Classical Works You Can Sing But Can't Name

Riccardo Muti leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Carl Off's 'Carmina Burana.'
Riccardo Muti leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Carl Off's 'Carmina Burana' at Carnegie Hall's opening gala concert on Wednesday night, October 3, 2012. Hiroyuki Ito/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As all forms of mass media continue to expand, many movies, television programs, and commercials are continually including classical music in their soundtracks. And as people are becoming more and more familiar with classical music, naturally, their desire to seek and find a particular work increases. The problem is, however, that many people don't know the name or composer of any particular piece.

My solution (although small and could never cover the vast amounts of classical music) is to provide you with a list of the top requested and inquired about classical works I receive on a continual basis. Here are ten classical music works you can sing, but you can't name.

O Fortuna from Carmina Burana, by Carl Orff

  • By far the most inquired about classical work, O Fortuna is played in hundreds of movies, television programs, commercials, and other forms of media. Many who have heard this famous piece can hum the melody and often describe it as haunting, foreboding, and big. O Fortuna is the opening movement to Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, a work for large orchestra, choir, and solo vocalists.
  • Hear O Fortuna in the movies Cheaper by the Dozen, Natural Born Killers, and The Bachelor.

Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C-sharp minor, by Franz Liszt

  • When I heard this piece for what I thought was the first time, I was surprised by how familiar it was. After listening to it several more times, it suddenly hit me… I heard it in a Bugs Bunny cartoon 15 years ago (Rhapsody Rabbit, 1946). He was performing the piece in front of a large audience amongst many distractions. I don’t think cartoons are made like that anymore.
  • Hear Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in a C-sharp minor in the movies Delirious, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Shine.

Sous le dôme épais (Flower Duet) from Lakme, by Delibes

  • Already well known, Delibes’s Flower Duet was made ever-increasingly popular by British Airway’s use of the work in a fairly recent advertising campaign. This classic piece features a duet between a coloratura soprano and a mezzo-soprano.
  • Hear Delibes’s Flower Duet in the movies The American President, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, and Meet the Parents.

Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin

  • Almost anyone can recognize Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Like, Orff's O Fortuna, Rhapsody in Blue is featured in many movies and television shows. Some consider it strictly jazz while others say it's classical when in all actuality, it's a perfect combination of both. Here's an interesting fact, when Gershwin was commissioned to write the piece, he wrote it so speedily he didn't have time to compose the part for piano. At its first performance, Gershwin improvised the piano part. Later, it was finally composed.
  • Hear Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue in the movies Fantasia 2000 and Manhattan.

Dies Irae from Verdi’s Requiem

  • A great “power” song, people all over the world, even those who dislike classical music, appreciate this work. Verdi’s Dies Irae is arguably the most well-known and recognizable movement of the work. Although many classical music lovers can tell you the name and composer of the piece, the great majority of the world cannot. Its heart pounding rhythms and driving melodies are truly awe inspiring.
  • Hear Verdi’s Dies Irae in the movies Battle Royale and Water Drops on Burning Rocks.

    Dies Irae from Mozart’s Requiem

    • Although drastically different from Verdi’s, Mozart’s Dies Irae does not lack in intensity and ferociousness. Composed in 1791, this was the last work written by Mozart. The Requiem is a very popular piece, not only due to its beauty but also for its mystery. There are many myths surrounding the exact details on how the Requiem was completed. Mozart died before the work was finished; it was Süssmayr who actually completed the work.
    • Hear Mozart’s Dies Irae in the movies X-Men 2Duplex, and The Incredibles DVD – Jack-Jack Attacks.

    Nessun Dorma from Turandot, by Puccini

    • Nessun Dorma, a deliriously beautiful aria, is known by millions of people, but if you ask them to sing it, they can’t. Why? Because many of them don’t put the name with the song. Nessun Dorma became a household tune, possibly due to the huge success and marketability of the three tenors (Jose Carreras, Luciano Pavarotti, and Placido Domingo), as well as being played on many movie soundtracks.
    • Hear Puccini’s Nessun Dorma in the movies Chasing LibertyMan on Fire, and Bend in like Beckham.

    Movement 2 from Symphony No. 7, Beethoven

    • The second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 is an extremely memorable piece and the most popular of the four movements. The commanding melodic line repeated throughout the movement’s entirety will give you chills as it progresses. Completed in 1812, it has been enchanting audiences ever since.
    • Hear Movement 2 of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in the movies Mr. Hollands OpusImmortal Beloved, and Cowards Bend the Knee.

    Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walküre, by Wagner

    • Featured in cartoons and movies, and everything in between, children and adults alike are very familiar with this piece. To many, Ride of the Valkyries represents the stereotypical large opera female festooned with braids, horned helmet, and metal breastplate with a spear in hand. Although a wonderful piece, Ride of the Valkyries loses some of its magic among all this pop culture.
    • Hear Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries in the movies Apocalypse NowThe Blues Brothers, and Full Metal Jacket.

    Peer Gynt Suite No.1, 'Morning', by Grieg

    • Synonymous with the rising sun, Grieg’s 'Morning' from Suite No. 1 is known by one and all. Children become familiar with this piece early on, as it is played in many cartoons. Unfortunately, the song titles of songs played are not credited in the ending credits, and even if they were, would kids even notice? I doubt it.
    • Hear Grieg’s 'Morning' from Suite No. 1 in the movies Raising Cain and Soylent Green.