Top 50 Favorite/Best Classical – #10 Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is an amazing wellspring for hundreds of creative artists, including one of my favorite pieces of all time, the Romeo and Juliet Overture by Tchaikovsky. In the famous Dead Poets Society quote: “This is what we live *for*”. The beauty of gorgeous, touching music, the art that, at times gently pulls at our heartstrings, while at others tries to rip those strings to pieces. Life is love and love is life. The expression of love is life, and life exists because of love. Shakespeare understood that which is why his attempt at the question of love has spurred hundreds of discussions, expressions and agitations in reply. 

In the 1860s, Tchaikovsky had composed several big pieces, including his first symphony and an opera. He was a professor at the Moscow Conservatory. He also started up a correspondence with Mily Balakirev, who started up “The Mighty Handful” (Césdar Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, Aleksandr Borodin, and Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov), a group of Russian composers whose goal was to create Russian music free of western influence. Balakirev had doubts about Tchaikovsky because of Pyotr’s western classical training. However, Balakirev readily enjoyed Tchaikovsky’s compositions. 

Balakirev recommended to Tchaikovsky to compose a piece on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Tchaikovsky took up the challenge and created a sonata-form piece with the two main melodies as we know them today. However, when he had it performed and when he sent it to Balakirev, he received criticism for how he composed the piece. Balakirev let Tchaikovsky know he needed to make certain changes. You can read more about the process here (http://en.tchaikovsky-research.net/pages/Romeo_and_Juliet). What interests me is that Tchaikovsky had someone he could rely on to push him to make his music ever better. Balakirev understood Tchaikovsky could make his piece even better, and on the third revision, we have the version most usually played in concerts. I’ve listened to the first version before and it lacks the intensity Tchaikovsky achieves with the lean, streamlined work in the third version. 

The third version ends up being a sonata-form overture with an introduction and an epilogue. The main theme is the harsh violence between the Capulets and Montagues in an intense B minor, cymbals clashing constantly, strings in a whirlwind and brass at full volume. It then leads to the secondary theme in Db major, the love theme when Romeo visits Juliet at the balcony. It’s such a lovely theme, but you know it doesn’t last, because the world around the lovers does not want them together, and the violence returns. The epilogue concludes in B major, a lovely respite from the death and destruction before. 

I’ve listened to the Leonard Bernstein recording of Romeo and Juliet Overture since the 1980s. I like the tempo and intensity of his recording. Others take the tempo too slow and you lose the drive of both the love theme and the violence theme. I can’t find a video recording of that performance, however, this performance by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra led by Slobodeniouk, is spot on. Enjoy!

#10 – Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet Overture

#11 – Dvorak Serenade for Strings in E major, Op. 22

#12 – Stravinsky Le Sacre du Printemps

#13 – Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue

#14 – Mozart Symphony No. 41 in C major, K. 551

#15 – Coltrane My Favorite Things

#16 – Dvorak Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70

#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

Wolfe Fire in my Mouth

Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition

Glass Anthem, Pt. 2

Weber Der Freischütz

Coleman Lonely Woman

Beethoven Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125

Tchaikovsky Nutcracker

Jobim Girl From Ipanema

Shostakovich Suite for Variety Orchestra

Schubert Symphony No. 9 in C major, D 944

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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