11 of the happiest pieces of classical music ever written
14 February 2023, 12:41
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.
Read more: Music takes 13 minutes to ‘release sadness’ and 9 to make you happy, according to new study
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!’
Read more: 10 works of Beethoven that actually changed the world >
Watch This Incredible Beethoven 'Ode to Joy' Flashmob
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.
Sergei Prokofiev - Symphony No. 1 'Classical Symphony', op. 25 IV. Finale: Molto Vivace
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.
William Grant Still: "Afro-American" Symphony | The Orchestra Now
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.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky / Nina Kaptsova - Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy / 2010
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.
Joanna MacGregor – Libertango
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.
Mozart Piano Sonata no.17 in B-flat K. 570
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.
NYO-USA Performs Copland’s “Hoe-Down” from Rodeo
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.
George Gershwin | Promenade - Walking The Dog (1937) I Sebastian Manz & Friends
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…
Gustav Holst - Jupiter from Planets
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.
Live Music Month: Isata Kanneh-Mason performs Clara Schumann’s Piano Sonata (III)
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.
Read more: Vivaldi’s ‘infuriating’ Four Seasons dropped as hold music by Government hotline >
Vivaldi Four Seasons: Spring (La Primavera) complete, Alana Youssefian & Voices of Music RV 269 4K