Best romantic classical music for special occassions

Planning an intimate dinner with your loved one? Here's our favourite pieces of romantic music that will set the mood...

Best romantic classical music
Published: February 9, 2022 at 10:08 am

You’ve lit the candles, have the champagne ready and the oysters are on ice. Now all it needs is a little classical music to make your romantic supper just perfect. May we, then, suggest the following to accompany your love-filled evening…?

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Best romantic classical music

Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet

The most famous love story of all has inspired many a composer, from Berlioz and Gounod to Prokofiev and, in the guise of West Side Story, Bernstein. Sure the most lushly romantic take on the Bard, however, has to be Tchaikovsky’s fantasy-overture of 1886. Though the work’s 20-or-so minutes include flashing swords and, of course, a mournful finale, by far its best known moment is the gloriously sweeping love theme at its heart, a staple of film scores and TV adverts over the years.

Wagner Tristan und Isolde: Prelude und Liebestod

If you and your beloved are planning a really, really long Valentine’s Day dinner – around four hours or so – then playing the whole of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde should have the music pretty much covered. Alternatively, there’s the Prelude und Liebestod, which distils the sumptuousness of Wagner’s 1865 opera into around 20 minutes or so. Opening with the famous ‘Tristan chord’, this is a wonderful wallow in the rich orchestral sound that depicts the infatuation of the two title characters, incurred by drinking a love potion. Perfect with a glass or several of heady red.

Elgar Salut d’amour

Musical expressions of love don’t have to be long, grandiloquent affairs. Elgar’s Salut d’amour does the trick in just two-and-a-half minutes. We know from various cryptic messages left on his manuscripts that Elgar could be a soppy old soul, and this touchingly simple work for violin and piano was given by the composer to Alice, his wife to be, as an engagement present in September 1888 – ‘Carice’, the dedicatee at the top of the score, is a conflation of her two first names, Caroline and Alice.

Price Adoration

Given the prejudice that she encountered throughout her career, on account of both her race and her gender, one can assume that the American composer Florence Price was made of tough, gritty stuff. Despite this, her music regularly displays an abundance of joie-de-vivre, charm and warmth. Written in 1951, two years before her death, her Adoration implies a loving fondness built up through the years rather than the full fire of youthful passion. Though Price wrote the four-minute work for solo stringed instrument and piano, there are lovely arrangements for string ensemble and for organ.

We named Florence Price one of the best female composers ever and one of the greatest black composers of all time

Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2

Thanks in part to Brief Encounter, Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto will forever inevitably be associated with romance – the work can be heard through much of David Lean’s 1945 film, as Laura Jesson (Celia Howard) and Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) meet by chance at Carnforth Station and begin a friendship that forever teeters on the brink of full-blown romance. OK, so he’s pompous and she’s drippy, but we still find ourselves urging them to get together. In particular, it’s the work’s dreamy central Adagio sostenuto that really pulls at the heart strings, both on screen and in the concert hall.

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Scriabin Poem of Ecstasy

Where Laura Jesson and Alec Harvey fear to venture, Scriabin goes in headlong in his Poem of Ecstasy. With its orchestral climaxes – screaming trumpets and all – and score markings including ‘very perfumed’, ‘with a feeling of growing intoxication’ and ‘with a sensual pleasure becoming more and more ecstatic’, it’s not too tricky to guess what the Russian composer was getting at in the symphonic poem he initially titled ‘Orgiastic Poem’. One for the end of the evening, we think.

Authors

Jeremy PoundDeputy Editor, BBC Music Magazine

Jeremy Pound is currently BBC Music Magazine’s Deputy Editor, a role he has held since 2004. Before that, he was the features editor of Classic CD magazine, and has written for a colourful array of publications ranging from Music Teacher to History Revealed, Total Football and Environment Action; in 2018, he edited and co-wrote The King’s Singers: Gold 50th anniversary book.

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