If you wanted to expose someone to classical music for the first time, and plant in them the same love and enjoyment you have for it – what music would you choose for their listening pleasure?
Let’s make it more difficult and limit it to…say five selections all told, whether they are complete symphonies, single canons, what have you. Pick from your favorite period, or go across the board.
What to recommend depends on your victim. If it’s your own small child, what you choose is less important than the example you set. Listen to a variety of good music and let osmosis do its work.
For older listeners, my instinct would be to favor shorter pieces over longer, suites over symphonies, accessibility over complexity, and to emphasize variety and liveliness. Robert covered the period from Vivaldi to Beethoven with his suggestions. You can regard the following as a supplement to his list.
Chopin: the ballades. Or the polonaises, or the preludes, or the etudes — Chopin’s output mostly fits neatly into CD-sized sets, and they’re all good introductions to 19th-century piano music.
Mendelssohn: the overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Sure, it’s over-familiar, but it’s still wonderful, and it might be new to your listener.
Dvorak: the Slavonic Dances. Lively, melodious and not too long. Here’s Op. 46, #7 in C minor.
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, Jonel Perlea, conductor
Prokofiev: Toccata, Op. 11. Bartok and Prokofiev make Metallica seem like wimps. (If your listener emphatically does not care for heavy music, substitute Debussy’s La cathedrale engloutie.)
Gyorgy Sandor, piano
Stravinsky, Octet for Wind Instruments. This may be a stretch for beginning listeners, but I find this bit of neoclassicism more immediately likeable than the big ballets.
There is plenty of other music that comes to mind, of course, but these will do for now.
A final suggestion: be wary of budget releases and older recordings. I’m tempted to recommend Lipatti’s performances of the Chopin watzes, which are playing as I write this, but those were recorded nearly sixty years ago and sound like it. For neophytes, you want not only recordings of good performances but also recordings that sound good to untrained ears.
One of my commenters notes that she sometimes can’t see the mp3 players. Has anyone else had trouble with them?