Arts & Culture

Announcer Angela Schmidt’s Top 10 Favorite Classical Pieces

As you might guess, Classical 91.7 announcers are huge classical music fans. We asked them to tell us what their all-time favorite pieces are, and why. Each week during Public Radio Music Month, we'll post their "desert island" lists – pieces so essential, they'd be happily stranded with them on a desert island. (As long as they also had adequate food, shelter, and running water.)

Check out announcer (and opera singer) Angela Schmidt's list here!

(Just click the “play” symbol to sample Angela’s picks.)


1.) Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection”

I first listened to this symphony during a period of extreme sorrow. In broad terms, this symphony is all about overcoming death/tragedy in order to find beauty in the afterlife/end of grieving. By the time the fourth movement gave way to the fifth, I found myself with tears streaming down my face, feeling a kind of grief that I didn’t even know was possible. And then, when the choir finally enters with the tender refrain of “Rise again” halfway through the last movement…I felt release.

2.) Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata

I had no idea this piece existed until last May, when I was on a recital tour of Medellín, Colombia. One of my colleagues there, a cellist, performed the piece on the second half of a recital; I had sung the first half.  I stuck around to listen, because 1) I like Rachmaninoff and 2) I like music for cello. I was blown away but the performance and the piece has become one of my favorites.

3.) Sibelius’s Symphony No. 5

For some reason I’ve always been fascinated by the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden, and Finland. It may be because I moved to Minnesota to do my undergraduate work, and there is such a strong Scandinavian aspect to the culture there.  Sibelius is from Finland, and his work has a strong nationalist theme. His 5th symphony has one of my all time favorite finales. A most grand and sweeping theme comes to a surprise ending.

4.) Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro”

I’ve been in several productions of this show, and it’s probably my favorite opera.  In my first production, I played a very minor character, one of the bridesmaids, and my best friend Julia was the other bridesmaid. We would sit backstage whenever possible to just listen to the show. I grew to love every moment of what many people think of as the “perfect opera.”

5.) Verdi’s “Falstaff”

This was the first Verdi opera I’ve done, playing the role of Nannetta. It was such an honor to be involved in this show, and I truly think it is a masterpiece. It’s Verdi’s last opera, and one of only two comic operas that he wrote. It’s based on Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” And the show could not end any better than it does—with a full-cast, full-chorus, full-orchestra fugue, proclaiming that everything is folly and fun.

6.) Wagner’s “Ring Without Words”

In 1987 conductor Lorin Maazel condensed Wagner’s 17-hour epic opera into 75 minutes. When I first heard this piece, I had not yet seen the full operas. Nevertheless, I felt transported into Wagner’s world. It’s a fantastic piece, especially if you want a taste of the Ring Cycle but cannot quite commit 17 hours.

7.) Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, “Emperor”

I first discovered this piece when it was part of my listening list for Music History class in undergrad. I loved it then, and I still love it today. It’s one of those pieces that I could listen to over and over again and not get sick of it. With the number of time that I’ve listened, you would think I should be able to play it by now!

8.) Britten’s “Les Illuminations”

This is a song cycle that gets its text from the set of poems of the same name by Arthur Rimbaud, a French surrealist poet. Britten’s music is every bit as interesting, awesome, and weird as Rimbaud’s surrealist poems. My favorite moment: “I hung strings from steeple to steeple; garlands from window to window; gold chains from star to star, and I dance.” I did this set on my Master’s recital at UH.

9.) Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking”

This opera from 2000 is about a man who is on death row for a heinous crime, and the nun who tries to get through to him. I have never been so emotionally connected to an opera as I was to this one; it had my crying for the entire second act. It is a truly great 21st-century opera with 21st-century issues and characters.

10.) Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915”

This is a 1947 work for voice and orchestra, based on a 1938 short prose poem by James Agee. It’s a simple, dreamlike depiction of an evening in the South, narrated by a child who, at times, seems to transform into an adult.  I sang this in a concert a few years ago, and it was an absolute joy to learn and perform it. It remains one of my favorites.


Learn more about how you can celebrate Public Radio Music Month with us here!