Top 10 Classical Music Pieces for Your Child

It seems like everyone has an opinion about music and its benefits for children. Some say listening to classical music will make your child smarter while others speak about its ability to soothe even the fussiest of infants. All of this could be well and true, but at the very least, an early exposure to great music can create a life-time love affair and appreciation for it.

From presenting children with interesting sounds and timbres from the diverse instruments of the orchestra to learning about the history, culture, and era from which this great music was derived, children will be exposed to a larger world – a world that can provoke curiosity and creativity. Plus, what a special treat for you and your child to listen to and share the poetry and beauty of some of the world’s greatest music.

Here is a short list of some of our personal favorites for young children. Click the link provided to hear the music, courtesy of www.junobaby.com.

1. “Vltava” from Ma Vlast by Bedrich Smetana, 1874

This deeply romantic and nationalistic symphonic poem from Czech Composer, Smetana’s Ma Vlast (My Country), musically portrays the Vltava river that runs through Prague. You can feel the current of the moving river through the stirring undulations of the orchestra. It is an excellent example of how music can describe and represent the non-musical.

2. Symphony No. 29 in A Major K201, Mvt. I by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1774

This first movement from one of Mozart’s best known early symphonies starts out quietly and unassumingly with a simple, short motive in the first violins that repeats and repeats until it quickly builds to an energetic and exciting level in which this opening motive is played throughout the entire orchestra. In this piece, we see Mozart’s genius at creating a dramatic and complex composition through the development of one simple melodic idea.

3. “Golliwog’s Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner Suite by Claude Debussy, 1909

Fun and upbeat, “Golliwog’s Cakewalk” for piano by French Impressionist composer, Claude Debussy, demonstrates another side of this composer known primarily for his serious and textural orchestral music. In this piece we hear the sounds of rag-time music and Debussy’s sense of humor – quite fitting for a piece that was written for his five year old daughter and named after a puppet character.

4. Quintet in A Major, Op. 114D, 667, “The Trout”, Mvt. III by Franz Schubert, 1819

This exuberant composition became known as “The Trout Quintet” because its fourth movement is based on Schubert’s famous art song, “Die Forelle” (The Trout). It’s instrumentation is quite unusual because unlike most quintets that are based on the traditional string quartet arrangement, the Trout Quintet features a double bass in place of
the expected second violin. This creates a unique texture and a wonderfully fun way to explore Schubert’s bucolic and captivating melodies.

5. The Emperor Waltz for Orchestra, Op. 437, Mvt. I by Johann Strauss, 1888

Johann Strauss II (a.k.a. the “Waltz King”) was part of a famous family of waltz composers and was largely responsible for the tremendous popularity of the waltz in Vienna throughout the 19th century. He elevated the status of the waltz from common peasant dance to royal entertainment fit for an emperor. In Strauss’s majestic “Emperor Waltz”, he weaves together a wonderful collection of melodies that are as fun to listen to as they are to dance to.

6. Horn Concerto No. 2 in E Flat Major, K. 417: Rondo by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1783

This Mozart concerto highlights the beauty, lyricism, and versatility of the French horn. In this last movement, Mozart’s fun and hunt-inspired Rondo has virtuosic sweeps which truly highlight the horn’s ability to stand out as a solo entity instead of its more common role as a member of an ensemble.

7. String Quintet in E Flat Major, Op. 97, Mvt. II by Antonin Dvorak, 1893

Known as the “American Quintet”, this string work for standard quartet plus another viola was written by Czech composer Antonin Dvorak while he was in Iowa. Although, this piece was inspired by the Native American ritual music and American folk-songs he heard during his stay, it is still quite Bohemian in nature. Movement II is wonderfully playful and dance-like with soulful violin passages.

8. Concerto Grosso No. 1, Op. 6 in G Major, Mvt. V by George Frideric Handel, 1739

Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No. 1 is an excellent example of the classic style Baroque concerto form that was so popular at the time. Prolific composer, George Frideric Handel, emulating Arcangelo Corelli, the father of the concerto grosso, juxtaposed a concertino group consisting of two violins and a cello against the larger ensemble of strings and harpsichord. This movement is quite thrilling with the back and forth question and answer exchanges between the solo and orchestral groups and driving eighth note phrases.

9. Serenade No. 2 in A Major, Mvt. II by Johannes Brahms, 1860

One of Brahms’ lesser known works, the Serenade No. 2 is a charming orchestral work that is notable for its absence of violins. The combination of winds, brass, and low strings give this piece a more subdued quality although the Scherzo (Mvt. II) is quite energetic. Brahms’ two serenades are his first orchestral attempts (he primarily wrote for the piano and chamber ensembles) and they foreshadow the great orchestral works that were to come much later in his life.

10. Symphony No. 4, Op. 90 in A Major, “Italian”, Mvt. I by Felix Mendelssohn, 1833

This joyful and vivacious movement from Mendelssohn’s “Italian Symphony” was inspired by the composer’s travels to Italy. The fast paced, energetic musical gestures of the orchestra depict the Italian pastoral setting that inspired Mendelssohn. One can’t help but feel excitement while imagining the beautiful Italian landscape that Mendelssohn so masterfully creates.