PLAYLIST - A list of amusing and stimulating works of classical music for your children to discover

A playlist by France Musique, using our own exclusive video archive of concert and studio recordings.

PLAYLIST - A list of amusing and stimulating works of classical music for your children to discover
PLAYLIST - Which amusing and stimulating works of classical music should your children listen to ?, © Getty / Elizabethsalleebauer

Children and classical music have never been the closest of friends. And yet the genre of classical music is filled to the brim with surprising, funny, weird, entertaining, and even downright silly works, perfect for young minds in need of stimulation. Here are 10 works that will hopefully show the younger listeners that classical music is a world of unlimited possibilities!

Mozart: Marche Turque avec Fred Radix et François Dumont

Classical music, and the works of Mozart in particular, have been associated with the highly-contested "Mozart effect" since 1993, when it was first discussed in a study published in the scientific journal Science. The study claimed that adolescent children who listened to classical music performed better in spatial and reasoning tests and displayed better spatial relationship skills. Other studies later claimed that classical music even lowered the frequency of epileptic seizures in adults. Though listening to any kind of music is good for the brain, classical music possesses a more complex and developed musical structure, therefore increasing the cognitive functions of a growing child's brain. 

Whether the "Mozart effect" truly exists or not, listening to Mozart's compositions certainly can't do any harm! 

Strauss: The Blue Danube (Arnaud Marzorati, barrel organ)

It is one of classical music's most famous melodies, and the natural sway of the Viennese waltz is instinctive and impossible to resist. At a time of post-war depression, Strauss was commissioned to compose a joyful work of music to raise the country's morale...and that he did. An incredibly successful and popular work, Johann Strauss II's Blue Danube waltz has become the unofficial national anthem of Austria. 

The playful nature of Strauss's music is here amplified by the charming sound of the barrel organ, an innocent and almost infantile sound that makes any listener feel like they are a child again... 

Komitas / Sergueï Aslamazian: Trois Miniatures - Vararshapat (Quatuor Akhtamar)

Founder of the national Armenian school of composition, Soghomon Soghomonian (1869-1935), perhaps better known by his chosen name Komitas upon becoming an ordained priest in 1894, was one of the first Armenian musicians to follow a Western musical education. His collection of Armenian folk miniatures combines the musical elements of Armenia’s folk tradition with a more learned Western harmonic language. 

Arranged for string quartet by the Soviet Armenian cellist and composer Sergueï Aslamazian (1897-1978), Vagharshapat (named after Armenia's fourth largest city) is filled with Armenian musical tradition, inviting listeners to dance through its typical harmonies, swaying melodies, and dancing rhythms. You don't need to know how to dance the Kochari, Artsvapar, or the Shalakho to appreciate Komitas's naturally dancing music!

Piazzolla: "Chin Chin", performed by the Spiritango Quartet

Perhaps the world's most prominent composer of tango music,  Astor Piazzolla was a virtuoso bandoneon player and a revolutionary Argentine composer and arranger of tango music. Hoping to move away from the traditional, and somewhat dated, style of tango, Piazzolla sought to renew the genre by blending other genres of music, including more learned Western composition techniques and harmonies, the use of dissonance and counterpoint, and even elements of jazz music, creating a unique musical form that did not initially please everyone! However, Piazzolla's hip-swaying music, with its unbridled energy, harmonic depth, and rhythmic grooves, gradually came to be recognised as the future of Argentine music. There's no room here for rules and tradition, only passion!

Saint-Saëns: "Aquarium" by Thomas Enhco and Vassilena Serafimova

Originally composed by Saint-Saëns in 1886 as part of his humorous musical suite Le carnaval des animaux [The Carnival of the Animals], the movement "Aquarium" evokes a quiet and sombre aquarium, full of mysterious and shapeless colours and reflections. Beyond the literal aquatic association, the music is rich in magical insinuations, and has often been used to capture the imagination of children, notably in the prologue for Disney's Beauty and the Beast (though it is also strongly reminiscent of the worlds of Harry Potter and other fantastic and supernatural heroes). 

Kazimierz Machala: American Folk Suite for wind quintet - Ensemble Callioppée

Written by the Polish composer Kazimierz Machala, the American Folk Suite for wind quintet is an arrangement of various old famous American folk songs. Though certain listeners may recognise tunes such as "Camptown Races, “Old Folks at Home,” “Yankee Doodle”, and “When Johnny Comes Marching Home", the playful and bouncing music cannot fail to amuse and delight on its own, with an almost jazzy swing and 

Arturo Marquez: "Danzon no.2", performed by Simon Ghraichy

Originally a Cuban dance and musical genre of African origin also popular in Mexico, the danzon possesses that sultry, fluid, and seductive Latin spirit that will surely get those feet moving! Though Arturo Marquez's Danzon no.2 is a relatively recent work, composed in 1994, it is one of the most popular and most frequently performed orchestral Mexican contemporary classical music compositions, drawing inspiration from the original sounds and styles of the danzon tradition.

Dukas: L'Apprenti sorcier [The Sorcerer's Apprentice] (Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France / Mikko Franck)

Composed in 1897, Paul Dukas's L'apprenti sorcier, subtitled "Scherzo after a ballad by Goethe", was made internationally famous in 1940 when used as the soundtrack for Disney's Fantasia. From the bouncing bassoons depicting the tiptoeing broomstick, the crash of the percussion as the apprentice decides to chop the broomstick in two, and the swirling string melodies as the water begins to rise and crash against the walls of the sorcer's laboratoy Dukas's playful music is full of mystery, magic, and fantasy, even without the visual accompaniment of Mickey Mouse and his calamitous antics.

Danny Elfman: "The Nightmare Before Christmas"

Tim Burton's ghoulish Halloween Christmas crossover fantasy is a surprisingly popular film for amongst adults and children alike, full of monsters (who only scare people because it is their duty to do so), but also Santa Claus and a heartwarming love story between our hero Jack Skellington and Sally the beautiful rag doll. The playful and mysterious music by Danny Elfman inevitably stimulates the imagination, full of sparkling percussion, sprightly strings, and ominous brass melodies: we can almost see the dark streets of Halloween Town and feel the crunchy snow of Christmas Town.

Bernstein: "Symphonic Dances" from West Side Story

In 1957 Leonard Bernstein composed the legendary musical West Side Story. A modern adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, no longer in the Italian city of Verona but instead in the west side of Manhattan. A wildly successful show, Bernstein decided to adapt the music in the form of an orchestral suite, the Symphonic Dances, following the principal episodes of the musical's story over 9 short movements, blending intricate classical techniques with more popular dance rhythms and jazz syncopations:

Prologue (Allegro moderato) Growing tension between the Jets and the Sharks, two rival gangs.
Somewhere (Adagio) The two gangs become friends during a dream sequence.
Scherzo (Vivace e leggiero) During this dream, the two gangs manage to escape the confines of the city and find themselves in an open and sunny space.
Mambo (Meno Presto) After the dream, a dance competition takes place at the gym between the two gangs.
Cha-cha (Andantino con grazia) The first encounter of the two star-crossed lovers, Tony and Maria.
Meeting Scene (Meno mosso) The two lovers speak to one another for the first time.
Cool Fugue (Allegretto) An elaborate dance sequence in which Riff leads the Jets in harnessing their impulsie hostility, figuratively "cooling their jets."
Rumble (Molto allegro) Epic gang battle, during which the leaders of both gangs, Riff and Bernardo, are killed.
Finale (Adagio) Maria sings I Have a Love (flute solo), followed by a reprise of the Somewhere chorus.

BONUS - Anne Dudley: "Hail the Superheroes"

With her work "Hail the Superheroes", Anne Dudley opens an exceptional evening dedicated to the music of cinema by paying homage to the "superheroes". She reminds us that these characters were originally born as Greek myths and other ancient civilisations before becoming a part of the golden age of American comic books. Firstly The Defenders, published by Marvel in the early 1970s, with Doctor Strange, Hulk, Namor and the Silver Surfer. Then Zatanna Zatara, a female magician with a high-hat and sensual nylon stockings, wielding her magic wand like others would lightning or a spider's thread. Finally, Quicksilver, a mutant created in the 1960s by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for the famous publishing house Marvel. The superpowers, the split personality, the self-sacrifice in the name of humanity, were the essential and timeless values of these heroes, still an important part of modern popular cinema. This was the chance for Anne Dudley "to explore the colors of such a rich orchestra, the powerful energy of the tutti and large, broad themes."