Playing: Four works by Fritz Kreisler
BBC Radio 3

Essential Classics: 20 Great British Works

Executive Producer

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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.

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