Music is an art that pervades every part of society, from work and war songs to lullabies and national anthems.

Many scholars have proposed various musical functions, although not all make explicit evolutionary claims. Instead, many are motivated by cognitive psychology, experimental aesthetics or personality psychology.

Beethoven’s Fifth

Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony has become one of the most beloved pieces in musical history, representing classical music even within contemporary popular culture. It is beloved and iconic.

The first movement is an incredible, frenetic burst of energy. Beethoven’s opening theme–perhaps drawn from Luigi Cherubini’s 1794 French Revolution anthem Hymne au Pantheon–repeats throughout the development section with ever more intense musical expression, giving this movement its nickname of “Fate Knocks at the Door.”

Beethoven composed this work over an extended period, writing string quartets, concertos and two other symphonies simultaneously. While wrestling with fate as a deaf composer, he summoned both defiance and triumph, creating an iconic musical work which set a path from darkness-to-light for generations of composers after him. Beethoven recorded this symphony’s final chord twice to produce its ultimate climax for recording on Voyager spacecrafts’ Golden Records.

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons may be one of the best-known concerto series in classical music history. He made an effort to marry specific poetic passages written alongside each concerto to their musical equivalents and portray flowing creeks, singing birds of various species (with each song characteristic by its own specific note), goatherds with barking dogs, buzzing flies, winter storms, hunting parties from both hunters’ and prey’s perspectives, buzzing flies, hunting parties from both hunters’ and prey perspectives, hunting parties from both perspectives, hunting parties from both hunters’ and prey’s perspectives and more – an ambitious undertaking!

Since 1650, The Four Seasons has endured musical fashion while remaining captivating on many levels. It depicts each season both literally (accurate imitations of bird calls and pizzicato raindrops) and metaphorically (dissonances suggesting winter chill and rapid scales evoking swirling winds). Even if we can’t visualize a pomegranate tree blooming in spring or an icy wind blowing through an arbor of trees directly, music brings us closer to a vision of nature that feels realer and humanized.

Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake

Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece remains one of the greatest works ever composed and its effect can be felt beyond its stage life. Composing both for ballet and symphonic concert, Tchaikovsky wrote music where beat groupings weren’t always visible and phrases weren’t always even; writing countermelodies and polyphony; developing themes through long-range key relationships; providing not just accompaniment but deepening emotional drama depicted onstage.

Pentatone has done an outstanding service with this recording of Swan Lake by Vladimir Jurowski and the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia “Evgeny Svetlanov,” as it restores the original symphonic version, instead of Tchaikovsky’s brother Modest’s revision for Petipa’s revival in 1895.

Jurowski is adept at understanding both the balletic and symphonic elements of this score, possessing both an acute sense of narrative as well as strong control of dynamics that made Act I’s coda an electrifying moment rather than simply another letdown.

Grieg’s Peer Gynt

Henrik Ibsen approached Edvard Grieg in 1874 to commission him to write music for his play Peer Gynt. Grieg agreed but soon discovered that writing music for stage productions proved more complex than either had anticipated.

Today, virtually everyone with even a passing interest in classical music knows of Peer Gynt at least in the form of his two orchestral suites which have become immensely popular. But to truly experience his work’s true magnificence and to appreciate its full beauty, listen to its complete score.

Director and writer Bill Barclay reinvents this timeless classic for modern audiences by combining actors, sets, the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO), Symphony Chorus, as well as an unorthodox rendition of Gynt’s journey, complete with rowdy encounters with trolls to Ase’s tragic demise – his journey revealing that hedonism and unbridled individualism cannot replace love, comradery and investment in other people’s lives.