11 of the happiest pieces of classical music ever written
7 January 2021, 14:22 | Updated: 7 January 2021, 16:51
Jolly and joyful classical music is abundant in the output of many of the world’s greatest composers. Here’s a selection of our favourite cheerful tunes.
There’s nothing quite like music for dictating our moods and lifting the spirits. And classical music’s collection of pieces on the joyful side of things is vast and irrepressible.
The happiest tunes and most cheerful melodies have us smiling, humming and skipping a step – and they can bring us a glimmer of sunny joy, even on the darkest day.
To help you complete your most ebullient playlist, here are your suggestions, and ours, of some of the most uplifting classical music there is.
Beethoven: ‘Ode to Joy’ from Symphony No. 9
The ‘Ode to Joy’ in the final movement of Beethoven’s ‘Choral’ Ninth Symphony is as triumphant as the title suggests. A final outpouring of the most triumphant music, it’s based on German poet Friedrich Schiller’s poem, Ode to Joy, which bids ‘all creature drink of joy!’
Prokofiev: ‘Classical’ Symphony
Symphonic joy from start to finish, Russian composer Prokofiev’s 1917, Symphony No. 1 – dubbed ‘Classical’ – is packed with the most uplifting melodies. The final movement especially, marked ‘Vivace’ (which means ‘lively’), practically bursts with happiness.
William Grant Still: Symphony No. 1 ‘Afro-American’, third movement
The third movement of William Grant Still’s ‘Afro-American’ Symphony is subtitled ‘Humour’, and contains joyful blues-y motives, reminiscent of George Gershwin’s infectious ‘I Got Rhythm’. As the movement progresses it swells with hope, and leaves us on a high with its syncopated, rhythmic tunes.
Tchaikovsky: ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ from The Nutcracker
Classic FM presenter Anne-Marie Minhall has named the ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ her happiest piece of classical music. It’s twinkly and cheerful, and challenges you not to smile.
The ‘Libertango’ from Argentine composer, Piazzolla, is infectiously rhythmic and lively. And once the rhythm section establishes its irresistible driving beat it’s got this melody that drips with hope, aspiration and seems to speak of something very exciting just up ahead. A wonderful piece.
Mozart: Piano Sonata No. 17
Much of Mozart’s music is gleeful, and this piano concerto is especially joyful. The final movement, especially, positively picks you up, spins you around and puts you down gently – it has to contain the friendliest melodies in all music.
Copland: Hoe Down
The ‘Hoe Down’ from Copland’s ballet, Rodeo, is frantically cheerful. It skips, jumps and leaps with energy and evokes the most carefree and exhilarating barn dance you’ve ever been to in your life.
Gershwin: Walking the Dog
Walking the Dog is a jazzy piece composed for the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film, Shall We Dance. It originally accompanied the ‘promenade’ scene that saw a dog walked on the deck of a ship, and it may well encourage you to take a turn or two yourself.
Holst: ‘Jupiter’ from The Planets
The seven planets in Holst’s famous orchestral suite were all given a job to do by the English composer. While Mars is responsible for bringing war, and Venus chases that up with peace; Saturn ushers in grey hairs on us all as the ‘Bringer of Old Age’, it’s Jupiter’s job to bring us jollity. And bring us jollity it really does! Just give it a listen…
Clara Schumann: Sonata for Piano, ‘Scherzo’
Clara Schumann’s mighty G minor Piano Sonata allows itself a sunny interlude in the third movement ‘scherzo’. It jumps into a major key and gives us light, sunny melodies before descending back into its darker, more existential mood for the final movement.
Vivaldi: ‘Spring’ from Four Seasons
If the word ‘happy’ translated into a musical melody, we’re pretty sure its the first movement ‘Allegro’ of Vivaldi’s ‘Spring’ from the Four Seasons violin concertos. It chirps and chirrups like the most jubilant garden bird, like the breeze ushering the start of summer… pretty much what Vivaldi was getting at, then. But is it too earnestly cheery? Some people thought so when they called it ‘infuriating’ when it was used as telephone hold music by the UK government’s Department of Work Pensions.
Here are more of your suggestions for the most joyous listening. Keep them coming!
Love the Q! Here’s nomination for Mendelssohn’s Italian Sym, which he called “the jolliest piece I have ever done.”— Brian Lauritzen 🎙📻🎶 (@lauritzen_brian) January 5, 2021
Prokofiev “classical” symphony?Litolff scherzo? 🤔— Mike Batt (@Mike_Batt) January 5, 2021
I'd nominate Beethoven's "Pastorale" Symphony. And, for purest serotonin, you can't beat the "Dance of the Blessed Spirits" from "Orfeo ed Euridice."— Tim Page (@TimPageWriter) January 5, 2021
Brahms Academic overture always makes me smile sheer exuberance of it— Bethanne Brummell (@Bethanne853) January 5, 2021
The Champagne polka 🍾— Helen Connell (@HelenConnell10) January 5, 2021
Stamitz Symphony in D op. 3 no. 2 (especially the first movement!)— Natalie Wild (@natwild11) January 5, 2021
Beethoven's ‘Pastorale’ Symphony?— ShuStevenson (@smokeyshu) January 5, 2021
Debussy’s ‘Clair De Lune’?
Gershwin’s ‘rhapsody in blue’? (Excuse any poor spellings, tired teacher here!) xx