Arts & Culture

Announcer Chris Hathaway’s Top 10 Favorite Classical Scores

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. During Public Radio Music Month, we've been posting 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 organist Chris Hathaway's list here!

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

Chris Hathaway – Desert Island Picks


  1. J.S. Bach: organ works, vol. I, edited by Griepenkerl and Roitzsch (C.F. Peters; a pure-text edition based on several manuscript sources, which first appeared in 1844).  This volume contains the six trio sonatas, BWV 525-530; the Passacaglia BWV 582 and the Pastorale in F BWV 590, along with a spurious trio in d minor and a variant of the slow movement of the fourth sonata.  The sonatas, particularly nos. 3 through 6 (which I learned in my youth), are invaluable for any organist. They are chamber music played by one person, and works of indescribable beauty and craftsmanship.  They and the Passacaglia, a marvel of an integrated structure within the framework of a set of variations, are music to which one returns again and again, always getting something new.
  2. Charles-Marie Widor: Symphony No. 5 in f minor, op. 42/1, for solo organ.  (I prefer the original Hamelle edition; later editions contain revisions authorized by Widor—-in my view, indications that a composer’s last thoughts on a work are not necessarily his best. It is quite probable that these seemingly minuscule revisions were made in order for him to hold on to the copyright.  This five-movement work was composed sometime in the early 1880s; Widor lived until 1937, and officially retired at the age of 90 in 1934.  It would be really nice if someone would put out facsimiles of the Hamelle editions as they appeared, but on better quality paper; the originals contained the titles of the works—-that is, the four symphonies of op. 42—–in French, and in an ornate Gothic script; somewhere below was Widor’s personal motto—-in English—“Soar Above”.)  The first three movements and the canonic Adagio (one of music’s most remarkable two-pagers), and not the thrice-familiar concluding Toccata, for me, are the heart and soul of this work. This is not to denigrate the Toccata, which seems to be a favorite with laymen; it has, perhaps, become overfamiliar.  It is fashionable in some quarters these days to deride Widor as anachronistic and too conservative, and he is a conservative composer even by the standards of the late 19th century; but his sense of structure, of idiom, of form and his intuitive feeling for voice leading (second only, as I see it, to that of Mozart and Chopin) make it eminently worthwhile music.  The first movement—-a theme and variations—is probably my favorite; but the second movement (Allegro cantabile) is a lovely extended song and the third movement, an andantino quasi allegretto in the character of an intermezzo, has its achingly beautiful moments.  Now and then, there are passages that give an idea of how Tchaikovsky might have sounded had he tried his hand at writing for the organ.
  3. Louis Vierne: Symphony No. 6 in b minor, op. 59, for solo organ (1930; A. Leduc).  I have long played the Final, with its riveting and supremely difficult but highly enjoyable scalewise pedal work and its delectable, lyrical middle sections; the rest of this symphony is on my “to-do” list.  Vierne’s style is essentially impressionist and idiomatic for the organ in the very best sense. 
  4. Robert Schumann: Complete works for organ and pedal piano (Henle; urtext edition).  The six fugues op. 60, ironically, — like the second symphony, also completed in 1845 — are a product of a period of profound depression in Schumann’s life in which he courageously decided to try to overcome the sickness that eventually overcame him.  All of Schumann’s music is full of ideas and he is capable of expressing himself in a variety of styles; the fugues (on the notes B-A-C-H) reveal him as a master of counterpoint in all its aspects.  The second fugue is particularly full of romantic abandon was well as mastery of form. 
  5. Mozart: Complete sonatas and fantasias for piano, edited by Nathan Broder (Dover reprint: one volume).  Having Mozart at hand is self-explanatory.  It is all deceptively simple music; it requires skill and imagination on the part of the player.  This is essentially a pure-text edition.  I chose it over the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe because of its compactness.
  6. Beethoven: Fidelio, op. 72 (Peters).  This is of course the revision of 1814 (the version that entered the repertory) and an eminently more readable edition than the Simrock edition of 1847, which despite its reliability and accuracy uses the anachronistic soprano clef in choral parts—-indeed, alto clef for alto voices and tenor clef for the tenor voices.  The dialogue is included in the Peters edition; the Simrock doesn’t have it.  I have always loved this opera and to study it and pick it apart would be one way of passing the time before a rescue could be effected.
  7. Mozart: Symphonies 35-41, urtext (Dover collection, one volume). Mainly for No. 38 (the “Prague”), which is my favorite and which I really want to know better, and the last movement of No. 41.  These are my main attractions; but, given the wealth of time on my hands, I wouldn’t neglect anything else in this book.
  8. J.S. Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Books I and II (Dover ed., urtext, one voume).  Its indispensability is self-explanatory.
  9. Beethoven: complete piano sonatas, Vol. II (Dover; composite of various editions and ms. sources).  I always wanted to get into op. 110 in A-flat, with its introspective fugue and its scherzo full of misplaced accents.
  10. J.S. Bach: organ works (Dover; one volume; essentially the text of the original Bach-Gesellschaft editions).  This volume boasts the six sonatas also contained in Peters Volume I, the entire third part of the Clavierübung including the Prelude and Fugue in E-flat; the collections of chorales Orgelbüchlein, 18 Chorales of Various Kinds and the “Schübler” set of six chorales, mostly trios and mostly transcriptions by JSB of his own cantata movements.  Unlike the Neue Bach-Gesellschaft, this edition makes use (here and there, according to the best manuscript sources) of the alto and tenor clefs, which are not all that much of a stretch, and which Griepenkerl (original editor of the Peters edition) staunchly advocated retaining—“since most organists are also conductors, it behooves them to learn these clefs”, he wrote.