This post is the third in a series called "A Parent's Guide: Listening to Classical Music," which is designed to help parents discover, enjoy and discuss classical music with their children. To see other posts in this series, start here
While generally, all classical music is good for kids to listen to, some has been written expressly for children. In particular, programmatic music that tells a story lends itself to being kid-accessible. This helps them attach images and information to the sounds they are hearing, which makes the music easier to remember.
Here are my top five programmatic pieces of classical music for the young mind:
1. Peter and the Wolf, by Sergei Prokofiev
The timeless tale of Peter and his woodland friends is brought to life with the music of Prokofiev. Complete with a narrator, this piece doesn't just depict the story, it literally tells it. A different instrument represents each character. Which instrument represents the wolf?
2. Carnival of the Animals, by Camille Saint-Saens
This suite is written in 14 movements, each representing a different animal. The jewel in the crown of this piece is movement 13, "The Swan," depicted by the cello. This movement has become a staple in the cello repertoire and has also been choreographed for ballet. This video showcases ballerina Svetlana Zakharova's gala performance in 2010.
3. The Four Seasons, by Antonio Vivaldi
This group of four violin concertos is an early example of programmatic music. Each concerto depicts a different season of the year. While the first movement of "Spring" is generally the most well-known, other movements of these concertos holds interesting qualities, such as the sound of a dog barking or the wild summer thunderstorm. This is Autumn, one of the lesser known concerti in the set, but no less magical. Can you pick out the dogs, horses and guns in the third movement (begins at 7:39)?
4. The Flight of the Bumblebee, by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Originally written to depict the erratic movements of a bumblebee in the opera "The Tale of Tsar Saltan," this piece has been transcribed for countless instruments to demonstrate virtuosity and technical prowess. Here is a great recording of the Canadian Brass performing the iconic piece.
5. The Planets, by Gustav Holst
Holst wrote this suite to depict the astrological (not astronomical) characteristics of each planet, and as such, Earth is not included. The apex of the suite is Jupiter, which features a gorgeous anthem at 3:06. For a fun version of this piece, watch this flash mob of the Berklee Contemporary Symphony Orchestra performing the same piece.
I hope you enjoyed this programmatic music! Check out our other playlists here:
Part 1- Top 5 Pieces of Classical Music for Kids
Part 2- Spooky Classical Music
Part 4- Winter Music- Coming Soon!
Rebecca Lane is the director, founder, and owner of Upper Beaches Music School. She firmly believes that learning a musical instrument is an integral part of a child's development. Rebecca teaches at the school on Saturdays, but most days you can find her chasing after her three young children, one of whom is in the Suzuki violin program at UBMS.