Our Favourite Classical Music for Children

3 November 2023

Introducing a new generation of children to classical music is one of our favourite things to do here at Welsh National Opera. If you’re struggling to find some engaging classical music for the little ones in your life, look no further. Here are some of our favourite pieces to add to your playlist.

Mussorgsky Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks from Pictures from an Exhibition (1874)

While Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures from an Exhibition was originally written as a piece for piano, it’s best-known today as an orchestral piece arranged by Maurice Ravel. In this arrangement by John Langley for WNO, a mixture of string instruments, woodwinds, trumpets and horns bring to life the chaos of the newborn chicks’ first steps, chasing and stumbling over each other.

Grace Williams Fantasia on Welsh Nursery Tunes (1940)

Welsh composer Grace Williams’s Fantasia on Welsh Nursey Tunes is a great piece for children, bringing together many of the most loved Welsh nursery rhyme songs including Migildi Magldi, Dacw Mam yn Dŵad, Si hei lwli mabi and Gee Geffyl Bach. It was first performed by the BBC Northern Orchestra (now BBC Philharmonic) in 1941, and it soon became a firm favourite of WNO and the National Youth Orchestra of Wales who performed it in 1946.

Tchaikovsky Waltz of the Snowflakes from The Nutcracker (1892)

Beloved by adults and children alike, Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker is a magical story of Christmas adventure full of rich orchestral brilliance and beautiful dances for soloists and ensemble. Following the story of Clara and her toy nutcracker on Christmas Eve, after vanquishing the seven-headed Mouse King the two set off on their journey to the Kingdom of Sweets through a pine forest of falling snowflakes.

Saint-Saëns Aquarium from The Carnival of the Animals (1886)

Any movement from Camille Saint-Saëns’s The Carnival of the Animals would be a brilliant addition to your child’s playlist, but Aquarium is perhaps the most evocative and other-worldly of the musical suite. Flute, glass harmonica, two pianos, two violins, viola and cello perfectly captivate the shimmering water and glistening fish of a serene, peaceful aquarium.

Steve Pickett Alien Party on Planet Zum-Zee from Alien Dances from the Planet Zog (2019)

Last on our list is this space-spectacular piece for orchestra and narrator by the contemporary composer Steve Pickett. Based on the children’s book Alien Tea on Planet Zum-Zee by Tony Mitton and Guy Parker-Rees, a spaceship whisks the audience off into the galaxy to party on the planet Zum-Zee. Complete with interspersed song, monsters in moonships and audience participation, this piece is the ultimate galactic tour-de-force and whizzes you to experience life among the stars.

To hear Steve Pickett’s Alien Party on Planet Zum-Zee and many more fantastic musical pieces for children with a live Orchestra, make sure you catch the remaining performances of WNO’s Play Opera LIVE, in Plymouth, Birmingham and Southampton on 4, 11, and 25 November 2023.