Which Classical Piece Sets the Mood for Romance?

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Update: In a poll we asked listeners to name the most sensual piece of classical music. Several hundred of you voted and we played your top choices on Tuesday night. Below are the results along with your write-in selections.

Hearts of chocolates and bouquets of flowers may represent affection in Valentine's Day gifts, but to some, they indicate a certain lack of imagination.

When it comes to setting the mood for romance, it helps to have just the right music.

Of course, some well-known masterpieces are renowned for their sensuality -- think of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde and Ravel's Bolero. Other classical music lovers turn to more intimate fare, like Brahms's Intermezzi or Italian madrigals of the early 17th century.

When you think heavy breathing, galloping hearts and long kisses, what do you hear?

Top 14 Most Sensual Pieces

1. Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18
2. Wagner: Tristan und Isolde - Prelude & Liebestod
3. Mahler: Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp Minor: Adagietto
4. Debussy: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
5. Ravel: Bolero
6. Puccini: "O soave fanciulla" from La Boheme
7. Piazzolla: Libertango
8. Liszt: Liebestraum No. 3 in A-flat, Op. 62
9. Bizet: Carmen: "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle" (Habanera)
10. Ravel: Daphnis et Chloe: Suite No. 2
11. Brahms: Intermezzo No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 117/2
12. Saint-Saens: Samson and Delilah: "Bacchanale"
13. Vivaldi: Concerto for Guitar in C, RV. 425
14. Monteverdi: Madrigali guerrieri ed amorosi: "Su, su, su, pastorelli" & "Non partir, ritrosetta"


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Comments [75]

Marianne from Nutley, NJ

'Valentine's Day' is near... and my love for William and Celtic Creme is even nearer. As we celebrate 'Valentine's Day' with 'roses and chocolate' ~ the classical music of WQXR will underscore our love for one another.

Feb. 13 2015 11:15 AM

Picking over others' requests, in order to maximize the likelihood that my wishes will be selected, Ravel's Bolero, Bizet's Habanera, Grieg's "Solveig's Song", Offenbach's Barcarolle, Glück's "Che Faro Senza Euridice", and Monteverdi's Madrigali Guerrieri ed Amorosi: "Su, su, su, pastorelli" and "Non partir, ritrosetta" (I'd vote for ANYTHING by Monteverdi on general principles!). "V'adoro Pupille" from Handel's GIULIO CAESARE would make the cut, except that it goes on FOREVER. It is just TOO LONG without new musical ideas being introduced. If you have a version with some of the repeats taken out, I'd go for it.

Feb. 01 2015 10:17 PM
Russell Bittner from Brooklyn, NY

Jan Paderewski's Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 17 -- particularly the 2nd movement. If I/we haven't gotten into bed by the end of it, it's only because the dog is chewing on the record.

Feb. 01 2014 04:58 PM

I'm surprised that no one mentioned Richard Strauss' "Allerseelen." The woman crying out to her dead lover, "Come to my heart that I may hold you as once in May" is incredibly sensual.

Feb. 15 2012 02:13 PM
Pauline Park from Queens

Dalilah's aria "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix" from "Samson et Dalila" by Camille Saint-Saens is the greatest seduction scene in all opera; I can't believe it's not on the list of candidates~! A close second: "Del cabello mas sutil," the song by Fernando Obradors.

Feb. 14 2012 06:21 PM
AnnaCatherine from Hackettstown NJ

Max Bruch's Violin Concerto #1 in G minor is very romantic and quietly emotional. I love it.

Feb. 14 2012 05:24 PM
Zvi Stone from Jerusalem Israel

Gluck's Che Faro Senza Euridice
You can feel the love, the pain, the longing.

Feb. 14 2012 01:37 PM
XYZ from New England

I will add my vote to Cherubino's "Voi Che Sapete" from Le Nozze di Figaro. For something completely different, how about "Solveig's Song" from Grieg's Peer Gynt for its heart-breaking longing and yearning?

Feb. 14 2012 01:00 PM
Karen T. from Bayonne,NJ

Puccini is number one in my life for Romance.
Tchaikovsky: Romeo & Juliet is divine.
Ravel's Bolero is Passion out of control!
Carmen is just pure sex oozing and bruising!

Feb. 14 2012 12:58 PM
Susan Boylan from New Jersey

I think my pick would be "Song to the Moon' By Antonin Dvorak, it's haunting melody is very enchanting and dreamy, just the right setting.

Feb. 14 2012 12:47 PM
Christine from New York

I think that the "Barcarolle" from the Tales of Hoffman opera is very romantic and sensual and never tire of hearing it.

Feb. 14 2012 11:52 AM
Victor Goodstone from Brooklyn

Break Now! Good Question! While this is certainly subjective, and in the ear of the lover, and historically, in southern Brooklyn, we didn't necessarily need music, having been blessed with some of the most sincere and stunning ladies in G-d's creation, there are three pieces which always work for me! First off, the last nine minutes. and ending of Tchaikovsky's score to Swan Lake is sublime. Second, the Andante movement in Borodin's Second Symphony has a unique yearning quality. Third, the Pas de Deux from Minkus' La Paquita, speaks for itself! Oh, and contrary to Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young's admonition, if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with, doesn't work, because that would be disingenuous. The right other, is essential! I would also be remiss, at this time, in not mentioning, though not considered in the repertoire, Ms. Houston's rendition of, One Moment In Time, which should get an honorable mention too!

Feb. 14 2012 11:49 AM
Jennifer from New York

It was love at first listening when I heard the "Ständchen" from Schubert's Schwanengesang many years ago. I cannot think of a more evocative expression of intense longing!

Feb. 14 2012 11:48 AM
Marleine Member from NYC

I really appreciate the solemn,sensual mood of Eric Satie's "Gymnopedies" and "Gnossiennes. And without understanding one word of the dialogue, the musical passion of Verdi's "Il Brindisi" from La Traviata rocks my soul.
Still, other evocative works are the Andante movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto 21 in C Minor, and (believe it or not) the ecastatic high one feels in the "Ode to Joy" movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony; and yes--another "believe it or not--the Pachobel's Cannon!
Still, over 50 years later,for me the ultimate sexiest instrumental ever written remains Acker Bilk's "Stranger On the Shore." (Terrance McKnight would know this one!)
Is it classical? Perhaps more Jazz...but, like Gershwin, it is a "crossover piece" in my heart, the most haunting,erotic piece of music ever written.

Feb. 14 2012 11:34 AM
Claire from NJ

Let's not forget, my personal favorite, Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Variation #18. By far, the most well-known and passionate.

Feb. 14 2012 11:17 AM
Irene Gregson from San Francisco, CA

I would also have to add the Adagio from Khachaturian's Spartacus.

Feb. 14 2012 10:51 AM
Pascal Boylan from New Jersey

My favourite would be "Parlez moi D'amour" if played softly and slowly on an Accordian in the French manner. Voila and a little taste of a great Bordeaux. What else would anyone want to get romantic?

Feb. 14 2012 10:33 AM

My vote is for the slow, second part of the first movement of Saint-Saens 'Organ' Symphony. What an incredible piece of music to put one in the mood.......for anything.

Feb. 14 2012 10:32 AM
Richard Lyko from Allamuchy, NJ

The most "sensual" piece of music doesn't necessarily mean the most romantic. For sheer sensuality, I don't think you can beat the ending of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana." The "Tempus est iocundum," the "Dulcissime" and the "Ave formosissima" are as good a rendition of sexual tension, arousal, submission and climax as you will find in music of any type. The closing "O Fortuna" just puts the whole issue nicely to bed, so to speak.

Feb. 14 2012 10:27 AM
Michael from Rutherford NJ

Very surprised not to see Romeo & Juliet. That came into my head the first time I heard the station bring up this survey. The ballet is just so good and emotional. But yes you do not need music to have passion in ones life. Sensuality and passion come from the heart. And by the way I voted for Bolero. Incredible to make love to.

Feb. 14 2012 10:07 AM
RSS from NYC

The section near the end of Prokofiev's CINDERELLA called, appropriately enough, "Amoroso," has always seemed to me the perfect simulation of a rolling orgasm in music -- it just builds and builds . . . But I totally agree with the responder who suggested ISLE OF THE DEAD, another very powerful buildup to a satisfying release, as is the 2nd-act Adagio from NUTCRACKER -- totally unsuitable for children.

Feb. 14 2012 09:48 AM
Ken Stahl from New Jersey

My favorite: Voi che sapete, Cherubini's aria from Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. It's a love song, to start out with, from Cherubini to the Countess. A sweet and haunting melody. And the words are pretty explicit ones about the joys and pains of love. I wanted to play this at my wedding but it was in an orthodox synagogue in France and the rabbi objected. Even though my marriage ended, this little aria is still one of my favorites and very apropos.

Feb. 14 2012 09:48 AM
Harriet J. Brown from Bayside, NY

To me, the greatest lovers, in all of classical music are Rodolfo and Mimi in La Boheme. I am surprised that no one else voted for them.

Feb. 14 2012 09:47 AM
Alan Hyde from Newark NJ

Ravel, Scheherazade, especially Azie. Saint-Saens, Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix, from Samson e Dalila.

Feb. 14 2012 09:41 AM
sk from New York, NY

Wow, what a range! Had it been on the list I would have voted for the Brahms Clarinet Quintet, Adagio movement. Totally bed chamber music.

Feb. 14 2012 09:39 AM
Barbara P. from Manhattan

"La ci darem la mano" from Don Giovanni. Think about what's happening here.

Feb. 14 2012 09:22 AM
Dave from brooklyn

the finale of the last movement of Beethoven's seventh is as orgiastic a climax as any piece of classical music

Feb. 14 2012 09:17 AM
Griff from Eatontown NJ

Here's one:

A man embarks in a small boat on a black sea as the full moon rises from its depth to reveal a mysterious isle. There he discovers an enticing woman of extraordinary beauty. He pursues her and the heat of passion builds. The intenseerotic moment reaches completion. He awakens from the moment. He is empty. He is alone to dream once more.

Rachmaninov's "Isle of the Dead"

The powerful subliminal content of the piece.

The film composer Dimitri Tiomkin once stated that his score for "Duel in the Sun" was a musical expression of erotic love and fullest expression.

This is very similar to Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde."

I've always sensed "Isle" as a powerful spirit of eros.

By the way, as you know, the Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2 was basic score for David Lean's "Brief Encounter" and played in the comedy of "The Seven Year Itch."

Best wishes to all.

Feb. 14 2012 09:02 AM
Scott Pilgrim from NYC

While it probably doesn't make most people's list, Gabriel Faure's Pavane is my favorite. My wife walked down the aisle to that piece and it makes me melt every time I hear it.

Feb. 14 2012 08:57 AM
RG from Boston

Dvorak's Romance in F Minor. That's what I'll be playing tonight.

Feb. 14 2012 08:32 AM

How can romantic music be whittled down to fourteen choices? The beauty of classical music is the breath and depth of it. There is so much beautiful music. Romantic...how about "Un di, felice, eterea" for La Traviata?

Feb. 14 2012 08:32 AM
Barbara Gormise from Fort Lee, New Jersey

How can you have left Der Rosenkavalier waltzes off the list? And Chopin's G minor Ballade? Think again!

Feb. 14 2012 08:03 AM
Cathy Myers from Chambersburg, PA

You left out one of the most romantic pieces EVER...the adagio from the ballet Spartacus by Khachaturian.

Feb. 14 2012 07:00 AM
Jane from Staten Island

Second movement of Mahler's Second Symphony. It's just really sexy.

Feb. 14 2012 01:31 AM

Not romantic but definitely sensual... Smetana's E minor quartet (no 1). Nothing comes close in program music.

Feb. 14 2012 12:51 AM
Barbara from New York

The Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet, please! Several movements from it make me swoon -- once I'd heard it at an ABT performance, I went to four more performances in the next 10 days and bought several recordings. But I'd also suggest Christiane Legrand's jazz-trumpet-like rendition of the Largo from Bach's Harpsichord Concerto in f minor on the Swingle Singers' Going Baroque album -- wow. Also, perhaps oddly, the organ piece "rorate caeli" by Jeanne Demessieux, if you have it (maybe I just really like jazz trumpet). Wasn't she famous for playing the organ in high heels? And has no one mentioned the trio from Der Rosenkavalier??? If ever there was a climax...

Feb. 13 2012 11:51 PM
debi unger from Bradley Beach, NJ

In my opinion, V'adoro Pupille from Handel's Julius Caesar is the most sensual aria I have ever heard. Also, why is Chopin omitted from the list? Practically everything Chopin wrote sets the mood. The slow movements from Mozart piano concerti are up there as well.

Feb. 13 2012 11:05 PM
Kevin Curley from Hoboken, NJ

How about Elvira Madigan by Mozart? Piano Concerto No. 21

Feb. 13 2012 10:35 PM
David S Bundler

I just realized that only the Liebestod for Tristan is mentioned, I think it says somthing when you omit the vorspiel.

Feb. 13 2012 06:25 PM
David S Bundler

I have to agree with Mr. Meltzer on Tchaikovsky's Romeo & Juliet, I mean the love theme is the love theme used most often in popular media, so is recognized as such. However; that being said, outside the love theme, there is much music expressing conflict, so I wonder if it would be more suitable for married couples than those in the earlier stages of romance. Though Tristan has the length for a romantic evening, you get hung up on Tristan's depressing "Wo bin ich" segment, which, for me would kill the mood.

Feb. 13 2012 05:46 PM
Constantine from New York

Dvořák's Slavonic Dance No. 12 in Db major (a.k.a. Opus 72 No. 4). It's achingly beautiful.

Feb. 13 2012 05:18 PM
Carl Friedman from Baltimore

The Liebestod is the closest musical approximation of sex ever written.

Feb. 12 2012 11:37 PM
Roger Dodger from LES

Interesting to see how far ahead Rach 2 is in the results. I never found it so romantic, I guess because I'm focused on the piano virtuosity rather than the sheer pull of the music's emotions. Similarly, "Bolero" just feels like a cliche at this point, but maybe it works for some guys.

Feb. 12 2012 10:43 PM
Arthur from Troy, NY

Your Ms Lewin's street rendition of Bizet's 'Habanera' influenced my choice.

Feb. 12 2012 08:16 PM
Alan Chambers from South Amboy, NJ

As for a sensuous piece of music for Valentine's Day, to my ears, there is one far more sensuous piece than any of those listed in the survey: the part #4 Scherzo from Hector Berlioz's Romeo and Juliet. By comparison, I regard the Romeo and Juliet compositions by the other composers as trite and banal. On the Valentine's Day request hour, may we, please, hear it? (I trust it is somewhere in your library).

Feb. 12 2012 04:34 PM
Natalee Fogel

The one piece of music that makes me melt is the adagio from Spartacus.
And Tatiana's letter aria in the opera Eugene Onegin pulls at my heartstrings

Feb. 12 2012 01:50 PM
Sally Dorst from New York, N.Y.

Prelude to Afternoon of a Faun has to be the top choice of anyone who has ever seen the Jerome Robbins ballet choreographed to that music. I also think you should have put Romeo and juliet by Prokofiev (sp?) on the list.

Feb. 12 2012 01:44 PM
Steve from Brooklyn

Sorry I can't be more original here but my vote is for Tristan und Isolde―all of it. However, it's good to see support for Ralph Vaughan Williams, a composer whose stature is rapidly increasing, and most deservedly so.

Feb. 12 2012 12:24 PM
Yasmine I. from Brooklyn, NY

In addition to the beautiful list above, my favorite two romantic classical pieces are "Venus" (Mvt 2) from The Planets Suite by Holst and "Romeo and Juliet" by Tchiakovsky. I hear so much love and romance in those melodies! Happy Valentine's Day!

Feb. 12 2012 11:45 AM
Barry Owen Furrer

No doubt I will take some heat for crossing over into film; however, the music that does it for me is "Playing Love" from the 1998 movie The Legend of 1900, music by Ennio Morricone. A clip is available on YouTube and features Tim Roth and Melanie Thierry. The film also features music of Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton and the acting talents Clarence Williams III who's grandfather was a Tin Pan Alley songwriter and plugger and formed the first major publishing house devoted to African-American composers.

Feb. 12 2012 11:21 AM
Christine from New York

Three choices I would have liked to see are the aria Je Crois Entendre Encore from The Pearl Fishers, Suite #2 Adagio of Spartacus & Phyigia from the Ballet Spartacus by Khachaturian and the aria Mon Coure S'ouvre a Ta Voix from Samson et Dalila which is a true love song as opposed to the Danse Bacchanale.

Feb. 12 2012 11:09 AM
Mike Robbins from NYC

My candidate for most seductive music is Sibelius's Karilia Suite.

Feb. 11 2012 10:43 PM
Des Burke from Toronto, Ontario, Canada

While I liked the options, a favourite piece of mine is Vaughan Williams "Serenade to Music". I've long thought it would be very romantic to sit on a south Pacific island beach on a breezy moonlit night and listen to it with my wife.

Feb. 11 2012 07:17 PM
A Martin from Clifton NJ

Right away I think of "Mon Coeur S'ourvre A Ta Voix" Samson et Dalila...so luscios and sensual.

Feb. 11 2012 07:03 PM
David from Westchester

I voted for Bolero based on a ballet I saw many years ago by the Berlin Ballet and the hypnotic power of the piece, building to a crescendo from the first note onward. However, my real first choice is the 2nd movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony,so sublime with a hypnotic power all its own.

Feb. 11 2012 04:34 PM
pianofan from nyc

Mr. Meltzer: Maybe we're all deaf, but at least we're not constantly hostile. Enjoy some music and let it go! My vote is for Mahler.

Feb. 11 2012 03:52 PM
Supremed1 from Reno nv

I thought it was " Prelude to an Afternoon on a Farm"...

Feb. 11 2012 03:26 PM
dk from Erfurt, Germany

My, my... such obvious choices. For my (passionate) money, only Vaughan Williams' Fantasy on a Theme by Thomas Tallis will do. The ethereal and timeless beginning, the subtle little ebbs and flows, then even a false climax within the sweep toward the ecstatic culmination--
Then, a gradual calmdown, and return to a place that is actually quite different from the place one started--you have experienced something indescribably deep and shattering, and your life will never be the same... ah, yes, RVW is the way to go for an ecstatic and sensual apotheosis!

Feb. 11 2012 11:02 AM
Michael Meltzer

No mention of the Tchaikovsky: Romeo & Juliet? Is everyone deaf?

Feb. 11 2012 01:40 AM
Roger Dodger from LES

How about Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy? Or Strauss's Dance of the Seven Veils has a naughty enough theme!

Feb. 10 2012 10:01 PM
David S Bundler

Daphnis; as long as we are talking about the complete ballet. The slow sensuous beginning, the glowing warmth, a bit of humor from the bassoons. Then some romantic grace, settling into a long sensuous stroke starting in the lowest notes of the trombone, climbing to the back of the neck. The winds fluttering their eyes coyly in response. Ah, then it gets mysterious, floating on a chorus that drifts where it will, the mystery of each other. Then the mist clears. The dawn of seeing each other as for the first time, the wonder of the swirl of feelings, then the flute whispers the light conversation that speaks of nothing more than intimacy. Then the embrace, followed by swirls of rhythm building, and building, as the timpani echoes the pounding heart until finally,... Well, you can always listen to it again if you're up for it.

Feb. 10 2012 07:31 PM
Susan from long Branch, NJ

I would definitely say Federico Mompou's Cancione #6

Feb. 10 2012 04:45 PM
jerry from Brooklyn, N.Y.C.

I'm surprised that you didn't include Les prelude by Franz Liszt's. It's passionate music. Just right for a night of candles and wine.

Feb. 10 2012 12:27 PM
Magazinewriter from metro detroit

"O Mio Babbino Caro"

Feb. 10 2012 11:48 AM

I would opt for Ravel's "Le Valse" which to me is the epitome of romanticism as the insane waltz rhythmes transport you in a completely fantastic whirling world.

Feb. 10 2012 11:25 AM
Mark M from Jackson Heights, NY

I love the Liebestod and it always makes me melt, but for raw sensuality you can't beat Tristan's entrance in the second act and the ensuing love duet (more than 30 minutes long!).

Feb. 10 2012 11:22 AM
Monty from BROOKLYN, NY

Far and away, the Wagner Liebestod, but please add Herrmann's Vertigo Love Scene!

Feb. 10 2012 11:02 AM
Robert Elden from Manhattan

For me, hands down, the most romantic piece of music is Prokofiev's love/balcony scene from the ballet, "Romeo and Juliet," which oddly does not appear on your list. I will never forget the first time I became fully aware of its beauty, the scene is indelibly imprinted in my memory bank. It was an American Ballet Theatre performance with Natalia Makarova and Kevin McKenzie in the roles of the star-crossed lovers, dancing in exquisite and controlled abandon. I was completely transfixed and totally bowled over by both their dancing and the music. Thank you for helping me to recall the experience which remains vivid and is with me to this day.

Feb. 10 2012 10:59 AM
Lucy Porter from Madison, NJ

Ravel's Bolero is my all-time favorite for sensual, even sexy music. However, there are so many more that I wouldn't know where to start!

Feb. 10 2012 10:39 AM
Jay from Burlington, VT

I chose the Rachmaninoff (Brief Encounter is one of my favorite romantic movies) because it's on the list. But my choice would be another Piazzolla piece, Adios Nonino, which was played at the wedding in 2002 between Prins Willem Alexander and Maxima Zorreguieta. http://youtu.be/bJWD_789-OE

Feb. 10 2012 10:30 AM

I have always thought of "Bailero" from Canteloube's "Songs of the Auvergne" as one of the most romantic sensual melodies. I checked the Rachmaninoff (Brief Encounter) and the Mahler (Death in Venice)

Feb. 10 2012 10:15 AM
Les Bernstein from Miami, Florida

I think Debussy's piano prelude "The Girl with the Flaxen Hair" sounds sensuous and romantic. I also think despite the title, Ravel's "Pavane for a Dead Princess" sounds sensuous, romantic, and melancholy, as does the Adagio from Rachmaninoff's Second Symphony.

Feb. 10 2012 09:53 AM
Eileen from Upstate, NY

Must I pick only one?

Feb. 10 2012 09:25 AM
JIM from Nashville, TN

Debussy gets my vote. Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun is the ticket.

Feb. 10 2012 07:20 AM
Bernie Stebel from Vermont

All of the listed pieces are romantic but this one is sensual.

Feb. 10 2012 03:23 AM

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