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Top Five Classical Record Holders

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Music aficionados can argue for days over which pianist employs the best technique to play Chopin, which conductor’s interpretation of Mahler is truest, or which house has the most glorious acoustics without coming to a resolution. Some claims, thanks to the Guinness World Record Book keepers, are incontrovertible. We’ve compiled our five favorite record holders:

1. Best-Selling Classical Album

When two Guinness Record Holders—Luciano Pavarotti (who took 165 curtain calls, the most ever, for his turn as Nemorino in L’elisir d’amore in Berlin in 1988) and Placido Domingo (who would go on to receive the longest amount of applause, 80 minutes, following his 1991 performance of Otello in Vienna)—joined a third tenor, José Carreras, for a concert on the eve of the 1990 World Cup Final, the trio was destined to make history. The resulting album, The Three Tenors in Concert, still holds the record for the best-selling classical album with more than 12 million copies purchased.

2. Longest Career as a Professional Clarinetist

Stanley Drucker, the much beloved former principal clarinetist at the New York Philharmonic, had an illustrious career, premiering both Aaron Copland’s and John Corigliano’s concertos for the instrument. His tenure also garnered the notice of the Guinness officials who presented him with the record for the longest career as a professional clarinetist. Drucker performed for 62 years, seven months and one day (60 of those years were with the Philharmonic). Said the Phil’s chairman, Paul B. Guenther: “Not only is he is a true treasure, but he is also a really nice guy.”

3. Fastest Fingers

The flashy Hungarian pianist Balazs Havasi, is known for pushing limits. He has produced crossover albums with pop stars, spoken at TED conferences, and on November 29, 2009 attempted to set the world record for the fastest fingers on a keyboard. The nimble pianist was able to play a single note 498 times in one minute (that’s faster than eight times per second) to capture the record for most key hits in 60 seconds.

4. Fastest Violinist

Eight notes per second is nothing for the classically trained crossover violinist David Garrett. The world’s fastest violin player raced through Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee at a blazing 13 notes per second—amazingly, the well-known tune is still recognizable—during a BBC program.

5. Most Pianists Playing One Piece at the Same Time

In 2006, the British pianist Stanislav Yovanovitch visited Harbin, a city on the Northeastern spur of China for its annual music festival. During his time there, he joined 1,000 fellow players in a mass rendition Schubert's March Militaire in the city square. The event set the world record for most pianists playing one piece at the same time. That concert was one of the items the city listed on its résumé (along with being home to the country’s oldest symphony orchestra) to help it win an official recognition as “Music City” from the United Nations.