something else (shopping, perhaps, or an advert tempting you to shop).
To my mind, classical music is about scale, structure and depth. It is music that is meant to be attended to, not merely played in the background, utilised as an accompaniment to something else, or boiled down to 3-minute excerpts. This is not to say that every classical piece has to be long, complex and serious. But it is to suggest that for a classical piece to ‘work’ it should be listened to in its entirety, attended to closely, and allowed to provoke thoughts and feelings that go beyond the level of mere ‘amusement’.