Going on a road trip anytime soon? Unsure what to listen to while the miles whiz past? If you Google “driving music,” the top hits are playlists of all sorts of rock/pop music geared towards car listening. Everything from Tom Cochran’s classic Life is a Highway to the Beach Boys’ I Get Around to Wilco’s Passenger Side. All good songs, but what about classical music?
Below is a playlist of a couple of good hours of classical music suitable for blasting with the windows down. These are not pieces selected to lower the blood pressure and reduce stress while driving in traffic. Instead, this is uptempo, rhythmic music for the open road. While you’re listening, I encourage you to feel free to turn the volume up to 11.
Yes, a lot of this music is a bit off the beaten path and that’s on purpose. For me, part of the excitement of a road trip is getting swept away in the unfamiliar—the joy of discovery. So, I’ve gone light on the Mozart, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky on this playlist. They’re all there (and feel free to add your favorites as well), but this is also about getting to know some interesting musical geography we don’t know as well.
A bit about some of the pieces on the playlist:
- John Adams: Short Ride in a Fast Machine – I had to include this piece, which Adams says is meant to evoke the feeling of going for a ride in a sports car with someone who likes to drive prestissimo.
- Elena Kats-Chernin: Fast Blue Village 2 – Born in Uzbekistan, Kats-Chernin now lives in Australia. She has written quite a few operas, experimental music, and even a piece for eight double basses and orchestra. Fast Blue Village 2 is derived from a longer work of hers which was so popular at its premiere in 2007, she was asked to create a bunch of different versions of the piece, including this one for string quartet.
- Dumisani Maraire: Mai Nozipo – This music from Zimbabwean composer and mbira virtuoso Dumisani Maraire is some of the most joyful you’ll ever hear. In addition to composition and performing, Maraire created the ethnomusicology program at the University of Zimbabwe. It’s impossible not to do a bit of car-dancing while listening to this piece.
- Christine Southworth: Honey Flyers 1 – In addition to composition, Christine Southworth is also a video artist and a beekeeper. This string quartet is inspired, in part, by her bees. I love the groove of this first movement. She even made some field recordings of those bees and incorporated them into the second and third movements.
- Isotaro Sugata: The Rhythm of Life (2nd mvt.) – I included this music by Japanese composer Isotaro Sugata because it made me smile. Why did it make me smile? In incorporates fragments of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring mixed with traditional Japanese melodies. How cool is that?!
- Speaking of Stravinsky, I’ve included his take on Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, Dumbarton Oaks, alongside my favorite Brandenburg movment.
- Composer and multi-instrumentalist Chrysanthe Tan has actually written a piece called Road Tripping, which I suppose I should have included on this playlist, but I also love the impish marimbas in Playground Day, which have a nice (uncrowded) freeway vibe to them.
- Anna Meredith: Nautilus – I guess, technically, this is electronic music and not strictly “classical,” but Meredith writes both electronic and classical music and often in here electronic music, she samples snippets of classical music and/or orchestral instruments. She does so here and the effect is a powerful, visceral intensity that just can’t get enough of.
- Jean Sibelius: Lemminkäinen’s Return – We began with a short ride in a fast machine, we conclude with this journey home from the Finnish epic, the Kalevala.