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Classical Music

The Recording Academy Loves Mahler: 10 Composers At The Grammys

A look at classical music’s representation at the Grammy Awards and some of the most featured composers.

The ceremony for the 58th Grammy Awards airs this coming Monday, February 15th, and though that big presentation tends to only announce a small handful of the most popular categories in order to also feature performances, recognition of classical music is still alive and well in the final tally of winners. There are currently 10 total categories in the classical field, with a few defunct categories from years past that have either been combined into newer categories or completely discontinued. You can check out a full list of the nominees here.

Gustav Mahler with poorly PhotoShopped Grammy.

Now, given that the Grammy Awards are mostly focused on the recording industry, many of the awards are specific to recordings and performances of the represented pieces, not the craft that goes into making the music itself. Really, the one award that does specifically recognize the composers behind the music is the Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. (There's also Best Instrumental Composition, but that tends to go to works in jazz or film scoring as opposed to traditional classical pieces.) Still, without the composers none of this music would exist, so we want to take a moment to recognize the contributions of some of the top Grammy-represented composers over the past several decades. Here are 10 winning recordings from some of the composers with heavy representation at the Grammy Awards throughout the years:

Richard Wagner – Lohengrin

This recording comes from the Vienna State Opera Orchestra led by Georg Solti, the artist with the single most Grammy Awards of anyone (31), and the most wins in the classical field. Plácido Domingo performs as Lohengrin with Jessye Norman as Elsa. This particular performance won Best Opera Recording in 1989, the first of a four-year streak for Wagner operas to win this award.


Igor Stravinsky – Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring)

An award for the composer as conductor! This performance with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra was recorded in 1960, and won the brand new category of Best Classical Album in 1962. This award was discontinued in the big Grammy overhaul after 2011. Many of the awards for Stravinsky's work have gone to his three famous "Paris" ballets from the early 1900s: The Rite of Spring, The Firebird, and Petrushka.


Giuseppe Verdi – Falstaff

Like Wagner, Verdi gets great recognition in the Best Opera Recording category, as well as Best Choral Performance (particularly for his Requiem) and Best Vocal Solo. This recording of Falstaff features Michele Pertusi in the title role with Colin Davis leading the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. This won Best Opera Recording in 2006.


Johann Sebastian Bach – Goldberg Variations

Pianist Glenn Gould won 4 total Grammy Awards in his life, three of them posthumously in the early 80s including this recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations for the Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (without orchestra), which is now just the Best Classical Instrumental Solo award. He famously recorded this work in 1955, and then did this version in 1981, with some fairly stark differences in his style the second time around. Gould also received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013.


Hector Berlioz – Requiem

Berlioz has an impressive track record at the Grammy Awards, particularly for his opera Les Troyens (The Trojans) and this piece, his Grande Messe des morts, also known as his Requiem. Featuring the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under Robert Shaw, this recording won Best Classical Album, Best Choral Performance, and Best Classical Vocal Solo for tenor John Aler in 1986.


Johannes Brahms – Symphony No. 4 in E minor

One of the most recent winners, this is Gustavo Dudamel's take on Brahms' Symphony No. 4 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, taking the Best Orchestral Performance award in 2012. Brahms's 4 symphonies won Georg Solti a win in 1980 for this category and Best Classical Album. Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem) has won 4 times in the Best Choral Performance category.


Béla Bartók – Cantata Profana

This piece, featured on two winning albums from 1999 and 1994, has 6 total wins with Best Choral Performance, Best Engineered Album, and Best Classical Album for both years. This recording is from the 1994 winner with Pierre Boulez leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Boulez has 26 awards to his name, for both conducting and composing.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Le nozze de Figaro

This may well be Mozart's most popular opera at the Grammy Awards, with two wins in Best Opera Recording, and a handful of others in Best Vocal Solo. This recording is another Georg Solti success, with Samuel Ramey as Figaro backed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra for Best Opera Recording in 1984 (tied with Verdi's La Traviata performed by the Metropolitan Opera and James Levine).


Ludwig van Beethoven – Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor

It should come as no surprise how well Beethoven is represented. His works for piano (sonatas and concerti) were quite popular in the Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (with and without orchestra)—two separate awards for years before their combination as Best Instrumental Solo in 2012. This recording is by piano soloist Martha Argerich with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and Claudio Abbado, winner for the Best Instrumental Soloist Performance award in 2006.


Gustav Mahler – Symphony No. 8 in E-flat major, "Symphony of a Thousand"

With whopping 15 wins in the Best Orchestral Performance category, the Grammy Awards have been incredibly friendly to Mahler. Thanks to his use of chorus for this piece, he's also been represented in Best Choral Performance 3 times. This particular recording is the most recent Grammy win, for Best Choral Performance in 2010. The included video actually shows the making of this performance by the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus, the Pacific Boychoir and San Francisco Girls Chorus, and broad slate of soloists under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas.

If you’d like to see a more comprehensive list of winners for classical music, Wikipedia has all of the awards listed here, and if you’re dubious about Wikipedia’s accuracy, you can always search the Grammy database to double check!


Joshua Zinn

Joshua Zinn

Producer, Houston Matters

Joshua is a producer for Houston Matters on News 88.7 as well as the host of Encore Houston on Houston Public Media Classical. He joined Houston Public Media as a radio intern in 2014 and became a full-time announcer the following year. Now he prepares segments and occasionally records interviews...

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