5 of the most relaxing classical pieces to help you unwind after a busy day

22 February 2019, 10:07 | Updated: 15 August 2019, 08:50

John Brunning
John Brunning. Picture: Classic FM

By John Brunning

Are you looking for some peace and quiet? Our very own John Brunning has handpicked these soothing musical masterpieces to help you unwind

‘By the Banks of Green Willow’ – George Butterworth

Written in 1913, this quintessentially English piece is the perfect pastoral music to enjoy as you watch the scenery slip by on your way home.

It conjures up imagery of undulating hills and fields as the sun goes down.

The Banks of Green Willow - George Butterworth - LSCO

‘At Church’ from Slovak Suite – Vítězslav Novák

If you’ve had a difficult day and need to escape from your worldly woes, I recommend this gentle piece, which brims over with wonderfully moving melodies.

As the music reaches its climax, the Czech composer juxtaposes a full-blooded church organ with a rippling harp. The effect is simply stunning.

Novak (1870-1949) Slovak Suite - In Church

Symphony No. 2 – Sergei Rachmaninov

This symphony by Rachmaninov could very well be the most relaxing piece of music ever written.

From the first few bars we’re immersed in luscious strings, before a solo clarinet picks out a tender and rather sad melody. It’s pure musical escapism that truly touches the soul.

Rachmaninoff - Symphony No 2 in E minor, Op 27 - Pappano

‘In the Steppes of Central Asia’, Alexander Borodin

Another Russian classic here from a composer whose achievements were all the more remarkable when one considers he could only write music in his spare time: he was a chemist in his ‘day job’.

This tone poem has two main themes, which are stated separately at first before Borodin skilfully interweaves them later in the piece.

Alexander Borodin: In the Steppes of Central Asia

Piano Quintet in E minor, second movement – Robert Schumann

I couldn’t resist including this from that tortured 19th-century genius, Robert Schumann. It begins with a furtive episode in which the piano features prominently before a glorious melody bursts out on the strings, like the petals of a flower opening to the sunlight.

Of the five pieces I’ve chosen, this one requires a little more effort on the part of the listener to appreciate its intricate subtleties, but that effort is richly rewarded.

Emerson Quartet plays Schumann Piano Quintet, Op. 44