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A “Basic” Repertoire List?

February 9, 2010

When I entered the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music as a viola performance major it was known to the orchestra conductor there that I wanted to be a conductor. As a matter of fact, one of the major reasons I went to UMKC was because Dr. Glenn Block allowed me to study conducting with him as an undergraduate.

I will never forget those first days at my private lessons. Within the first few lessons, Dr. Block handed me what he termed as a “basic repertoire and reading list” for conductors.  The list included all of the standard repertoire one can think of for conductors and was followed by a “recommended reading” list that was full of amazing books.

20 years later this has got me to wondering.  What is a “basic” repertoire list for conductors? I am talking about the beginner who is excited to become a conductor  but doesn’t know where to begin in terms of repertoire.

What are some factors at play?  Well, I think pretty much anything that is on the list should be available by Dover publications.  I am not saying that Dover has the final word on authoritative editions, because some of their editions have serious flaws; but I am saying that we should assume young conductors don’t have unlimited funds at their disposal.  However, I do think we should insist that all of our young conducting students purchase and own their own scores. (We should train them to build their own library!) Now, that being said, not every score listed below is available from Dover.

So, here’s a list that I compiled recently.  It’s open to amendment, and I would love to hear your suggestions!

  1. Bach     Orchestral Suites and Brandenburg Concertos
  2. Beethoven     Symphonies, Violin Concerto, Piano Concerto No. 5
  3. Berlioz     Symphonie Fantastique
  4. Bizet     Carmen Suites
  5. Borodin     Symphony No. 2, In the Steppes of Central Asia
  6. Brahms    Symphonies, Double Concerto, Haydn Variations
  7. Copland  Billy the Kid, Appalachian Spring (13 instruments version)
  8. Debussy   La Mer
  9. Dvorak     Symphonies No. 8 and 9
  10. Haydn     Symphonies 99-104
  11. Mahler   Symphony No. 1
  12. Mendelssohn   Symphonies No. 4 and 5, Violin Concerto, Hebrides Overture
  13. Mozart     Symphonies 35-41, Magic Flute Overture
  14. Prokofiev     Symphonies No. 1 and 5, Piano Concerto No. 3, Peter and the Wolf
  15. Rachmaninov     Piano Concertos No. 2 and 3
  16. Ravel     La Valse, Bolero, Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2
  17. Rimsky-Korsakov     Scheherazade, Russian Easter Overture, Capriccio Espagnol
  18. Saint-Saens   Symphony No. 3 “Organ”
  19. Schubert     Symphony No. 8, Octet
  20. Schumann  Symphonies 1 – 4
  21. Shostakovich  Symphony No. 5
  22. Sibelius     Symphony No. 2, Finlandia
  23. Strauss     Til Eulenspiegel, Don Quixote,
  24. Stravinsky   Firebird, Petrouchka, Rite of Spring
  25. Tchaikovsky   Symphonies 4-6, Violin Concerto, Nutcracker Ballet
  26. Verdi     Forza del Destino Overture, Nabucco Overture
  27. Wagner  Tristan und Isolde Prelude, Die Meistersingers Overture

Your thoughts are appreciated!  What else do you think should make the list?

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Christopher Blair permalink
    February 10, 2010 10:06 am

    Nice list. I was surprised to see for Richard Strauss you included Don Quixotte rather than the seemingly more ubiquitous Don Juan, however.

  2. February 11, 2010 10:04 am


    Really great post. I have a few of additions. Some are because I just like the works, some are because they are works that a student conductor who is just starting out might have more success putting together than a full Brahms Symphony, and some are works I had to prepare for graduate conducting program auditions.

    Mozart and Beethoven overtures are all great access points to the style of those composers. And often they are more accessible than the full symphonies for a young conductor in front of a group early in their life/career.

    Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale has been on numerous auditions for conducting programs. Especially the Royal March.

    Barber – Knoxville Summer 1915, adagio for strings, 1st essay, 1st symphony (okay not available in Dover editions)

    Mozart – Middle Symphonies 25, 29, 31 (All of Mozart’s symphonies are available in 3 Dover volumes)

    Mahler – Songs of a Wayfarer – find lots of parts from his 1st symphony there.

    Ravel – Pavane for a dead princess

    Wagner – Reinzi, Flying Dutchman Overtures, and Siegfried idyll

    Suppe – The three big overtures – Poet and Peasant; Morning, Noon, and Night, Light Cavalry

    Like I said, great post and list!

  3. February 11, 2010 1:21 pm

    Hi Guys,

    What a great starting point for the conductor (or composer) for that matter. I have several thoughts on this.

    From an economic standpoint, I can’t recommend Dover editions enough…do some of them leave something to be desired in terms of accuracy? Of course, but as a basic reference tool, they can’t be beat, and most of the time you have the added benefit of buying multiple works in one volume.

    On that note: it may be worth mentioning that both Ricordi and Boosey have done similar things with some of their older stuff. Ricordi publishes a lovely full size edition of the big Respighi works (Fountains, Pines, and Feste Romane), and I’m sure they do the same with others. Boosey also publishes a lot of Copland the same way, my personal favorite contains the Clarinet Concerto, Danzon Cubano, Quiet City and a couple of others. As I recall, both of these ran about $30, slightly more than you’d pay for Dover, but still a bargain compared to buying them all separately, and compared to what a single work by a living composer (ie Torke or Adams) costs in an even smaller size.

    As a young conductor, you might not be doing these pieces right out of the gate, but all of them are excellent resources for great orchestration technique!!!

    Also, the new Shosti editions are worth checking out…newly typeset, newly edited with an eye to DSCH’s intentions, they are really good looking AND hard-bound. I’m not sure where you might be able to get your hands on them in the states, but I got my copies of Symph’s 5&6 through a friend in Europe…they ran about 30 euros a piece.

  4. Allen permalink
    February 11, 2010 6:35 pm

    The IMSLP is a great source for pieces that are now public domain. Just be sure to read the information to see if it is legal to have in your country.

  5. Brianstjohn permalink*
    February 11, 2010 11:53 pm

    Thanks for all the replies to this thread!

    I put Don Quixote rather than Don Juan on the list only for one reason: I have conducted Don Q but not Don Juan. I love Don Juan and I think it is definitely a valuable piece for a young (or beginning) conductor to see.

    Andrew’s point about the Shostakovich editions and the Boosey and Hawkes editions is well made. The B&H editions offer a fantastic price for some great repertoire that used to be terribly expensive. And, these are great editions!

    I think Jacob makes a great point about the Beethoven and Mozart overtures, as well as the earlier Mozart symphonies. A young conductor generally hasn’t developed the skill needed to read a score, much less conduct it, and these pieces are a great gateway to score reading.

    Everybody has made some great points. Keep ’em coming!

    Brian St. John

  6. Alex permalink
    September 16, 2011 1:36 pm

    Hello! I’m also a beginner-conductor, and I’ve found that conducting Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo & Juliet” Fantasy Overture gives me a good feel for syncopated rhythms.

  7. September 16, 2011 3:23 pm

    Hi Alex,

    Funny you should mention that piece! I have been working on it currently with an orchestra. It is a great piece to study and learn from. Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Ballet (not just the suite) has so many twists and turns that I think it should be “required repertoire” for someone in their master’s degree as an orchestral conductor. And, now that Dover has published it, it is affordable for the student conductor.


  8. November 3, 2011 9:31 am

    Would you care to publish also this “amazing books” list? 😉

    • November 3, 2011 10:23 am

      J. – I think that’s a great idea! Will do so in an post very soon!

      • November 3, 2011 10:32 am

        Thanks! I’m looking forward to it. 🙂 No doubt, it will be of a great help to anyone who wishes to deepen his understanding of this profession and/or become a professional conductor (i.e. myself 😉 ).


  1. A “Basic” Reading List? « Conductorsblog

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