This year, we’re taking you “Behind the Top 100”, spotlighting select pieces on KUSC’s Top 100 Countdown with fun and informative blogs about the music you love.
At KUSC, we play hundreds of years worth of incredible music each and every day. So, when you voted for your favorite pieces for the KUSC Top 100 Countdown, it was probably very difficult to choose. On top of that, there are only 100 slots so not all your favorites broke the plane.
Here’s a list of 10 of your favorite pieces that barely missed making the countdown.
Brace yourself. There are some major upsets here!
101. Johann Strauss II: The Blue Danube
Johann Strauss II’s Blue Danube Waltz danced its way off this year’s KUSC Top 100 Countdown. The Waltz King wrote 500 dance pieces during his lifetime, 150 of them being waltzes. Arguably his most famous waltz of all, The Blue Danube gained mainstream popularity in the late 1960s as the score for the famous space docking scene in Stanley Kubrick’s classic sci-fi film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Not so fun fact: Kubrick originally commissioned composer Alex North (A Streetcar Named Desire, Spartacus, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?) to write the score for the entire film, but during post-production, and after North had already finished the entire score, Kubrick decided to use classical pieces in the film instead. It’s rumored that North didn’t find out that his score had been replaced until he showed up to the screening of the film.
Listen to the original score for the scene and let us know if you think Kubrick made the right choice.
And while you’re at it, check out The Simpsons take on the iconic scene.
102. Richard Wagner: Die Valkure: Ride of the Valkyries
We all know the tune. In fact, there’s an entire generation of classical music lovers who were introduced to the art form by watching Elmer Fudd chase Bugs Bunny around in the popular cartoon short, What’s Opera, Doc? When the piece comes on, you’ll likely catch yourself singing “Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit…” Richard Wagner’s thrilling Ride of the Valkyries from his opera Die Walküre – part of the epic Ring Cycle – rode off the countdown to #102.
103. Franz Schubert: Symphony No. 8 “Unfinished”
A lesson from Franz Schubert: finish what you started, or you’ll finish just outside of KUSC’s Top 100 Countdown. Although never completed, Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony continues to be one of his most popular works. He completed two gorgeous movements of the piece and the first two pages of a scherzo. Musicologists are still unsure as to why the piece was never completed, but there is some speculation…
104. Giacomo Puccini: Turandot: “Nessun Dorma”
The famous aria from another unfinished work drops out of the Top 100 and into our Just Missed List. Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot tells the story of Prince Calaf who falls in love with Turandot, a princess who requires all potential suitors to solve three riddles or die. Puccini completed the first two acts of the opera and most of the third but passed away before he could finish it. Composer Franco Alfano completed the opera by reconstructing sketches left behind by Puccini.
Already one of the most well-known tenor arias in the opera world, “Nessun Dorma” became even more popular after Luciano Pavarotti’s performance at the 1990 World Cup in Italy. These days, it’s impossible to think of “Nessun Dorma” and not think of Pavarotti. In fact, the trailer to the upcoming Pavarotti film features his performance of the aria…
105. Frédéric Chopin: Ballade No. 1 in G minor
Frédéric Chopin was a piano master who featured the instrument in all his compositions. After fleeing Poland because of the political turmoil that turned into the Polish-Russian War of 1830-31, he settled in Paris where he wrote some of his most powerful (and difficult!) pieces, the four ballades.
The ballades are said to be based on the poetry of Adam Mickiewicz, a native of Poland who was active in the struggle to win independence for his home.
Chopin died at the age of 39 in Paris and his body was buried in the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery where many legends rest. His heart, however, was placed in a jar of cognac and smuggled back to his homeland, where it remains to this day at Holy Cross Church in Warsaw, Poland.
Of his first ballade, Robert Schumann wrote his friend saying: “I received a new Ballade from Chopin. It seems to be a work closest to his genius (although not the most ingenious) and I told him that I like it best of all his compositions. After quite a lengthy silence he replied with emphasis, ‘I am happy to hear this since I too like it most and hold it dearest.”
Check out Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G minor, performed exquisitely by another great Polish pianist, Krystian Zimerman.
106. Gustav Mahler: Adagietto from Symphony No. 5
One of Gustav Mahler’s most famous and most performed works (and a real tear-jerker) was knocked off this year’s Top 100 Countdown, falling to #106.
The Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony is said to have been a declaration of love to his wife Alma.
According to a letter that Alma wrote to conductor Willem Mengelberg, Gustav left her a poem with the piece that read:
In which way I love you, my sunbeam,
I cannot tell you with words.
Only my longing, my love and my bliss
can I with anguish declare.
On June 8, 1968, Leonard Bernstein led the New York Philharmonic in the Adagietto for the funeral service of Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
Here’s an excerpt of a live recording from the mass:
107. Johannes Brahms: Violin Concerto
One of the great violin concertos by one of the great German composers drops off the countdown to #107. As violinist Joseph Joachim put it, “The Germans have four violin concertos. The greatest, the most uncompromising, is Beethoven’s. The one by Brahms vies with it in seriousness. The richest, the most seductive was written by Max Bruch. But the most inward, the heart’s jewel, is Mendelssohn’s.” Joachim not only advised Johannes Brahms on the violin part in the concerto but was also the soloist at the premiere in 1879.
You may recognize the third movement below from Paul Thomas Anderson’s Oscar-winning film, There Will Be Blood.
108. Peter Tchaikovsky: Sleeping Beauty Waltz
Peter Tchaikovsky’s famed-ballet Sleeping Beauty was, well, slept on in this year’s KUSC Top 100. This melodic beauty by Tchaikovsky is arguably the most famous ballet of all and one of his most popular works. The initial reception for his ballet was mild, and unfortunately, he didn’t get to see how popular it became since he died only three years later at the age of 53.
These days, when you hear themes from Sleeping Beauty, you might automatically start singing song lyrics. The 1959 Disney film adapted some of Tchaikovsky’s music for songs including the Sleeping Beauty Waltz.
See if you can sing along to Once Upon a Dream.
109. Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring
If you believe the stories, The Rite of Spring‘s premiere was struck by a massive riot. Let’s hope the piece’s absence on KUSC’s Top 100 Countdown doesn’t start another one!
Igor Stravinsky’s iconic ballet is credited for a musical revolution that set the standards for 20th-century classical music. Rarely performed as a ballet anymore, The Rite of Spring was one of the great collaborations between Stravinsky and Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Coming off The Firebird and Petrushka, Stravinsky created a sonic and rhythmic masterpiece that continues to shock the world.
See for yourself:
110. Johannes Brahms: Symphony No. 1
Johannes Brahms had a hard time escaping Beethoven’s shadow – but not as hard as it’s been to break into the KUSC Top 100 Countdown!
Brahms’ 1st Symphony came 21 years after he began writing sketches for the work. He was a very meticulous composer and was on the heels of Beethoven’s symphonic achievements. He eventually mustered up the strength at age 43 and completed the symphony. Needless to say, we’re grateful that he did, and even more thankful that he was able to write his next three symphonic classics in only eight years!
For all you Brahms and Radiohead fans, check out this mashup of Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 with OK Computer.
What made the 2019 KUSC Top 100 Countdown? Check out the list as we play them here!