On a desert island, what music would you least miss?

On a desert island, what music would you least miss?


norman lebrecht

April 13, 2020

Here’s a little list of the ones I could live most happily without:

1 Mahler’s 8th symphony

The one he never bothered to revise

2 Boulez

I’ve tried, believe me. 

3 Für Elise

Or any other five easy pieces

4 Lulu

There, I’ve said it. Berg’s bit of serial porn turns me off.

5 Four of the Tchaikovsky symphonies

You decide which. I don’t really mind.

6 Elgar

Apart from the 2 concertos and that devastating late violin sonata

7 Minimalism

Including all those composers who claim they’re not really minimalists

8 Serialism

Sorry, Arnie.

9 Debussy

Oui, c’est vrai.

10 Bruckner

Go on then, your list?


  • TED says:

    1.Hammerclavier sonata

    2.Liszt piano sonata.

  • AngloGerman says:

    1. Mendelssohn

    2. Haydn

    3. Mozart Symphonies

    4. Schoenberg (serialism works)

    5. Elgar

    6. Beethoven 9

    7. Tchaikovsky Symphonies (apart from 5)

    8. Rigoletto

    9. La Traviata

    10. Shostakovich late works

  • Bone says:

    Heavy. Can only agree with #1. As for Boulez, “sur incises” has to be seen with score at hand to be truly appreciated – such fun! I could never part with the Bruckner #8 that HVK made with VPO.
    Whole lot of mid century American modernists I can part with.

  • sam says:

    String quartets.

    Not a single one.

    Believe me, I’ve tried, I have bought entire collections of CDs trying, compilations by composers, by famous quartets, by famous last ones, by young quartets, by…

    • Alfred Duckett says:


    • Robert Roy says:

      Please hold on to these recordings. I was always ambivalent about String Quartets as a youngster but I’ve developed a much deeper understanding as I’ve got older. I promise you – ONE DAY the penny will drop!

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    I totally disagree with most of that list. I hate minimalism true. I become restless in Pelleas and Melisande for sure, but I enjoyed it in Vienna. I love all the rest in that list. I can do without Monteverdi (he is a great composer for sure), all the American composers ( but to my surprise Barber is not that bad), film composers like John Williams, another American. The works of Astor Piazzolla. Gilbert and Sullivan, even though I love Offenbach. Of the minor composers many I do not like, but overall I have catholic tastes. I have always loved Bruckner more than Mahler by the way, except in adolescence.

  • Charles Clark-Maxwell says:

    Surprising choices perhaps for NL who once wrote how in his youth he lived for the Pathetique symphony and of course he’s written extensively on Mahler

    • CarlD says:

      Yes, I’m reading Norman’s “Why Mahler” book currently and though he does write at length about conductors’ lack of success with the 8th, I’m surprised it tops his list,

      • Hilary says:

        Perhaps because it was the performance I grew up with, but Kubelik keeps the 8th moving along. A bit rough at the edges at times but entirely convincing. Some of the better known recordings can feel rather portentous in comparison.

  • John Borstlap says:

    An invitation to strip down naked in public.

  • Ron Swanson says:

    1. Wagner. I suspect this will be regarded as heresy but Wagner does nothing for me. I try and challenge my prejudices and give him a listen but it leaves me cold.

    2. Berg.

    3. John Adams, I must admit to liking Nixon in China. You can keep the rest.

    4. Philip Glass.

    5. Late Shostakovich

    6. Britten

    7 If I am feeling particularly grumpy, anything after Mozart.

  • John Rook says:

    Schumann Piano Concerto
    Beethoven and Mozart Symphonies (sorry, heard them too often)
    Schubert Song Cycles
    Any Verdi except Otello
    Bel Canto opera
    Mendelssohn Italian Symphony
    The Marriage of Figaro

    Enough is enough.

  • Nina says:

    Arvo Part’s

  • TIM HOPSON says:

    Totally agree re: Lulu. What a load of schlock it is

  • Mary says:

    Huge chunks of Wagner. He needed an editor.

    Parsifal should’ve been edited down to 2 hrs, Tristan 45 minutes,

    The Ring cycle? 2 operas. Max.

    So much in his opera is just exposition, a character narrating the plot.

    “Show, don’t tell.” Wagner needed the musical equivalent of William Shawn, legendary editor at the New Yorker.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Actually, Wagner HAD an editor at Schott’s, who cut 4/5 of the music. What we have, is what was left over. Also, the manuscripts which were sent to the publisher, were first carefully looked-over and superfluous notes rubbed-out by Cosima. She regularly complaines about this in her diaries.

      • Rafael Enrique Irizarry says:

        Are Cosima’s diaries as reliable as Alma Mahler’s? If they are, I still doubt that she had the necessary musicianship skills to delete what you describe as superfluous notes. I would like to request the source of your statement concerned with there being and editor at Schott’s that cut 4/5 of Wagner’s original music. Although I am not a scholar, I do have some familiarity with Wagner in the literature and, with all due respect, I have no recollection of ever reading that. That’s the sort of “factoid” you can hardly forget, or maybe I have. That said: it is known that some orchestral musicians -at Wagner’s behest- did edit the original parts for their instruments. As originally conceived they were unplayable. Examples that come to mind: Harp writing at the end of Das Rheingold; the hero’s horn calls in the dragon’s lair in Siegfried.
        Best wishes for good health and peace.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Cosima was quite able, in musical terms: she played the piano, and prepared the scores of her husband: lining-out the bars before he filled them in, which is mentioned in all the important biographies (Ernest Newman, etc.). The editing by Schott is mentioned in the ‘Stürmische Beobachter’ of 1903 when a comitee of three Wagnerians complained about the cuts in a furious article. A legal investigation discovered that hughe piles of paper were used during winter time at Schott’s offices in Mainz to fuel the stoves.

  • Eyal Braun says:

    Carmina Burana
    Rachmaninov 3 rd Concerto
    Most of Liszt Piano music
    Scriabin ‘s late sonatas
    Most of Donizetti ‘s operas

  • Rob says:

    Berlioz – Everything except the Fantastic Symphony and Le Corsair.

    Gilbert and Sullivan. Nasty shite.

    Hubert Parry & Stanford. Those Symphonies are horrific.

    Steve Reich. Trash.

  • Albin says:

    Berlioz, for me the worst of all famous composers. Then all operas, where music is misused like a whore for everything: e.g. Lulu, Lady Macbeth of Mzensk etc.

  • Rob says:

    I forgot to mention:

    Philip Glass


    Vaughan Williams’s 9th Symphony.

    He scraped beyond the barrel with that piece.

    Horrible, horrible stuff.

  • Rob says:

    Thomas Adès.

  • Robin Del Mar says:

    Well they say it takes all sorts……

    I couldn’t live without

    1 The Ring, Complete
    2 Bruckner, Complete
    3. String Quartets, almost complete
    4. The Elgar Symphonies

    But I hope I never hear again

    1 Finlandia
    2 Pictures from an Exhibition
    3 Schumann Piano Concerto
    4 Liszt Piano Concertos , especially No 2
    5 Minimalism, Complete

  • Jon says:

    Ok well rather than merely repeating things on your list (apart from Bruckner I agree with all of it, though if Arvo Part is minimalism then no – because I really get something from it – I don’t know why)
    1. Poulenc
    2. Prokofiev
    3. Ives
    4. Lieder (yes all of it and yes I have tried)
    5. Webern
    6. Berlioz (strike me down)
    7. Schumann (I am beginning to enjoy this)
    8. Telemann
    9. Earnest young composers generating an exciting fusion of world music styles…….

    Time for Bach……..

  • Annnon says:

    Bassoon music. Even in orchestral parts, I would press the skip button, the Pathetique always begins for me 1 minute later, and Bolero is blissfully bassoon-solo free.

    • Joel Lazar says:

      Factually incorrect, famous high-register solo in Bolero.

    • Bone says:

      I think only Stravinsky figured out how to write well for bassoon: both the Rite and octet are wonderful because of the bassoon contributions.
      Oboe, though…

      • Alank says:

        Mahler 1, 3rd Mvt; Mahler 9, opening second movement, Mahler 9, Opening last movement, Shosty 9!; Beethoven 4& 6 (any movement), Mozart Piano Concertos (All past 20); Haydn London Symphonies!!!; At least bad Bassoonist s don’t kill people like bad oboes and violinists. Bring it on!

    • Alank says:

      I am disappointed that this website permits comments by Bassoonaphobes! This is truly hate speech. As a bassoonist I thank God that Stravinsky, Shostakovitch, Mahler, and going a little further back, Vivaldi would have disagreed with this commenter!!! And yes, Bolero has a wonderful Bassoon Solo!!!

      • Bone says:

        I feel properly chastised. Totally forgot the Haydn symphonies as a highlight of writing for the instrument. Might also mention “Sorceror’s Apprentice” and opening of Tchaik 6 while we are at it.

  • Lanberache says:

    1. Any concerto/solo piano work gesticulated and butchered by Lang Lang.
    2. Mahler 7th and 8th.
    3. Beethoven 7th (Love it too much. Heard too much of it in my youth. Still love it but want to take a break from it.)
    4. Anything by Delius, except the Florida Suite, which I love.

  • OM says:

    Operas after Strauss

  • F. P. Walter says:

    No Bruckner? What IS this? Anticatholicism?

  • Tromba in F says:

    1. Bolero

    2. New World Symphony

    3. Carmina Burana

    4. Scheherazade

    5. Carmen

  • Gustavo says:

    1 Birtwistle
    2 Purcel
    3 Bruch
    4 Schumann
    5 Gershwin
    6 Bernstein
    7 Händel
    8 Rameau
    9 Orff
    10 Rutter

  • sorin braun says:

    Arvo part , boulez , lady macbeth , all prokofiev operas, gluck , liszt ,stravinsky , bernstein , elgar , hindemith.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Hungarian dances, rapsodies, ballads, czardas, friss czardas, and anything else sounding like that (sorry, Mr Brahms, yours too).

    “Carmen”, as well as other pseudo-Spanish music (Ravel, Debussy).



  • Akutagawa says:

    Messaien Turangalila Symphony: I heard it first on the radio while being violently car sick on the Humber Bridge, and it’s induced a similar Pavlovian response ever since.

    The middle verses of Anglican Christmas carols with cloying chromatic organ accompaniments: “thus did Herod sore afraid” and “of his love and mercy mild” are the worst offenders, but there are plenty of others. Anything by Peter Warlock for the same reasons.

    All of Michael Tippett, even A Child of our Time (“the soul of man is impa-pa-pa-pa-pa-passioned like a woman”): his music makes me feel physically unclean, like I’d just been physically propositioned by Robert Runcie.

    Le Boeuf sur le Toit by Milhaud: udder dreck

  • Patrick says:

    Gilbert and Sullivan
    Anything (except Holst) written for school bands
    French ballet music

  • “9 Debussy

    Oui, c’est vrai.

    What? On a desert island??

    No “La Mer”?

    No “L’Isle joyeuse”?

    No “Reflets dans l’eau”?

    No “Poissons d’or”?

    How does one get by without these??


  • Pedro says:

    1. All pre-Bach music
    2. All post-Strauss music.

  • Larry W says:

    1. Honneger
    2. Rutter
    3. Webern
    4. Purcell
    5. Liszt
    6. Corelli trio sonatas
    7. Hanson
    8. Strauss Aus Italien
    9. Glass
    10. Delius

    • Nobody special says:

      For #7, you really should listen to some of their work post MMMBop. Richer voice leading and more skillful text setting.

  • Alviano says:

    All English music from Dunstable down to the unborn!

  • Cubs Fan says:

    1. Mozart – all of it
    2. Verdi
    3. Britten
    4. Schubert 9th
    5. Furtwangler’s music
    6. Copland – everything except a couple of ballets
    7. Stockhausen
    8. Elliot Carter
    9. Milton Babbitt
    10. Roger Sessions

  • Frankie says:

    Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

  • Michael Turner says:

    Mmmm. Interesting. I’m only going to deal with dead composers, as I don’t want to encourage, or insult, the living.

    85% of Beethoven (he’s a great composer but, for many years, he simply didn’t feed my soul)

    90% of Berlioz operas

    Verdi operas

    95% of G&S

    Brahms Piano Concertos

    75% of Richard Strauss



  • M.Arnold says:

    A partial list:

    Handel, Purcell, Rameau
    Most Mozart Symphonies
    Oratorio Music-guilt, guilt, guilt, suffer, suffer, suffer
    Glass, Adams, Reich, etc.
    Brandenburg Concertos
    Mozart operas except for Don Giovani, Marriage of Figaro and beautiful arias, duets, etc.
    All updated operas
    Lulu-(tried 2x at Met)
    All Renaissance music
    Anything played on an organ

  • Silversled says:

    I wonder how some of the people here can actually describe themselves as music lovers. The majority of them appear to belong to that vast horde who “know what they like and like what they know.”

    As for personal likes and dislikes, I believe it was Oscar Wilde who wrote: “only an auctioneer is under obligation to admire all schools of art.”

    Many of the opinions expressed here make me wonder if some people actually know how to listen to music, or even bother to listen.

    These comments have been quite an eye opener for me.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Agreed. No music lovers at all. Probably the kind of people who turn-up at concerts to be seen and to be bored. Or, being forced by their wife and building-up a hughe resentment to the art form.

      • Hmus says:

        Paraphrasing Anna Russell? She said:

        “… by which I mean the kind of audience whose Wife says to him…dear, the worshipful Order of the Daughters of the Mailed Fist are sponsoring a lieder recital by Madame Hamburger…and so you have to go.You sit there in your tuxedo and you just hate it – you do, I’ve often seen you!”

    • Ron Swanson says:

      So if you hate baseball you hate the USA. Why does everyone have to enjoy the same thing?

      • sorin braun says:

        Only an idiot can sit in front of the tv watching stupid American games , which actually consist of 50% commercials , and seeing again and again the stupid commercial billboards for products you don’t really need.
        It has got nothing with sports you impotent bums….it is a pity that so many funds of the national financial resources go for huge pays to analpahbetic overgrown idiots instead of sports facilities for the whole population.

    • Larry W says:

      Silversled, now that your eyes are open, read the question again. It was “what music would you least miss,” not “what music do you like least.” It may be that you would also have a negative view of answers to “what music could you not live without.”

    • OM says:

      Music is not a sacred cow, to a critical ear it has lots of clinkers.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    1. Ravel Bolero

    2. Brahms Liebeslieder Waltzes with or without singers

    3. Reger Piano Concerto (what did Serkin see in this?)

    4. Joplin The Entertainer (and all “orchestrated” Joplin)

    5. Ravel Bolero (I know, I already listed it, but I hate it twice as much as I dislike the Brahms, Reger and Joplin).

    6. Wolf Penicillin or Penthesilea or whatever the hell it’s called. It contains, to borrow Satie’s wonderful phrase, all that I know of boredom.

    7. Dvorak Humoresque

    8. Drdla Souvenir (what did Mischa Elman see in this?)

    9. Mendelssohn Lobgesang Symphony (never heard it in person only on recordings. So I am at least prepared to have my mind changed. If I do change my mind, then insert the “Spring Song” instead. Thank you.).

    10. Otakar Ševčík. School of Violin Technique (and everything else). Carl Flesch called it “therapeutic poison” and he was being kind. And to think that pianists dare to complain about Czerny!

  • Micaelo Cassetti says:

    Ode to Joy.

    Otherwise, I’ll give everything else a try, except incest and folk-dancing.
    Believe me, I had a crack at one of those, and a b. dismal experience it was too.

    NB. My final-year 1ry school teacher was a fully paid-up member of the provisional wing of the EFDSS, in case you were wondering.
    I was also denied entry to MI.8 (the school Morris-Dancing troupe, seemingly because I had failed the cycling proficiency test).

  • Rafael Enrique Irizarry says:

    I presume some -or shall I write “most”?- of these entries lie on the whimsical side. That said, it occurs to me that Maestro Bernstein has been proved right again. He reflected that never in the history of mankind had we had access to so much music, issuing from an almost infinite number of sources. Yet, having all that, we do not know how to REALLY listen to music…
    Or do we?

  • D** says:

    1. Boulez No disagreement

    2. Serialism Again, no disagreement, with the possible exception of Berg’s violin concerto.

    3. Copland’s 1960s orchestral works–particularly Connotations and Inscape

    4. Most electronic music

  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    I wouldn’t listen to Messiaen’s Catalogue des Oiseaux as there will be more than enough birds on the island.

  • drummerman says:

    I can’t think of a recent topic here which has elicited such a large response!! Norman, you really struck a nerve.

  • Adam Stern says:

    Would have to agree about Boulez, even after having heard him rehearse and perform a lot of his music with the Los Angeles Philharmonic while I was growing up.

    There are some composers in whose orchestral music I feel trapped, because it does nothing and keeps doing nothing at great length. Two such composers that turn up on our classical station here in Seattle are Christian Sinding and Margaret Buechner. Off-button!

    In terms of standard repertoire, I could easily do without hearing Franck’s D-minor Symphony ever again.

  • Adam Stern says:

    Apropos Debussy…

    I once had a very dear friend, a recording engineer who was a very knowledgeable music lover, and was also possessed of a whimsical sense of humor. In addition, he had a knack for coming up with aphorisms that accurately encapsulated my run-on thoughts. (I’m sorry to say that he’s no longer with us; he died far too young.) We were once discussing Debussy, and I was trying to explain why I personally didn’t care for much of his music — the affected sensuality, pretentious mysteriousness, etc. — and my friend finally said, “Debussy’s music is the equivalent of a guy who says to a woman on a first date, ‘You know, I’m really sensitive.'” Somehow, that summed it up perfectly.

    • John Borstlap says:

      That’s what Debussy always said to any woman he met, and as a result he was chased by them all his life.

  • Stuart says:

    What music would I miss the least? Rock, country, R&B, Broadway, pop, hip-hop, jazz. With classical music, sure I have a few composer blind spots (who doesn’t and so what) but I listen to classical music every day and can’t imagine living without it.

    • Derek says:

      I think you have summed up what many feel about classical music!

    • sorin braun says:

      silly cliche.believe me every normal man prefers a horny sexual partner than even the best music , whatever his sexual orientation be.
      and yes everybody can live exceptionally well even without music.
      i am sure about it even though i listen to mostly classical music for hours consecutively each day.

  • Thomasina says:

    I prefer to know the reader’s choices about ” I couldn’t live without…”. I now have time to check the list and maybe make new discoveries.

  • Rob says:

    Brian’s Gothic Symphony – poor, weak ideas badly executed.

    Jennifer Higdon

    Sally Beamish

    Oliver Knussen

    Judith Weir

    Robin Holloway

    Ethyl Smyth.

    Awful stuff.

    Maybe now we can have a post asking what we couldn’t leave it out.

  • Rob says:

    Arturo Márquez – Danzón № 2.

    Potato – Symphony No 2.

    Saint-Saëns – The Carnival of the Animals.

  • Luvin says:

    All Mahler symphonies. I hate almost every note.

    Give Delius a miss too.

  • It would be impolite to name names.

    The composers who insisted atonality was the future (and wrote a college textbook to that in case you didn’t hear) but couldn’t compose even a Girl Scout campfire song if their life depended on it.

    The composers who thought electronic bleeps and bloops were daringly novel, even after bleeping and blooping for decades.

    The composers who said that if you didn’t prize their stuff it was because you weren’t educated enough, even after you sat through their lecture about how diabolically clever it all was.

    The composer who came to a pre-concert Q&A session but would accept no Qs, give no As and mostly stared at the piano keyboard for 30 minutes.

    I’ve personally encountered specimens of each of these.

    You know who you are.

  • Pamalas says:

    1. Tchaikovsky
    2. Puccini
    3. Bruckner
    4. Rachmaninow
    5. Debussy

  • Herbert Glass says:

    Franck D minor Symphony (but does anyone still play it?)
    Concierto de Aranjuez
    Tchaikovsky 1st Piano Concerto
    The Planets
    Brahms 1st Symphony
    Rhapsody in Blue

    • Major Monarch says:

      Muti conducts the Franck. The CSO even toured with it. It was glorious. His recording with Philadelphia is also excellent.

      • Micaelo Cassetti says:

        Also, Maazel and the RIAS Berlin (as it then was), is a lovely recording.
        Mitropulos’ Mendelssohn 3 + 5 with the NYPO has always been a favourite

    • I have been to a live, major orchestra performance of the Franck in the last few years. Yes, it does get played.

  • Olassus says:

    Mahler’s 8th
    Mahler’s 2nd
    Mahler’s 3rd
    Mahler’s 1st

  • david hilton says:

    Here’s what I can happily do without: all lieder that tries to be funny. It never works, and it’s not just because jokes so often don’t work in translation. Most lieder I can appreciate in the native language (leaving aside Sibelius), and even then most composers attempts to write songs that are frivolous, light-hearted or funny land with a dud. And when you add on top the excruciating faces and contortions that so many lieder singers bring to this repertoire, the whole experience is ghastly.

  • 20th century Russian composers; 19th century French composers except for Debussy; minimalists; 19th and 20th century British composers except for Max Davies; all of Rodriquez music; all film composers; all musical comedy composers except Steven Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein and Rodgers/Hart/Hammerstein; all 19th and 20th century religious music; all harp music; all 20th century Chinese-western music (e.g.Yellow River Concerton);

    • John Borstlap says:

      I say: ALL music before Boulez. People don’t understand what a kitsch all of that is. And all film music that doesn’t have romance in it.


  • Nick says:

    All music with solo viola. Any more viola jokes?

  • Anything by Wagner (except the Siegfried Idyll) and Sibelius

  • gareth says:

    Five “Anthrax Island” composers from me, order irrelevant:

    Brahms (I’ve always found his music too stodgy)
    Hindemith (well-crafted music, and it shows)
    Liszt (I’ve heard many of his works, but rarely felt the need to return)
    Vivaldi (too facile and formulaic for my liking)
    Adès (I just don’t see what the fuss is all about)

  • Herbert Glass says:

    What strikes me about many of these lists is their inclusion of music we’re unlikely to encounter under any circumstances. Thought the point was ridding ourselves of omnipresent music.
    Add most of Shostakovich to my do-without list.
    And, folks, let’s not get snarky: it’s only a game.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Indeed. Many people would hate the concerti grossi of Joachim Alzheimer if they knew them, but fortunately for JA, he has been forgotten.

  • Byrwec Ellison says:

    I applaud the bravery of the commenters, who surely know that their lists are an open invitation to an army of “thumbs down” defenders of the canon. I just wish that the “down” voters could show a bit more forbearance, recognizing that even the most broad-minded listeners aren’t moved by everything, including works of demonstrable quality. It’s simply part of what makes each’s taste so persona, so defining and so fascinating.

    Apart from my own misgivings about inviting the “haters” to hate my musical “limits” and my fear that the desert island might not have electricity, I’ll bite and list the music I’d easily leave behind:

    1. Pretty much anything composed between 1755 and 1805

    • Tromba in F says:

      Exactly. To each their own. I can appreciate the craft and historical significance of many, many composers without necessarily being excited about listening to their works. Knowing “how to listen to music” is no substitute for emotional connection to the music. The academic approach to music will only take you so far. Similar to how I look at a painting by Jackson Pollock. Someone “in the know” can talk themselves blue in the face explaining it to me, but it still just strikes me as paint spills and finger painting and makes no connection with me. Or someone can tell me how nutritious an avocado is, yet I still don’t like the taste.

      • John Borstlap says:

        The comparison of the Viennese classics (Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven – to be sure that we talk about the same thing) with the non-paintings of Pollock, is so missing any point at all in any conceivable context, that the comment is utterly self-defeating. Has nothing to do with taste. One of my dogs could have made such comparison.

  • Diabolus non papa says:

    Bach’s cantatas – all 365 of them. They all the pretty much all the same and interchangeable. Cue the oboe d’amore, the viola da gamba, bass solo, soprano solo both incorporating the afore mentioned instruments bemoaning our fate, and ending with a dour unison chorale on the futility of it all.

    Beethoven – King Stephan music (and his other late choral nationalistic concoctions) – did Beethoven actually write this? I suspect it was written by his twin brother Lothar. It’s a real hoot to play – the luftpausen, skittish string scales, and repetitious woodwind chants – It sounds like Bruckner on uppers.

    Not wishing to endure any offerings by these nationalities composers or/or performers I refuse to submit to any: Maxwell Davies, Alfred Schnittke, Eric Satie, Pierre Boulez, Hans Werner Henze, Andrea Bocelli, John Williams, Andre Rieu, Lang-Lang, Daniel Barenboim.

    Charles Ives – He wrote four pastiches which he called symphonies. What grade did Horatio Parker give him for his 1st Symphony? I suspect a C- , 2nd Symphony – is there a missing part for a performer to appear waving the American flag at times, 3rd Symphony – you really can’t do much with these hymn tunes except play them faster, than slower, than louder, than softer, 4th Symphony – Ah! Cacophony mixed with New England transcendentalism plus a hymn tune or two. Oye!

    • BrianB says:

      Disagree about Ives but enthusiastically agree about Bach’s cantatas. Not the Passions, they are magnificent. But in much else, the really inspired gems are few. Virtuosically contrived and ingenious always but dry. Between the two, Handel is much the greater composer with not a whiff of didacticism, just an incomparable understanding of the human condition as can be expressed in music.

  • Alasdair Munro says:

    I agree Mahler 8, and rap, otherwise I am happy with any old Scheidt.

  • Mark says:

    1. All Glazunov
    2. Most Reger
    3. Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1
    4. Complete Wagner operas
    5. Most Schoenberg
    6. Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 2
    7. Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto
    8. Early Mozart

    Don’t hate any of it. Just would miss it least of all.

    • Rob Keeley says:

      Agreed on Mendelssohn’s Lobesgang – what a yawn! They get better after that though! And yes, early Mozart…where would it start to get interesting?

      • BrianB says:

        Mozart starting around Symphony 25; piano concerti, with the big exception of the ‘Jeunehomme,’ No.12, then 14 and 17 on. Operas start with much of Lucio Silla, then Idomeneo on. Earlier only a few isolated numbers like “L’amero” from Re Pastore.

    • BrianB says:

      I disagree only about Wagner.

  • mark says:


    It’s like if you bleached out all the great French composers, then mixed them up a bit, you get Poulenc.

  • Piano Lover says:

    Any operas!I hate them all!

  • Anthony M. Gigliotti says:

    All Brahms symphonies
    All Brahms non-piano concerts
    Any Schumann concerto
    Dvorak 8 and 9
    Dvorak cello concerto
    John Adams
    Daphnis and Chloe Suite #2
    1812 Overture
    Mahler 3, 7, 8, and 9
    Leonard Bernstein

    • Patrick says:

      Fake name. Gigliotti was a distinguished musician. It’s tacky using his name for your mostly nonsense list.

  • Graham Elliott says:

    Your first and tenth, agreed, though I would swap the order.

  • Put Mozart’s Serenades in a box and Float them away.

    Fill a bottle with Bruckner Symphonies and cast it to the open sea.

    Make sure every manuscript of Penderecki gets destroyed in a monsoon.

    Take the Wagner opeas on a wild ride into the maelstrom.

    And while we are at it, make Max Reger walk the plank!

  • Larry D says:

    I’m sorry, but I refuse to participate in all this negativity. Seeing all this bile that verges on philistinism would depress me at any time, but during this world crisis it’s particularly off putting.

  • Roberto says:

    Glenn Gould
    Jon Vickers
    Franco Corelli

  • John Richmond says:

    Anything conducted by Klemperer (s-l-o-w and flabby)
    Britten (except for Peter Grimes)
    Everything by Wagner except overtures
    R. Strauss except for the Four Last Songs
    Pelleas et Melisande

    • mary says:

      “Everything by Wagner except overtures”

      That’s like saying you like chicken except the thighs and the wings, it’s the only tasty parts of the chicken.

  • Cyril says:

    Astor Piazzolla
    Mozart Piano Concerto No. 19 in F major

  • PapaJohn says:

    Made me nod in agreement:

    Wagner (except Siegfried Idyll)
    Carmina Burana
    most minimalist works

    These to add (subtract I guess…):

    Grieg Piano Concerto
    Night on Bald Mountain
    Sibelius Symphonies after #1 (and Finlandia)
    performances by Van Cliburn
    solo harpsichord

  • Mick the Knife says:

    If I hear Xenakis, I will begin swimming to the next island!

  • ThrownOutOfTheKremlinForSinging says:

    MADAMA BUTTERFLY. So-o-o boring. The last time I experienced this opera, I fell asleep, literally– the person next to me had to poke me to stop me from snoring, which would not be so unusual except for one thing: I was on stage in the chorus, in full costume and makeup, at the time! No fooling. I was asleep standing up when I was supposed to be singing. This had never happened to me before and has not happened since.

    Also, Karl Maria von Weber’s clarinet concertos are very annoying. Many years ago I had ambitions to play clarinet, and I listened to all the clarinet music in the music library of the college where I was a student, and I listened to both his concertos several times, trying to figure out why in the world he had bothered to compose them.

    • sam says:

      The first Weber clarinet concerto is a masterpiece waiting for the right soloist, which may have to be a non-clarinetist! nonetheless, there are 2 recordings that stand out: sabine meyer and martin frost, very different and plausible approaches…that is, for a clarinet.

      I would love to hear a violinist or cellist play it (transcribed)

    • Rob Keeley says:

      I’m with you on Weber! (see below) – so little harmonic, let alone contrapuntal interest, and the tunes are rarely very memorable.

  • Muzikant90 says:


  • Stephen Diviani says:

    Minimalism and anything by (justly) neglected British composers.

  • Fiddlist says:

    Mais non!!

  • stanley cohen says:

    [1] Birtwhistle
    [2] Birtwhistle
    [3] Birtwhistle

  • Gustavo says:


  • 111943 says:

    Anything by Puccini – it’s like Andrew Lloyd Webber with tunes.

  • M McAlpine says:

    I could do without either Lulu or Wozzek or any other music that makes you feel like jumping off a cliff. I can do with our Wagner’s bellowing too and any type of modern music or minimalist stuff which drives me nuts after five minutes. Music like Mozart and Mendelssohn to make one feel good about life. Some comic opera to cheer one up.

  • Susan Bradley says:

    I would be happy to never hear or play:
    I’ve studied them, I’ve played them. I cannot hear anything worth listening to. Dvorak is just pure syrup, and Stravinsky is just weird and bangy. If I had a time machine I would go back and cancel The Rite of Spring.

  • Rob Keeley says:

    I am very fortunate – there is very little I’d happily live without – the Missa Solemnis: yes, Mahler 8 is his most expendable symphony: Das Klagende Lied (yawn…): most of Weber(especially that intolerable Duo for clarinet and piano): Sibelius Kullervo (even more of a yawn): the first Act and a half of Lohengrin; probably The Rape of Lucretia: most late Tippett….

  • Philip says:

    Any piano concerto other than Ravel
    Any violin concerto other than Barber
    Any concerto for viola, bass, flute, clarinet, trombone, harp or percussion
    Any string quartet other than Shostakovich
    Anything 12-tone other than Berg Kammerkonzert
    Any Schubert other than the ‘Great C’ or the Octet

    On the other hand, there have been a number of personal favourites included on others’ lists to banish, including Adams, Bruckner, Stravinsky…

  • Eric says:

    Others of that ilk

  • Strange (or perhaps not?) that nobody here seems to want to do without J. S. Bach … however, if I made such a list, I would gladly add most works by C. P. E. Bach and those of his other sons to it, although there is a very nice cello concerto by C. P. E. Bach. Of course, I’d want to keep my P. D. Q. Bach. 🙂

    As of 28 September 2019 the website http://imslp.org listed works by 18,000 composers whose scores can be downloaded as PDF files from the site. There were a total of 505,000 scores and 60,000 recordings as of 19 March. While a good many of the scores have probably never been recorded at all, I am sure that I could do without all but ten of them.

    And then there are the many thousands of scores which are not listed there, probably for reasons of copyright.

    Question is, which ten to keep? I’m sure that being on a desert island, I would rapidly get bored with whatever I’d have chosen if I were only limited to ten works (or composers).

  • RW2013 says:

    This topic has really bought out the ignorant worst in SD contributors.

  • Rob says:

    Sibelius’s valse triste

  • AndrewB says:

    It has been so enjoyable to read these comments. A great idea NL! I guess with the idea of music one could most happily live without it has sometimes become a list of folks pet peeves, but then we all need to let off some musical steam in lock down.

    May I add in relation to one of the comments that actually there is no funny lieder ( although I adore the repertoire and would want to keep a sack full on my island. )

    Any ‘humour’ in lieder tends to be either sarcastic or perhaps at best whimsicalI think, but we are so often led finally to the moral of the tale which brings us straight back down to earth with a bump rather than a grin.

    I suppose Vergebliches Standchen is supposed to be droll, but it is less funny for the young man who has been left outside in the icy wind and is then dismissed by the girl with a very curt ‘ gute nacht mein knab.’

    Die Forelle dances along for two verses, but then turns nasty in the third. Poor trout!

    In fact fish don’t do very well in lieder I think. What about the fish that swallows a golden ring in Mahler’s Rheinlegendchen and is then served up at the king’s table? Thus suffering the effects of pollution and murder. Not funny however magically cheeky the musical setting!

    I am ready for some of you to come back at this comment and respect that you might easily live without lieder if you wish. Hope that you will do so with your tongue firmly in your cheek and your humour radar switched on.

    In summary , I couldn’t easily live without lieder, but it falls into 3 categories:

    1) I love you

    2) I no longer love you / I hate you now!

    3)You’re dead!

    Definitely not humorous I’m afraid.

  • John Marshall says:

    Poulenc: Flute Sonata-if it’s to be one solitary piece.

  • Bruce says:

    • I’d be fine without hearing any more Mahler symphonies. To me he fits Rossini’s aphorism about Wagner better than Wagner does. (Love the songs though)

    • Hindemith always reminds me of what Galsworthy said about the patriarch in his Forsyte Saga (I’m paraphrasing): a man who is unlovable, and just perceptive enough to know it. I feel like Hindemith is trying to be likeable, but everything he tries just makes people (i.e., me) more uncomfortable.

    • Sessions. My spouse tried a project of listening to Sessions’ symphonies, and they made me feel ill. I’m willing to find something interesting in all the other midcentury Americans I’ve heard, though (Piston, Diamond, et al).

    • Schoenberg. Same comment as Sessions, except that it’s as if making people feel ill is his goal.

    That’s really about it. Everything else, I can either be open to it or ignore it.

    • Rob Keeley says:

      Agreed (mostly) about Sessions, very worthy and dull, although the very late ‘When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d’ has some marvellous things in it, I think. Diamond is seriously underrated IMO

  • John says:

    I do think Mr Lebrecht is playing you. This is the equivalent of Lynton Christy puting a dead cat on the table. Create noise. And has Mr Lebrecht caused noise! Does this increase the number of hits on his site and perhaps an increase in income?
    Just a thought

    • Bruce says:

      I have no problem with it if it does. I’d rather the site keep going than shut down. Nobody’s forcing me to read the comments.

  • BB71 says:

    1 Mahler 1,2,3 and 8

    2. Thomas Ades- everything

    3. Britten. Pretty much everything

    4. Vaughan Williams symphonies

    5. Elgar Gerontius

    6. Mendelssohn. Elijiah

    7. Stockhausen. Everything.

    8. Boulez. Everything.

  • BrianB says:

    Not a bad list, Elgar (Gerontius speaks to me more and more with each passing year though the theology isn’t exactly mine); and Debussy aside. Though a desert island environment would be a great place to sit down with, say, a full score of Lulu and really dissect it. My experiences with Bruckner, though, lead me to think that actually there is less there than meets the ear.

  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    I will trade you Chopin for Bruckner.

  • David says:

    1-6 and 8, agreed.

    I need Debussy and Bruckner, and Steve Reich is one of my Lieblingskomponisten.

    So for me:

    7 Janacek

    9 R Strauss

    10 Verdi Requiem

  • Rich Patina says:

    Vivaldi Gloria

  • John Borstlap says:

    This post, which is like lifting the lid of a very dark boiling pot of resentment and frustration, brings to the open the lava of deep hatred towards human artistic achievement. So-called ‘music lovers’ flock to the crater to enjoy their ‘bonfire of vanities’, as true Savonarolas:


  • Ted says:

    For me, the following

    David Diamond

    Milton Babbitt

    Strauss: Macbeth and Aus Italien

    Wagner – all of it, sorry

    Cage, even the lovely prepared piano works

    Havergal Brian

    Messiaen – all of it except Le Banquet Celeste and Quartet for the End of Time

    Rimsky: Scheherezade

    William Schuman


    Emily Howard – sorry

    Elliott Carter – I’ve tried, I’ve really really tried

    Peter Maxwell Davies – except for the Orkney Wedding with Sunrise and Worldes Blis

    Henze – more interesting on the page than aurally

    Tippett: Child of Our Time

    Country and Western


    Jazz – sorry


    But I’ve still got a ton of music to get to know and a ton that I like.

  • theaceman says:

    1. Handel
    2. Brahms (well a lot of it)
    3. Nielsen
    4. Original instruments
    5. Anything on the Harpsichord
    6. Hindemith
    7. Gramophone reviews
    8. Radio 3
    9. Karajan
    10. CDs

  • Adrian Leverkühn says:

    OK, here are mine:

    All orchestral music
    All operas
    All chamber music
    All instrumental music
    All vocal and choral music
    Classic FM
    Most of Radio 3
    ALL TV and radio announcers who say ‘erm’ every few seconds, and all who begin answering a question with ‘So…’
    Suzy Klein

    There. Everything above encompasses, I think, merely a subset of my list so having provoked this bilious tirade maybe NL could now open another more constructive and interesting subject – namely, if you were told that all classical music were to be destroyed but you could save the works of one composer, which one would you choose?

    Come on Norman – start the ball rolling!

  • JPlayer says:

    Anything Swedish. It doesn’t get more boring.

    • Paul Carlile says:

      Stenhammar: Serenade in F…. favorite orchestral noise , (but avoid the recording by Neeme Jarvi; prefer Kubelik). One of the Best Noises Ever! Or his “Florez och Blanzeflor” -gorgeous noise for boritone and orchestra.

  • Paul Carlile says:

    1. English music, especially Elgar & Warm-Villains…. (exceptions: some Delius, Warlock songs).

    2. Stravinsky

    3. Satie

    4. Organ & Harpischord noises… (exceptions: concertos by Poulenc & Martinu)

    5. French “Ballet Music” (exceptions: some Delibes & Massenet..)

    6. Bel Canto Operas…(some exceptions, selected arias)

    7. Schoenberp, Webern, Boulez….

    8. Mozt Mozart (but notable exceptions!)

    9…..eerrhhh…. that’s it!

    10. I’ve surely forgotten some, but enjoy most of most, even if i wouldn’t want constant rendings of Borelero & Carmina Boreana. I’m perplux by some commenters who wouldn’t miss ….Spohr, Sessions, Babbitt, Furtwangler (composer!)…and others; do these even have much presence at all on the scene now, except to specialists. OK, now i remembore, i agree: wouldn’t miss Reger.

  • M2N2K says:

    Even in this quarantine times, I do not have enough patience to read almost two hundred comments, but after going through nearly half of them, I was amazed to discover that I cannot fully agree with any of those. Many compositions listed by various people are great pieces of music whose only fault is that they are being performed very frequently. The person who came closest to my opinion is probably the one who said “everything before Bach [meaning Johann Sebastian, I am sure] and everything after Strauss [meaning Richard, I am certain]”. Nothing that was written before 1685 would be missed much by me either. However, I do like a number of pieces written after 1949 quite a lot, including a few each by Shostakovich, Lutoslawski, Adams, Ades.

  • violin accordion says:

    I couldn’t live without Elgar Introduction and Allegro and Allassio or Bruckner 7

  • Marty says:

    Berlioz, all of opera, Stephen Sondheim