What pieces of music drive music majors up a wall?
We all know the themes and tunes from these pieces. Whether it is from Looney Toons or TV commercials or the CDs our parents put on for us to sleep at night when we were babies or Disney’s Fantasia. These melodies stick with us throughout our lives and we can always say “Hey! I know this! This was in [insert movie or TV show here].” But what happens when we take the love for music beyond this and start to make it a career in college? As a music major, I can wholeheartedly say all the pieces that EVERYONE knows slowly become more and more annoying and overrated. After consulting, some of my other music major friends, a professor or two, and my own beliefs and ideas I have compiled a list of the ten most overrated pieces of classical music according to music majors. (Each piece will be linked to a recording, so in case you do not know the piece, you can give it a listen and realize that you do know it!)
10. Land of Hope and Glory (Pomp and Circumstance) – Sir Edward Elgar
This piece is especially irritating to music majors. We have played it at every graduation ceremony since we began playing instruments. And it lasts FOREVER! There is only so long that music majors can last while playing this piece. Around the third recycling of the theme, it gets tiring to listen to and to play. I am almost positive I have met some people who have thrown up into their instrument because it makes them so sick to play it.
9. The Ride of the Valkyries – Richard Wagner
Whether they know it or not, EVERYONE has heard this famous melody. Only lasting five minutes out of the 16 plus hours of Wagner’s music drama cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen, this piece is energetic and remarkable. However, when you mention The Ride of the Valkyries to anyone the response is either one of two things: “Oh yeah! The helicopter scene in Apocalypse Now!” or they begin annoyingly singing “KILL DA WABBIT! KILL DA WABBIT!” like Elmer Fudd for what feels like six decades. To music majors, it dampens the essence of the piece and transforms something epic into something irritating.
8. Symphony No. 40 in G minor – W.A. Mozart
This piece is not as bad as some of the others on this list. It actually is quite good. However, it is the only Mozart Symphony anyone ever talks about. (Besides Symphony No. 41. But that doesn’t count because it is fantastic.) There are 40 other Mozart symphonies to listen to. It would just be nice for music majors to hear the words “Mozart 1 through 39” once in a blue moon. Ultimately, because we hear about it so much, it becomes hard to listen to and very overrated.
7. Symphony No. 5 in C minor – Ludwig van Beethoven
How many times can you listen to the “short short short long” motif in seven or eight minutes? For our buddy, Beethoven, it is well over 100! The incessant repetition of the motif begins to drive the listener up a wall by the third minute of music. The repetitive nature of the piece and the amount of hype and “air-time” it gets is quite sickening. The piece lost its flash because of its overuse and has now earned the number seven spot on this list.
6. Tocatta and Fugue in D minor – J.S. Bach
Seriously though, this list would be incomplete without this piece here. I mean really, this piece gets beyond annoying to listen to. There are so many pieces of music out there, and movie directors could not find ONE other piece of music to play in the background of a shot of an abandoned gothic mansion while it rains? Not one? They HAD to make the ghost that haunts the place poorly pound this out on an organ. And to not even have them play the fugue! (Shows what kind of organ skills people have in the afterlife.) Overall, the excessive use of the piece has made it unbearable to listen to, thus giving it more points on the overrated scale.
5. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik – W.A. Mozart
Yet another very recognizable Mozart theme that is too appreciated by people. It is well known to the point of annoyance and people only know the first few bars of the piece. It is kind of like the Stairway to Heaven of the classical world. It gets quite sickening to listen to and, like most of the other pieces on this list, it makes music majors want to hit their head against a wall. Repeatedly.
4. The Four Seasons – Antonio Vivaldi
I have always heard many people say that they enjoy this piece so much. But let me let you in on a little secret: nine out of ten music majors are probably going to look at you very confused. Like Mozart 40, this piece is talked about way too much. The only difference is that this piece actually is not that good. It is monotonous and way too overplayed. Try The Rite of Spring instead!
3. Hallelujah Chorus (From Messiah) – G. F. Handel
This piece is used primarily to express something amazing. Like when Clarke Griswold finally gets his house lit up in Christmas Vacation or when the piece is finally over. In all honesty, the other two and a half hours of The Messiah is not all that bad. But this particular number has been used so extensively that the only thing it yields is an eye-roll and a headache.
2. Canon in D – Johann Pachelbel
Most people probably know this piece as Christmas Canon by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. With its painstakingly slow tempo and a basso continuo that will drive you insane, this piece takes an eternity to get through. It doesn’t get interesting ever. It doesn’t ever blossom into anything spectacular and it will certainly leave you applauding at its conclusion. Mainly because it is finally over. All in all, this piece is the musical equivalent to handing your cellist, and probably yourself, a noose.
While formulating this list, there was a lot of pieces that came to mind. Some of which, unfortunately, did not make the cut. However, they deserve just as much credit for being incredibly overplayed and overrated. Here are the (many) honorable mentions:
- Queen of the Night Aria – W.A. Mozart
- Rondo Alla Turca – W. A. Mozart
- 1812 Overture – Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky
- Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy (from The Nutcracker) – Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky
- Prelude in E minor – Fredric Chopin
- Marcha Funebre — Fredric Chopin
- Für Elise – Ludwig van Beethoven
- Prelude in C Major – J. S. Bach
- The Planets: I. Mars, the Bringer of War – Gustav Holst
- The Planets: IV. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity – Gustav Holst
- Bolero – Maurice Ravel
- Nessun Dorma (from Act III of Turandot) – Giacomo Puccini
- Habañera (from Carmen) – Georges Bizet
- In the Hall of the Mountain King — Edvard Grieg
1. Symphony No. 9 in D minor – Ludwig van Beethoven
The main theme to the final movement of this symphony is sung and played by people of all ages, all over the world. But can anyone name anything else that happens in the prior three movements? Or, even anything else that happens besides the monotonous pounding of the main theme of the fourth movement? Chances are that they cannot. It is pretty much agreed on by music majors that there is nothing all that fantastic about this symphony that makes it stand the test of time. I mean, truthfully, not many people would care so deeply about this work if Beethoven did not write a choir and solo quartet into the score. It is the first symphony to include the voice and that really is the only thing that makes it known today. If there was no choir, most listeners would sit wondering exactly what it was they were listening to. It goes nowhere and no one cares about the first three movements. The first three movements could NEVER be performed again and no one would ever even notice. If you are looking for an EXTREMELY overhyped and overrated piece of music to listen to, Beethoven’s ninth symphony is the piece for you!
And there you have it! The 10 most overrated pieces of music according to music majors! Now, please do us all a favor and listen to something that is not on this list. It will do you (and us music majors) much good!