Rachmaninov proves Tolstoy wrong by topping poll of favourite classical tunes

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The Independent Culture

When Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor premiered in 1901 the Russian composer was suffering from severe depression after the critical and popular failure of his previous works. His despair was deepened by the withering response to his music from his hero, the elderly Tolstoy, who asked him: "Does anyone want this type of music?"

The British classical music listening public responded yesterday with a resounding "yes", voting the concerto, used in Sir David Lean's classic film Brief Encounter , its favourite piece. Although his music was out of fashion when he died in 1943, the concerto reached larger audiences with the release of the black-and-white 1945 film.

The piece, one of the most-often performed, topped this year's poll of 144,690 Classic FM listeners. Its emergence, in each year of the new century so far, at the top of the chart, reinforces Rachmaninov's position as the most popular mainstream composer.

The Classic FM station manager, Darren Henley, said: "It's one of those pieces of music that, when you hear it, you get lost in it. It's got a fantastic tune and you end up humming for the rest of the day after one hearing."

The concerto beat The Lark Ascending , by the English composer Vaughan Williams, by 443 votes, with Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A coming third, followed by Beethoven's Piano Concerto No 5.

Mozart remains the most prolific of the 100 composers in this year's top 300 chart with 21 entries. His works, along with those of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Bach and Elgar, make up a quarter of the top 300.

Elgar has more entries than any other British composer in the top 300, with 11.

Williams is the success of the past decade, with The Lark jumping to second from the 18th place it occupied in the station's first Hall of Fame in 1996.

The success of British composers, with four works in the top 10, shows a growing trend of popularity for homegrown talent. There are 56 British composers in the top 300, with Karl Jenkins leading the field of living British composers.

The Welsh-born Jenkins, 62, who has three entries, the highest being The Armed Man , at No 9, said: "It's great to be part of it. I write accessible music that strikes a chord with people emotionally rather than intellectually and I think that's what appeals."

Mr Henley said: "Over the 10 years of doing this chart one of the most interesting things to watch has been the rise of British composers, especially living composers. If the trend continues as it has we will have a Brit at number one next year."


1 Rachmaninov, Piano Concerto No 2

2 Vaughan Williams, The Lark Ascending

3 Mozart, Clarinet Concerto in A

4 Beethoven, Piano Concerto No 5 in Eb

5 Bruch, Violin Concerto No 1 in G minor

6 Beethoven, Symphony No 6

7 Elgar, Cello Concerto in E minor

8 Elgar, Enigma Variations

9 Jenkins, The Armed Man

10 Grieg, Piano Concerto in A minor

11 Beethoven, Symphony No 9

12 Rachmaninov, Symphony No 2

13 Vaughan Williams, Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis

14 Saint-Saens, Symphony No 3

15 Barber, Adagio for Strings

16 Sibelius, Finlandia

17 Pachelbel, Canon in D

18 Bizet, Pearl Fishers' Duet

19 Holst, The Planets Suite

20 Rachmaninov, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini