iPlayer Radio What's New?
On Now : Late Junction
Late Junction Sessions - Episode 61

Essential Classics: 20 Great British Works

Friday 14 June 2013, 11:44

Chris Marshall Chris Marshall Executive Producer

Tagged with:

As part of Radio 3's British Music Season during June, we wanted to do something a bit special on Essential Classics, something which would really focus the programme on the very best British music, and we came up with the idea of recommending our all-time favourite British pieces, and playing them at 11am every weekday during the season.

After a bit of maths, we realised this would mean our top 20 pieces. The team went away, and after a bit of head-scratching, each of us contributed a shortlist. And it was immediately apparent that we could easily provide our top 100 Great British Works. Or even 200. So how did we whittle them down? For a start, we decided only one work per composer (Handel, who has snuck in as an honorary Brit, features twice, for some reason.) And we wanted a reasonable historic spread, going back to the great Renaissance masters, and coming into the 20th century.

And then came the difficult bit. What to abandon? In the end, it wasn't too bad. Firstly, there was a clearly defined core: collectively, all of us wanted a fairly manageable range of composers, and then all of us had our own individual quirky outriders. So these outriders were the first to go. And after that it was a matter of deciding which pieces were truly the most representative of the composers we'd shortlisted. And the most fun part was deciding which recordings we wanted to share. Sometimes these were self-recommending, sometimes we had quite a debate around the merits of various strong contenders. But I'm really pleased with the range and quality of what we chose.

What's certain is that had we done the same exercise a month before or a month later, we'd have come up with 20 different pieces. And if a different team was asked to do the same exercise, they'd come up with yet another bunch of equally valid works. And I'm sure if you did the same exercise, the same would be true for you. So here are our 20 Great British Works. I hope you agree with at least some of them, and see why we came up with most of them. And if you've got your own favourites which we've missed, let us know! We always love to hear from you.

Tallis: Spem in alium

Handel: Water Music Suite No.1 in F, HWV348

Elgar: Symphony No.1 in A flat, Op.55

Delius: Brigg Fair

Britten: Serenade for tenor, horn and strings

Byrd: Mass for four voices

Handel: Messiah (Part 3)

Bridge: The Sea

Finzi: Dies natalis

Britten: Four Sea Interludes (Peter Grimes)

Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis

Butterworth: Six Songs from 'A Shropshire Lad'

WHolst: The Planets

Purcell: Come ye sons of art away (Ode for the Birthday of Queen Mary, 1694)

Walton: Symphony No.1

Bax: Tintagel

Purcell: Dido and Aeneas

Elgar: Violin Concerto in B minor, op.61

Howells: Hymnus Paradisi

Tippett: Concerto for Double String Orchestra

Tune in to Essential Classics throughout June to hear each work broadcast at 11am. You can listen again to each programme for up to 7 days online.

Send an email with your thoughts - essentialclassics@bbc.co.uk

Tweet your favourites - @bbcradio3

Tagged with:


Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Handel doesn't need to sneak in as an "honorary Brit", he became a naturalised British subject in 1727. He had already made London his home 15 years earlier (at the age of 27) and died in 1759 having spent the latter two-thirds of his life living in England.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Is this available for download? As in one whole album?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Thanks Chris-first time I have 'blogged' but felt wanted
    to say 'a great list' in what for me would have been
    a Herculean effort. Liked the straightforward openness of
    the background to the list.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Surely at least one Vaughan Williams symphony should have included!!

    4, 5 and 6 are widely acknowledged 20th century masterpieces and certainly at the very least the equal of Elgar/Walton 1 or Bax3

    UsuallBBC selective amnesia when it comes to VW's great cycle of 9 symphonies

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Only one work per composer?

    Except Elgar and Britten of course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Or do you mean '100 Great English Works?'. I can't see any composers from other parts of the UK. But then, maybe no one there was 'great' enough ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    If you are going back to the C16 then how about coming forward to the C21?In any event, a living composer might restore confidence that Radio Three is not in thrall to very conservative elements in this country. The list pretty well reflects what R3 plays over the airwaves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    "Limited to one work per composer". Er, two Britten, Elgar and Handel. By the way, who is W Holst? Unimaginative selections. Where Dies Natalis or Simpson's 9th or Earth Dances, for example?

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Chris, you say that each composer was limited to one piece each and yet Britten, Elgar and Handel each have two to their name.Come on, do the math guys! By the way, I don't know why this was such a difficult selection, seems to have come from Your 20 Classical British Favourites to me!

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    RVW, unlike Elgar or Britten never promoted his works, nor did he seek or take gongs, "take it or leave it " was his attitude unlike the other two. Unfortunately this pathetic collection of British greats ( supposedly one work per composer) leaves all of VW symphonies out of the reckoning , imagine if this were a Finnish or Russian radio survey and Sibelius or Shostakovitch symphonies were absent it would be laughable.

    Wake up BBC and take VW seriously that recording of the Tallis Fantasia you played today is IMHO not the best. Constanin Silvestri/BSO (Winchester Catherdral) or of course Sir John Barbirolli's recording in the Templar Church London are vastly superior.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    It's doubtful that all these works add up in length to one of Wagner's 'Ring' operas. After the recent six month deluge of two Ring cycles and a mountain of other dregs from this third rate drunken composer I am beginning to wonder if R3 is broadcasting to Germany and not Britain! A 'British' music season should not be necessary; British music should always be at the forefront of Radio 3's output.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    So Pinto doesn't make it, nor Hook, nor - shockingly - Sullivan, though more of us could whistle / recognise / nod along to Sullivan than almost any other composer on your lists. It's as if British music simply didn't exist for 150 years. I defend Radio 3 against those who call it elitist, but to ignore Sullivan is to define "great" in a way that excludes all popular opinion. Is that what you meant to do?


This entry is now closed for comments

Share this page

More Posts

Jazz on 3: Django Bates

Thursday 6 June 2013, 14:43

BBC Singers - Sax Appeal

Friday 14 June 2013, 15:31

About this Blog

Go behind the scenes at BBC Radio 3, with insights from editors, producers, contributors, performers and Controller Roger Wright.

Blog Updates

Stay updated with the latest posts from the blog.

Subscribe using:

What are feeds?

We're having some problems displaying Tweets at the moment. Sorry. We're doing our best to fix it.