A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness;

— John Keats

Following the cut, some music that has nothing in common except that I consider it to be exceptionally beautiful.

We’ll start with this silly, rather minor song by Paul McCartney, distinguished only by the fact that its tune is ethereally lovely.

And now we segue to a piece you may recognize even if you don’t listen to classical music. It’s certainly the only piece by Faure I know.

The first two have been lovely and slow. This one has a bit more pep. What brought it to mind is the first scene of the film Amadeus. Salieri sings a new acquaintance some of his best-known work, but the fellow has never heard any of it. Then, with a grimace, Salieri asks “What about this one?” and proceeds to hum the following. Of course, his companion knows and adores it, and asks “Was that yours too?” “No”, Salieri retches. “That was Mozart.”

Here’s a Dire Straits song that I love all the way through, but whose instrumental coda is especially gorgeous.

Beethoven’s music is usually considered powerful or emotional rather than pretty, but there are exceptions: the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata:

and the Pastoral Symphony, especially the finale:

Simon and Garfunkel’s first album, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM is largely self-conscious and precious, but this song (which you might recall from the Mad Men episode The Suitcase) is simple and lovely.

Likewise, the Kinks, better known for being wild or funny or music-hallish, could occasionally achieve lovely as well:

In the film version of Slaughterhouse-5, the beauty of the still-medieval city of Dresden (before being annihilated by saturation bombing) was accompanied by this bit of perfection:

And just to demonstrate that beauty is purely in the ear of the beholder, I’ve always found this utterly gorgrous, much moreso than the prettier Byrds version.

Mike Schilling

Mike has been a software engineer far longer than he would like to admit. He has strong opinions on baseball, software, science fiction, comedy, contract bridge, and European history, any of which he's willing to share with almost no prompting whatsoever.


  1. Beauty, eh!

    I would have commented earlier but I wanted to get to my computer so I could listen to all these on proper speakers (yes, I do have a good set there). Being the uncultured hoser that I am, I was happy that I recognized most of the classical pieces. Moonlight Sonata reminded me of this for some reason, but maybe I just don’t know a lot of slow piano pieces:

    “Waterloo Sunset” is also calling something else to mind, but I can’t quite remember what, and it’s driving me crazy.

    Dylan remains largely unlistenable to me though, particularly in comparison to the Byrds. I forced myself to listen to the whole thing, to try to pinpoint exactly what it was that drives me so nuts – can’t be the song itself, I love the Byrds’ version…can’t be JUST his voice, I listen to J Mascis for gosh sakes…

    It’s really – in this song, anyway – one quirk. Every time Dylan comes to the chorus, on the word “Hey”, he really hits it hard, both in volume and in “speed” (he comes in ahead of the beat with it) and it’s really jarring. His voice on the rest of the song doesn’t bother me, but my back and neck muscles tense up every single time he sings that one word. The nasal quality gets exaggerated to the point of “piercing”. I don’t know if this is his own quirk, or something that comes from the folk traditions, but it can’t be accidental that the Byrds’ version brought that word more in line with the others, dynamically and rhythm-wise.

    • The non-classical song that reminds me of the Moonlight Sonata is

      The main problem with the Byrds version of Mister Tambourine Man is that it’s too short. It’s a song that needs time to build to a climax; two verses won’t do it. For an example of the Byrds improving on Dylan, compare the aimless drone of to the driving ensemble playing in .

      • I actually don’t mind the Dylan one there, but God I love the Byrds. They could be singing a grocery list and it wouldn’t matter, that sound is narcotic to me; the time-suspending tension of those arpeggios. When I hear it I don’t know if I want to leap or weep. It just bypasses any rational thought and heads straight for my emotions.

        I think on “Tambourine”, Dylan’s “early” (no doubt it’s intentional) vocal entry to the chorus each time is really what breaks it for me. My mind and body attempt to prepare themselves for that crescendo; I know it’s coming, and it STILL always comes around just before I “expect” it; it’s constantly “surprising”, but not in a pleasant way.

        I have an example of a song I think has some real beauty, but maybe I will save it for another time; you and Mr. Griffin might like to discuss grown-up music for a while 🙂

  2. Excellent selections, Mr. Schilling. I’d also add:

    Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque, 3rd movement (Clair de lune):

    Chopin’s piano concerto #1 in E minor:

    Saint-Saens’ Opus 40, Danse Macabre (the gypsy violin really gets me):

    Bach’s Goldberg Variations #5 (hard to pick only one):

    Bach’s Invention #1 in C major:

    Bach’s Prelude #1 in C Major (I’ll stop with the Bach here before we get into a Godel, Escher, Bach discussion):

    Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue:

    Mendelssohn’s Song without Words (Op 19 #1):

    Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C# major:

    I’ll also add Beethoven’s 3rd movement of the Moonlight (one of my favorite pieces from Beethoven, my favorite composer):

    Also, Beethoven’s Pathetique, 3rd movement:

    And no list of beautiful music would be complete without Ode to Joy from the 9th. It’s overused, but one of the (if not THE) most beautiful and powerful pieces of music ever conceived.

    I’ll stop now.

    • Really nice choices. A lot of old friends, but a few that are new to me as well. And you’re right that unless we restrain ourselves we’ll be trading Bach pieces back and forth all day.

      • Yeah, that Pastorale. The entire thing is beautiful. Old Walt did it up in Fantasia, right?

    • I really like Debussy, but for some reason every time I hear him I immediately think of Doctor Faustus (even though he’s certainly not the only composer mentioned in it), so that after a brief moment of feeling proud of myself for having read every single word of that book and survived, I start to feel like there are complexities to music that I don’t fully, or even partially understand, and which if I did understand them would greatly increase my appreciation and enjoyment of music. Then I get kind of sad and which I’d been a music major. OK, maybe just a minor. Well, I wish I’d taken more music courses.

  3. Far too many links in my comment, which is waiting in moderation.

  4. One of the most beautiful pieces that I listen to over and over?

    Trade from Wayne Shorter’s Native Dancer album.

    Portugese is a beautiful language for singing.

    • I have a Brazilian friend, and can confirm it is also beautiful to listen to spoken. However, she complains that it is a “pillowy” language that can be difficult to use to express concrete concepts (again, all the better for songs or poetry, perhaps not so much for simple problem-solving).

    • And come to think of it, I don’t know if this tune actually has any ‘words,’ Milton Nascimento sings like a horn; perhaps Brazilian scatting?

      But no matter the language or lack of language, this song overflows with emotion and beauty.

    • And also joni.

      I struggled between this and Little Green, she’s younger here, her voice at its soaring-soprano best.

  5. If you like choral music at all, Faure’s Requiem is wonderful. Especially the Agnus Dei.

  6. I would add . . .


    Sonatina, mvt II andante, Frederico Moreno-Torroba (this is a piece I’m a bit picky about; I like this version very much)

    Brandenburg no. 2, mvt II andante, J.S. Bach (better on period instruments)


    Aspirations, Gentle Giant

    Nobody’s Home, Kansas


    Winter Retreat, Judas Priest (cued)

    Overture, (intro), Def Leppard (cued)

    Torch Song, Todd Rundgren

    I could probably come up with a few more if I thought about it a bit.
    I had this song on my mind earlier; the intro & first verse. The intro has a chord run very similar to “And You and I” by Yes.

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