9 of the most relaxing pieces of modern classical music

19 January 2021, 10:09 | Updated: 27 May 2022, 12:25

9 of the most relaxing pieces of modern classical music
9 of the most relaxing pieces of modern classical music. Picture: PA / Getty

By Rosie Pentreath

A selection of beautiful, ambient classical music to carry you away from the day’s troubles...

If you’re looking for some relaxing classical music, modern composers might be the ones to turn to.

Amid the noise and fast pace of our lives, many of us are reaching for increasingly calm and escapist soundtracks. Ambient classical music written recently proliferates TV programmes and film scores, and sets the perfect mood for our times.

So craft a playlist with the sublime musical offerings below, sit back, relax, and breeeathe...

Read more: the most relaxing pieces of flute music ever written >

  1. Max Richter: Sleep

    In 2015, pianist and composer Max Richter composed an eight-and-a-half hour piece inspired by the very essence of sleep.

    His motivation was to push back on our increasingly mechanised, fast-paced and ‘switched-on’ lifestyles, and he gave this music glacially-paced melodies that seem to slide in and out of focus – just like sleep.

    The piece was followed up by a feature-length documentary film about its concept in 2020.

    Max Richter - Dream 3 (in the midst of my life)

  2. Ludovico Einaudi: piano music

    The simplicity of Italian composer and pianist Einaudi’s music makes it a guaranteed relaxer.

    Try the piano works ‘Le Onde’ and ‘I Giorni’, both recently featured in the Ultimate Classic FM Hall of Fame, for an introduction to this beautiful music.

    In 2019, Einaudi began releasing an album every month, for seven consecutive months, with his project Seven Days Walking. The whole series is a masterful exercise in how you compose minimalist music of the utmost beauty.

    Ludovico Einaudi - Einaudi: Ascent (Day 7)

  3. Peter Gregson: Recomposed: Bach – The Cello Suites

    In 2018, Scottish cellist and composer Peter Gregson adapted Bach’s beloved Cello Suites in new music, Recomposed by Peter Gregson: Bach – The Cello Suites.

    His take on the Baroque repertoire is a masterpiece, and it is as relaxed as it is beautiful. He adds some electronic sounds and soothing resonance to Bach’s familiar chords and patterns.

    It’s part of the same Recomposed series as Max Richter’s re-working of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, which was released in 2012.

    Peter Gregson – Bach Recomposed: Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007: I. Prelude

  4. Philip Glass: Violin Concerto, second movement

    The sublime second movement of Philip Glass’s Violin Concerto gets us every time.

    Soaring, sustained notes in the violin melody are underpinned by a shimmering orchestral accompaniment, which seems to carry your mind gently and calmly away with no effort.

    Truly relaxing, atmospheric minimalism is very much in Glass’s wheelhouse – try ‘Metamorphosis No. 2’, and ‘Opening’ from Glassworks, next.

    Philip Glass Violin Concerto Movement II

  5. Errollyn Wallen: ‘Sailing’ from Three Ships

    Like a boat bobbing along on a pleasant day, British composer Errollyn Wallen’s ‘Sailing’ from Three Ships for solo classical guitar carries you away in a happy haze.

    It’s evocative and atmospheric, and could very well lilt you close to sleep after even the busiest of days.

    Three Ships: I. Sailing

  6. Howard Skempton: Lento

    English composer Howard Skempton is in no rush with this beautiful, ambient orchestral piece, as its title suggests (Lento means ‘slow’ in Italian).

    The one-movement work is incredibly simple and direct, all shifting chords and slow-moving melody... Bliss.

    Howard Skempton - Lento (Official Video)

  7. Arvo Pärt: Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin

    Estonian master of minimalism, Arvo Pärt does sonic relaxation so well.

    The mournful Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten, composed in memory of the eponymous British composer, is incredibly simple, consisting of one musical motif (or short idea) repeated, and developed gradually, throughout the seven-minute piece.


    Arvo Pärt : Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten

  8. Kaija Saariaho: ‘Winter Sky’ from Orion

    Staying with tense, string-based sounds for a minute, Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s three-movement orchestral work, Orion, is packed with shimmering, ephemeral textures.

    While the outer movements are a little too tense to relax with, the second movement ‘Winter Sky’ is complex but gentle, and picks you up for the ultimate, slightly surreal escape you might not know you needed.

    Orion: II. Winter Sky

  9. David Martijn: War of the Worlds

    Allowing ourselves to forget it’s the soundtrack to a science fiction disaster series, David Martijn’s score for War of the Worlds (2020) is ambient and meditative.

    Pick out the moving ‘I’ve found Dan’, and ‘A new chapter’, for a couple of modern electric guitar and orchestral strings moments that will usher in the perfect amount of reflection to close your frantic day...

    David Martijn - I've Found Dan - War of The Worlds (Original Series Soundtrack)

Click here to listen to more calming classical music in the Classic FM Relax playlist via Global Player, the official Classic FM app.