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14 Of The Best 19th And 20th Century Musical Pieces That Reinvent The Phrase ‘Classical Music’

The genre of classical music encompasses many sub-genres, and not all of these pieces are stuffy. sixteenth-century bores.

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Facebook / Academy of St. Martin in the Fields

The words "classical music" evoke images of boredom and of pretentious old men wearing white wigs. But these 14 pieces, all from the ninteenth and twentieth century, will quickly dispel the stereotypes surrounding classical music.

1. String Quartet No. 2 (Alexander Borodin)

This string quartet is probably one of my favorite quartet pieces. You've probably heard the Nocturne movement, but I also enjoy the first movement.

2. Pavane pour une infante défunte (Maurice Ravel)

Literally meaning "Pavane for a dead princess," this beautiful piece by Ravel (originally written for solo piano) exemplifies tones of Spanish music and is probably one of the greatest orchestral masterpieces.

3. Salut d'amour (Edward Elgar)

This piece is one of my favorite pieces for violin and piano. Lively and a bit sorrowful at the same time, Salut d'amour is the perfect example of twentieth century English music.

4. Clair de Lune (Claude Debussy)

You've probably heard of (and heard) this song. If you enjoy this piece, I would recommend Debussy's Deux arabesques.

5. Gymnopédie No. 1 (Erik Satie)

Similar to Debussy's Clair de Lune, Erik Satie's Gymnopedie No. 1 is soft piano music (the kind that invokes feelings of France in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century).

6. American Quartet (DescriptionAntonín Dvořák) 

Dvorak wrote this enthralling piece while he was in America. While composing this, he was influenced by native, folk and African American music.

7. Serenade for Strings (Antonín Dvořák)

Dvorak was said to have composed this piece in just under two weeks — impressive for such a beautiful piece.

8. Polovtsian Dances No. 17 (Alexander Borodin)

There are many different variations in this song — some haunting melodies, others fast-paced dances.

9. Pictures at an Exhibition: Promenade (Modest Mussorgsky)

Originally for solo piano, Pictures at an Exhibition describe Mussorgsky's "stroll" through an exhibition and the various pieces of art he observes.

10. Partita No. 2, BWV 1004 (Johann Sebastian Bach)

Nothing is more powerful than Bach and the solo violin. And this rendition, performed by Hilary Hahn, proves just that. (This piece is not from the nineteenth century, nor is it from the twentieth century. However, it is one of the pieces that give a new meaning to classical music.)

11. Fantasie-Impromptu (Frederic Chopin)

One of Chopin's most well-known pieces, Fantasie-Impromptu is technically hard yet pleasing to listen to.

12. Barcarolle (Offenbach)

Featuring a soprano and mezzo-soprano, Offenbach's Barcarolle is probably one of the most famous ones of its name.

13. Bolero (Maurice Ravel)

The overall dynamics of this famous orchestral piece grow louder and louder; Ravel based Bolero on a tale of a dancer whose movements become faster and more excited.

14. Scheherazade

Based on "One Thousand and One Nights," Scheherazade features an expressive violin solo, as well as Russian and Eastern influences.

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