Top 50 Favorite/Best Classical – Honorable Mention – Saariaho L’Amour de Loin

Kaija Saariaho comes in the list with an honorable mention for her recent opera, L’Amour de Loin. Premiered in 2000 in Salzburg, it also was only the second opera by a female composer ever performed at the New York Metropolitan Opera, something they really need to work on (as does the rest of the classical world). 

Kaija Saariaho was born in Helsinki, Finland, eventually finding her way down to Germany to study music with some of the big whigs of strict serialism. She was apparently not a fan, understandably. As she noted: “You were not allowed to have pulse, or tonally oriented harmonies, or melodies. I don’t want to write music through negations. Everything is permissible as long as it’s done in good taste.” She added, “I don’t believe in austerity, but I do in purity.” (

Where she found her home was with the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique or IRCAM in Paris, exploring weaving electronic sounds with acoustic sonorities. She studied spectralism with Gerard Grisey and Tristan Murail. She was fascinated with the sonorities of “masses of sound” which is quite evident when you listen to this opera. 

The story is of a troubadour in search of love. A passing pilgrim tells him of the kind of love he seeks but she is in a far away land. He devotes himself to her. The pilgrim eventually makes it back to the woman and tells him there is a troubadour who thinks of her. It’s an odd little story, but the music is lush and sonorous, both melodic and spectral, a successful combination without sounding too extreme or “scary” as spectral music can sound. Our minds have been trained to feel fear when hearing such dissonances. A lot of Grisey’s and Murail’s music has that problem, the music becomes too hard to listen to because their use of the dissonance gets extreme and grating. Here, the spectral sonorities work quite well. The singing is melodic and tonal, a breath of fresh air when so much of the modern operatic tends to be in the untethered, unanchored atonal mess. I’d love to talk of Thomas Ades, but his music tends too much in the messy atonality.

As for L’Amour de Loin, here is a scene from the opera. 

And here is the full opera. 

#17 – Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30

#18 – Mozart Don Giovanni, K. 527

#19 – Liszt Les Preludes, S. 97

#20 – Mozart Le Nozze di Figaro, K. 492

#21 – Tchaikovsky Swan Lake, Op. 20 

#22 – Mahler Symphony No. 2 in C minor

#23 – Tchaikovsky String Quartet No. 1 in D major, Op. 11

#24 – Williams Empire Strikes Back

#25 – Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5 in Eb major, Op. 73

#26 – Bernstein West Side Story

#27 – Enescu – Octet for Strings in C major, Op. 7

#28 – Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110

#29 – Mussorgsky Night on Bald Mountain

#30 – Webber Phantom of the Opera

#31 – Prokofiev Alexander Nevsky

#32 – Chopin Nocturne in Bb minor, Op. 9, No. 1

#33 – Debussy Images, Book 1, L110

#34 – Debussy Pour Le Piano, L. 95

#35 – Chaminade Guitare, Op. 32

#36 – Chopin Berceuse in Db major, Op. 57

#37 – Boulanger Nocturne pour violon et piano

#38 – Schönberg Les Miserables

#39 – Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18

#40 – Miranda Hamilton

#41 – Strauss Salomé

#42 – Britten Peter Grimes

#43 – Loewe My Fair Lady

#44 – Liszt Mephisto Waltzes

#45 – Webber Evita

#46 – Poledouris Conan The Barbarian

#47 – Bernstein Trouble in Tahiti

#48 – Beethoven Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67

#49 – Chaminade La Lisonjera, Op. 50

#50 – Beethoven Coriolan Overture, Op. 62

Honorable Mention

Saariaho L’Amour de Loin

Schubert String Quartet No. 14 “Death and the Maiden”

Desmond Take Five

Wagner Die Walküre 

Puccini Tosca

Davis So What

Stravinsky Petroushka 

Wagner Tristan Und Isolde

Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings

Williams Raiders of the Lost Ark

Verdi Aïda

Schoenberg Verklärte Nacht

Grisey Les espaces acoustiques

Gade – Octet for 4 violins, 2 violas, 2 violoncellos in F major, Op. 17

Schubert – Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D759

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