The best classical music for running

Tired of your usual running routine? Switch things up with this classical playlist full of music guaranteed to get your heart racing

Published: September 27, 2021 at 1:01 pm
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We are often told to relax while listening to classical music, but these works will help you do the opposite. A racing beat, fast tempos and heightened drama make for the perfect running soundtrack. What's more, it's a lot harder to do the dreaded 'countdown to the next song' thing with classical music. Movements differ in lengths depending on the conductor or performer, and it's less structured and formulaic as a pop song.

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If you're in the pits of exhaustion halfway round a marathon and need a pick-me-up, we suggest switching over from Taylor Swift to Gustav Holst and seeing what happens. You might be surprised...

What are the best pieces of classical music to run to?

Mars, the Bringer of War – Gustav Holst

The first and most famous movement from Holst’s The Planets opens with a menacing rhythm, played by the string sections with the wooden backs of their bow (a technique called col legno, or ‘with wood’). This dramatic ostinato is present for almost the entire piece, making it the perfect music to raise your heartbeat and find your pace.

Recommended recording:

Philharmonia Orchestra/Simon Rattle
EMI 575 8672

Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G minor – Johannes Brahms

This is one of Brahms’s most recognisable works, based on a traditional Hungarian theme. It was originally written for piano four hands, then later orchestrated by Martin Schmeling. Moments of calm occasionally interrupt the flow of this energetically whirling music – a good time to take a breather, perhaps?

Recommended recording:

Vienna Philharmonic/Claudio Abbado
DG E4106152

The Nutcracker: March – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

The dignified horn theme that opens this moment in Tchaikovsky’s ballet is in stark contrast to the excitable strings that gradually take over in this party-piece. If you are looking for more music to add to your running playlist, The Nutcracker is full of energetic moments, such as the fight between the Nutcracker and King Rat, or the jumping Russian ‘Trepak’ dance that is performed for Clara and her Prince Charming.

Recommended recording:

State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia 'Evgeny Svetlanov', Vladimir Jurowski
Pentatone PTC5186761

Górecki: Harpsichord Concerto: I. Allegro molto

Make sure your headphones aren't at their highest volume when you switch over to this during your run, or it'll blow your head off. The racing beat with relentless, repetitive rhythms on the harpsichord are backed by chord-like textures in the strings. You'd be forgiven for thinking there was just one instrument playing: the organ. It's truly epic – and rather demonic.

We'd recommend Mahan Esfahani's recording of this piece. He really tells that harpsichord who's boss.

Recommended recording:

Mahan Esfahani
Time Present and Past
DG 479 4481

Beethoven Symphony No. 7, IV. Allegro con brio – Ludwig van Beethoven

No moment of Beethoven packs a better (and more rhythmic) punch than the final movement of his Symphony No. 7. Full of Bacchic fury, Beethoven’s Seventh zips along at such a pace that you’ll need to work hard to keep up.

Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly
Decca 478 3496

Candide: Overture – Leonard Bernstein

Bernstein’s comic operetta opens with a bang. Such a brilliant bang in fact, that it is more commonly performed in its own right. Listen out for quote from songs ‘The Best of all possible worlds’, ‘Battle music’, ‘Oh, happy we’ and (of course) ‘Glitter and be Gay’.

Recommended recording:

London Symphony Chorus & Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein
DG 4744722

Short Ride in a Fast Machine – John Adams

This fanfare has just the right amount of irresistible energy and an inevitable forward motion to keep you motivated right to the end of your run. Keep pace with the wood block ostinato, which falls in and out of time with the rest of the orchestra.

Recommended recording:

Berlin Philharmonic/Alan Gilbert
The John Adams Edition
Berliner Philharmoniker BPHR170141

Festival Overture – Dmitri Shostakovich

Composed in just three days, this celebratory overture should keep you on similarly speedy toes. The organisers of the 1980 Olympics must have agreed – it featured in the opening ceremony in Moscow.

Recommended recording:

Boston Symphony Orchestra/Andris Nelsons
DG 4836728

Conga del Fuego – Arturo Márquez

There’s no better way to end a run than with a conga, especially one as full of fun as this. Born in Mexico, Márquez grew up surrounded by mariachi and folk music, and often uses traditional musical styles and forms in his orchestral works.

Recommended recording:

Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela/Gustavo Dudamel
Fiesta
DG 4777859

You can listen to and download our playlist on Apple Music, just click here.

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