Arts & Culture

Announcer Elaine Kennedy’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 former singing waitress Elaine Kennedy's list here!

1. Ludwig van Beethoven Symphony #1:

As a kid, I loved watching Captain Kangaroo on TV. I was especially struck by the soundtrack to a cartoon on the show called “Ludwig.” It featured the music of Ludwig van Beethoven, and it caught my ear. The theme was from the last movement of Beethoven’s Symphony #1 and years later, when I wanted to find out the identity of that music, I couldn’t remember the name of the cartoon. “Ludwig” would have steered me in the right direction, but I was lost. Once I went to college to major in music, had a class assignment to reduce part of the orchestral score to Beethoven’s 1st Symphony into a version for solo piano. As a freshman with limited abilities, I found this a challenging task. Anyway, one of the parts happened to be that very theme from the Captain Kangaroo cartoon, and I was thrilled. Mystery solved!

Side note: I later found out that Franz Liszt had made piano transcriptions of the Beethoven Symphonies. I thought, “Darn! It would have been so easy to copy the Liszt…but…I’m sure the prof is way ahead of me on this one; better safe than sorry.”


2. Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony #5

This symphony was pretty cutting-edge when it came out at the turn of the 19th century, and it took some time for audiences and critics to fully appreciate it.  Most people recognize the famous 1st movement: dit-dit-dit-DAAAH…dit-dit-dit-DAAAH.  For me, the real grabbers are later in the piece.  The 2nd movement is a wonderfully inventive theme and variations where the tunes weave in, out and all around in what I think is a very playful way.  It’s music that dances with itself.  The final (4th) movement is classic Beethoven, bold and majestic.  There’s an epic quality and an optimism that I find stirring.  It makes me sit up straight and somehow reassures me that it’s possible to conquer one’s obstacles.  My favorite recordings are those which bring out the delicious dissonances in the horns and the resolution that follows.  That is conflict overcome but never far away.


3. Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony #7

 It’s all about the 2nd movement…beautiful, haunting…there isn’t really a tune per se but a chord progression that is just so captivating.  By the way, I was interested to see that several others had #7 on their lists, too.  They have good taste.


4. George Frederick Handel: Messiah

 This comes from my days as a singer.  I don’t know how many times I’ve sung it over the years, but I can literally sing the alto parts and solos from memory.


5. Carl Orff: Carmina Burana

Also from my singing days, its music is like a ball of fire.  It has amazing energy and bawdy, earthy texts by 12th-century clergymen! 


6. Morten Lauridsen: Rose Songs (Les Chansons des Roses)

You guessed it…I was lucky enough to sing these, too.  The songs are love poems by Rilke set to some of the most lush, gorgeous choral music imaginable.


7. Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Quintet for piano & winds

What a cheerful piece!  And it’s full of great tunes you’ll find yourself whistling all day, especially in the two outer movements.


8. CPE Bach: Cello Concerto in A

Ditto for this piece.  Very tuneful and appealing.


9. Malcolm Arnold: 4 Scottish Dances

These remind me of playing in the school band.  My instruments were oboe and clarinet, and these dances are so much fun to play AND hear.


10. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony #29

I have to repeat myself…it’s the TUNES!  Each movement has me humming along.  I can’t help myself.