Look away now all purists who only listen to Radio 3 and anyone for whom the word ‘popular’ is a term of abuse. To mark the twentieth anniversary of its Hall of Fame of favourite music chosen by listeners, Classic FM has brought out this Ultimate book, written by Darren Henley, Sam Jackson and Tim Lihoreau with illustrations by Lyn Hatzius. I thought I’d better write it up today, as Easter weekend is when the countdown begins, with the top choices revealed on Monday.
So what do you get when you buy or borrow this large, lavishly produced book? First, the aggregated list of the top 300 pieces of music picked since the Hall of Fame began. Then, potted biographies of the composers on the list, with comments on the chosen works but nothing about the rest of their output. There are recommended recordings and a list of ’25 Recordings You Should Own’. The full page illustrations are very striking; I had trouble picking a favourite.
The chart (what else is it?) has some surprises. Mozart comes in at #3 with his Clarinet Concerto. Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Piano Concerto is #4. But you have to get right down to #37 before J S Bach makes an appearance with the Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins. God is thirty seventh; what kind of taste is that?:-) There’s a lot of film music on the list, with John Williams featuring several times. I was pleased to see that The Warsaw Concerto (from the film Dangerous Moonlight) is included, as well as more modern works. I might have hurled the book from me in disgust had there been no Purcell but luckily he does get in.
Why should you read this book (or at least, look at it)? Everyone loves a list to disagree with and this one is a genuine representation of popular taste in classical music. It’s a useful basic reference book. You will almost certainly find some music mentioned here which is unfamiliar and may be worth exploring. ‘What is number one in the Hit Parade?’ I hear you ask. The people’s choice is Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2 in C Minor.
Many thanks to Elliott and Thompson for sending me a copy of the book, which I’ll be referring to again, I’m sure.
I was going to have a poll on favourite music but I found it so impossible to do myself that I decided against it. Instead, if you care to tell me about a favourite piece, I’ll tell you the chart ranking.