10 perfect pieces of classical music for Thanksgiving celebrations

24 November 2023, 10:57

From John Rutter to Vivaldi: the best classical music for Thanksgiving
From John Rutter to Vivaldi: the best classical music for Thanksgiving. Picture: Alamy

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Thanksgiving is a time for appreciating the wonderful things and people we have in our lives. And for musicians and music lovers, that includes great music…

Looking for some beautiful classical music to accompany your traditional turkey (or nut roast) dinner? Here’s a selection of great pieces.

  1. Aaron Copland – Appalachian Spring

    Copland’s popular orchestral suite originated as a ballet, which tells of 19th-century American pioneers building a new farmhouse. The suite is full to the brim with all-American tunes, including a Shaker song, Simple Gifts, which Copland borrowed and incorporated into the music. You might recognise the tune – it’s the basis of the popular hymn, Lord of the Dance.

    Read more: The 15 greatest, most rousing hymns of all time

    Slatkin conducts Appalachian Spring

  2. For the Beauty of the Earth

    ‘For the Beauty of the Earth’ is traditionally associated with Harvest time, and associated two contrasting tunes, ‘Dix’ and ‘England’s Lane’. Thanks to John Rutter’s lovely SATB arrangement, it’s now a firm favourite with choirs around the world.

    John Rutter: For the beauty of the earth

  3. Bach – Brandenburg Concertos

    For the perfect gateway into the world of Baroque music, look no further than Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. Each of the six contrasting concertos makes the perfect musical accompaniment to a day of festivities.

    Read more: 10 of Bach’s all-time best pieces of music

    J.S. Bach Brandenburg Concertos 1 - 6, Claudio Abbado

  4. Beethoven – Symphony No. 6 (‘Pastoral’)

    Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony is a homage to the great outdoors, and one of the first pieces to paint a musical picture of a particular visual scene. As the nights draw in, it’s the perfect reminder of freshly cut grass, fields of bluebells and maybe even a whiff of the farmyard awaiting us in warmer months…

    Beethoven: 6. Sinfonie (»Pastorale«) ∙ hr-Sinfonieorchester ∙ Andrés Orozco-Estrada

  5. Abide with Me

    Beautifully poignant no matter the occasion, this Christian hymn is a gentle prayer to God to stay with the speaker, through life and trials. Here it is, performed by perhaps the greatest representatives of choral tradition: King’s College Choir.

    Abide With Me (King's College Choir, Cambridge)

  6. Charles Ives – Symphony No. 4 (III. Fugue)

    Ives’ Fourth Symphony, which premiered in New York City in 1927, was one of the first symphonic masterpieces by an American composer. It’s bold, completely original for its time, and has been hailed as “Ives’s climactic masterpiece”.

    Charles Ives Symphony No. 4, BBC Symphony Orchestra/David Robertson, cond./Ralph van Raat, piano

  7. Leonard Bernstein – America

    Taken from West Side Story, ‘America’ sees Puerto Rican immigrants singing the praises, and pitfalls, of the USA. Bernstein pairs vibrant Hispanic music with Sondheim’s typically lyrics, which feature the favourite line: “I like the city of San Juan… I know a boat you can get on”.

    Read more: 10 best pieces of music by Leonard Bernstein

    West Side Story (4/10) Movie CLIP - America (1961) HD

  8. Vivaldi – The Four Seasons (Autumn)

    The third movement of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons is the quintessential music for the Autumn season. The great Baroque composer uses music to paints an idyllic country picture, giving us a timeless work of art.

    Antonio Vivaldi - Four Seasons *Autumn* - Frederieke Saeijs

  9. Gershwin – Rhapsody in Blue

    While the clarinettist might (justifiably) do their best to steal the limelight with that alluring opening glissando, the piano is the real star of the show in Gershwin’s 1924 symphonic composition. Today, the work is a permanent fixture of American concert repertoire, with its infusion of jazz and classical music and its distinctly New York sound.

    Vienna Clarinet Connection plays 'Rhapsody in Blue'

  10. Jay Ungar – Ashokan Farewell

    American folk musician Jay Ungar wrote the achingly beautiful ‘Ashokan Farewell’ in 1982, and for years it was played as a farewell waltz at dance camps run by the composer and his wife. It’s a melody that cries of home, and you can’t help but be moved by it.

    Folk Alley Sessions: Jay Ungar & Molly Mason Family Band, "Ashokan Farewell"