October 14, 2010 at 02:09 PM ·

 Violins, and strings in general, are often said to sound at their best the more they can resemble the lyrical voice.  It is widely assumed, at least by non-musicians, that classical music deemed “great” is primarily melodic.  With this in mind, I wonder how the readers of rate composers in their ability to write beautiful melodies, not just a handful, but time after time after time.

To start the ball rolling, I put Schubert at the top of the list.  After Schubert, in alphabetical order, I list the following:


J.S. Bach,






J. Strauss, Jr., and



Do you agree with my list?  Who would you add?  Remember, time after time after time.

Replies (21)

October 14, 2010 at 02:58 PM ·

I very much agree with your list.  Before I read your whole post, Tchaikovsky had already come to my mind.

Two other names that come to my mind right away are Richard Strauss and Giuseppe Verdi.  I was heavily into these composers in my late teens and early 20s -- and I don't tire of hearing their music time after time.  Back then, as I was discovering more of their music, I would think to myself many times:  "What a great tune -- I wish I had come up with that one myself!"

Verdi is the man whose music inspired me to try my own hand at songwriting.  I'm not a champion verse-writer; so I had to settle for songs without words.  But I honestly feel that the music has stood the test of time.  Sorry, can't upload it for a while yet for you to judge.  I feel confident that Signor Verdi would feel proud and honored.

Strauss's orchestral and chamber music appeals to me a great deal -- melodies and orchestrations.  I don't care for his operas as much.  Still, I'll never forget the first time I heard his Salome.  I began with the final scene.

As anyone who has been through this one-act musical drama can understand, I was quite jarred by the scene's opening.  But then came the lyrical stretch beginning just before "Nichts in der Welt…" (Nothing in the world…) -- a passage prefigured instrumentally in the preceding Dance of the Seven Veils.

Again, a vivid first impression.  Herr Strauss had me hooked on his music.  Once more I said, "Oh, I wish I'd thought of this tune myself."  And, being a violin-player, I couldn't help noticing the way the strings doubled the leading lady's line in the passage.

October 14, 2010 at 04:12 PM ·


October 14, 2010 at 04:47 PM ·

Rachmaninoff- a couple of tunes from his piano concerti were used for popular songs.  "Full Moon and Empty Arms" comes immediately to mind from the second concerto.  "Vocalise" is as melodic as can be, too.

October 14, 2010 at 04:56 PM ·

saint saens

October 14, 2010 at 06:27 PM ·

Haendel.  Repeatedly.  It happens when you wrote operas at that time period and HAVE to come up with catchy hooks or else risk getting rotten fruit thrown at the stage.  :-)

October 14, 2010 at 07:45 PM ·

Rachmaninoff was very consistent in writing some of the most beautiful melodies. Someone mentioned the piano concerti.... listen as well to his 2nd symphony. That's about as melodic as anything can get.

October 14, 2010 at 11:50 PM ·

 Thanks, Jim.  It interests me that of the first seven responders, no one suggested omitting any names that I listed.  And I certainly agree with you about R. Strauss and Verdi.  Strauss loved the violin and the soprano voice.  I never tire of his operas and his songs, and Ein Heldenleben.  I can't imagine anyone recommending your introduction to Strauss, but clearly it worked for you.  I'm looking forward to hearing the Met's Don Carlo in December.  I am also very fond of Falstaff.  And when you can upload your own music, please do.  I would love to hear it.

Christina, absolutely Mendlesohn.  I have just been listening to his string trios and his oratorio Saul.  Beautifully lyrical. 

Rachmaninov, of course.  Thanks, Lisa.  Not only his own compositions, but also his piano playing.  Wonderful.

Julian, you are getting me to go back to listen to more of Saint Saens, Massenet, and Gliere.  I remember a cartoon from The New Yorker many years ago that showed one woman talking to an another and saying,"I thinking of making Massenet my favorite composer."  I shall take heed.

Handel.  Absolutely.  And Janis, thanks for the information about previous audience behavior.  Some things do get better.

Okay, Julien, and John, I have to listen to more Saint Saens.  I know and agree with Franck.  I am amazed that Chopin hasn't been mentioned before.  Haydn.  Absolutely.  When I was very young I thought Haydn must be a hack because he wrote so much.  Now I treasure every scrap.  Pure delight.

John, also worth hearing (and playing) are his 4-hand piano Suites and the remarkable Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.



October 15, 2010 at 12:55 AM ·

 Tchaikovsky beats everyone as far as melodies go. The second movements of his last three symphonies are all testament to that.

Mozart's up there somewhere too. And Beethoven. (Ode to Joy, anyone?)

October 15, 2010 at 07:14 PM ·

 Okay, okay.

In my opinion, Tchaikovsky beats everyone.

There. :)

October 15, 2010 at 08:07 PM ·

Is it the Russian blood?  The borscht or vodka?  Borodin got a few pretty good melodies in there too.

October 15, 2010 at 09:11 PM ·

So much beautiful music. And it can be ours to play with a bit of perserverance. How marvellous is that?

October 16, 2010 at 02:27 AM ·

Frank, thank you for your additional input -- enjoyed reading it all, as I did the other responses that have been coming in.  Heldenleben and Don Carlo truly penetrate to the heart and soul of me.  The soprano/tenor duets in DC -- Act 1, the Fontainebleau scene, and Act V -- are still more examples of material I wish I had written myself.  Ditto for the lyrical stretches and violin solos in Heldenleben.

October 16, 2010 at 02:30 AM ·

Schubert, Mozart, Strauss - in my mind these top the list for consistently producing melodic lines that live on in memory for days after they're first heard.  They're often very straightforward, yes; but too complex can be less memorable for the average Joe Blow, of whom I am one!  :-)

I'm interested that Brahms was listed - I had always considered his writing distinctly more harmonic than melodic!  It's neat how different composers are heard different ways by different sets of ears, isn't it!

Incidentally, regarding Patricio Molino's performance of the Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 2 - I like that, too, and have listened to it a number of times lately as I spend three hours a day preparing to solo that concerto with our local orchestra in March.  (Gulp!)

October 16, 2010 at 02:00 PM ·

No one mentioned Chopin or Elgar, so I will.

October 16, 2010 at 03:25 PM ·

For sheer melodic ability in instrumental music, probably no one beats Astor Piazzolla. Although he's probably considered more a composer of popular music and tangos, he was a well-trained composer and fine musician. Just listen to the four-part fugue on a tango rhythm "Fuga y Misterio" and you'll see my point. He wrote hundreds of melodies in his tangos, so he gets the bad "Vivaldi" rap of not writing 600 tangos, but rather of writing the same tango 600 times. Not a fair shake for either composer, in my opinion.

For melodies on end, the world of opera composers will be hard to beat.  I'd hardly know where to start, but among my favorites is the Symphonic Intermezzo from Cavallaria Rusticana by Mascagni. You want lush string sound? You got lush string sound! :-)

Other classical composers rate highly with me not so much because they wrote many beautiful melodies, but because they understood how to take the few they wrote and use them in just the right places.

October 16, 2010 at 08:19 PM ·

 Sibelius and Ralph Vaughan Williams would be at the top of my list. 

October 16, 2010 at 09:09 PM ·

Sir Thomas Beecham once said something to the effect that if you take 100 of the most beautiful melodies ever written, 75 of them will be by Mozart.

October 16, 2010 at 11:40 PM ·

What about the enormous output of the professional film composers?  Korngold and Moricone, for example, wrote some pretty attractive tunes which stick in the mind – an important criterion in a discussion such as this. 

October 17, 2010 at 03:39 AM ·

Grieg and Faure also had the golden gift.

October 17, 2010 at 06:24 PM ·

I would add Purcell.  Sublime melodies and subtly unpredictable, as if from the cool deep heart of the well.

October 18, 2010 at 01:23 PM ·

 I love reading the many responses.

Lynae, I think Brahms is an example of a composer who is strong in three major elements of music: harmony, structure, and melody.  (As were Bach and Beethoven.)  He was so conflicted about composing in the shadow of Beethoven, that he pushed harmony and structure.  But when he relaxed, as in his late piano pieces and many of his songs, his melodies shown.     

I'll add one more name: Bizet.   

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