Feature: Classical One Hit Wonders            Back to Features page

Charts are a direct result of monitoring sales charts of recordings. 940 different records have held the top spot in the UK since 1952 – some just for one week, never to be heard of again. As the one hit wonders of the pop world get their second chance at fame, we took a look at a top ten of classical composers who are mostly famous for writing just one piece of music, and discovered some lesser known works that are also really worth a listen. 

One Hit Wonders - click to listen 

 10) Gabriel Fauré: Requiem, 'Pie Jesu'                                                                                           

Also try:  Apres une Reve 

 During his lifetime, Gabriel Faure was one of the major figures in French musical life. He wrote a multitude of brilliant songs and a wealth of outstanding piano music. These days, he is (somewhat ironically) best remembered for his Requiem mass, especially the Pie Jesu

9) Edvard  Grieg: Peer Gynt, 'Morning'                                                                            

Also try:   Piano Concerto, 'Adagio'   

 Edvard Grieg had a near second hit with his piano concerto, but the rest of his catalogue remains sadly neglected. The Peer Gynt Suite is a collection of incidental music written to accompany Ibsen’s play of the same name. He also wrote a wealth of orchestral and chamber music. 

 8) Gustav Holst :The Planets, 'Mars, the Bringer of War'                      

 Also try: St Pauls Suite 'Finale (The Dargason)'  

 Gustav Holst wrote The Planets while he was a music teacher at St Paul’s girls school in Hammersmith, London. It is without question his most spectacular musical achievement, although it certainly isn’t the only thing he wrote. He wrote a lot of music for his pupils to perform, including the delightful St Paul’s Suite, written for the school orchestra.

 7) Carl Orff: Carmina Burana, 'O Fortuna'                                                                    

Also try: Catulli Carmina, 'Exodium'  

 The latin title “Carmina Burana” means “Secular Songs”. It is a cantata, which usually means that it is a dramatic piece for choir, orchestra and soloists, but shorter than an oratorio. Orff’s style of composition is sparse and spiky, and his music frequently requires a very large percussion section. He wrote a number of pieces like this, but only Carmina Burana has become really famous. 

6) Samuel Barber: Adagio for Strings                                                                                               

Also try: Rain has Fallen   

  The Adagio for Strings is actually the slow movement of a Barber String Quartet, but to most of the world the other two movements have been completely forgotten. In fairness, Barber was complicit in this – he realised the Adagio was his ticket to fame and he milked it’s success mercilessly, arranging it first for string ensemble and then for chorus.


5) Antonín Dvorák: New World Symphony, 'Largo'                                                        

Also try: Symphony No. 8, 'Adagio'  

 Antonin Dvorak’s New World symphony is the last of the nine symphonies that he wrote during his 63-year life. Thanks to an advert for a certain well-known bakery, the slow movement of this piece has eclipsed just about everything else the composer wrote. The next most famous is Symphony No. 8, with a slow movement that is just as beautiful, and nowhere near as overdone.

 4) Sergey Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf                                                                  

Also try: Classical Symphony, 'Allegro'  

At some point during their school days, just about every child is forced to sit down and listen to Peter and the Wolf. When the piece was written in 1936, the moral of the story was a Soviet one, but that doesn’t seem to have bothered generations of music teachers, and this has become a popular childrens' classic. In spite of falling foul of Stalin, Prokofiev was a prolific composer who wrote at least eight operas, his first when he was just eight years old.


3) Joaquín Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez, 'Adagio'                


Also try: En Los Trigales 

 The story goes that Rodrigo came up with the theme for the slow movement of his guitar concerto the night he discovered his wife had lost her first child. Whether or not this is true, the movement’s vivid evocation of a sultry summer night in the famous gardens of Aranjuez has made it a much bigger hit than anything else Rodrigo wrote, before or since.

 2) Tomaso Albinoni: Adagio for Organ and Strings                                                       

Also try: Oboe Concerto, 'Allegro' 

 If he were alive today, Albinoni might have been thrilled by the success of his Adagio for Organ and Strings, but he might not recognise it at all. The work as it stands today is a modern completion of a scrap of Albinoni’s manuscript that Remo Giazotto claims to have found in the ashes of Dresden’s library after it was bombed by Allied forces during the Second World War. Lots of Albinoni’s other music survives intact to this day in libraries around the world, although very little of it is frequently performed.

1) Antonio Vivaldi: The Four Seasons: Winter, 'Largo'                                          

Also try: Flute Concerto in D, 'Allegro'   

If ever there were a king of the one hit wonder, it was Vivaldi. Although he is known almost exclusively for having written The Four Seasons, Vivaldi actually wrote more music than the total combined output of all the other nine composers listed here. He wrote 94 operas, around 300 concertos (including 170 for the violin) and an unbelievably vast amount of other instrumental and religious music.