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The best classical music for New Year’s Eve

The pieces of classical music to help you bring in the new year in style

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As we nurse our heads and stomachs after several days of overindulgence, we all need a little help rallying for the next big event – welcoming in the new year. Whether it’s a tune for New Year’s Eve, or merely one that suits the melancholic first few days of the new year, the BBC Music Magazine team have got you covered.

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To coincide with our New Year playlist on Apple music (available here), the BBC Music Magazine team has chosen the pieces they feel best suit this time of year.

‘In dir ist Freude’, BWV 615 from Orgelbüchlein (JS Bach)

There’s no more joyous start to the new year than ‘In dir ist Freude’ (In Thee is gladness) from JS Bach’s Orgelbüchlein, a collection of chorale preludes marking various points in the liturgical year.

This ingenious two-and-a-half-minute gem sees the cantus firmus chorale theme shoot back and forth between the hands, over the top of a recurring bass motif. It’s utterly thrilling.

Recommended recording:

Stephen Farr (organ)
Resonus Classics RES10259

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Winterreise (Schubert)

Once you’ve got over the hangover of 1 January, the New Year means going back to work in the dark, filthy weather and a dwindling post-Christmas bank account as the next pay day takes forever to arrive.

The grey misery of Schubert’s Winterreise matches this vile time of year to perfection.

Recommended recording:

Christian Gerhaher (baritone), Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Daniel Harding
Sony Classical 88725422952

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Dream (John Cage)

John Cage’s Dream is a meditative meander of a piece, written for the dancer-choreographer Merce Cunningham. A quiet solo piano line wanders from place to place, while the pedal is used to create a gently shimmering halo of resonance.

The effect is otherworldly, hypnotic. It’s the ideal music if, as the old year turns to the new, you want a moment or two to reflect on the past and imagine the future.

Recommended recording:

Alexei Lubimov (piano)
ECM 4764933

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Radetzky March, Op. 228 (Strauss)

Catching the Vienna Musikverein concert on TV is a great way to start the new year. Johann Strauss’s Radetzky March (1848), one of the most famous regular fixtures, always has a festive touch, with the encore’s snare drum introduction beginning before the conductor has returned to the podium.

It is traditional for the maestro to direct the audience’s clapping and Daniel Barenboim did this (in 2014) while shaking hands with each member of the Vienna Philharmonic.

Recommended recording:

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Teldec 8573-83563-2

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Ravel Piano Concerto in G major, I. Allegramente

Any piece that starts with a whip-crack is sure to get any party started. After a lively Spanish-inspired opening, the movement then transitions into a more reflective, melancholic piano solo, but it seems incapable of repressing the merriment, with blues-influenced flourishes continually interrupting.

Ravel admitted outright that he wasn’t trying to do anything profound or complex with this piece, and it is exactly this sentiment we look for on a night like New Year’s Eve. Simple, unbridled fun.

Recommended recording:

Martha Argerich (piano), Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Claudio Abbado
DG Originals 447 438-2 ADD (1967/75)

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