Top Five Most Triumphal Classical Works – Ever

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Lionel Messi of Argentina and Andre Schuerrle of Germany face off in the World Cup Finals on Sunday Lionel Messi of Argentina and Andre Schuerrle of Germany face off in the World Cup Finals on Sunday (Ronald Martinez, Michael Steele/Getty Images)

This Sunday, Germany and Argentina, two countries boasting as strong traditions in classical music and opera as soccer, face off in the World Cup final. As they prepare for the championship match, we’ve collected five works that would adequately celebrate the new victors.

1. Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture

Tchaikovsky believed that his 1812 Overture, which commemorates the Russian victory over Napoleon’s forces at the Battle of Borodino, had “only local and patriotic significance” when he wrote the piece nearly 70 years after the victory. Tchaikovsky’s prediction has been anything but the case as the rousing work is a favorite accompaniment for fireworks celebrations worldwide; many Americans even mistake it as an ode to the U.S. victory over the British in the War of 1812 (that both "La Marseillaise" and the Russian anthem engage in a musical battle within the work provides a strong hint to its true reference).

2. John Williams: Theme from Star Wars

Few pieces of music are invoked as frequently in sports arenas as John Williams's score for the movie Star Wars. Visiting teams are often greeted with the nefarious “Imperial March,” and the winning side is often honored with this final theme from the end of the first Star Wars movie, when Luke Skywaker, Han Solo, and Chewbacca are honored for blowing up the Empire’s Death Star. Williams’s regal tune, referencing Wagner, Strauss, Holst and other Romantic composers, has accompanied many other champions as they collect their prizes.

3. Berlioz: Grande Symphonie Funèbre et Triomphale

Ten years after the France’s July Revolution, which overthrew the Bourbon king, the country looked to commemorate the heroes of this uprising by erecting a column for them at Place de la Bastille. The government also commissioned Hector Berlioz, and offered him a generous sum of 10,000 francs, to memorialize the event in music. The result was Grande Symphonie Funèbre et Triomphale. “What I had in mind was a fanfare played by archangels, simple but noble, full of panache and martial in character, an immense and radiant call," wrote Berlioz of the third and final movement, a stirring anthem that would eventually call for a chorus to sing of both glory and triumph.


4. Beethoven: Wellington's Victory

Another musical commemoration of a Napoleonic defeat, Beethoven’s Wellington’s Victory was written after British army commander Arthur Wesley subdued the French forces at Vittoria, Spain in 1813, during the Peninsular War. For his efforts in driving the French out of Spain and Portugal, he was named the Duke of Wellington and stimulated Beethoven to write 15-minute orchestral piece. Premiering on the same program as the composer’s Seventh Symphony, the work was notable for an unusual percussion section that includes muskets and other artillery sounds, making it one of the first pieces of classical music to accurately mimic the din of battle.

5.  Verdi: Triumphal March from Aida

Though the end of Verdi’s Aida is grim, the second-act triumphal scene is one of the most glorious in all of opera. In it the victorious Egyptians parade onto the stage after their defeat over Ethiopia to one of the most famous fanfares in Western music, “Gloria all’Egitto.” After the premiere of Aida, held in 1869 in Cairo, this march proved so popular it’s said to have been an inspiration for Egypt’s national anthem, composed by Verdi’s countryman Giuseppe Pugioli.

What piece best signifies triumph to you? Please share your suggestions in the comments box below.


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Comments [40]

Sarah E from The Bronx

Two that are missing is beethoven's #Nine work and Brukner's Te Deum. Both have cheer ready ending and allways make me feel upbeat. Handel's Te Deum also have a great movenent with Day by Day, and To Thee Cheafam(sorry about the spelling)in his work. And since the Germans won it make sence to pick their work.
Thank You

Jul. 15 2014 04:15 PM
Claire from Hillsdale, NJ

I vote for Orff's thunderous Carmina Burana's "O Fortuna."

Jul. 15 2014 02:08 PM
Zachary from NYC

RK, you're absolutely right. Mussorgsky/Ravel's The Great Gate of Kiev is the most magnificent and powerful music ever created. Tears of joy well up every time I hear it.

Jul. 13 2014 11:24 AM
David from Flushing

Handel's Solemn March for the Circumvention of the Ark of the Covenant (Joshua) is a short work, but overwhelming in grandeur and awe. His march that opens the opera Scipione is intended as a Roman triumph.

Jul. 12 2014 04:38 PM
RodolfoL from New York

A bit of color, too. Several Rossinis and Gunoud's Overture from Carmen. Go Argentina, go!

Jul. 12 2014 11:33 AM
Milton Quiroga from Concepcion, Chile

I prefer as a triumphal work: Jean Sibelius Karelia Suite - Alla Marcia

Jul. 12 2014 08:56 AM
concetta nardone from Nassau

Great comments and choices from everyone. Thanks. And thanks John from Nutley. Still laughing at that one.
For a change, no kerfuffle going on.

Jul. 12 2014 07:31 AM
Also from DC from Washington, DC

Several options apart from the triumphal marches

The Three Wonders from "Tale of the Tsar Saltan" (Rimsky-Korsakov)
Navarraise from "Le Cid" (Massenet)
"Grand Gate of Kiev" (Mussorgsky)
Symphony #2 4th Mvt (Borodin)

Honorary mention to
The Finale from the Firebird (only for high-stakes, devastating, but narrowly-won adversarial struggles)

Jul. 12 2014 02:17 AM

@Frank, Tsk, tsk, tsk. There are no advertisements, only underwriting agreements. Which don't always match WQXR's editorial content. DD~~

Jul. 12 2014 01:36 AM
Frank from UWS

Way too many obvious choices here. How about the finale to Shostakovich Symphony No. 9? Or the finale to Mahler Symphony No. 1?

Oh, right, WQXR wouldn't play pieces like that because they're too long for advertisements.

Jul. 11 2014 10:00 PM

@ Connie from Milwaukee:
Sousa's "The Stars & Stripes Forever!" is anything but trite and I'm glad someone other than myself mentioned it here. Since 1987, it is the "official, national march" of the United States thanks to President Ronald Regan approx 100 years after Sousa's "Semper Fidelis" became the first piece of music in this country to be officially recognized by our government.

Jul. 11 2014 09:19 PM
Jonathan from Louisiana

This has always conjured visions of tBeai Geste, the triumphant return of the French Foreign Legion, victory: Movement III, Allegro Molotov vivace, Symphony No. 6, Opus94 by P. I. Tchaikovsky!

Jul. 11 2014 08:23 PM
Daniel from Argentina

Maybe it is not a piece of classical music, but I love "The battle hymn of the Republic"

Jul. 11 2014 07:33 PM
Constantine from New York

Another vote for the last movement of Saint-Saens' Third Symphony. Also the last movement of Beethoven's Seventh. Pure joy.

Jul. 11 2014 06:15 PM
John from Nutley NJ

Ride of the Valkries. Both in the original. And with Robert Duval and helicopters in Vietnam

Jul. 11 2014 03:16 PM
Michael from Brooklyn

The finale from Arrigo Boito's opera Mefistofele. The triumph of good over evil glorified in the most powerfully exuberant celebration of forgiveness and redemption in the history of music in my opinion.

Jul. 11 2014 01:38 PM
concetta nardone from Nassau

New World Symphony, finale. Argentina wins, from the New World. Pope from the New World. Goal.
This has been fun. Great choices all around

Jul. 11 2014 01:37 PM
Connie from Milwaukee

This may be a trite choice, but John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever" always fills me with patriotic pride and joy. Also Handel's Halleluia Chorus.

Jul. 11 2014 01:04 PM
Ben from Chicago

The last movement of Beethoven's Ninth belongs at the top of the list. No battles, no carnage, no losers but only winners. It is a celebration of the triumph and transcendence of the human spirit. Can anyone fail to be moved when the chorus enters?

Jul. 11 2014 12:33 PM
Denise from Yonkers, NY

Beethoven - Egmont Overture

Jul. 11 2014 12:24 PM
Howard Levine from North Bellmore

I agree with the choices made earlier, but I would like to add these works by St. Saens, namely the Marche Militaire Francaise from his Suite Algerienne, and the last movement from his Symphony Number 3, the "Organ" Symphony.

Jul. 11 2014 11:51 AM
Lara from NYC

How about the Procession of the Nobles from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's opera-ballet "Mlada"? That's stirring and triumphant.

Jul. 11 2014 11:36 AM
Lutz from Germany

It's got to be a march. Here are 3 more suggestions:
Victor Herbert: Festival March
Julius Fucik: Entry of the Gladiators
Charles Gounod: March from "Faust"

My bet for the game is 3:1 for Germany!

Jul. 11 2014 11:26 AM
concetta nardone from Nassau

Time and patience. Patience and time. The battle of the Borodino was a defeat for the Russians but Napoleon's army got swallowed up in Moscow and too late for the retreat. "Already the winged goose flies south". So spoke Napoleon when he peered out the window at the burning city. Same thing happened to Hitler's armies. They got swallowed up. Mother Nature supplied the trap. Mass graves have been found in Poland of the French army. 500,000 soldiers entered Russia and only 50,000 managed to get out. Some victory.

Jul. 11 2014 11:18 AM
Frank from NYC

The Battle of Borodino also known as the Battle of the Moskova was not a Russian victory for sure having suffered a casualty rate of 2 - 1 to Napoleon's army. the Russian defeat forced the Russians to abandon Moscow and burn it to the ground .

Jul. 11 2014 10:43 AM

@Tim - thanks for the heads up and the nice words! The post has been updated.

Jul. 11 2014 10:31 AM
Tim from Washington DC

Loving your top fives list as always, especially the rare inclusion of Beethoven's Wellington's Victory. Gotta point out that your text should read, "British army commander Arthur Wellesley..." instead of "... British naval commander Arthur Wesley..." Happy World Cup 2014!

Jul. 11 2014 09:49 AM
Bill Harter from Far Hills, NJ

All great pieces you listed, but I have to add 3. Beethoven's Fifth, especially the rendition by Bernstein when the Berlin wall came down. Beethoven's Seventh, the triumphal final movement coming after the funeral dirge style of the second movement is a wonderful context. But best of all, Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man.

Jul. 11 2014 08:35 AM
Gev Sweeney from Ocean Grove

The last movement of Beethoven's Fifth strikes me as pretty triumphal. That Berlioz is pretty high up there, though. Can't beat those lyrics: Gloire et triomphe a ces heros." (Sorry, can't insert accents on this site!)

Jul. 11 2014 06:10 AM

@ Hank, is that in "stoppage" time, penalty kicks, or the actual game? DD~~

Jul. 11 2014 02:12 AM
Hank Khost from Caldwell, NJ

How about Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" or his "Pilgrim's Chorus" from "Tannhauser"? All great choices! I predict Germany 2-1.

Jul. 10 2014 11:54 PM
Jeffery Triggs from Madison, NJ

I don't know how you could forget this one from Respighi's Pines of Rome...

Jul. 10 2014 11:25 PM
Michael Brennan from Brooklyn

The finale of Beethoven's Egmont overture and 7th Symphony get my vote for the most triumphal music in the repertoire.

Jul. 10 2014 10:53 PM
Sherrie Murphy from NYC

Dear WQXR: Of the five pieces you nominated, I would have to vote for Verdi's
Triumphal March from Aida. But if you had included the Ode to Joy from Beethoven's
Ninth, that would have gotten my vote... Sherrie Murphy, NYC

Jul. 10 2014 06:15 PM
Vic Dvorak from Charlestown, RI

There is no doubt that Berlioz: Grande Symphonie Funèbre et Triomphale is the winner although the completion is also tremendous. This is a fabulous recording BTW.

Jul. 10 2014 04:57 PM
RK from Manhattan

Oops, I take it all back. The most triumphant piece of music is the last 5 minutes of Mossoursky/Ravel's "Pictures at an Exhibition."

Jul. 10 2014 04:48 PM
RK from Manhattan

To me, there is nothing more triumphant than Wagner's Rienzi overture. QXR plays the Cleveland Orchestra's George Szell recording all the time, which is the non-plus-ultra. The strings are always together!

When Jeff Spurgeon plays it in the morning, I can't leave for work until it's over, even if it makes me late. It is completely uplifting and ends with an enormous trumpet blare which needs to be cranked really loud!

Anyone else agree?

Jul. 10 2014 04:30 PM
Concetta nardone from Nassau

All the choices are great. Agree with Ms. Allende but Beethoven was German.
Oh God, I can't wait to see this match. Told family, I will not cook Sunday. Take-out will have to do. Goal.

Jul. 10 2014 03:45 PM
debi unger from Bradley Beach

Mendelssohn's Wedding March from Midsummer Night's Dream. To me, this is the most triumphal march in the classical repertoire.

Jul. 10 2014 03:09 PM
Norma Flores Allende from Paraguay

Why didn't you choose works of Argentinean and German composers?

Jul. 10 2014 01:39 PM

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